Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Dive Deeper at Home: Making a Jellyfish Puppet

An Activity for Deep Sea Animal Adaptations Week

Archived Webinar

In the video above, marine biologist Allen Collins, art student Alia Payne, and ocean educator Lara Noren discuss and show the different ways jellyfish move. Then Alia demonstrates how to build a puppet of a jellyfish that moves by jet propulsion. This Zoom webinar aired July 14, 2020, as as part of the museum's Deep Sea Animal Adaptations week, a Natural History Summer Explorations program for students entering Grades 3-7.

You can watch the video and then do the challenge below, or go right to the challenge.

Deep Sea Exploration Challenge

Jellyfish have two different swimming styles. Some use jet propulsion and are typically shaped like a cylinder. Others are flatter and disc-shaped and use a paddling motion to swim. Your challenge is to create a jellyfish puppet in one of these shapes to show how they move.

Montage of two jellyfish identified by how they move: Jet propulsion and paddler
Two jellyfish with their swimming styles labeled: jet propulsion and paddler. Photos by Allen Collins, NOAA/Smithsonian.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t have any of the items listed below, you can be creative and use what you have!

Materials Needed:

  • FOR JET PROPULSION JELLYFISH: 1 plastic bottle with the cap and label removed to serve as the “bell” or body of the jellyfish 
  • FOR PADDLING JELLYFISH: 1 wide, bowl-shaped item like an open umbrella to serve as the “bell” or body of the jellyfish
  • 1 plastic or paper bag for the tentacles
  • Tape or hot glue, and scissors
  • Optional: pens, or other items to decorate your puppet


  1. Place the “bell” or body of the jellyfish on a flat surface.
  2. Cut through the straps and seams of your bag to separate it into two panels. Set one panel aside and cut the other into ¼ inch strips. These strips will be your “tentacles”! 
  3. Apply a strip of tape or pea-sized amount of glue to the end of one of the strips and attach it to:
    1. JET PROPULSION JELLYFISH: right before the ‘neck’ of the bottle, where it narrows into the opening. 
    2. PADDLING JELLYFISH: along the rim of the umbrella
  4. Continue placing the tentacles all the way around the “bell” or body of the jellyfish puppet until it is covered with evenly spaced tentacles. 
  5. Move your puppet so it can “swim”
    1. Squeeze the bottle to create a jet propulsion
    2. Open and close the umbrella to paddle your jellyfish
A clear, 2-liter plastic bottle on a table, with long white plastic fringe attached to one end of the bottle.
Example of a jet-propulsion jellyfish puppet. Photo by Alia Payne.
An open, clear umbrella with plastic fringe hanging off the bottom edge.
Example of a paddling jellyfish puppet. Photo by Alia Payne.

Take It a Step Further

  1. Simulate the jellyfish movement: Submerge your jet propulsion jellyfish puppet in the sink -- give the body of the jellyfish a few squeezes to simulate the animal’s movement. What do you notice about how the water around the jellyfish moves with each squeeze?
  2. Create an environment: Jellyfish are not only found in the deep sea, they are also found throughout the different ocean ecosystems. Create a habitat for your jellyfish puppet by drawing, using construction paper, making a diorama, or other art form.  Use the Ocean Portal to explore:
    1. Different ocean ecosystems
    2. Other organisms that jellyfish might encounter
  3. Put on a puppet show: Create other puppets of animals that jellyfish might encounter. What do they eat? Who eats them? Who else lives in the deep sea? Play with the different ways to tell stories about who lives in the deep sea.
  4. Explore more:
    1. NOAA Okeanos Jellyfish Videos for World Jellyfish Day
    2. Ocean Portal Jellyfish Images, Videos, and Info
    3. This robot jellyfish is a climate spy (from Science News for Students)
    4. 'Startlingly Large' Jellyfish Washes Up on Maine Beach
Resource Type
Hands-On Activities
Grade Level
3-5, 6-8
Life Science