The Irukandji Jellyfish is a small but venomous and dangerous Jellyfish. With its size only one cubic centimeter and found exclusively in the marine waters off the coast of Australia, just north of Cairns, in Queensland. There are two types of Irukandji Jellyfish, Carukia Barnesi and Malo Kingi. Collectively they are responsible for Irukandji syndrome, first documented in 1952 by Hugo Flecker and named after the native Irukandkji people of the region. Carukia Barnesi, the first species of Irukandji Jellyfish was discovered in 1964 by Dr. Jack Barnes, who, wanting to prove this tiny Jellyfish was responsible for the Irukandji syndrome, stung himself, a lifeguard and his son.
The Irukandji Jellyfish has four tentacles that can range from a few centimeters in length to around 35 centimeters. The stingers are grouped in clumps and look like rings made up of small red dots around the bell of the jellyfish, and also along the tentacles. Since the Irukandji Jellyfish is too tiny and fragile to handle and contain, very little research has been done. However, it is known that its venom is a hundred times more potent than that of a cobra, and a thousand times as much as that of a tarantula. What ever research has been done, has confirmed that the potency of its venom allows it to stun its prey (like fast and small fish) very fast.
The Irukandji is cover in millions of microscopic singers, responsible for the venom release. To understand how these stingers work, you can imagine a long inside out sock, coiled along the lines of a spring. Someone unlucky enough to come in contact with the Jellyfish by touch will cause an uncoiling of the spring latching the stingers into the skin like barbs. When the victim pulls away the stingers are ripped from the Jellyfish’s body and remain embedded in the victim. The Irukandji has the unique ability to ‘fire’ the stingers from it’s tips and inject the venom, a unique phenomenon.
Symptoms of Irukandji Syndrome can including burning sensation at the area of contact, nausea, headaches, vomiting, drop in blood pressure and heart rate, sweating , intense and severely painful muscle cramps in the legs and arms as well as pain in the back and kidneys. Divers beware, the Irukandji Jellyfish!
An individual recently stung by the Irukandji will notice symptoms within 4 – 30 hours which may take up to 2 weeks to completely be resolved. Pain management is the only treatment for the Irukandji sting as there is no known anti-venom. Patients have been known to experience pain so intensely that they beg the doctor for death. The best way to avoid the sting is to avoid the Jellyfish. Be mindful of the conditions, seasons and areas you are swimming or diving. Divers beware, the Irukandji Jellyfish!