fleckeri (Multi-tentacled Box Jellyfish)
Chironex are often referred to in Australia as
Stingers or the northern Australian box jellyfish. Through the Surf
Life Saving Association, and though his contact with many organisations,
the author is trying to get the general public to realise that there
are many varieties of "box-jellyfish" with symptoms varying from
mild skin pain (Carybdea sivickisi) to death from respiratory and/or
cardiac failure. Thus, it is important to be specific and the name
Chironex box-jellyfish is being suggested.
of investigation into Chironex fleckeri
Dr Ronald Southcott was stationed with the Australian
Army in 1944 in the Cairns area. He noticed and described 2 types
of stings (Southcott 1959): `Type A' stings were minor with a small
and insignificant skin mark. However they were followed some time
later (usually between 20 to 30 minutes) by a number of severe systemic
symptoms that often caused prostration, even in the fittest of troops.
`Type B' stings had extreme skin pain with obvious wheal marks visible
on the stung area. Although many victims became somewhat sick and
lethargic, there were no deaths in this group during the study.
In 1956 in north Queensland, as a result of brilliant
field work by Dr Hugo Flecker, Southcott was given a specimen of
a chirodropid. He was then able to identify the jellyfish causing
Type `B' stings, naming it, aptly, Chironex fleckeri (Southcott
1956); and in 1967, following similar brilliant field work by Dr
Jack Barnes, he identified the jellyfish causing the Type `A' stings,
naming it Carukia barnesi (Southcott 1967).
Dr Hugo Flecker was a Radiologist in Cairns, north
Queensland in 1932. On January 20th 1955, when a 5-year-old boy
died after being stung in shallow water at Cardwell, north Queensland,
Flecker suggested that the police net the area. Three types of jellyfish
were caught, one of which was an unidentified, box-shaped jellyfish
with groups of tentacles arising from each corner.
Flecker sent it to Dr Ronald Southcott in Adelaide,
and on December 29th 1955 Southcott published his article introducing
it as a new Genus and species of lethal box jellyfish. He named
it Chironex fleckeri, the name being derived from the Greek `cheiro'
meaning `hand', and the Latin `nex' meaning `murderer', and `fleckeri'
in honour of its discoverer.
Flecker was also interested in the Type `A' stinging
and published his article in the Medical Journal of Australia in
1952 naming it the `Irukandji syndrome' after the "Irukandji"
tribe of Aboriginals who lived in the Palm Cove area where the stings
were frequently reported (Flecker 1952b). Flecker died in 1957 without
finding the jellyfish responsible for the syndrome.*
Flecker's field and experiment
notebook, containing almost certainly valuable information ahead
of its time, disappeared with his death. Rediscovery of this notebook
would be a major historical and possibly research advance.
Dr. Jack Barnes was a Cairns General Practitioner
who then took over the quest for the "Irukandji". He surmised
that the organism had to be a very small jellyfish that swam very
quickly, and probably close to the surface. After calculating the
most likely time and place to catch the animal Barnes lay on the
bottom of the seabed in shallow water wearing his SCUBA gear.
Many hours later his persistence was rewarded when
he saw a very small jellyfish swim in front of his mask. He managed
to catch this, and another when he saw a fish moving in an erratic
fashion which was seen to be caught in the tentacles of another
of these tiny jellyfish. To see if they caused the "Irukandji
syndrome" Barnes stung himself, his son Nick, and a lifesaver
friend. After the characteristic 30-minute delay all three developed
the "Irukandji syndrome" and had to be admitted to hospital
with severe back pain, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and headache
These jellyfish specimens were also sent to Dr
Ron Southcott and in 1966 he described them as a new genus and species
of box jellyfish called Carukia barnesi. The `car' from Carybdea,
the type of single-tentacled box-jellyfish in whose Family it belonged,
and the `ruk' from "Irukandji"; `barnesi' named after
its discoverer (Southcott 1967).
