The Box Jellyfish: The Planet's Most Deadly Creature

Jellyfish are beautiful but some are deadly...

A Box Jellyfish relaxes in Queensland seas. credit Wikipedia...
A Box Jellyfish relaxes in Queensland seas. credit Wikipedia...
This school girl survived a horrific envenomation recently and was unconcious and near death before her a "miracle" survival...her leg was covered in stings and the agony itself must have been life-threatening credit Guardian Pictures
This school girl survived a horrific envenomation recently and was unconscious and near death before her a "miracle" survival...her leg was covered in stings and the agony itself must have been life-threatening credit Guardian Pictures

Stings cause unbearable agony

Box Jellyfish: Earth’s Most Deadly Creature.

This journalist has many wonderful memories from 8 years of living in Australia. But it was never really relaxing swimming there as you were always made aware of sharks on the New South Wales beaches: there were spotter aircraft and shrieking “shark alarms” to warn bathers to clear the water when a “Noah,” (for “Noah’s Ark - Shark) was spotted near the surfing beaches such as Manly and Bondi.

In the North, we didn’t realize back then the real danger off the Northern Queensland beaches were not sharks and crocs - as if they weren’t enough - but tiny blobs of jelly - the Box Jellyfish, or Chironex fleckeri - which were only just being understood back in the 1960’s when this Pommy braved the crashing surf.

Many and heated are the arguments about which beastie is the world’s most venomous creature. These can usually be divided into the passive sort - which just have venom or poison to use in defense, or those predatory killers which use their venom to stun prey, as well as defend themselves.

Snakes are often quoted as the creatures to be feared the most in Australia. The country certainly has more than its share of reptiles whose bite - if not treated quickly - will remove the victim from this earthly coil. The Taipan has the most deadly venom - it’s sacs contain enough to kill more than 30 adult humans…and the nation has another 10 snake species, also deadly.

But the little chap featured in this article has enough venom in its stinging cells to kill twice that many - and the unbearable pain and venom associated with box jelly attack often stops the victim’s heart within four or five minutes! (Death from a taipan envenomation typically takes several hours and is relatively painless). Death is often brought on in as little as 2 to 4 minutes in badly stung Chironex victims due to the venom causing catastrophic potassium loss from cells followed by cardiac collapse.

There have been more than 70 recorded deaths from Chironex stinging in the last century in Australia, along with hundreds more of whom have eventually survived - many scarred for life from the skin damage and welts - after enduring hours or days of excruciating pain from the cocktail of venom injected by the box jelly’s “nematocysts,” or stinging capsules easily puncturing exposed skin. Other members of the family have been recorded causing long-term mental or physical effects.

Along with Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and the aptly named, Malo kingi, are considered nearly as bad and many other members of the family exist all over the tropic seas of the planet where they have caused painful stings and occasionally death. Some have been found as small as a thumbnail and it is surely true that the world's oceans contain more as yet unknown, along with their capacity to cause illness and death.

Recentlly another member, Chironex yamaguchi has been found causing a few deaths in Japan...they are also a menace at times in Hawaii.

My own experience with the box jelly - also called commonly “Sea Wasp,” or “Marine Stinger.” was while swimming near Queensland’s lovely town, Cairns. I suddenly felt a pain like a burn on my right calf which was so painful I cried out loud and beat a hasty retreat to the beach, luckily not incurring more contact with what turned out to be a box jelly in my splashing panic. One of the creature’s tentacles had done no more than sting about an inch of my skin…I could only imagine the agony a severe attack would cause. I put some alcohol on it, but the weal and pain persisted for several days and I can still see the mark left after 40 years! There is an antivenin available nowadays - if it can be administered in time! (I was later told that alcohol did no good and the general immediate treatment today is treating bite areas with vinegar, kept along beache snow in Australia's north-west.)

We know now that box jellfish enter lagoons and estuaries close to Townsville in Queensland to spawn, and the young feed in close coastal waters. (stings have been recorded anywhere in their habitat). The creature grows to about the size of a square-ish soccer ball, weighing some 2 kilos, with around 60 tentacles streaming close to 20 feet from the body. It doesn’t take many of them for the seas to become a lethal playground, and no one swims in the summer in any of these areas nowadays (from Oct. to May). Another nasty creature found in the same area is the jellyfish, the Bluebottle, which causes painful stings that are not fatal.

Curiously, box jellyfish are able to “see” from several primitive eyes; but scientists are baffled how they process images with such rudimentary brains! They can also propel themselves through calm water at about 2 feet a second - stunningly fast for the shape and propulsion method. Also quite maneuverable, they use their tentacles to stun and catch small prey like shrimps and tiny fish (killed immediately by the touch of the stingers!).

Some sea turtles - such as the Hawksbill - seem immune to the Chironex venom and happily gulp large jellyfish down in seconds incurring no ill effects. (The stingers may be foiled by the turtle’s tough mouth parts and stomach which has shown to be unaffected by substances such as glass and other silica).

In dubbing the Box Jellyfish the planet’s most venomous creature, biologists have also concluded its weaponry “the most complex ever developed by any animal other than man.”

