“How long can jellyfish sting after they are dead?”

The (then) Four-Year-Old inspecting her work on Santa’s Landing Pad. And yes, the landing pad worked. Santa and his reindeer came right on schedule.

Last Christmas, when The (then) Four-Year-Old was surveying Panama City Beach for a likely spot to construct a landing pad for Santa and his reindeer, she came across a jellyfish.

Naturally I panicked. “Don’t step in that! It might sting you!”

The (then) Four-Year-Old, practically: “But it’s dead.”

The jellyfish that started it all.

Mommyo: “Doesn’t matter. It can sting anyway.”

The (then) Four-Year-Old was dubious, but fortunately decided that if there was even a chance that Santa or his reindeer might be stung by a jellyfish, she needed a different spot.

She didn’t say anything else about the jellyfish at the time, but when we returned to the condo after building Santa’s parking spot, she immediately consulted a wiser power.

The (then) Four-Year-Old: “Grandma, can jellyfish sting you after they’re dead?”

Grandma: “Of course.”

The (then) Four-Year-Old: “For how long?”

Grandma, rapidly calculating how many days were left in The (then) Four-Year-Old’s visit: “Two weeks.”

(Or however long it takes for the stingers to run out of sting.)

Turns out jellyfish are not active stingers. Whether the animal is alive or dead means nothing to its nematocysts (the little cells in the tentacles in charge of stinging you). Each tentacle can contain hundreds or even thousands of these stinging cells. When a tentacle comes in contact with an object, pressure forces stinging threads inside the nematocysts to uncoil rapidly, acting as mini-harpoons to inject the unwary with paralyzing toxins.

Most species of jellyfish only release enough toxin to paralyze or kill small fish and crustaceans, but some jellyfish can be harmful to humans, depending on the strength of the toxin, your sensitivity to it, and the thickness of your skin.

The (then) Four-Year-Old: “That’s real thick in your case, Mommyo.”

That’s why the real question when you find a jellyfish on the beach isn’t “Is that thing dead?” but “Have the nematocysts released their toxins yet?” (See how much smarter you sound?) Until they do, that jellyfish is potentially bad news.

Of course, there’s no way for the average person to tell such a thing just by looking at (or using a stick to poke at) a jellyfish. So as Grandma says, the best thing to do is to steer clear of all jellyfish (and jellyfish bits) you may encounter on the beach entirely. Give those suckers time to be snapped up by sea turtles (who are unaffected by their sting) or at the very least washed back out to sea.

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About Shala Howell

Writer of things ranging from optical network switching white papers to genetic testing patient education materials to historical fiction set in an 1880s asylum. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), my writerly self can be found blogging about life with a very curious Nine-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, or musing about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.wordpress.com.
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10 Responses to “How long can jellyfish sting after they are dead?”

  1. That’s a handy bit of advice to know. Not that I’m at the beach much, but you never know. It would be my luck I would get stung, not knowing this information prior. (I love getting down and dirty and touching things like this) SO, in the future, I’ll stay clear of all jelly like substances when and if I am ever on the ocean. 🙂

    Like

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  7. Hayley says:

    I’m at a beach right now we needed to know I was scared I might get stung while boogie boarding

    Like

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