Box Jellyfish: Killer in the Sea
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Box Jellyfish: Killer in the Sea

For centuries there have been reports of painful deaths in the sea around Indonesia and Australia. People were being stung to death. No one knew what the killer was. Then, fifty years ago, two doctors discovered the answer. The killer was the “box jellyfish”. Box jellyfish (class cubozoa) are cnidarian invertebrates distinguished by their cube-shaped medusae. Box jellyfish are known as the extremely potent venom produced by some species. Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi are among the most venomous creatures in the world. Stings from these species are extremely painful and often fatal to humans and prey animals. The scientific name of the box jellyfish is chironex fleckeri. It is a delicate, almost transparent creature but its long tentacles contain a deadly poison. This poison can stop the human heart in two minutes.

For centuries there have been reports of painful deaths in the sea around Indonesia and Australia. People were being stung to death. No one knew what the killer was. Then, fifty years ago, two doctors discovered the answer. The killer was the “box jellyfish”.

Box jellyfish (class cubozoa) are cnidarian invertebrates distinguished by their cube-shaped medusae. Box jellyfish are known as the extremely potent venom produced by some species. Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi are among the most venomous creatures in the world. Stings from these species are extremely painful and often fatal to humans and prey animals. The scientific name of the box jellyfish is chironex fleckeri. It is a delicate, almost transparent creature but its long tentacles contain a deadly poison. This poison can stop the human heart in two minutes.

The doctors found tentacles still clinging to the dead body of a young boy. They matched these with a box jellyfish caught in the sea off Australia. Since then, the box jellyfish has killed 80 people around Australia alone. It is also found in Indonesia, the Philippines, and the western Pacific. It makes swimming off North Australia dangerous for five months each year.

A box jellyfish has 65 tentacles, each 4 meters long. Thousands of tiny stings shoot a small thread into the skin of the victim. These tiny threads inject the poison. No one knows when the groups of jellyfish will arrive, or when they will leave, or where they come from, or where they go to in the winter.

Dr. Robert Hartwick is a lecturer in Marine Biology.  He works at Townsville, on the Queensland coast of Australia. He is trying to understand the life-cycle of the box jelly. If we know when and why they move, swimmers can be warned. Then, Dr. Hartwick hopes to find some way of controlling them or of eradicating them.

A major step has been the successful breeding of a box jelly in a laboratory. Dr. Hartwick was assisted in this by a scientist from Japan. “No one had ever seen the box jelly in its early stages. So we had to breed one. Now we at least know what they look like when young”, said Dr. Hartwick.

The two scientists captured an adult male dan female. These were mated successfully. The tiny offspring were force-fed on little pieces of prawn meat. It was found that the young cling to the rocks on the sea bottom, in big groups. “Now we must try and find these ‘nurseries’ in the sea” said Dr. Hartwick.

How can the box jelly be controlled? One possibility is to use special trained turtles. These eat the jellyfish. Another idea is an electronic fence. The box jelly doesn’t like rough sea. So the electronic fence makes vibrations. The box jelly thinks these are big waves, and swims away.

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Comments (3)

Good to know this killer jelly fish, like/tweet/stumbled.

I love this article

Ranked #10 in Biology

Very interesting animal.

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