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Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

Posted September 17, 2013 3:30 PM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: ANIMAL SCIENCE jellyfish

I recently read an article about whether it's fair for marathon swimmers to wear special suits to prevent jellyfish stings. Some purists debate that Diana Nyad's swim from Cuba to Florida "doesn't count" because of her protective mask and gloves. I was curious about this (although that's probably a better topic for the BioMed blog) and about how jellyfish affect human swimmers. Nyad's previous attempt to swim the same route came to an end when multiple jellyfish stings left her unable to effectively move her legs.

Jellyfish Facts

Thought to have inhabited our seas for 500 million years, there are hundreds of species of jellyfish. The four major classes are scyphozoa (true jellyfish), cubozoa (box jellyfish), hydrozoa (medusa), and staurozoa (stalked jellyfish).

Some species of jellyfish commonly found in the waters off the United States include cannonball jelly, mushroom jelly, moon jelly, lion's mane, sea nettle, sea wasp, and Portuguese man-of-war. Sting pain is related to the amount of venom that species possess.

Jellyfish:

  • Range in size from smaller than a pinhead to larger than humans
  • Have no brains - an elementary nervous system detects stimuli and responds
  • Are a type of plankton; they drift along ocean currents

A group of jellyfish is called a smack and when large numbers of them appear suddenly it's called a bloom. Blooms occur when currents push big groups of jellyfish together in one location. They are especially likely to appear in warmer currents that have an abundant food supply.

Jellyfish Stings

Jellyfish feed themselves by stinging their prey with some of the thousands of nematocysts on their tentacles. The nematocysts inject toxin into the prey and then the jellyfish feed. This mechanism is also used for self-defense.

The "sting" of the sting can range from mild discomfort to paralysis. Box jellies tend to be the most venomous. The stings of the sea wasp, a type of box jellyfish, can kill a person within minutes.

Treatment of Jellyfish Stings

So, does peeing on a jellyfish sting help? The answer is no. Urine, picric acid, and alcohol can actually make some stings worse because they stimulate stinging cells that may still be in the skin.

Tentacles should be removed from the skin to stop the discharge of venom. Vinegar is the treatment of choice for box jellyfish stings.

Protection Against Jellyfish Stings

In areas with large jellyfish populations the best recommendation is to wear protective gear. In Australia, nylon pantyhose can protect a swimmer from the stings of a sea wasp because its harpoons are so short. Wet suits, full-body suits, masks, and gloves are also advisable. This example shows a thin material that covers the body.

So is it fair that Nyad is being criticized for wearing such protection? She explained that the support team that followed her had to duct tape the cuffs of the gloves for her. It is this assistance that might disqualify her marathon swim from the official record books. She, and other swimmers, said that the suit actually makes swimming more difficult opposed to giving an unfair advantage.

What do you think? Should marathon swimmers be entitled to protection like jellyfish sting suits and shark cages without penalty?

Resources:

Sea Science - Jellyfish

Jellywatch.org - Fun Facts

Wikipedia - Jellyfish

Image Credits: www.nationalgeographic.com, www.diananyad.com

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#1

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/18/2013 8:04 AM

For jelly fish stings.......... rum will also do the trick, make that good rum.......

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#2

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/18/2013 9:46 AM

in most sports competitors use some form of protective clothing (hockey, Football)- in others the choice of clothing is up to the individual (Track, Tennis). As noted the protection worn by Nyad is not an assist such as fins, so she fully deserves credit- purists should butt out until they match the feat

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#3

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/18/2013 10:06 AM

I agree with Hugh.

I bet none of the purists ever experienced a sting from a powerful jelly.

Well, I have been stung in the face by a Portuguese Man of War common to the water she swam in. The 'body' floats on top of the water and the tenticles can trail for 50 ft. These were probaby her main concern. The sting swelled up my eye and raised a welt along the path of the tentacle. I would equate that pain with 4 stings of the smallest of the hornet family, the small common yellow jacket. The biggest is the size of my thumb. That is far from lethal but will surely get your attention. Luckily, I don't have firsthand knowledge know about the relative strength of the stings of the hornet family. I picked the common yellow jacket because I have been stung by these often enough. Because all hornet stingers are barbed, the venom continues to pump into you till the stinger is removed. This results in a sting much worse than any other normal sized wasp which all have smooth stingers. Nyad must have endured many of these stings before she quit the first time. I tip my hat to her!

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In reply to #3

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/18/2013 10:21 AM

there is a lot of ignorance here.

from my earlier comment, my first (and only time) vacationing in Jamaica, I was stung from a jelly fish (not Man of war)......... the area was about 1-1/2" and 3/4" started to swell up about 1/2". It burned as it seemed to be increasing in size.

What went through my mind at the time was the pictures of brutal scaring.

The attendant at the beach came over to see what was going on, He got a bottle of rum and washed it out........ (Glad he didn't wipe out his other thing for treatment) and explained to me not to worry....... he must have saw the concern in my face, so he walked over to the water, pick up a little jellyfish with his bare hands and said..... this is what you came in contact with...

At this time the swelling was subsiding and was soon completely gone

But like you, the only thing I was concerned about is swimming and have a tentacle brush pass my eyes.

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#5

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/18/2013 10:33 AM

I agree! It is easy to think the serious jellys are still within the same order of magnitude of the regular jellies. They are not, the Sea Wasp kills. It is great you shared your experience so the readers can relate and put this in perspective.

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#6

Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/22/2013 5:27 PM

Definitely; protective suits should be allowed. For the purists, if everyone wears a suit, it will level the playing field if in fact any difference in swimming ability does exist.

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#7
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Re: Jellyfish Stings: A Protective Suit vs. a Friend to Pee on You!

09/22/2013 5:41 PM

It's a lot more complicated than just jellyfish.

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