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When we think of immortality or eternal youth, many of us probably imagine things like gods, vampires, the Fountain of Youth, and even the Land of Faerie. Throughout history, there have been many legends and tales about creatures who cheated death or people who set out on a quest to find ever-lasting life. However, of all the stories and possibilities you might consider, I’ll bet none of you thought of the simple jellyfish.

One jellyfish in particular has discovered the perfect way to cheat death. The Turritopsis nutricula—which is actually a type of hydrozoa—can move back and forth through all stages of life. In other words, its mature adult jellyfish form can revert back to its polyp form (the first stage of life) and move forth again, and back again, and so forth. In theory, this transformation can happen an infinite number of times, thus rendering the jellyfish immortal. However, it has never been able to be tested in the wild because the process happens so quickly that proper field observations are unlikely to happen. There is also the problem of predators and disease that tend to kill this strange creature before the theory can even really be tested at all.

These adult jellyfish are extremely tiny. They have a maximum diameter of 4-5 millimeters (0.16-0.20 inches) and are generally as tall as they are wide. They are native to the Caribbean, but it would seem they have found a way to spread across the globe; most likely from ships that discharge ballast water in ports. Currently, scientists are studying this amazing form of marine life, trying to figure out what exactly gives it the ability to move back and forth between life cycles.

What would you do if you had the chance to be immortal?

By Heidi Marshall