Barnes - as the Medical Adviser to the Surf Life
Saving Association introduced `pantihose' as an effective protective
barrier preventing a serious Chironex sting. It was thick enough
to prevent penetration and consequent envenomation by the thread
tubes of the stinging cells of Chironex. It became a common site
in north Queensland to see Surf lifesavers wearing pantihose on
patrol. One pair was worn as usual on the lower half of the body
with the feet cut out and taped around the ankles, the other pair
had a small hole cut in the crutch and they were pulled over the
head with the arms put in the leg part, and the hands free. They
were able to safely enter the water to drag long mesh nets through
the shallows to see if Chironex were present, allow safer bathing
for the general public. The idea was not to rid the area of dangerous
jellyfish, but to detect their presence so the beach could be closed
to prevent envenomation.
Until recently, this genus and species has been
thought to be present in Australian waters only. Stings to humans
extend from south of Broome in Western Australia (east Indian
Ocean, latitude 18o south) around the northern Australian coastline
down to Gladstone, Queensland, on the eastern Australian coastline
(west Pacific Ocean, latitude 24o south). Chironex specimens have
been reported caught or sighted in the Exmouth Gulf in Western
Australia (latitude 22o south) to Bustard Bay, south of Gladstone,
Queensland, in the east (latitude 25o south).
Until recently the distribution of Chironex
was stated to be Australia only. The author believes this distribution
can now be widened to include nearby areas of the Indo-West-Pacific
Ocean (see Map 1): -
In 1990 the author examined and identified 6
chirodropid specimens in the Smithsonian Institute, caught by
Mayer in the Philippines (1910). Although Mayer had identified
them all as Chiropsalmus quadrigatus, in the opinion of the author,
who has studied many hundreds of specimens, 2 were actually Chironex
fleckeri, 2 fitted the somewhat "vague" description
of Chiropsalmus quadrigatus as described by Haeckel (1880), and
the other two were too badly damaged, or preserved, for the author
to be able to suggest an identification. These observations agree
with those of Barnes who stated to the Royal Society in Cairns
in 1964 that he had identified specimens of Chironex in the Smithsonian
that had been caught by Mayer (1910). The author feels that this
is the reason that the description of Chiropsalmus quadrigatus
in Mayer (1910) is so confusing - he seems to be actually describing
a combination of the features of Chiropsalmus quadrigatus and
Chironex fleckeri, even though the latter was only identified
as a news genus and species many years later.
In 1993 the author also identified as Chironex
fleckeri, the specimens sent by Major T Hooper from Borneo to
Phil Alderslade, even though it had never been identified in this
area before. These were two of several specimens caught very close
to where Major Hooper's son had sustained an almost fatal jellyfish
sting several months previously (see Case Historylink please!).
Also in 1993 the author examined a specimen in
the South Australian Museum that came from Vietnam, which he also
would identify as Chironex.
These specimens were also reviewed by Rifkin,
who also agrees on this identification and that the distribution
of Chironex is much wider than previously believed.
Stings occur in shallow water as
Chironex swim into this area when the wind is light and hot, and
the water calm. Unsuspecting victims usually blunder into tentacles
trailing behind the jellyfish bell, which are difficult to see in
the water - the tentacles are almost invisible.
Pain is instant and severe and described as being
"branded with red hot irons"; victims usually scream with
pain. Children will usually stand in the water, trying to pick at
the tentacles, thus getting further stings on the hands and arms,
increasing the envenomation: adults frequently run out of the water
and rub the tentacles. Most stings occur on the lower legs and body.
Adherent tentacles, like sticky threads, usually
adhere to the victim: tentacle marks look like the victim has been
whipped, or branded with irons. Minor stings cause severe skin pain
with raised white wheals with a surrounding red flare. The area
may blister and scar. If the victim lives, blistering and skin necrosis
occur over the next few hours; scarring often occurs, and lasts
for life. Victims may rapidly stop breathing, sometimes within a
few minutes of the initial envenomation, with death occurring rapidly
unless prompt first aid and medical aid is available.
