Jellyfish myths debunked, what to do if you're stung

By Andy Kalmowitz, AccuWeather staff writer

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The list of myths surrounding jellyfish is nearly endless. The myths range from urinating on stings to the idea that jellyfish are taking over the ocean. It can be hard to keep track of what is fact and what is fiction.

However, Allen Collins, a research zoologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained exactly what is true and what is false about these little creatures, as well as what you should - and should not - do if you are stung by one.


(AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

Common jellyfish myths

There are numerous misconceptions surrounding jellyfish, and Collins' self-professed "least favorite" misnomer about them is that they "attack."

"They don't attack at all," Collins said.

If a jellyfish comes into contact with a human within their habitat, then the contact is incidental. In other words, jellyfish don't seek to attack humans.

He said probably the most common misconception would be the idea that you can use urine to heal a sting. According to Collins, this is not true.

"It's actually been tested, and it's not particularly helpful. It's slightly acidic," he said.

Despite common belief, it is actually possible to be stung by a jellyfish that has washed up on the beach, according to Collins.

He said this is because if a jellyfish has recently died, the stinging capsules can still be activated and penetrate the skin. These capsules can remain active for a day or more after the jellyfish dies.


Moon jellyfish are seen in an aquarium of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Jellyfish forced one of the world's largest nuclear reactors to shut down after tons of them clogged the pipes that bring in cool water to the plant's turbines. (AP Photo)

Collins also mentioned the idea that people believe jellyfish "are taking over the ocean," and it's being caused by human activity.

"We really don't know that this is a global phenomenon at this time," Collins said. "While some species because of their life cycle and their ecology take advantage of alterations that humans make to the environment, there are quite a lot of other jellyfish species that are almost never encountered so they are extremely rare. We don't necessarily know how well they're doing in the environment."

These environmental changes are being caused by overfishing of certain species, human-made structures and pollutants going into the water, Collins said

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What to do if you're stung by a jellyfish

If you are stung by a jellyfish the first thing you should do, according to Collins, is check to see if there is a tentacle adhering to your skin. If there is, remove it with tweezers.

"The tentacle of the jellyfish still has many [stinging capsules], and they can continue to fire," Collins said.

He noted that "under no circumstances should the area be rubbed, because it can cause those capsules to fire, which in turn releases more venom into your body.

Applying vinegar is the best option, according to Collins. However, if pain continues, you should address the venom that has already been applied to your body.

According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, you should apply hot, but not scalding water between 110 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit to the affected area.

jellyfish infograph

It should be mentioned that not all jellyfish are created equal, which means not all stings are equal as well. Some are far more potent and harmful, such as a sting from a Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish.

According to a study published in an MDPI scientific journal on toxins, the effects of their venom can range from mild to life-threatening, but typically include immediate pain that can last upwards of 15 to 20 minutes.

There are conflicting reports on what someone should do if they are stung, but scientists have published a journal on MDPI which says the best way to treat a sting is to rinse the wound with vinegar to remove any leftover stingers on the skin then put the affected area in hot water (the same temperature as a regular sting) for 45 minutes.

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