Jellyfish are well known for their mindless floating and stinging tentacles. Although most jellyfish have venomous tentacles that are used to paralyze and capture prey, not all of them are dangerous to humans. That said, the ocean is full of dangerous jellyfish, such as the Box Jellyfish, which is incredibly painful and can lead to death.
Let’s look at some of the most dangerous jellyfish, where to find them, and why you should stay clear.
Sea Wasp Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)
Threat Level: Highly toxic and can lead to death
Found in: Australia and South-East Asia
The Sea Wasp jellyfish is number one on the list of dangerous jellyfish, and for good reason. Known as one of the most lethal marine animals on the planet, the Sea Wasp can admit a venom from its tentacles that cause excruciating pain and, when untreated, can lead to cardiac arrest.
Because of the pain level, a sting from this jellyfish can lead to death in mere moments when the sting is on more sensitive areas such as the face.
The Chironex fleckeri is most commonly found in the waters of Australia and South East Asia, as well as occasionally off the coast of Hawaii.
Box Jellyfish are easily identified by their box-like shape. Fully grown medusa Sea Wasp Jellyfish can grow to sizes of a foot in diameter with tentacles up to 10 feet.
According to some sources, in Australia, there have been nearly 100 deaths over the past 100 years, which were directly related to a sting from a Chironex fleckeri.
Box Jellyfish are among the most venomous family of Jellyfish. However, the Chironex fleckeri takes the cake.
Irukandji Box Jellyfish (Carukia barnesi)
Threat Level: Highly painful and can lead to Irukandji syndrome and death
Found in: North & West Australia
Another dangerous Cnidarian of the Box jelly family, the Carukia barnesi is the world’s smallest jellyfish but packs a punch like no other.
Found mainly in the Northern waters of Australia, this tiny jellyfish grows only 2cm in diameter with four tiny 30cm long tentacles.
That said, the Irukandji Jellyfish, which was named after the indigenous group that lived in the region where the Jellyfish was first discovered, has a painful sting and can lead to what is commonly known as Irukandji syndrome.
Irukandji syndrome has a delayed onset and can take between 20 and 40 minutes to set in after a mild sting from a Carukia barnesi and can lead to symptoms such as:
- Severe body pain
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble breathing
- Anxiety and sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
Although many species of Box Jellyfish stings can lead to the same syndrome, it’s the Carukia barnesi that is most commonly associated with it.
Pacific Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens)
Threat Level: Not lethal to humans but produce a painful sting
Found in: Pacific Ocean
Found mainly in the coastal waters of the Pacific, the Sea Nettle Jellyfish can produce a paralyzing sting to its prey and a painful sting to humans.
Although the sting of the Sea Nettle is not as venomous as other jellies mentioned on the list, their long tentacles can produce painful stings that could lead to complicated issues if the victim has an allergic reaction.
Although stings from the Sea Nettle are not generally fatal, severe cases could lead to nausea, difficulty breathing, and muscle cramps.
The danger in this jelly comes not from the power of its venom but rather from being wrapped in multiple tentacles from one or more Sea Nettle, which could emit a larger dose of venom.
These are fairly large jellyfish, reaching sizes up to 30 inches in diameter, and can easily be spotted by their large yellow to reddish-brown bell and ruffled yellow-red tentacles.
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)
Threat Level: Painful sting but not severe unless in large doses
Found in: North Pacific Ocean
The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish is not usually considered dangerous. However, it does emit a painful sting.
Although the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish is not the most dangerous in the world, it is by far the largest, which can quickly become a problem if you find yourself caught up in its tentacles.
In most cases, a sting from a Lion’s Mane can lead to itching, skin irritation, blisters, muscle cramps, and anxiety.
The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish can grow up to 6 feet in diameter, with its tentacles reaching 100 feet or more. This makes it easy to understand how a painful sting could turn into a life-threatening situation when you are caught in a swarm of these massive jellyfish.
Flower Hat Jellyfish (Olindias formosus)
Threat Level: Painful and possibly fatal
Found in: Pacific and Antarctic Oceans
Stemming from the class Hydrozoa, the Flower Hat Jellyfish is not technically a true jelly. True jellyfish come from the class Scyphozoa; however, due to their appearance and nature, Flower Hat Jellyfish can be grouped with true jellyfish for the purpose of this article.
Found along the coasts of Brazil, Japan, and Argentina, where long seagrasses, seaweeds, and kelp are common, these jellyfish are rare but are aesthetically impressive and can produce a painful, yet, not generally lethal, sting to humans.
That said, a single case of death due to a Flower Hat Jellyfish was recorded in Japan. However, this is hearsay and can not easily be backed by fact.
Portuguese Man O’ War (Physalia physalis)
Threat Level: Mild sting that can cause shock in large doses
Found in: Most of the world’s warm tropical or subtropical waters
The Portuguese Man O’ War is another species closely related to jellyfish but is a species of siphonophore. One major difference between siphonophores and true jellies is that siphonophores are ocean drifters, while true jellyfish can propel themselves.
That said, even with their inability to direct themselves, Portuguese Man O’ Wars are some of the most dangerous jellyfish in the ocean.
For most, the sting from the Portuguese Man O’ War is painful but will subside within 30 minutes, leaving behind a sensitive rash or bumps. In some cases of severe stings, stings on infants, or an allergic reaction, the sting could lead to nausea, fever, and muscle pain.
The sting from a Portuguese Man O’ War is not generally fatal; however, there have been recorded deaths from their stings which have led victims into cardiac arrest.
What should I do if I am stung by a dangerous jellyfish?
If you are stung by a jellyfish, you can remove any tentacles that are still attached to your skin without touching them with your bare hands. Rinse the affected area with vinegar or saltwater, but avoid fresh water. If you are unsure of what jellyfish has stung you, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately.
How can I avoid being stung by a dangerous jellyfish?
Knowing the dangers of the area you are swimming in is important. Avoid beaches known for dangerous jellyfish, swim with skin protection, and always listen to the warnings of lifeguards and others on the beach.
Are the long-term effects of a dangerous jellyfish sting?
It’s rare for jellyfish stings to have long-lasting effects; however, if the venom affects the nervous system, more long-term complications may arise. In general, the negative effects of jellyfish stings should subside within a day to a week.
Can I die from a dangerous jellyfish sting?
Most jellyfish are not life-threatening. Even the ones that produce painful stings can usually be treated with mild medical care. That said, some species, like the Box Jellyfish, can quickly lead to cardiac arrest and death.