Sixty seven deaths have been described in tropical
Australia since records have been kept from 1883, the latest being
the death of a 6 y-o boy near Cairns in December 1999. Such deaths
occur rapidly, often within minutes of the initial sting and often
far from medical and first aid; as such, assessment of effective
first aid and medical treatments is difficult, and as yet, some
The work of Hartwick and Barnes show Chironex
to be a coastal jellyfish. When the air is hot and still (frequently
with a gentle northerly wind, common in tropical Australia in
the summer months), they will come into very shallow waters at
gently-sloping sandy beaches close to creek and river outlets
where mangroves are common. Hartwick developed the life-cycle
for Chironex after first breeding specimens in the laboratory,
and then discovering their polyps in a natural habitat under rocks
and mangrove roots, up to 5 kilometres from the sea in mangrove-lined
rivers and streams.
For these reasons Chironex are often prevalent
around the mouth of these creeks, especially as these are also
areas where their prey of prawns and fish occur. Similarly they
like the gently sloping, sandy beaches near these creeks. Here
they can swim with the tentacles trailing behind them with little
fear of them `snagging' on rocks or other obstacles fishing for
their prey, including the prawns and small fish that inhabit these
areas. Unfortunately, these are the same areas that humans like
and frequent. Chironex fleckeri have been seen and caught over
rocks, but this is less common (Fenner et al 1995).
Although Chironex are common in very shallow,
calm water they have also been reported out to sea in rougher
waters. A surf life saver was stung in deep, rough water near
Cairns in 1991 when a Chironex was washed on to the deck of the
victim's surf ski while he was paddling some 200--300 m offshore.
Mulcahy (1999, personal communication) also reports that they
have been trawled off the bottom by trawlers a couple of kilometres
offshore. This observation remains unconfirmed.
Chirodropid fatalities throughout the Indo-Pacific
have been documented in every month of the year; some of these
may be from Chironex (see above). In the Northern Territory, reports
of Chironex stings have occurred in every month of the year except
July, but fatal stings have only been registered from September
Although the bell may grow to 30cm, previously
specimens of this size have only been caught in far north Queensland,
however, on 4 April 1997 a specimen 25cm diameter was washed up
on a beach near Mackay (Figure 7). At the same time, up to 50-60
other specimens were also washed up on to local Mackay beaches.
This finding is extremely unusual and cannot be explained. Chironex
are very strong swimmers and rarely beached, with just the odd
report of its occurrence (Fenner et al 1995). Specimens of sea
water have been taken and are to be analysed for pollution and
other laboratory tests to see if any explanation can be given.
The maximum size of specimens reported from the
Northern Territory is 14cm across the bell; the reason for this
The bell is usually transparent, and often very
difficult to see, even in very shallow water. It has a box-shape
with four corners (pedalia), from which up to 15 thick, flat tentacles
may arise. These tentacles may contract to a few cms or extend
up to 3 meters or more in length - thus giving a theoretical tentacle
length of up to 180 meters on a single large specimen. Hartwick
once estimated that up to 4000 million nematocysts may be present
in the mature adult. Assuming there may be 180 meters (maximum)
of tentacle length, this acquaints to approximately 22 million
per meter extended tentacle. Death has occurred from just 1.2
meters of tentacle length - in which case roughly 25 million nematocysts
would have caused death, although the approximate number actually
penetrating the skin, envenoming and causing death is not yet
Chironex fleckeri are the most evolved species
of jellyfish having 4 rhopalia, or sense organs that lie mid-way
between the pedalia, and at the base of the bell. These rhopalia
are organs that: -
| differentiate light and dark
using a rudimentary lens
|detect vibration - such as impending
danger such as rough water from storms or predators (including
| maintain balance and orientate
the jellyfish position in the water.
They feed on small fish and prawns that are quickly
killed when they swim into the tentacles. The reason Chironex
venom has such tremendous "killing power" is not, as
many people believe, to attack and kill humans, but to be able
to kill its prey quickly, before the prey struggles too much,
breaking off tentacles. Jellyfish, like humans, need to eat to
live and breed. If Chironex lose their tentacles then they lose
`killing power', they cannot feed and they die.
Their tentacles are `elasticised' and may extend
out many meters when they are gently swimming along `fishing'
for prey. They can be contracted up to only a few centimetres
when they are actively swimming. Chironex are active swimmers,
unlike many jellyfish, swimming by a muscular contraction of the
bell, which shoots out a jet of water propelling the jellyfish
forwards. They can swim at the pace of a walking man, although
the energy expended is too great to maintain this for any great
length of time (R Hartwick, 1988, personal communication).
