Rob's Marine Momment

Jellyfish is a funny name isn't it. Why do you think they call those painfull stinging creatures of the sea jellyfish? They arn't fish, thats for sure. They lack any sort of skeleton like a fish and they don't have eyes, or any sort of real brain. Their actions are completely controlled by what I like to call 'programed' responses. So today I would like to talk about 1) what are Jellyfish 2) What is the actual stinging process and 3) how do you prevent from getting stung and 4) if stung how to cure yourself.

What are Jellyfish

When you think of the word jellyfish, what comes to mind? ... remember, not a fish. My guess is, some sort of floaty-stinging thing in the water. Hmmm. Ok thats a start. Shall we get technical now? Lets through in some scientific jargon here to define our 'jellyfish'.

The kingdom Animalia is made up of many groups of organisms (grouped by the way on common features). The first classification (grouping) is Phyla. One of these if the Chordates (us - ones with nerve chords), one is the Phylum Cnidaria (our jellyfish). Cnidarians are made up of radially symetrical organisms (like a pizza you can cut them up many ways and get symetery - you can't do that with us). These include corals, box jellyfish, portugesse man of war and sea anemones (like Nemo's home). Got the picture.

Now, this group is further divided into Classes. To put this into perspective, birds are a class, reptiles a class and mammals are a class. Our Cnidarians are also divided this way. There are 4 main classes. They are:

  • Class Schphozoa (The jellyfish, or jellies)
  • Class Hydrozoa (Diverse polyps, including hydras - portugese man-o-war)
  • Class Cubozoa (A minor tropical class with cuboidal swimming cups - Box jellies)
  • Class Anthozoa (Sea anemones, corals)

Now I looked up the term 'jellyfish' in Encyclopedia Brittanica and this is wat it said.

  • any planktonic marine member of the class Scyphozoa (phylum Cnidaria), a group of invertebrate animals composed of about 200 described species, or of the class Cubozoa, which was formerly considered an order of Scyphozoa. The term is also frequently applied to certain other cnidarians that have a medusoid (bell- or saucer-shaped) body form, …

SO, what we call Box Jellyfish (Cubozoans) are jellyfish -(south shore warnings). However, our windward side jellyfish (Portugese man-o-war and Hydroids) are not jellyfish at all - they are hydroids. Just about as closesly related to a coral as to a real jellyfish. Thats like the relationship between you and ... well, like my gecko friend here that sits on my window seal.

What is the stinging process?

Stinging is caused by the discharge of nematocysts. Think of the nematocyst as a big coiled harpoon within a jellyfish cell. Upon contact with an organism (of a different species) it discharges. These harpoons are full of all sorts of hooks and spines that not only creat a painfull sting, they also allow the more painfull toxins to penetrate the skin

These toxins of course are vary diverse within the Cnidarians. Corals have them, box jellies have them and so do hydroids (portugese mano-o-war).

Now imagine you have no brain, you have no teeth or a jaw and your skin was so soft that anything you tried to capture could probably break you. Thats the jellyfish's situation. Not to good huh? What it has are these stinging cells. Now, toxin is costly to produce so you only want to produce as potent of stuff as you might need. If you specialize on eating fish, you better kill those suckers before they kill you! So, our box jellies and man-o-wars, which eat fish, have pretty potent stuff. The most potent of all is the box jellyfish of Australia Chrionex fleckeri, which can kill a man in 3 minutes.

Avoiding Jelly fish stings!

The best way to avoid the stings of a jellyfish is to wear some sort of protective clothing. This acts to protect your skin from those painfull nematocysts. Thats why we all wear those rash guards. The other way is to simply know when the jellies might be out.

Man-o-wars are blown in so they are on the windward sides when trades are blowing. Box jellies are found on the leeward shores from 8 to 10 days after the full moon (let me know if you want me to explain why). So, if you don't want to be stung, either 1) don't swim during these times or 2) if Dave makes you swim (well he never makes us swim, we just feel pressured ... especially as coaches), then swim behind someone - kinda like a downfeild blocker! - j/k

How to cure your wounds!

If you've been stung, you are not alone. Apparently in Hawaii it ranks second in number of stings reported to Hawaiian Poison Control. Then again, maybe not so many people report it because centipeed stings rank number one. Maybe I'm odd but I don't know anyone thats ever been stung by a centipeed.

So how to cure the sting - remember those toxins we talked about hat were released. That is what you want to neutralize. Vinigear and meat tenderizer (but I wouldn't used meat tenderizer as some reports say its bad) are good for this (some say pee on it - hear thats better than nothing). However, for box jelly stings use hot water (some reports say thats not good either). A study done by some researchers (couldn't find proper source) showed that adding hot water would denature the toxins. They used water at 104 degrees F. Whats good about hot water is that it penetrates deep into the skin (obviously), and thus 'cures' the toxin. Sweet!

But the odd thing is that many reports are conflicting. Some say one thing is bad, some say its good. You'll have to look at some of the links and decide.

Ok, I couldn't sleep earlier because I ate box of brownies. Now, its 5:30am, when I'd normally be waking up. I think I will go to bed.

Happy Swimming,


:: Previous talks::

7.29.2003: Life cycle of fishes.

7.26.2003: When and when not to swim with sharks

7.22.2003: Its jellyfish time. If you got stung figure out what it was that stung you and how to cure it.











Explore Biodiversity