When I was in high school, I liked two subjects more than any others – biology and art. It follows, then, that the educational highlight of those years for me would have been the exercises in drawing, in exact detail, classroom specimens from the animal kingdom, sometimes observed through a microscope. This is the way biology was taught to my generation, and to my mother’s as well. I’m sure it was painful for some students, but I relished it – colored pencils to differentiate organs, labels lined up perfectly down one side of the page. The names of animals, their classifications and their organs were ingrained into my memory through that enjoyed experience.
So, last Saturday, as I walked out of a dark corridor into the blue light of the jellyfish collection at the Tennessee Aquarium, the word “coelenterate” popped unsummoned into my brain, a solid relic of that long-ago educational experience. Later, I consulted Wikipedia to satisfy myself that I had it right and was dismayed to find that the term “coelenterate” is now considered obsolete, that biologists have re-ordered the names of animals formerly classified as such and now use (and teach) a different name for this group of elegant drifters.
It comforts me to think that jellyfish have been on the planet for over 500 million years, orders of magnitude longer than the humans who are so bent on naming them. They are truly timeless.