Friday, September 15, 2006

Whats causing those stings?

Over the last several years there have been reports of serious jellyfish stings here in North Florida. Many have assumed that these were due to Portugese Man-o-War even though these easily identifiable jellyfish were not seen. It is highly likely that these were the result of a species of "Box Jellyfish"(cubozoan) which cause a severe sting that frequently leaves blisters and oozing wounds that take a long time to heal (you know if it's happened to you). These have been found in the caribbean , indo-pacific and recently South Florida but now appear to be in North Florida as well. I saw one of these filthy buggers last year ( and thats hard to do). They are small, about 2-4 cm wide, and clear with a slight brown peppering visible within. They look like a crystal clear cellophane box. They have 4 tenticles that can reach 150 cm and usually move about a meter off the bottom trailing their tenticles over the sand. The truely unique feature of the cubozoan jellyfish is that they may be able to see and are capable of locomotion. While they possess complex eyes they have no obvious brain but use a neural network that courses over the surface. It's important to remember that jellyfish "stings" are actually microscopic injections by specailized organs called "nematocysts"along their tenticles. Once they come into contact with what they consider food/prey, these nematocysts attach and begin injecting venom. Getting the nematocysts off should be your primary goal without stimulating them further. Many techniques are out there such as 1. shaving the area 2. rubbing alcohol 3. vinagar (acid) 4. ammonia (base) 5. meat tenderizer (papain- de-natures protein).
My view is to be aware and if bad stings are being reported wear cover (long sleave rash guard and lycra pants or panty hose) the milimeter of protection prevents the nematocyst from attaching. There is also an ointment called "SeaSafe" that is said to be helpful in preventing and treating stings.If you get burned by one, then keep a first aid kit in your car including those items listed above and a disposable razor . Additionally, I have found hydrocortizone ointment to be very helpful in treating the aftermath of these stings and should be used for several days then followed by antibiotic ointment until the lesion heals.With severe wounds or if you experience cramping or nausea you should seek medical help.