Common questions about jellyfish

Common questions about jellyfish

Keira Kittredge, Staff Writer

Jellyfish are fascinating creatures!  They have been around for millions of years, even before dinosaurs.  They can be found in oceans all over the world and in all different colors. Some even glow!  These invertebrates have no brain, heart, bones or eyes yet have the ability to paralyze their prey.

Here are a few commonly-asked questions about these amazing blobs.


Where is its mouth?

It’s “mouth” serves several purposes.  According to National Geographic, the jellyfish’s mouth is found in the center of its body. From this small opening it both eats and discards waste. This opening can also squirt a jet of water, and that is how they propel forward to move.


How should you treat a jellyfish sting?

Jellyfish stings have always been something to induce panic especially if it were to happen to you. There are a lot of ways to treat them.  

One important rule is to not scratch it. That could possibly irritate it more. 

Another important step is to wash the wound properly. According to “Rinse the affected skin area with vinegar or saltwater.” They also mention avoiding freshwater, hot water, urine or alcohol, because it will actually cause more harm than good.  Vinegar is the best option because it can neutralize the sting in addition to cleaning it.

For some stings, like Portuguese Man o’ Wars, you would need to see a doctor.  The poison can get into the blood and will likely need treated with medication.


How deadly are they?
It really depends on the kind you deal with. 

According to City Lab, there are 150 million jellyfish stings a year.  A few million of those are in the United States, but they aren’t usually a big deal.

Jelly fish expert Lucas Brotz, Ph.D. says that in North America a jellyfish sting is “more the level of a bee sting…It’ll be quite painful and might even give you a little bit of scarring temporarily, but unless you have a severe allergy, it’s not going to be too dangerous.”

In contrast, Chironex fleckeri and Irukandji, which are found in the waters around Australia and the Philippines can kill a person in three minutes.

All box jellyfish contain very potent venom. According to Live Science, “Some 20 to 40 people die from stings by box jellyfish annually in the Philippines alone, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation.”

Also, the sea wasp jellyfish is widely considered the most dangerous because of the lethal poison in its sting. Plus it’s nearly invisible and therefore hard to avoid.

For comparison, Brotz notes that sharks kill about eight to 10 people a year while jellyfish kill at least 50.


Why do they sting?

Box jellyfish have tentacles covered in something called cnidocysts. Each cnidocyst contains a tiny dart and a load of poison.  The darts pierce the skin and the toxin then enters the blood.  The venom causes pain and inflammation and in extreme cases, travels through the body and affects the heart.


How can you avoid them?

There are many ways to avoid them. You can wear protective lotions, wear a protective suit, avoid the water during jellyfish season and pay attention to flags on the beach warning of jellyfish.  Also, be alert while swimming in the ocean and even when walking along the beach. 

Stings can occur from stepping on a jellyfish–even if its dead.  According the The New York Times, “Jellyfish can still emit toxins when dead or broken apart, said Renee Zobel, a marine biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.” She also explains that the tentacles will keep firing, even if its been separated from the animal. So never pick up or touch a jellyfish, even if it appears to be dead.