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Box jellyfish

Box jellyfish

Overview
Box jellyfish are cnidaria
Cnidaria
Cnidaria is a phylum containing over 9,000 species of animals found exclusively in aquatic and mostly marine environments. Their distinguishing feature is cnidocytes, specialized cells that they use mainly for capturing prey. Their bodies consist of mesoglea, a non-living jelly-like substance,...

n invertebrates distinguished by their cube
Cube
In geometry, a cube is a three-dimensional solid object bounded by six square faces, facets or sides, with three meeting at each vertex. The cube can also be called a regular hexahedron and is one of the five Platonic solids. It is a special kind of square prism, of rectangular parallelepiped and...

-shaped medusae
Medusa (biology)
In biology, a medusa is a form of cnidarian in which the body is shaped like an umbrella, in contrast with polyps. Medusae vary from bell-shaped to the shape of a thin disk, scarcely convex above and only slightly concave below...

. Box jellyfish are known for the extremely potent venom produced by some species: Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as sea wasp, is a species of Box jellyfish found in coastal waters from northern Australia and New Guinea north to the Philippines and Vietnam. It has been described as "the most lethal jellyfish in the world", with at least 63 known deaths from 1884 to...

, Carukia barnesi
Carukia barnesi
Carukia barnesi is a small and extremely venomous jellyfish found near Australia. Stings can result in Irukandji syndrome, and thus this species is commonly known as Irukandji jellyfish, although this name does not distinguish it from other Irukandji jellyfish such as Malo kingi.A mature C....

and Malo kingi
Malo kingi
Malo kingi is an Irukandji jellyfish named after victim Robert King, a tourist from the United States who died from its sting. It was first described to science in 2007, and is one of two species in genus Malo. It has some of the world's most potent venom, even though it is no bigger than a human...

are among the most venomous creatures in the world. Stings from these and a few other species in the class are extremely painful and sometimes fatal to humans.

"Box jellyfish" or "sea wasp" is also a common name
Common name
A common name of a taxon or organism is a name in general use within a community; it is often contrasted with the scientific name for the same organism...

 for the notoriously dangerous Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as sea wasp, is a species of Box jellyfish found in coastal waters from northern Australia and New Guinea north to the Philippines and Vietnam. It has been described as "the most lethal jellyfish in the world", with at least 63 known deaths from 1884 to...

.
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Encyclopedia
Box jellyfish are cnidaria
Cnidaria
Cnidaria is a phylum containing over 9,000 species of animals found exclusively in aquatic and mostly marine environments. Their distinguishing feature is cnidocytes, specialized cells that they use mainly for capturing prey. Their bodies consist of mesoglea, a non-living jelly-like substance,...

n invertebrates distinguished by their cube
Cube
In geometry, a cube is a three-dimensional solid object bounded by six square faces, facets or sides, with three meeting at each vertex. The cube can also be called a regular hexahedron and is one of the five Platonic solids. It is a special kind of square prism, of rectangular parallelepiped and...

-shaped medusae
Medusa (biology)
In biology, a medusa is a form of cnidarian in which the body is shaped like an umbrella, in contrast with polyps. Medusae vary from bell-shaped to the shape of a thin disk, scarcely convex above and only slightly concave below...

. Box jellyfish are known for the extremely potent venom produced by some species: Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as sea wasp, is a species of Box jellyfish found in coastal waters from northern Australia and New Guinea north to the Philippines and Vietnam. It has been described as "the most lethal jellyfish in the world", with at least 63 known deaths from 1884 to...

, Carukia barnesi
Carukia barnesi
Carukia barnesi is a small and extremely venomous jellyfish found near Australia. Stings can result in Irukandji syndrome, and thus this species is commonly known as Irukandji jellyfish, although this name does not distinguish it from other Irukandji jellyfish such as Malo kingi.A mature C....

and Malo kingi
Malo kingi
Malo kingi is an Irukandji jellyfish named after victim Robert King, a tourist from the United States who died from its sting. It was first described to science in 2007, and is one of two species in genus Malo. It has some of the world's most potent venom, even though it is no bigger than a human...

are among the most venomous creatures in the world. Stings from these and a few other species in the class are extremely painful and sometimes fatal to humans.

