“I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles. That phrase ‘the Lion’s Mane’ haunted my mind. I knew that I had seen it somewhere in an unexpected context. You have seen that it does describe the creature. I have no doubt that it was floating on the water when McPherson saw it, and that this phrase was the only one by which he could convey to us a warning as to the creature which had been his death.”
~ Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
The Lion’s Mane (Cyanea capillata) got a bad rap in this Sherlock Holmes tale, ultimately executed by Holmes when he shoves a boulder into the stillness of the jelly’s pool. The murder suspect, Murdoch, is exonerated as Holmes discovers the victim died of Lion’s Mane stings, not by human hands.
It’s misplaced blame and mistaken identity because although the Lion’s Mane jellies can pack a sting, they’re not particularly toxic nor lethal. They can, however, grow to huge dimensions — eight feet across with tentacles a hundred feet long — which undoubtedly fuels some fears about the Mane of the Lion.
Two Lion’s Mane jellies were pulsing, ocherous, through the murk of Victoria Harbor in British Columbia. Hardly giants among their kin, they were barely two feet around and barren of tentacles and tangles. One of them was skewered by a stick in its subumbrella, which seemed to inhibit its movement.
Neither Hugh nor I know much about jelly behavior so we deliberated over whether or not we should do anything. But, the stick just seemed wrong. We waited a long while until the jelly floated close to the dock. Hugh then untangled the stick, releasing the Lion’s Mane to its jellied pulsations.
An English gentleman was standing close by, looking on with interest. As Hugh was loosening the stick, the man, in his best jellyfish voice, said “hey, hey, hey, what are you doing? That’s my stick!!”
Cyanea capillata thrives in colder waters, above latitude 42˚N, with the Salish Sea in its southern Pacific range and the Arctic its northern range. The Arctic is where it tends to reach those gargantuan proportions.