Chironex can recognise objects in its path and
avoid them. Such obstacles may be objects in the water (ie. rocks
and humans), and will often retract their tentacles and swim away
from this perceived obstruction or danger.
Through media statements, many people believe
that jellyfish `attack' humans; it is actually the humans `attacking'
the jellyfish, usually by running into the water too quickly,
not allowing the innocent jellyfish to be able to retract its
tentacles and swim away. Tentacles that are torn off the jellyfish
by the victim struggling to get away mean that the jellyfish loses
its `killing power' and consequently, as it cannot catch its prey,
The tentacles cause instant severe skin pain
like being branded by a red-hot iron. Tentacle material is usually
avulsed from the animal by the struggling victim, and cling firmly
to the victim's skin which is often diagnostic in chirodropid
envenomations and fatalities. These remaining tentacles will contain
many thousands of unfired nematocysts. The longer these tentacles
remain in contact with the skin, the greater the risk of increasing
the envenomation - thus making vinegar such an important immediate,
Victims often scream with the pain and children
will often stand in the shallow water where they have been stung,
pulling at the tentacles, and consequently receiving more stings
to their upper limbs. As the keratin of the palms is often too
thick for the nematocyst thread tube to penetrate, stings marks
will often be confined to the backs of the hands only. Conversely,
adults will usually jump back out of the water and run for help,
the increased muscular effort increasing heart rate and consequent
venom absorption. Thus the first treatment of Chironex stinging
may be to `retrieve and restrain', to prevent further envenomation.
Severe, whip-like marks are visible on the skin with an intense
acute inflammatory response developing rapidly. Usually, a `frosted-ladder'
pattern matching the appearance of the nematocyst `batteries'
on the tentacle will be visible, and is of diagnostic value. This
appearance is due to millions of discharged and undischarged nematocysts
remaining on the skin of the victim, in the same battery lines
as are present on the tentacle.
Linear erythematous wheals then rapidly develop,
often with a white ischaemic centre. Serious envenomations develop
surrounding oedema and darkening of the skin with vesiculation
and partial or full thickness skin death, usually resulting in
Often confusing, victims who die rapidly do not
have sufficient time to develop this severe inflammatory response
and their skin marks may appear quite insignificant.
Compression bandaging as suggested by Sutherland et al (1979)
for snake bite is suggested (see First aid 5.8.3). Although it
has not been scientifically proven to be effective in the acute
onset of Chironex envenomation, using the principle of holding
any remaining venom in the skin (see also, intra-vascular venom
injection, 3.3.3), compression bandaging is recommended for major
Note: it is not recommended for minor stings
and then compression immobilisation bandaging must only be used
AFTER initial resuscitation and vinegar treatment.
A major sting is defined as one causing: -
|An impaired conscious state, or unconsciousness
|Shallow, slow breathing with central
cyanosis, or respiratory arrest
| Reduced pulse strength, irregularities, or
| Covering the equivalent of more than 50% of
| unrelieved pain
There are many other factors that are used to
define a major sting, but they will always result in one, or all,
of the above signs. An important point stressed to all surf life
savers and others treating sting victims is that it is important
to realise the significance of a sting victim who was loudly distraught
and physically active who suddenly becomes quiet - usually indicating
the onset of impaired cerebral perfusion, with a reduced conscious
level and possible cardio-respiratory arrest.
