Thursday, February 10, 2011

Creature Feature: Box Jellyfish/Sea Wasp.

It stuns me that there has never been a horror flick about jellyfish. Their body structures are alien to humans, they have vicious stinging tentacles, and they either look somewhere between creepy and elegant or are darn near invisible in the ocean. As icing on the cake, many of them glow in the dark. Sounds like monster movie material to me.

Haha. If only nature cranked out a gargantuan, man-eating jellyfish for us to play with! The deadliest jellyfish in the world is nigh-invisible, and some of its relatives are tiny.

Chironex fleckeri, also called the sea wasp, is cited as the most lethal jellyfish in existence. Its tentacles contain enough venom to kill 60 adult humans; like everything else in Australia, it is out to kill you, and does a damn good job of it. A few others in the genus have nasty venom as well.


Box jellyfish in general are sophisticated cnidarians. As their name indicates, their bells are distinctly cuboid as opposed to being round and frilly like the bells on most jellies. They have a nervous system more complex than that of many jellyfish, and, despite lacking a central nervous system, eyes. These eyes pick up not only dark and light, but also color; box jellyfish were found to have a particular aversion to the color red, so red safety nets are common on Australian beaches. They may also 'sleep' at night, but nobody is sure about that.

When box jellyfish, namely the sea wasp and another, smaller cousin called the Irukandji, hit the beaches, humans are usually warned via large, friendly signs. Rightfully so; these jellies are very hard to see, and with cnidocyte-covered tentacles up to three meters long, few people dare swim. Those that do step into the water risk their lives.

Also a good warning against tentacle rape. Just sayin'.

A sting from a box jelly's tentacle can kill a person in up to three minutes. Of all things, the best immediate remedy is acetic acid - the same stuff that makes vinegar smell. This will not cure the deadly sting, but can keep a person alive until an antivenin is administered. Y'know, if they can get it in before those 3 minutes. Even then, whatever the jellyfish touched will never be the same again.

Tomorrow: It's an iguana! It's a chameleon! It's...WTF is it?

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