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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Creature with powerful Venom

The first time I ever heard of a Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as the “box jelly fish,” “sea wasp” or “marine stinger,” I was told that it had tremendously powerful venom, and that it could kill in as little as 3 minutes. The box jellyfish is considered the most dangerous jellyfish and one of the most dangerous animals in the world.

A Chironex fleckeri is a type of jellyfish that is shaped like a box. They have four clusters of 15 tentacles trailing from each of the four corners of the jellyfish itself. It is pale blue in color and practically transparent, making it complex for swimmers to see them. They are found in northern Australia and are abundant in the waters during the time of the warmest months (November to April or May). In Australia quite a few measures have been implemented to try to keep people from being exposed to these animals, one of them is to net off the entire swimming areas and to warn people to swim only in those areas during the box jellyfish season. Another thing is the lifeguards wear 1mm Lycra suits, this is enough to protect their skin from being stung by the stinging cells from most breeds of jellyfish.

The stinging cells are very interesting though; they are tiny bags full of venom on the tentacles, so if the skin of their normal prey like shrimp comes into contact with them, they fire off. Once somebody is stung by a jellyfish, the natural reaction is to wipe off the adhering tentacles on the skin. What that does is it exposes more of the person’s skin to other stinging cells that has not fired off yet, so the way to do it is to take them off with tweezers and to add vinegar directly to the area that has the stinging cells. The vinegar will immediately inhibit stinging cells that have not shot off yet. The lifeguards in Australia have vinegar at the lifeguard station so that if this does happen, they will give it as topical treatment, it doesn´t do anything for the stinging cells that have already discharged into the skin, that venom is already on its way, but it does inhibit any of the stinging cells that have not discharged.
The descriptions from people that have been stung by a box jellyfish and lived through the experience are very uniform. The stinging produces excruciating pain, more pain than they can even handle, accompanied by an intense burning sensation. Quite often, the bodies reaction to a very large area that’s been stung is to go in anaphylactic shock, which causes somebody to stop breathing, and the heart to stop beating.

Someone would see a jellyfish and assume that it can sting, but this revelation that the box jellyfish can cause death so quickly is surely just shocking for most people. A box jellyfish is simply a glob of jelly that moves around with no brain, no lungs and no heart. This is a very simple, very primitive beast and the fact that it can cause death in people so quickly, is a conundrum. People have a hard time getting their ideas around that, but it’s true. Nevertheles, not all species of box jellyfish are this dangerous to humans.

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