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the victim from the water and restrain them, if necessary.
other helpers are available, immediately send them for ambulance
/ medical help.
the victims ABC and treat with EAR or CPR, if necessary.
others are available to help, or if resuscitation is not
needed, pour vinegar over the stung area for a minimum of
30 seconds to inactivate remaining stinging cells on any
adherent tentacles left on the skin. Vinegar has been proven
to totally prevent further discharge from remaining undischarged
nematocysts (stinging cells) and is the cornerstone of first
aid treatment. If vinegar is unavailable, the rescuer should
pull tentacles off using their fingers (only a faint, harmless
prickling will be felt).
vinegar application, compression immobilisation bandaging
has been suggested for major stings, i.e. those:
a) covering an area more than half of one limb
b) causing impairment of consciousness
c) causing impairment of breathing
d) causing impairment of circulation
The use of compression bandages is unproven but has apparently
appeared to offer clinical benefit in major stings.
available, use Chironex antivenom for all major cases (see
above). Three ampoules each containing 20, 000 units may
be given intramuscularly, above the bandages, if there is
a trained health professional on the beach. Although the
IM use of antivenom has been described as being ineffective,
its use has appeared to be valuable when used by Ambulance
Officers in actual severe envenomation cases.
IV antivenom is the recommended route and qualified Paramedics
may administer 1 ampoule. Antivenom also seems to help the
severe skin pain of envenomation.
Antivenom has been used for many years and appears clinically
effective with no adverse side effects. However, the effectiveness
has been questioned because of the preparation of the antivenom:
clinically it appears effective in the acute case.
packs may be used (for 15 minutes and repeated when necessary)
to help ease the skin pain in conscious victims.
severe envenomation oxygen is used, if available, to assist
with any breathing difficulty; Inhaled analgesia (i.e. entonox
or penthrane) can be administered for unremitting pain in
conscious, breathing, cooperative patients; its use should
be discontinued if the patient's condition worsens.
Treatment of Chironex stings
and Severe Jellyfish stings.
necessary, continue resuscitation with endotracheal intubation
and 100% oxygen (if appropriate) monitoring the oxygen haemoglobin
saturation and electrocardiography.
an intravenous line and administer a crystalloid solution,
monitoring urine output.
major chirodropid stings, administer a minimum of 1 ampoule
of diluted antivenom (20, 000 units) intravenously. If the
clinical response is inadequate, 3 (or more) ampoules may
be given intravenously, according to clinical response.
positive pressure ventilation with 100% oxygen will also
assist in control of pulmonary oedema.
there is persisting, life-threatening cardiac decompensation
or arrhythmia, then consider giving verapamil intravenously
(0.1 mg/kg up to 5-mg adult dose) under ECG monitoring until
the cardiac arrhythmia reverts or other unwanted effects
such as adrenalin or dopamine should be considered for persisting
hypotension - however, calcium should not be given.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, employing oxygen-enriched
air (preferably 100% oxygen) should be continued and not
abandoned in the patient with ongoing circulatory arrest
until after consideration of further therapy with even more
antivenom (at least 6 ampoules total dose, if available)
and consideration of more verapamil and inotropes.
administered analgesia may be necessary (1 mg/kg of pethidine
up to 50 mg adult dose initially). For pain not relieved
by cold packs and narcotic analgesia, in chirodropid stings,
consider administration of 1 ampoule of antivenom intravenously
antivenom (administered as above) may provide cosmetic benefits
in stings involving cosmetically sensitive areas (eg. face
or neck, especially in females).
Case history written by Fenner (Williamson et
At 1000 on 10 March 1984 a healthy 5-year-old
girl weighing 2Okg was wading waist-deep in the sea at a beach
near Mackay. She received a box jellyfish sting, mainly to her
legs, which measured a total of about eight metres of tentacle
contact. She was immediately pulled screaming from the water by
her grandmother who restrained her hands which had already sustained
some additional stings. The victim's mother doused the adherent
tentacles with vinegar within three minutes. The girl who was
in great pain, but fully conscious and not cyanosed, was brought
to a local GP surgery within 15 minutes of the envenomation. She
immediately received an intramuscular injection of pethidine (40
mg), and an intravenous injection of 20 000 units (one ampoule)
of box-jellyfish antivenom, diluted 1:2 with water. Within seconds,
the pain, and the size and 'anger' of the wheals on her limbs,
had diminished. On admission to hospital 25 minutes later she
was again in some pain, and had obvious tentacle marks. Her vital
signs were normal. No compressive bandages were used at any stage.
