[Coral-List] sea wasps [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Esther Peters esther.peters at verizon.net
Wed Jul 18 12:14:31 EDT 2007

Hi All,

The Caribbean box jellies are not as nasty as those in Australia, but 
this depends on one's sensitivity to the toxin and how much one gets 
stung ("dose makes the poison").  We were told when night diving in 
Jamaica and San Salvador to shine lights as we surfaced to avoid them, 
as they were near the surface at night, and to be sure to wear 
protective clothing and hoods to minimize surfaces where tentacles might 
contact skin.  I was told by a colleague that Netherlands Antilles diver 
had been stung on her bare stomach and went into anaphylactic shock.  It 
pays to be careful around these animals!

As a senior undergrad I did a research project on Cubozoa nematocysts 
with Dr. Dale Calder at the South Carolina Marine Resources Research 
Institute (way back when...D.R. Calder and E.C. Peters, 1975, 
Nematocysts of Chiropsalmus quadrumanus with comments on the systematic 
status of the Cubomedusae, Helgo. Wiss. Meeres. 27: 364-369).  He had 
samples of formaldehyde-fixed box jellies of Chiropsalmus quadrumanus 
and Tamoya haplonema, and I made squash preps of tentacles, manubrium, 
"warts" from the bell surfaces, etc.  These animals have different 
nematocysts on different structures and can be used to distinguish them 
taxonomically, but the ones on the tentacles were striking in their size 
(containing more toxin and larger, longer threads to pierce prey). 
Years later I was swimming in the surf on a South Carolina beach and was 
stung on my right calf.  The number of tentacles indicated it was C. 
quadrumanus (T. haplonema had a single one on each corner, compared to 
the five on each corner of C. quadrumanus - "four-hand-five-fingers"). 
The pain was intense, just like everything I had read about sea wasps, a 
burning wire cutting into my leg.  I was able to hobble back to our 
house for first aid and antihistamine, but it took months for the 
tentacle marks to disappear, even with cortisone applied every day.

Which reminds me of another story, when beginning my doctoral research 
in Puerto Rico, I met Chuck Cuttress (now deceased) at La Parguera.  He 
had been studying cubomedusae reproduction and I asked if I could see 
some swimming because I'd only worked with preserved ones.  He told me 
he didn't have any in aquaria then, but I could go to one of the beaches 
that is permanently closed because of sea wasps and get some.  I asked 
"How?" and he replied I could just wade in and when they started 
stinging me just scoop them into a bucket.  But I never did this!

A quick Google Scholar search shows that the Cubozoa are still studied, 
particularly their light-sensing eyes (they prefer sandy bottoms and 
surface at night), behavior, and stinging.  Caribbean species include 
Tripedalia cystophora and Carybdea alata, C. marsupialis, maybe others. 
  Anyway, they are a fascinating class of Cnidaria!

Esther Peters, Ph.D.
George Mason University

Shelley Anthony wrote:

> Hi Megan,
>  When I was at Lee Stocking Island (many years ago), we used to see 
> really large schools in the summer during night dives or occasionally 
> around the dock. They school up like that after the full moon to spawn 
> and I remember they would hover just under the surface at night. One of 
> my friends got stung by some (swam up through a school after doing his 
> deco stop), and while he said it was pretty painful, he didn't have a 
> serious physiological reaction, just some nasty red welts that went away 
> after a time. They're not nearly as venomous as the box jellies over 
> here, but they are still potentially dangerous. But I admit that after 
> my friend got stung, from then on I always made everyone shine their 
> flashlights into the water during night dives to check before I made a 
> roll-back entry...and still do.
> Cheers,
> Shelley
> megan berkle wrote, On 17/07/2007 23:11:
>>   Dear coral-listers:
>>   I  am  working  in San Salvador Island, Bahamas for the summer.  I was
>>   night snorkelling on dump reef situated in Graham's harbor (north part
>>   of  the  island).   I was waiting for the soft corals to spawn until I
>>   noticed  a  swarm  of  what  appeared to be sea wasps.  I thought this
>>   might  be  an  isolated  instance.   However, while diving in Rice Bay
>>   (north part of the island) I realized the entire bottom of the bay was
>>   covered  with  100's  of  sea  wasps.  They seem to be concentrated in
>>   shallow  water  (~10  feet)  right above the sandy areas.  Does anyone
>>   know  if  these  sea wasps are often seen in large numbers in Bahamian
>>   waters?  Are they as toxic as those found in the Indo-Pacific?
>>   Megan Berkle
>>     _________________________________________________________________
>>   [1]See what youre getting intobefore you go there 
>>   1. http://g.msn.com/8HMAENUS/2749??PS=47575
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>>Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

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