November 17 – Nettlesome

Today’s factismal: The world’s deadliest jellyfish can be thwarted with a pair of pantyhose.

If you ever visit Bondi Beach in Australia, you may be surprised at some of the things that you see. Early in the morning, groups of tiny fairy penguins swim near the shore. Out in the water, a long line of buoys marks where a shark net protects the penguins and the human swimmers, too. And if you look at the lifeguards, you’ll see that many of them (and not a few of the swimmers, male and female alike) are wearing pantyhose. But, just as the shark net protects against sharks, the pantyhose protect against another menace: Irukandji jellyfish.

The tiny but deadly Irukandji jellyfish (Image courtesy Gondwanda Girl)

The tiny but deadly Irukandji jellyfish
(Image courtesy Gondwanda Girl)

These tiny little jellyfish have a venom that is 100 times more potent than a cobra’s and can cause people excruciating pain, muscle cramps, heat palpitations, and even death! But why would a jellyfish that is smaller than the end of your thumb have such a potent venom? Simply because it is such a tiny little critter; the venom serves to paralyze its prey (small, fast fish) so that the irukandji can nosh down at its leisure.

A nematocyst after firing (Image courtesy Spaulsy)

A nematocyst after firing
(Image courtesy Spaulsy)

The way that the jellyfish delivers its venom is fairly simple: in specialized cells known as nematocysts, the jelly fish has a tiny harpoon coated with the venom. When the nematocysts is triggered, either by being brushed up against (which is why you never touch a jellyfish on the beach) or by the jelly fish’s own decision, the harpoon shoots out and stabs into the victim, releasing the venom and providing a line to reel the meal back in. And that’s why they wear the pantyhose. Those nematocysts aren’t very powerful and can just barely penetrate the skin; there’s no way that they can stab through the pantyhose. So by wearing the decidedly un-macho hose, the very macho lifeguards keep from frothing at the mouth.

Amazingly, the irukandji isn’t limited to Australia; it has been sighted as far away as Great Britain. If you’d like to report a sighting of this (or any other) jellyfish, then head over to jellywatch:

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