Yes, box jellyfish are found in Southeastern North Carolina — several turned up around Wrightsville Beach and Sunset Beach in 2008. (The questioner found what looks like a specimen at Caswell Beach.) And yes, there’s a reason they’re sometimes called “sea wasps.”
“They’re supposed to pack a pretty potent sting,” said Hap Fatzinger, aquarium curator for the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Local specimens are not as venomous as the box jellyfish found in the South Pacific, whose stings can be fatal to humans. Still, a box jellyfish sting is nothing to take lightly, especially if you have an allergic reaction. A 4-year-old boy died within 20 minutes of being stung by one in 1990 near Galveston, Texas, according to N.C. State researcher Gayle Plaia.
Fortunately, box jellyfish aren’t too common in this area, Plaia said. Fatzinger said they tend to show up in late autumn.
Members of the class Cubozoa, box jellyfish get their name from their four-sided umbrellas, or floats. Tentacles extend downward from the four corners of these floats. Because of a flap on their underside, they are faster than other types of jellyfish, with speeds of up to 6 meters per minute being reported. In this area, specimens are generally about 7 inches long.
The venom comes from tiny, harpoon-shaped needles (biologists call them cnidocytes) that cling by the hundreds of thousands to each tentacle. Sometimes called “the most venomous creatures on earth,” box jellyfish get a bad reputation from just a few species. Some stings may only lead to mild itching.
Nevertheless, experts agree the best course is to get out of the water if you spot any nearby. “Don’t get near them,” Fatzinger said.
Date posted: December 6, 2010
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