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The Box Jellyfish Chironex Fleckeri: Australia's Shoreline and Reef Nuisance

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The Box Jellyfish Chironex Fleckeri is a highly deadly invertebrate predator and can affect many beaches south of the equator.

The box jellyfish is a creature with a remarkably powerful poison and neurotoxin which it uses to immobilize and sting its prey. The most potent of these jellies is reported to be Chironex Fleckeri, which can have enough poison in its tentacles to kill 60 adult humans. This box jelly does not deliberately hunt humans, but it can easily come into contact with them in its typical hunting ground near shorelines. Box jellyfish are considered a danger on the entire northern shore of Australia, in addition to sub-Equator coastal regions all over the world such as Africa, South America, and most particularly Indonesia. Some Chironex can range as high as Florida and the Carribbean and Southeast Asia.

Chironex Fleckeri have some unique characteristics that other jellyfish do not. For example, they can utilize a form of jet propulsion which allows them to swim a great deal faster than many of their cousins in the cnidarian phylum. They also have developed eyes, which are relatively unique, but it is not known how these eyes work, because the Chironex has no brain or central nervous system.The venom of the box jellyfish is geared towards fish, and since the jellies have no way of manually defeating the prey, they must rely upon their extremely potent venom to defeat their victims before damage is done to their tentacles. The venom utilized seems a bit potent, but fish scales resist tentacle nematocysts to a small degree. Nematocysts are the thousands upon thousands of stinging cells present in many jellyfish tentacles, including those of the Chironex. These can also be referred to as cnidoblasts.

There are several preventive and safety ideas which have demonstrated the ability to save lives and have gained acceptance over time through education and implementation. The first is utilizing safety equipment, such as protective swimming suits which decrease the likelihood of injury when coming into contact with Chironex Fleckeri or other types of box jellyfish. The second is isolating beaches with safety nets to prevent jellyfish from infesting the waters and giving humans a chance to enjoy the surf without a risk of death. If a sting does occur, then vinegar has been shown to be the most effective substance to treat the injury. This basically prevents stinging cells from doing even more damage, thereby reducing the risk of fatality. Education about at-risk areas is a final preventive method. At one time, it was believed that alcohol and even urine (a common treatment for stingray injuries) could decrease the effect of box jellyfish tentacles, but research has since shown that both of these chemicals cause the stinging cells to fire almost simultaneously. Good intentions utilizing these chemicals could actually kill the victim.

Box jellyfish are referred to in this manner because of their shape, which is roughly square. Chironex Fleckeri can be about the size of a basketball, and their tentacles can range up to three meters when hunting. The tentacles can leave vivid red welt marks on the skin, and the length of these welt marks can help determine whether or not a victim is likely to survive. Many sources indicate that 6-8 yards of welt length can easily kill an adult. Chironex is one organism that travelers visiting affected regions will want to be familiar with before patronizing the water. The creature may be extremely harmful, but a few precautionary measures can greatly decrease the chances of injury.