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Box Jellyfish
"Cubomedusae", from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Genus: Chironex
Species: Chironex fleckeri
Jellyfish/stinger net enclosure at Ellis Beach, Queensland

Box jellyfish, named for their cube-shaped medusae, are a class of invertebrates belonging to the class Cubozoa, as well as being the preferred common name for notoriously dangerous Chironex fleckeri. Box jellyfish are best known for the extremely powerful venom possessed by some of their species. Along with Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi are amongst the most venomous creatures in the world. Stings from such species are excruciatingly painful, either initially or as an after-effect, and are often fatal to their prey and sometimes even for humans. However, not all species of box jellyfish are this dangerous to humans.



The Cubozoa class contains at least 19 different species, some of which are only slightly less lethal than C. fleckeri.

The ambiguous but commonly used terms sea wasp and marine stinger have in places been applied to some species of Cubozoans, but these names vastly understate the danger posed by Chironex fleckeri and Carybdea alata, and their inappropriate use may cause carelessness that could result in death.

In at least one context where C. fleckeri occurs, the term box jellyfish is understood to only refer to this species, rather than the entire order. This is likely because of the considerable importance of wariness of C. fleckeri, compared to the relative unimportance of non-threatening species of box jellyfish to those inhabitants.[citation needed]

Cubozoans are categorized separately from other types of jellyfish and are considered more complex than Scyphozoans.


Various types of box jellies, ranging in toxicity, can be found in northern Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hawaii,[1] Vietnam, the Caribbean and other tropical areas. Box jellyfish are extremely venomous – even to humans. Some marine species (such as turtles) are immune to the venom[citation needed], and are known to feed on the jellyfish.

Defense and feeding mechanisms

Box jellyfish venom is the deadliest in the animal kingdom[citation needed] and has caused hundreds of recorded deaths since 1954[citation needed]. Each tentacle has about 500,000 cnidocytes, harpoon-shaped needles that inject venom into the victim.[2] Most often, these fatal envenomations are perpetrated by the largest species of box jelly, Chironex fleckeri, owing to its high concentration of nematocysts, although at least two deaths in Australia have been attributed to the thumbnail-sized Carukia barnesi.[3] Those who fall victim to C. barnesi suffer severe physical and psychological symptoms known as Irukandji syndrome.[4] The box jellyfish actively hunts its prey, rather than drifting as do true jellyfish. It is capable of achieving speeds of up to 4 knots (1.8 m/s).[citation needed]

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 very distinct from that of scyphozoans, and is used to catch prey (fish and small invertebrates which includes shrimp and bait fish) and for defense from predators, which include the Butterfish, Batfish , Rabbitfish, crabs (Blue Swimmer Crab) and various species of turtles (Hawksbill turtle, Flatback turtle). 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.

Treatment of stings

If swimming at a beach where box jellyfish are known to be present, a bottle of vinegar is an extremely useful addition to the first aid kit. Once a tentacle of the box jellyfish adheres to skin, it pumps nematocysts with venom into the skin, causing the sting and agonizing pain. Following a sting, vinegar should be applied for a minimum of 30 seconds, resulting in the removal of any unfired nematocysts. A box jellyfish sting can kill a human.[5] Acetic acid, found in vinegar, disables the box jelly's nematocysts that have not yet discharged into the bloodstream (though it will not alleviate the pain). Vinegar may also be applied to adherent tentacles, which should then be removed immediately[6]; this should be done with the use of a towel or glove to avoid bringing the tentacles into further contact with the skin. These tentacles will still sting if separated from the bell, or if the creature is dead. Removing the tentacles without first applying 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,[7] there is no scientific evidence that urine, ammonia, meat tenderizer, sodium bicarbonate, boric acid, lemon juice, freshwater, steroid cream, alcohol, cold packs, papaya, or hydrogen peroxide will disable further stinging, and these substances may even hasten the release of venom.[8] Pressure immobilization bandages, methylated spirits, or vodka should never be used for jelly stings.[6][9][10][11] Often in severe Chironex fleckeri stings, cardiac arrest occurs quickly, so cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be life saving and takes priority over all other treatment options.