In hospital critical care unit, she received
IV hydrocortisone (30 mg at once, then every four hours) by the
intravenous route; IM pethidine (20 mg) and vinegar 'soaks' to
the sting area.' Within six hours, and while breathing inspired
oxygen, she developed central cyanosis with tachypnoea, but no
audible moist lung sounds.
Eight hours after the envenomation, she received
further IV injections of hydrocortisone (100 mg) and of box-jellyfish
antivenom (20 000 units), with no improvement in her condition.
She had oliguria and her chest x-ray showed interstitial pulmonary
oedema. The oxygen was increased but central cyanosis persisted.
Over the next three hours the patient began to pass urine through
the indwelling catheter, and a rapid improvement in her clinical
condition was noted. Twelve hours after envenomation she was no
longer cyanosed, had passed 800 ml of urine, and no analgesia
was required. The next morning, while breathing room air, bilateral
bronchial breathing was heard on auscultation, and the sting areas
were swollen and tender. All other signs and symptoms had resolved.
and her condition was obviously much improved. She was discharged
from hospital well on the fifth day after admission.
Unfortunately, secondary infection with Staph.
aureus developed in her right popliteal fossa over the next two
weeks treated by the author with co-trimoxazole, 7.5 ml twice
a day and topical applications of an antibiotic preparation [Neosporin)
and hydrocortisone [1%1 cream) with a seemingly good result. However,
scarring developed which remains obvious 12 years later.
Case history written by Williamson and Fenner
(Lumley et al 1988)
On January 20, 1987, a healthy five-year-old
boy who weighed 20 kg was bathing waist-deep in the sea at Barney
Point beach near Gladstone, central Queensland. The weather was
hot and still, the sea calm, and the water temperature was 29.5
'C. At about 1000 he ran from the water, shrieking and attempting
to pull at adherent, translucent tentacles on his legs. His grandmother,
who had accompanied him to the beach, assisted in this process
with a towel, and in so doing sustained minor stings to her own
The child's screams attracted attention. This
person came to the patient's assistance and doused vinegar over
the sting area on the child's legs, which were already showing
red wheals. The estimated elapsed time between the initial envenomation
and this first-aid manoeuvre was four to five minutes.
The grandmother ran for her car, and the child,
who was described as "pale and sobbing", was placed,
sitting up in the back scat, with the helper. The elapsed post-envenomation
time now was approximately 10 min. The grandmother drove to the
ambulance centre in less than three minutes by ignoring all traffic
signals. The condition of the child, who still sat upright, was
"gradually deteriorating". Just before reaching the
ambulance centre the householder observed that the child had '
'blue lips" even though "respiratory sounds" were
On arrival at the ambulance centre at 10. 15
a.m., the patient was described by the ambulanceman as unconscious,
with a ghostlike pallor ' pulseless and with "fixed, dilated
pupils". The child was transferred to an ambulance vehicle
where single-operator cardiopulmonary resuscitation with oxygen
was commenced. The victim was then rushed to the casualty department
of the hospital, where it arrived at 1018.
An initial assessment showed an unconscious apnoeic
child with peripheral and central cyanosis, no palpable pulse,
and urticarial wheals on his legs, hands and lower abdomen. The
child was intubated, IV access obtained and 100% oxygen and ECC
given. An ECG showed pulseless idioventricular rhythm which failed
to respond to any therapy. After 20 min of continuous resuscitation,
and approximately 40 min after the initial sting, further resuscitation
examination and investigations.
Conducted 25hrs after death a post-mortem
showed urticarial lesions with tentacle imprints on both wrists,
legs, thighs, and the lower abdomen, width 4-5mm and total length
4 m. Skin biopsy showed many nematocysts with a concentration from
zero to clusters of more than 4000/mm2, presumably corresponding
to the "batteries" of nematocysts that are grouped on
the epithelium; most had discharged, and their threads had penetrated
the mid-dermis, with trajectories that ranged from 0. 1 mm to 0.7
mm. A cellular inflammatory reaction was not present, which reflected
the lack of time for such a response to occur.
and Chironex box jellyfish
The use of vinegar as a first aid treatment
for Chironex fleckeri stings was introduced in 1980 by Dr Bob Hartwick.