Nomenclature


"Box jellyfish" or "sea wasp" is also a common name
Common name
A common name of a taxon or organism is a name in general use within a community; it is often contrasted with the scientific name for the same organism...

 for the notoriously dangerous Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as sea wasp, is a species of Box jellyfish found in coastal waters from northern Australia and New Guinea north to the Philippines and Vietnam. It has been described as "the most lethal jellyfish in the world", with at least 63 known deaths from 1884 to...

. The ambiguous but commonly used terms "sea wasp" and "marine stinger" are sometimes used to refer to the more venomous species of box jellyfish.

Anatomy



Box jellyfish most visibly differ from the "true" or Scyphozoa
Scyphozoa
Scyphozoa is a class within the phylum Cnidaria, sometimes referred to as the "true jellyfish".The class name Scyphozoa comes from the Greek word skyphos , denoting a kind of drinking cup and alluding to the cup shape of the organism....

n jellyfish in that they are umbrella shaped, rather than domed or crown-shaped. The underside of the umbrella includes a flap, or velarium, concentrating and increasing the flow of water expelled from the umbrella. As a result, box jellyfish can move more rapidly than other jellyfish. In fact, speeds of up to six metres per minute have been recorded.

The box jellyfish's nervous system is also more developed than that of many other jellyfish. Notably, they possess a nerve ring around the base of the umbrella that coordinates their pulsing movements; a feature found elsewhere only in the crown jellyfish. Whereas some other jellyfish do have simple pigment-cup ocelli
Ocellus
A simple eye refers to a type of eye design or optical arrangement that contains a single lens which detect light. A "simple eye" is so-called in distinction from a multi-lensed "compound eye", and is not necessarily at all simple in the usual sense of the word...

, box jellyfish are unique in the possession of true eyes, complete with retinas, corneas and lenses
Lens (anatomy)
The crystalline lens is a transparent, biconvex structure in the eye that, along with the cornea, helps to refract light to be focused on the retina. The lens, by changing shape, functions to change the focal distance of the eye so that it can focus on objects at various distances, thus allowing a...

. Their eyes are located on each of the four sides of their bell in clusters. These enable them to see specific points of light, as opposed to simply distinguishing between light and the dark. Box jellies also retain the lesser type of eye, because the strong eyes are only one of four subsets.They therefore have 24 eyes.

Distribution


Although the notoriously dangerous species of box jellies are largely, or entirely, restricted to the tropical Indo-Pacific
Indo-Pacific
The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region of the Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia...

, various species of box jellies can be found widely in tropical and subtropical oceans, including the Atlantic and east Pacific, with species as far north as California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, the Mediterranean (e.g., Carybdea marsupialis) and Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 (e.g., Chironex yamaguchii), and as far south as South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 (e.g., Carybdea branchi) and New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 (e.g., Carybdea sivickisi).

Defense and feeding mechanisms



The box jellyfish has been called "the world's most venomous creature," though only a few species in the class have been confirmed to be involved in human deaths and some species pose no serious threat. For example, the sting of Chiropsella bart only results in short-lived itching and mild pain.

Each tentacle has about 500,000 cnidocyte
Cnidocyte
A cnidocyte, cnidoblast, or nematocyte is a type of venomous cell unique to the phylum Cnidaria . The cnidocyte cell provides a means for them to catch prey and defend themselves from predators. Despite being morphologically simple, lacking a skeleton and usually being sessile, cnidarians prey on...

s, containing nematocysts, a harpoon-shaped microscopic mechanism that injects venom into the victim. There are many different kinds of nematocysts found in cubozoans. In Australia, the fatal envenomations are most often perpetrated by the largest species of this family of jellyfish Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri
Chironex fleckeri, commonly known as sea wasp, is a species of Box jellyfish found in coastal waters from northern Australia and New Guinea north to the Philippines and Vietnam. It has been described as "the most lethal jellyfish in the world", with at least 63 known deaths from 1884 to...

