June 25 – Bowl Full Of Jellies

Today’s Factismal: Peeing on a jellyfish sting does more harm than good; instead, you should wash it with vinegar.

Imagine that you are at the beach, enjoying a relaxing day when suddenly you hear a loud yelp followed by the cries of someone in pain. They’d been out wading when BAM! They were stung by a jellyfish. Pretty soon, a crowd gathers and someone makes the inevitable suggestion. It has long been an article of faith among those who rarely go to the beach that when a jellyfish stings you, you should get someone to pee on it in order to “neutralize” the poison. However, it turns out that the urine does very little good and may do some harm by introducing dirt and other contaminants into the wound.

A lion's mane jellyfish (My camera)

A lion’s mane jellyfish
(My camera)

So what should you do? First, make certain that the person isn’t going into shock. Though it is rare, some people are especially sensitive to jellyfish stings and some jellyfish pack enough poison to kill a person (the infamous Portugese Man O War and other comb jellies {which aren’t true jellyfish but who’s going to argue at a time like this?}, for example). Next, rinse the stings with vinegar or saltwater, which will wash out the tiny little stinging cells. Don’t use freshwater because that can cause any unfired stinging cells spray out their poison-tipped barbs. If the tentacles are still attached to the victim, gently scrape them off with a credit card or razor (but wear gloves so you don’t get stung!). Finally, cover the sting with hydrocortisone or some other anti-itch medicine (Preparation H, I’m looking at you!) and give the person an allergy pill to reduce itching. An ice pack might help reduce the swelling. If there’s no swelling, then no further aid is probably needed but it is always smart to go to the doctor after a sting.

A blubber jellyfish (My camera)

A blubber jellyfish
(My camera)

Why do jellyfish sting? Because they are hungry and stupid. Jellyfish stings come from specialized cells known as nematocysts (literally, “threadlike sac”) which hold tiny harpoons tipped with venom. Whenever the hair triggers on the nematocyst are touched, they fire the harpoon into the nearest victim. Usually, it is a fish, which then gets wrapped in the tentacles and pulled into the jelly’s central stomach. But a jelly can’t tell the difference between a person and a fish, so they just sting anything that comes near.

Moon jellyfish (My camera)

Moon jellyfish
(My camera)

Of course, there is one last thing that you could do if you are stung by a jelly – or even if you just happen to see one: report it to JellyWatch. The oceanographers of JellyWatch need reports on jellyfish and other ocean life in order to better understand how life in the ocean lives and changes over time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s