  1. ^ Jellyfish Predictions Waikiki, Hawai'i
  2. ^ Williamson JA, Fenner P J, Burnett JW, Rifkin J., ed (1996). Venomous and poisonous marine animals: a medical and biological handbook. Surf Life Saving Australia and University of New North Wales Press Ltd. ISBN 0-86840-279-6. 
  3. ^ Fenner P, Hadok J (2002). "Fatal envenomation by jellyfish causing Irukandji syndrome". Med J Aust 177 (7): (: 362–3. PMID 12358578. 
  4. ^ Little M, Mulcahy R (1998). "A year's experience of Irukandji envenomation in far north Queensland". Med J Aust 169 (11–12): 638–41. PMID 9887916. 
  5. ^ Fenner P, Williamson J, Blenkin J (1989). "Successful use of Chironex antivenom by members of the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade". Med J Aust 151 (11–12): 708–10. PMID 2574410. 
  6. ^ a b Hartwick R, Callanan V, Williamson J (1980). "Disarming the box-jellyfish: nematocyst inhibition in Chironex fleckeri". Med J Aust 1 (1): 15–20. PMID 6102347. 
  7. ^ Zoltan T, Taylor K, Achar S (2005). "Health issues for surfers". Am Fam Physician 71 (12): 2313–7. PMID 15999868. 
  8. ^ Fenner P (2000). "Marine envenomation: An update – A presentation on the current status of marine envenomation first aid and medical treatments". Emerg Med Australasia 12 (4): 295–302. doi:10.1046/j.1442-2026.2000.00151.x. 
  9. ^ Seymour J, Carrette T, Cullen P, Little M, Mulcahy R, Pereira P (2002). "The use of pressure immobilization bandages in the first aid management of cubozoan envenomings". Toxicon 40 (10): 1503–5. doi:10.1016/S0041-0101(02)00152-6. PMID 12368122. 
  10. ^ Little M (June 2002). "Is there a role for the use of pressure immobilization bandages in the treatment of jellyfish envenomation in Australia?". Emerg Med (Fremantle) 14 (2): 171–4. PMID 12164167. 
  11. ^ Pereira PL, Carrette T, Cullen P, Mulcahy RF, Little M, Seymour J (2000). "Pressure immobilisation bandages in first-aid treatment of jellyfish envenomation: current recommendations reconsidered". Med. J. Aust. 173 (11–12): 650–2. PMID 11379519. 


  • Gershwin, L. 2005a. Taxonomy and phylogeny of Australian Cubozoa. PhD, School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland.
  • Gershwin, L. 2005b. Two new species of jellyfishes (Cnidaria: Cubozoa: Carybdeida) from tropical Western Australia, presumed to cause Irukandji Syndrome. Zootaxa 1084: 1–30.
  • Gershwin, L. 2005c. Carybdea alata auct. and Manokia stiasnyi, reclassification to a new family with description of a new genus and two new species. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 51(2): 501–523.
  • Gershwin, L. 2006a. Comments on Chiropsalmus (Cnidaria: Cubozoa: Chirodropida): a preliminary revision of the Chiropsalmidae, with descriptions of two new species. Zootaxa 1231: 1–42.
  • Gershwin, L. 2006b. Nematocysts of the Cubozoa. Zootaxa 1232: 1–57.
  • Gershwin, L. 2007. Malo kingi: A new species of Irukandji jellyfish (Cnidaria: Cubozoa: Carybdeida), possibly lethal to humans. Zootaxa 1659: 55–68.
  • Gershwin, L. & Alderslade, P. 2006. Chiropsella bart, n. sp., a new box jellyfish (Cnidaria: Cubozoa: Chirodropida) from the Northern Territory, Australia. The Beagle 22: 15–21.

External links


Simple English

A tiny but deadly box jelly

[[File:|thumb|170px|Queensland, Australia: you have been warned...]] The Cubozoa, the box jellies, contain some of the most dangerous jellyfish in the phylum Cnidaria. They make up a small class of Cnidarians, with only 19 species.[1] It is their powerful venom which makes them noteworthy.

All cubozoans have four 'legs' (pedalia) hanging from the corners, from which hang tentacles. The jellies can move through the water to hunt prey, and have a degree of sight. Cubozoans have two main eyes on each of the four pedalia, each with a lens, retina and cornea; and some species also have eye-spots as well.

The box jellies are found in tropical oceanic waters round the world. Their venom is delivered by stinging nematocysts, which cluster on tentacles, each with half a million stinging cells. The largest species, Chironex fleckeri, has caused many human deaths. The pain of an attack is agonising, and heart failure is a danger. The attack can be treated: first with vinegar, then remove stingers, then apply anti-venom.[2][3]


  1. Gershwin L. 2005a. Taxonomy and phylogeny of Australian Cubozoa. PhD, School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland.
  2. Fenner P, Williamson J, Blenkin J (1989). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Successful use of Chironex antivenom by members of the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade"]. Med J Aust 151 (11-12): 708–10. PMID 2574410. 
  3. Fenner P (2000). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Marine envenomation: An update - A presentation on the current status of marine envenomation first aid and medical treatments"]. Emerg Med Australasia 12 (4): 295–302. doi:10.1046/j.1442-2026.2000.00151.x. 


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