, owing to the high potency of the venom carried in their nematocysts. The recently discovered and very similar Chironex yamaguchii may be equally dangerous, as it has been implicated in several deaths in Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. It is unclear hence which of these species is the one usually involved in fatalities in the Malay Archipelago
Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago refers to the archipelago between mainland Southeastern Asia and Australia. The name was derived from the anachronistic concept of a Malay race....

. In 1990, a 4-year-old child died after being stung by Chiropsalmus quadrumanus at Galveston Island
Galveston Island
Galveston Island is a barrier island on the Texas Gulf coast in the United States, about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The entire island, with the exception of Jamaica Beach, is within the city limits of the City of Galveston....

 in the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

, and either this species or Chiropsoides buitendijki are considered the likely perpetrators of two deaths in West Malaysia. At least two deaths in Australia have been attributed to the thumbnail-sized Irukandji jellyfish
Irukandji jellyfish
Irukandji jellyfish are tiny and extremely venomous jellyfish that inhabit marine waters of Australia and which are able to fire their stingers into their victim, causing symptoms collectively known as Irukandji syndrome. Its size is roughly no larger than a cubic centimetre...

. Those who fall victim to these may suffer severe physical and psychological symptoms known as Irukandji syndrome
Irukandji syndrome
Irukandji syndrome is a condition that is induced by venomization through the sting of Carukia barnesi, a species of Irukandji jellyfish, and other cubozoans. The condition is rarely fatal, but if immediate medical action is not taken, within only 20 minutes the victim could go into cardiac arrest...

. Nevertheless, most victims do survive, and out of 62 people treated for Irukandji envenomation in Australia in 1996, almost half could be discharged home with few or no symptoms after 6 hours, and only two remained hospitalized approximately a day after they were stung.

In Australia, C. fleckeri has caused at least 64 deaths since the first report in 1883, but even in this species most encounters appear to only result in mild envenoming. Most recent deaths in Australia have been in children, which is linked to their smaller body mass. In April 2010, a 10-year-old Australian girl survived multiple stings from box jellyfish and her survival is considered a medical miracle. In parts of the Malay Archipelago
Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago refers to the archipelago between mainland Southeastern Asia and Australia. The name was derived from the anachronistic concept of a Malay race....

, the number of lethal cases is far higher (in the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 alone, an estimated 20-40 die annually from Chirodropid
Chirodropida
Chirodropida is an order of box jellyfishes. They can be distinguished from other box jellyfish by the presence of branched muscular bases at the corners of their cubic umbrella, and of small saccules associated with the gastric cavity. They typically have multiple tentacles at each corner....

 stings), likely due to limited access to medical facilities and antivenom, and the fact that many Australian beaches are enclosed in nets and have vinegar
Vinegar
Vinegar is a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional...

 placed in prominent positions allowing for rapid first aid. Vinegar is also used as treatment by locals in the Philippines.

The box jellyfish actively hunts its prey (zooplankton
Zooplankton
Zooplankton are heterotrophic plankton. Plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word "zooplankton" is derived from the Greek zoon , meaning "animal", and , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter"...

 and small fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

), rather than drifting as do true jellyfish
Scyphozoa
Scyphozoa is a class within the phylum Cnidaria, sometimes referred to as the "true jellyfish".The class name Scyphozoa comes from the Greek word skyphos , denoting a kind of drinking cup and alluding to the cup shape of the organism....

. It is capable of achieving speeds of up to 4 knots (1.8 m/s).

Box jellyfish are known as the "suckerpunch" of the sea not only because their sting is rarely detected until the venom is injected, but also because they are almost transparent.

The venom of cubozoans is distinct from that of scyphozoans, and is used to catch prey (fish and small invertebrates, including shrimp
Shrimp
Shrimp are swimming, decapod crustaceans classified in the infraorder Caridea, found widely around the world in both fresh and salt water. Adult shrimp are filter feeding benthic animals living close to the bottom. They can live in schools and can swim rapidly backwards. Shrimp are an important...

 and bait fish
Bait fish
Bait fish are small fish caught for use as bait to attract large predatory fish, particularly game fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, halfbeaks such as ballyhoo, and...

