MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What is the exact name of the poison released by jellyfish (cnidarians)?

Date: Fri Dec 21 19:04:32 2007
Posted By: Peter Bosani, Independent
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1196951914.Zo

Hello, Stephanie.

Although my main field of interest lies in nutritional science, I am 
interested in many facets of science, especially biology - (including 
marine biology), which I find fascinating.  I have spent some time in 
Australia where I learned a lot about marine life from specialists at 
marine aquariums.

First off, let us establish that there isn't any one particular toxin 
emitted from cnidarians.  In fact, about 3 dozen have so far been 
identified, all of which involve complex protein molecules.  To 
complicate matters even more, there are about 10,000 species of Cnidaria, 
and of these, are divided into four different classes, some of which are 
not really jellyfish.  For example, the Portugese man-o-war are Hydroids, 
while another class consist of sea anemones called Anthoza.

Their toxic effect on humans can range from no effect at all, to 
paralysis and even death.  The poisons are shot out of barb-like cells 
called nematocysts.  Since the toxin consists of proteins, the first line 
of defense, assuming it isn't too serious requiring CPR, the barbs should 
carefully be pulled out, and one could apply meat tenderizer to the area 
which helps to break down the proteins, thus minimizing their painful 
effects.  Other remedies include acetone, (found in some nail polish 
removers), or alcohol, (which is why beer is a popular folk remedy).  
Never rub fresh water, as this could further spread the toxin.

Some specific toxins that have been identified are:  cnidarian, 
phospholipase A2, and cytolysin.  Also some isolated fractions of 
jellyfish toxin have been isolated including; thalassin, congestin, and 

There are plenty of web sites dedicated to your query which you may 
further like to puruse.

Hope this helped!

Yours very truly,

Peter Bosani.


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