Northern Australian Box Jellyfish

Chironex fleckeri

This is the most infamous and most deadly of all box jellyfish (Cubozoa). The distinctive box-shaped bell has up to 60 ribbon-shaped tentacles in four groups at each corner. Tentacles can contract in size from many metres long down to a few centimetres, and are armed with millions of microscopic stinging cells (nematocysts) that discharge potent venom upon contact with skin. It is found mostly within 300 m of the shore, but also common near the mouths of creeks and coastal rivers, extending up into estuaries. It is highly dangerous and has caused at least 60 deaths in Australia.

Stings are severely painful; multiple stings produce a series of long, whip-like lines with the affected area quickly becoming intensely swollen and red. Victims may become very sick. The best protection is avoidance, either by not swimming on the coastal beaches of north Queensland from about October to June, or to wear a lycra (stinger) suits, wetsuit or even normal clothes fully covering all exposed skin. If stung, immediate emergency treatment is absolutely essential, and subsequently, seeking medical assistance. If stung, immediately flood the affected area with vinegar. Do not rub sting with hands, towels or sand. For large stings to limbs, treat as for snake bite, but firstly flooding the area with vinegar, then using vinegar soaked compression bandage to immobilise the affected limb. The victim’s survival is ultimately dependent on care and monitoring. Do not move the victim. Monitor breathing and heartbeat and employ expired air resuscitation (EAR) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as required. Anti-venom is available from Surf Lifesaving Patrols on patrolled beaches in northern Queensland.

Box Jellyfish is distributed across tropical Australia from Dampier, WA, south to Agnes Waters, Queensland.

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