) and for defense from predators, which include the butterfish, batfish
Ephippidae
Ephippidae is the fish family containing the spadefishes. There are about eight genera, with a total of 20 species, mostly marine. The most well-known species are probably those in the reef-dwelling genus Platax, the batfishes, which are kept as aquarium fish. They are spade-shaped, laterally...

, rabbitfish
Rabbitfish
Rabbitfishes or spinefoots are perciform fishes in the family Siganidae. The 28 species are in a single genus, Siganus. In some now obsolete classifications, the species having prominent face stripes—colloquially called foxfaces–are in the genus Lo. Other species like the Masked...

, crabs (Blue Swimmer Crab
Portunus pelagicus
Portunus pelagicus, also known as the flower crab, blue crab, blue swimmer crab, blue manna crab or sand crab, is a large crab found in the intertidal estuaries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Middle-Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The name "flower crab" is used in east Asian...

) and various species of sea turtle
Sea turtle
Sea turtles are marine reptiles that inhabit all of the world's oceans except the Arctic.-Distribution:...

s (hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill turtle
The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in its genus. The species has a worldwide distribution, with Atlantic and Pacific subspecies. E. imbricata imbricata is the Atlantic subspecies, while E...

, flatback turtle
Flatback Turtle
The flatback sea turtle is a sea turtle that is endemic to the continental shelf of Australia. Flatback turtles belong to the Cheloniidae, or sea turtle, superfamily and are the only species found in the genus Natator....

). Sea turtles, however, are apparently unaffected by the sting and eat box jellies.

In northern Australia, the highest risk period for the box jellyfish is between October and May, but stings and specimens have been reported all months of the year. Similarly, the highest risk conditions are those with calm water and a light, onshore breeze; however, stings and specimens have been reported in all conditions.

In Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, box jellyfish numbers peak approximately 7 to 10 days after a full moon
Full moon
Full moon lunar phase that occurs when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. More precisely, a full moon occurs when the geocentric apparent longitudes of the Sun and Moon differ by 180 degrees; the Moon is then in opposition with the Sun.Lunar eclipses can only occur at...

, when they come near the shore to spawn. Sometimes the influx is so severe that lifeguards have closed infested beaches, such as Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay
Hanauma is a marine embayment formed within a volcanic cone and located along the southeast coast of the Island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands....

, until the numbers subside.

Taxonomy


As of 2007, at least 36 species of box jellyfish were known. These are grouped into two orders
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

 and seven families
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

. A few new species have been described since then, and it is likely undescribed species remain.

Class Cubozoa
  • Order Carybdeida
    Carybdeida
    Carybdeida is an order of box jellyfish. There are five families within the order. They are distinguished from other box jellyfish by the presence of unbranched muscular bases at the corners of the cubic umbrella. Most species have four tentacles....

    • Family Alatinidae
      Alatinidae
      Alatinidae is a family of box jellyfish within class Cubozoa.-Alatina:Contains the following species:* Alatina alata * Alatina grandis * Alatina madraspatana...

    • Family Carukiidae
      Carukiidae
      Carukiidae is a family of box jellyfish within class Cubozoa.-Carukia:Contains the following species:* Carukia barnesi Southcott, 1967* Carukia shinju Gershwin, 2005-Gerongia:Contains the following species:...

    • Family Carybdeidae
      Carybdeidae
      Carybdeidae is a family of venomous box jellyfish within class Cubozoa.-Carybdea:* Carybdea arborifera Maas, 1897* Carybdea branchi Gershwin & Gibbons, 2009* Carybdea brevipedalia Kishinouyea, 1891...

    • Family Tamoyidae
    • Family Tripedaliidae
  • Order Chirodropida
    Chirodropida
    Chirodropida is an order of box jellyfishes. They can be distinguished from other box jellyfish by the presence of branched muscular bases at the corners of their cubic umbrella, and of small saccules associated with the gastric cavity. They typically have multiple tentacles at each corner....

