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Fish out of water?

Lawton_The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is known for its bison, longhorn cattle and even elk - but jellyfish?  Now it is.  During September of last year, biologists discovered a new species to add to the over 1,000 creatures in the refuge.  Freshwater jellyfish were spotted making their home in one of the lakes at the refuge.

Refuge officials say the jellyfish aren't dangerous.  They do have stingers, but they are so small it's unlikely they can even penetrate skin.  And, experts say they just might not be as new an addition as we think.  The jellyfish may not be as big as a bison, but they've had a big impact on the people at the refuge.

Last September a tourist spotted one of the animals in the water and contacted park officials.  At first, they were skeptical, but not for long.  "It surprised the heck out of everybody really.  Everybody was taken back and just sat back in awe.  You just don't expect to see a jellyfish in Oklahoma," says US Refuge Biology Technician Steve Hodge.  "Sure enough I did find a freshwater jellyfish, is what it turned out to be." 

Hodge says he has seen eight of them along the edges of a lake in the refuge, and they aren't necessarily new to our state.  "They're found throughout Oklahoma and in all different counties, usually in the southeast part of Oklahoma," he says. 

Research says the species could have reached North America as early as the 1800's, but they're still trying to find out how they ended up here.  The refuge says a bird could have brought them in - or even a plant.  "This species evidently is an exotic species that came over either from China or South America," says Hodge.

But will this new addition cause any problems for the other 100 creatures they share the refuge waters with?  "We didn't see that much of an impact or that many critters to really think it was anything detrimental to the refuge or the other bodies of water," Hodge says.  All in all, the refuge says it's proud to have the new species.  "It's a really neat species," he says.

And, these creatures don't eat much - just the zooplankton or microscopic animals found in the water.  And, since the jellyfish are an official part of the refuge now, they are protected.  That means collecting them is illegal and you could be find or even go to jail for it.

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