Sea Nettle Jellyfish

At best you could say I have a ‘love, hate’ relationship with these guys; yes, they’re beautiful to look at, graceful and ghostly as they cruise by on the currents, but let one nail you and you’ll be cursing him royally. They’re not nearly as painful or dangerous as, say a Portuguese Man o’ War, but I remember getting hit as a child and being so enraged that I took my dip-net and for a good two hours captured and stranded dozens to their fate on the beach.

Sea Nettle Jellyfish (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) Panhandle of Florida. (Photo by Steve Weileman)

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Sea Nettle Jellyfish

The sea nettle is radially symmetrical, marine, and carnivorous. Its mouth is located at the center of one end of the body, which opens to a gastrovascular cavity that is used for digestion. It has tentacles that surround the mouth to capture food. Nettles have no excretory or respiratory organs. Each sea nettle is either in a free-swimming stage or a polyp stage. The free-swimming stage, or medusa stage reproduces sexually, and the polyp stage reproduces asexually.

The Atlantic sea nettle is a bell-shaped invertebrate, usually semi-transparent and with small, white dots and reddish-brown stripes. Sea nettles without stripes have a bell that appears white or opaque. The nettle’s sting is rated from “moderate” to “severe” and can be pernicious to smaller prey; it is not, however, potent enough to cause human death, except by allergic reaction. While the sting is not particularly harmful, it can cause moderate discomfort to any individual stung. The sting can be effectively neutralized by misting vinegar over the affected area. This keeps unfired nematocysts from firing and adding to the discomfort

I’ve never been hurt by a sea creature, except for jellyfish and sea urchins. – Peter Benchley

Each nettle tentacle is coated with thousands of microscopic cnidocytes; in turn, every individual cnidocyte has a “trigger” (cnidocil) paired with a capsule containing a coiled stinging filament. Upon contact, the cnidocil will immediately initiate a process which ejects the venom-coated filament from its capsule and into the target. This will inject toxins capable of killing smaller prey or stunning perceived predators. On humans, this will most likely cause a nonlethal, but nevertheless painful rash typically persisting for about 20 minutes. Some earlier cases of nettle stings from the Philippines reportedly had more severe effects: one account describes a sting causing vascular insufficiency, and another mononeuritis.

Like so many things in nature, beautiful but they should come with a warning label.


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