Absently rubbing a spot on his leg, this writer had to agree.


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Comments 17 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

We were warned to stay away away from jellyfish as kids, but nothing like this! Scary stuff, Bob!


moonfroth profile image

moonfroth 3 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

Good grief Bob -- you keep writing about these ghastly creatures full of poisons and toxins etc. Your next creature must be one, the sting of which produces visions of exquisite beauty and thoughts of uplifting magnanimity---THEN you die!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

In southern Texas, we have hundreds of miles of beaches. They are not stunningly beautiful which is what keeps them mostly deserted, but here and there is a beach that is good enough for swimming. We used to drive along the beach and deliberately run over all the ballooned up jellyfish and listen for the 'pop' that they produced. They swelled up from the sun.

I recall their sting wasn't all that bad, but it would clear the water if anyone got stung. They appeared during certain times of the year as well, but definitely could be found during our summer months.

Last time Bob and I went to Padre Island, we were enjoying the waves when a baby hammerhead shark jumped up between us. I got out as fast as my fat stubby legs could get me out, but Bob stayed in and laughed. Then I called out and said, "Be on the lookout for mommy hammer head!". That got him out.

It's getting so no one can swim in the ocean anymore. Bummer.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Ha, Will...we all know nothing scares you old frontiermen.

Hi Clark...maybe a hub about the really worst creature on the planet...women!! (bad year!)

Hi Star...trouble with a hammerhead is it can get jamned somewhere...whoops!

Bob


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 3 years ago from northeastern US

sorry you are having such trouble with the fairer sex, bob. perhaps writing about it would be cathartic.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

I would never air my dirty linen in public, Cathylynn. I abhor this facebook/twitter society where it all hangs out.

Nice to hear from ya...

Bob x


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

That such beautiful and rather ethereal looking creatures could cause so much pain and death is remarkable. This little fellow has quite a defense mechanism. When we were once visiting Miami, we couldn’t get near the beach adjacent to our hotel as it was closed due to a minefield of Portuguese Man-of-War. Look, but don’t touch! Great hub, Bob.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Yeah...and they are not anywhere near as nasty as the Box Jellyfish, but have stings, not deadly though.

There's a lot more in the seas which can do us serious harm than we realize, puts you off swimming all together (or in the alltogether!)

Thanks for visit and comment..

Bob x


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Maybe the sea turtles just think they're eating jalepeños . . . you always write fascinating reports on animals, Bobby.

Don't forget about the blue ringed Australian octopus, small but deadly, that can kill in just minutes. Maybe you already wrote about it -- you have so many great hubs.

I've added a link in a couple of my hubs to this hub and I've added a few more links to the hub you wrote about the Murder of Crows and the hub about Chaga Disease. If you check my bird and animal hubs you'll find your links in some of them.

Voted this hub up and interesting. Haven't seen you for a while, so hope all's well . . .


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hello Misty. I saw a soldier practically dying after a Blue-Ringed Octopus bite on the hand...he was rushed to hospital (in Sydney) and did make it...

I have no data on this, but it seems these venomous creatures are on the increase, perhaps to combat the proliferation of man.

Im ok, but had a bad year in 2012...cold here and snowing at present!

Bob xoxoox You doing ok?? xoxo


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

Not only is your life interesting but the "things" you've come in contact are as well. I've never liked jellyfish and know the ones here (in NY and NJ) are not poisonous but still, yuck! Your Box Jellyfish is a totally different ballgame. Thanks for the info on this one..the photo looks more like something from outer space.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Tilly...yeah, not to mess with, amazing creatures really.

Bob


Pamela-anne profile image

Pamela-anne 3 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Wow I can feel your pain through your words; you are so blessed that the Jellyfish didn't cause you worse damage. If I ever end up on the beaches of Australia I will be taking your hub info with me tucked in my water-wing! Great read it is so amazing that something so beautiful as the Jellyfish can be so deadly. Thanks for sharing!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Really enjoyed reading this article the first time. Just got a Pinterest acct about a week ago, as I think I already mentioned, and I just now created a "Fish & Sea Creatures" board so that I could make this hub the first pin to it. Will also share with my followers.

Hope you are well and bushy tailed! ;) xx


stricktlydating profile image

stricktlydating 3 years ago from Australia

Oh yes we have some nasties here at the Beaches in NSW. Not just sharks coming in close to the shore but also making their ways into our inland lakes... And blue-bottles are a regular here that I try to avoid when swimming. I love the beaches here regardless though :)


stricktlydating profile image

stricktlydating 3 years ago from Australia

Oh yes we have some nasties here at the Beaches in NSW. Not just sharks coming in close to the shore but also making their ways into our inland lakes... And blue-bottles are a regular here that I try to avoid when swimming. I love the beaches here regardless though :)


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

I thought the biggest danger was the crack-thonged, buffed beach guards! Are you a Bondi Babe or a Manly Miss?

I had a house right on Whale for a while then moved to Vaucluse where I owned a condo in Vaucluse Waters. A good friend of old was Paul Graham (Mr Australia) who has a gym at Coodgee I believe now.

Digger Bob

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