The Art of the Sting

fCarybdea alata or the Hawaiian box jellyfish is simple organism that once a month wreaks havoc among the beaches of O’ahu, Hawai’i. Not as deadly their Australian cousin, the Hawaiian box jellies are attracted to the bright lights of Honolulu during their migration path. As they slowly wade in the water, their tentacles wrap around any organism unlucky enough to cross its path. The venom found in these tentacles is injected into the prey using hundreds of little nematocysts. Nematocysts are little capsules with harpoon like stingers that are launched out stinging the prey. There can be hundreds to thousands of these little nematocysts on a single tentacle.

When coming in contact with prey a lancet or “harpoon” is shot out of the nematocyst capsule to pierce the epidermal layer of the prey, sometimes in as fast as 700 nanoseconds. After the initial injection the lancet breaks off and a long hollow tubule follows in the lancet’s wake releasing the venom found the capsule into the blood stream. The venom injected causes an osmotic pressure shift that increases the water in the blood stream causing the hemoglobin in the blood to rupture. The blood quickly turns into a soupy mess and stops the transport of oxygen and other essential nutrients for the body.

If one was to be stung by a jellyfish, showering the injected body part in warm water has been proven to help break down the venom and help lessen the pain. Washing the area with vinegar has been proven beneficial; peeing on your friend doesn’t help them in anyway. Below is a small video showing how quick the nematocysts can fire.


-by Fabrece Roup



Yanagihara, A. A., Kuroiwa, J. M. Y., Oliver, L. M., Chung, J. J., Kunkel, D. D.. (2002) Ultrastructure of a novel eurytele nematocyst of Carybdea alata Reynaud (Cubozoa, Cnidaria);Cell and Tissue Research. 308(2):307-18.

Yoshimoto, C. M., Yanagihara, A. A.. (2002) Cnidarian (coelenterate) envenomations in Hawai’i improve following heat application; Transaction of Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. 96 (3): 300-303.


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