    • Family Chirodropidae
      Chirodropidae
      Chirodropidae is a family of venomous box jellyfish within class Cubozoa.One of the species of jellyfish that belongs to this class is the Chironex fleckeri.-Chirodectes:* Chirodectes maculatus...

    • Family Chiropsalmidae

Treatment of stings


Once a tentacle
Tentacle
A tentacle or bothrium is one of usually two or more elongated flexible organs present in animals, especially invertebrates. The term may also refer to the hairs of the leaves of some insectivorous plants. Usually, tentacles are used for feeding, feeling and grasping. Anatomically, they work like...

 of the box jellyfish adheres to skin, it pumps nematocysts with venom into the skin, causing the sting and agonizing pain. Successful use of Chironex antivenom by members of the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade showed that acetic acid
Acetic acid
Acetic acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3CO2H . It is a colourless liquid that when undiluted is also called glacial acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar , and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell...

, found in vinegar, disables the box jelly's nematocysts that have not yet discharged into the bloodstream (though it will not alleviate the pain). Common practice is to apply generous amounts of vinegar prior to and after the stinging tentacle is removed. Removal of additional tentacles is usually done with a towel or gloved hand, to prevent secondary stinging. Tentacles will still sting if separated from the bell, or after the creature is dead. Removal of tentacles without prior application of vinegar may cause unfired nematocysts to come into contact with the skin and fire, resulting in a greater degree of envenomation.

Although commonly recommended in folklore and even some papers on sting treatment, there is no scientific evidence that urine
Urine
Urine is a typically sterile liquid by-product of the body that is secreted by the kidneys through a process called urination and excreted through the urethra. Cellular metabolism generates numerous by-products, many rich in nitrogen, that require elimination from the bloodstream...

, ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

, meat tenderizer
Papain
Papain, also known as papaya proteinase I, is a cysteine protease enzyme present in papaya and mountain papaya .-Papain family:...

, sodium bicarbonate
Sodium bicarbonate
Sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydrogen carbonate is the chemical compound with the formula Na HCO3. Sodium bicarbonate is a white solid that is crystalline but often appears as a fine powder. It has a slightly salty, alkaline taste resembling that of washing soda . The natural mineral form is...

, boric acid
Boric acid
Boric acid, also called hydrogen borate or boracic acid or orthoboric acid or acidum boricum, is a weak acid of boron often used as an antiseptic, insecticide, flame retardant, as a neutron absorber, and as a precursor of other chemical compounds. It exists in the form of colorless crystals or a...

, lemon juice
Lemon juice
The lemon fruit, from a citrus plant, provides a useful liquid when squeezed. Lemon juice, either in natural strength or concentrated, is sold as a bottled product, usually with the addition of preservatives and a small amount of lemon oil.-Uses:...

, fresh water
Fresh Water
Fresh Water is the debut album by Australian rock and blues singer Alison McCallum, released in 1972. Rare for an Australian artist at the time, it came in a gatefold sleeve...

, steroid cream
Steroid hormone
A steroid hormone is a steroid that acts as a hormone. Steroid hormones can be grouped into five groups by the receptors to which they bind: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, estrogens, and progestogens...

, alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

, cold packs
Ice pack
An ice pack or gel pack is a plastic sac of ice, refrigerant gel or liquid, or, in an emergency, even frozen vegetables. The refrigerant, usually non-toxic, can absorb a considerable amount of heat, since its enthalpy of fusion is high...

, papaya
Papaya
The papaya , papaw, or pawpaw is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, the sole species in the genus Carica of the plant family Caricaceae...

, or hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

 will disable further stinging, and these substances may even hasten the release of venom. Pressure immobilization bandages, methylated spirits, or vodka should never be used for jelly stings. In severe Chironex fleckeri stings cardiac arrest can occur quickly, so cardiopulmonary resuscitation
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency procedure which is performed in an effort to manually preserve intact brain function until further measures are taken to restore spontaneous blood circulation and breathing in a person in cardiac arrest. It is indicated in those who are unresponsive...

(CPR) can be life-saving and takes priority over all other treatment options.

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