While experimenting with tentacles from Chironex fleckeri he observed
that methylated spirits caused a mass firing of the nematocysts.
Field research was carried out in Gove, NT, and Townsville, Qld,
when volunteers (including surf life savers, and Drs Barnes, Callanan,
Hartwick, Unwin and Williamson) were stung under controlled conditions---an
experimental procedure not currently recommended by many scientists
and all Ethics Committees.
Various treatments were assessed in the laboratory
and in the field, leading to the classic paper by HARTWICK and colleagues
in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1980. This work demonstrated
that 2-10% acetic acid in water (including household vinegar [4-6%
acetic acid in water]) irreversibly inhibited stinging cell (nematocyst)
discharge in Chironex fleckeri and several other species of box
jellyfish. This would prevent further envenomation of the victim
from remaining adherent tentacles material on the skin, the usual
occurrence with Chironex fleckeri sting victims. A paper by the
same authors in the Medical Journal of Australia described a case
where a pregnant woman was saved on a Townsville beach by EAR alone,
without immediately available antivenom, after a severe Chironex
These two papers exerted probably the greatest
single influence on the Surf Life Saving Association at the time.
After a meeting between the Queensland State Centre representatives,
Dr Jack Barnes and the three authors of these two articles, the
use of methylated spirits was abandoned and vinegar was adopted
as the standard Australia-wide first aid treatment for box jellyfish
nematocyst discharge inhibition.
cycle of Chironex box jellyfish
BROWN (1973) was the first to suggest that
Chironex may breed close inshore, after he caught 24 tiny Chironex
juveniles only 6--9 mm diameter in shallow water in Horseshoe Bay,
Magnetic Island, near Townsville, north Queensland, in the summer
of 1972. His investigations of that island were prompted by the
island residents, denial of any Chironex sightings, during a year
of particularly high prevalence of Chironex in north Queensland
generally. His documentation contains other valuable observations,
including the then `silent opposition' of tourist organisations
to the publicising the dangers of chirodropids in north Queensland
waters and the need for protective clothing against both sunburn
and chirodropid stings.
Confirmation of Brown's suggestion, together with
further understanding of the life cycle, have been brilliantly obtained
by Hartwick and colleagues.
Although much remains to be learned and directly
observed, the adult medusae at season's end probably swim up coastal
estuarine saltwater creeks to habitats of the polyp forms where
the male and female adults reproduce sexually, probably by semelparous
spawning. However, it may be that a single adult animal reproduces
sexually, as planula larvae that subsequently developed into polyps
have been found live in the bell cavity of a mature Chironex (RIFKIN
1992, unpublished observations). The resultant planulae (those that
survive) develop into creeping (`roving') polyps that look for suitable
habitats before attaching to the rocks and debris of the creek bottom,
where they develop into sessile (fixed) polyps.
On the way to adult maturation, these fixed polyps
fall prey to various predator creatures, as a normal part of the
biological food chain. Nevertheless they are surprisingly hardy
and capable of asexual reproduction by budding, under favourable
environmental conditions. The polyp forms need little food during
the food-scarce winter period, but the growth rate of polyps (and
medusae) varies with the food source and not the weather---although
the food source is related to weather to some extent, and so there
may be a range of sizes of jellyfish in the one area (HARTWICK 1990,
Larger numbers of polyps develop if the food supply
(planktonic animals) is good and there is no overgrowth of other
polyp species (HARTWICK 1990, unpublished observations). Eventually
(typically during September in northern Queensland) the surviving
polyps detach to become small free-swimming juvenile medusae the
survivors among which become the adult Chironex medusae. Rains flush
through the creeks stimulating the polyps and they start to grow
until they break off and are carried to sea as small box jellyfish.
January rains will kill off any remaining polyps in creeks.
The emergence of part-grown Chironex medusae in
large numbers from selected saltwater estuarine creek mouths, in
response to favourable environmental conditions, has been directly
observed on occasions in far north Queensland.
As with other life-cycle stages (planulae and
polyps), the Chironex medusae fall prey to natural predators at
all stages in their maturation. These predators include hawksbill
turtles, butterfish, batfish and spinefoot fish.