The Common Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) is one of a group of more than ten morphologically nearly identical jellyfish species. In general, it is nearly impossible to identify Aurelia medusae without genetic sampling, so most of what follows about Aurelia aurita, could equally be applied to any species of the genus.
The medusa is translucent, usually about 25–40 cm in diameter, and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads that are easily seen through the top of the bell. It feeds by collecting medusae, plankton and mollusks with its mucusy bell nematocyst-laden tentacles and bringing the prey into its body for digestion, but is capable of only limited motion; like other jellies it primarily drifts with the current, even when it is swimming.
Te species Aurelia aurita, whose distribution has been confirmed by Michael Dawson using genetic analysis, is found along the eastern Atlantic coast of Northern Europe and the western Atlantic coast of North America in New England and Eastern Canada. In general, Aurelia is an inshore genus that can be found in estuaries and harbors. It lives in ocean water temperatures ranging from 6 °C to 31 °C; with optimum temperatures of 9 °C to 19 °C. A. aurita prefers temperate seas with consistent currents. It has been found in waters with salinity as low as 6 parts per thousand.
A. aurita feeds on plankton that includes organisms such as mollusks, crustaceans, tunicate larvae, rotifers, young polychaetes, protozoans, diatoms, eggs, fish eggs, and other small organisms. Occasionally, they are also seen feeding on gelatinous zooplankton such as hydromedusae and ctenophores. Both the adult medusae and larvae of Aurelia have nematocysts to capture prey and also to protect themselves from predators. The food is tied with mucus, and then it is passed down by ciliated action down into the gastrovascular cavity where digestive enzymes from serous cell break down the food. There is little known about the requirements for particular vitamins and minerals, but due to the presence of some digestive enzymes, we can deduce in general that A. aurita can process carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.