The most venomous creature on the planet calls the ocean its home. It is not a snake, nor a fish, in fact – it doesn’t even have teeth and is almost invisible. It is none other than the box jellyfish. Being stung by one is almost a certain fate of death – and you may never even see it coming. Here are 10 interesting facts about the box jellyfish.
10. Fatal Stings are More Frequent than You Think
Box Jellyfish stings are most common in Australia, most victims being swimmers with exposed skin. While there are a variety of venomous jellyfish in Australian waters, a sting from the box jellyfish is distinguished by by extreme pain, leading to paralysis, and more often than not – death.
It’s hard to determine exactly how many people die each year from box jellyfish stings. Many of the countries where they can be found don’t require death certificates, causing many box jellyfish sting related deaths to go untallied. It is also possible that stings may have caused drowning, hear attacks, or other complications that ultimately lead to death.
The National Science Foundation believes at 20-40 die every year in the Philippines alone due to box jellyfish stings, not including the few lucky souls who manage to survive.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at shark attack death statisitcs. It is estimated that only 3 people a year die world wide from shark attacks. That means that in the Phillipenes alone, 10 times as many people die from box jellyfish stings than the rest of the entire planet does to shark attacks!
9. Box Jelly Stings Can Attack the Skin, Nerves, and Heart
When a box jelly wraps its tentacles around its victim, its cells react with chemicals on the victim’s skin, prompting tiny dart-like substances to release. The darts pierce the victim’s flesh and shoot venom into their bloodstream. Within minutes, the victim’s blood pressure rises rapidly, their head begins to pound, and their heart starts beating rapidly, or stops entirely. People that have been stung can also go in to shock from the severe pain, and may drown if they are unable to swim back to shore.
As long as the jelly’s tentacles stay in contact with the victim, venom will continue to be released. How serious at attack can be depends on the size of both the jellyfish and the victim. Because the venom of the box jelly can attack the skin, nerves, and heart at the same time, in most circumstances, a sting is fatal.
8. Stings Can Drive You MAD
Mark M. Whelan has been stung by a box jellyfish, and lived to tell the tale. He related how he crossed the path of the creature in Gordon’s Bay, Australia. He says, ”
“The pain attacks your body at a speed that is so fast it cannot be measured. Already your lungs are paralyzed and your stomach is turned upside down. Simultaneously your tongue is trapped and quickly dries out, while your jaw slams shut and your eyes squeeze tight. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles tense in an attempt to combat the pain; then they release succumbing to its awesome power…
You are defeated without having the chance to put up a fight. It’s almost impossible to swim, as a sense of calm courses through your body informing you to just breathe in the warm water and the pain will go away…
For forty eight hours of insanity and the fear of the continuous suffering I was then finally able to summon the strength to pick myself up and get to a hospital.”
Whelan isn’t alone in experiencing dark thoughts after a box jelly sting. Doctors report how victims are often consumed by anxiety and beg them for death.
7. Not all Box Jellyfish are Venomous
Box jellyfish don’t like cold water, so they can be found hanging out in warmer waters all over the world. Many of these jellyfish are not venomous. However, the most venomous, and therefore the most dangerous, live in the oceans around Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Chironex fleckeri, the largest and deadliest of all box jellyfish, stays mostly in the waters around Australia. It is considered the most venomous of all the marine creatures on Earth.
Box jellyfish populations have spiked in recent years, possibly due to climate change, spillage of fertilizers that deplete oxygen in oceans, and overfishing. Since fish are the primary predators of jellyfish and those factors kill off fish, box jellyfish are finding it easier to survive and reproduce.
6. Box Jellies Can Control Their Movement
Unlike most jellyfish, which get around by simply letting the currents take them where they will, box jellyfish can swim. They are able to physically propel themselves through the water and can reach swimming speeds of about four miles per hour. That may not seem that fast, but compared to drifting aimlessly, box jellies are pretty speedy.
Being able to move as they desire also allows box jellies to hunt for food and travel elsewhere if prey becomes scarce. By swimming, box jellies can evade predators such as fish and turtles and escape dangerous currents that could potentially harm them as well.
5. Box Jellyfish Have 24 Eyes, But No Brain
Box jellyfish are the only species of jellyfish to have eyes, and not just two like most creatures. Instead, they have 24. They use this special adaptation when they swim, and are able to make turns and easily navigate through tight areas and around objects. Their 24 eyes can detect the size and color of an object, as well as the level of light in the water surrounding them. However, researchers have discovered they can’t detect transparent objects very well.
The eyes of the box jellyfish are located on structures that hang below their bodies, with one eye on top of the structure and the other on the bottom. The location of their eyes gives them the ability to see almost all of their surroundings at once. However, since jellyfish have no brain, scientists are still trying to figure out how they process what they see.
4. Box Jellyfish Are Extremely Good Hunters
Because box jellies can both see and swim, they have adapted to become excellent hunters. They enjoy dining on plankton, crustaceans, and fish eggs, and have even been observed devouring the larvae of other jellyfish. They have very large stomachs and will eat their fill when they find a good source of food.
In order to kill their prey, box jellyfish catch it within their tentacles, use their venom to kill it, and then swallow their catch whole.
3. They get Their Name from Their Shape
Instead of the dome-shaped bell found on most jellyfish, box jellies have a cubic shape with four distinct sides, and each bottom corner is equipped with as many as 15 tentacles. Box jellies use the 5,000 cells along the length of their tentacles to sting, and since these tentacles can grow up to 10 feet in length, it’s possible to get stung from quite a distance.
Other than their long tentacles, though, box jellies are somewhat small. They don’t usually grow more than 10 inches wide (about the size of a basketball). Plus, their bodies are mostly transparent – meaning people often don’t see them in the water until it’s too late.
2. Box Jellyfish Can Reproduce Both Asexually Or Sexually
In the wild, box jellyfish have been observed to only live for about a year and those studied in the lab only lasted about nine months. However, their reproductive process can sometimes take longer than their actual life as a full-grown jellyfish. Like other jellyfish, adults can reproduce sexually by releasing eggs and sperm into the water. A planula is formed, and it becomes the jellyfish larval stage.
Planula grows into polyps, which attach themselves to a surface using their tiny tentacles and connect with their brothers and sisters through a system resembling feeding tubes. Then, the polyps reproduce asexually and clone themselves into what will eventually become an adult jellyfish.
1. If you Seek Medical Attention, You Can Live
Marine biochemist Dr. Angel Yanagihara has become one of the world’s leading experts on box jellyfish and has her own survival story. While swimming in Hawaii, she swam directly into a group of jellies and was stung by several tentacles. She managed to swim back to shore and passed out. Luckily, someone had called paramedics. Yanagihara was saved, but she wasn’t quite sure exactly how she had survived.
Yanagihara dedicated her work from then on to studying box jellies, and managed to discover exactly how their venom attacks the cardiovascular system. She used this knowledge to create medicines in IV and topical form that could be given to box jelly victims to help stop the venom’s progress and save their hearts.
Although her work has focused on helping people after they’ve been stung, she believes more warnings and better education about box jellyfish would be more effective in the long run.