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Friday, July 23, 2010

How One Jellyfish Stung 100 People

In this photo provided by New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, a Lion's Mane jellyfish is seen on Wallis Sands State Park Beach, in Rye, N.
AP – In this photo provided by New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, a Lion's Mane jellyfish is …

How can one jellyfish sting up to 100 people? With lots of stinger-equipped tentacles, the largest jellyfish in the world is apparently up to the job.

Reported Wednesday at Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye, N.H., between 50 and 100 beachgoers were treated for jellyfish stings likely from a lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). Though officials can't be certain one jellyfish stung all the people, it seems likely as that's the only giant they spotted nearby.

This species is typically found in the cooler regions of the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, North Sea and Baltic Sea. And they rarely show up on this beach. "I haven't seen anything like this in my life, said Brian Warburton, who has been with the New Hampshire State Parks department for six years.

All the action transpired in about 20 minutes, when Warburton and his colleagues administered first aid (vinegar treatment). "There wasn't time to sit and measure this thing. We just got rid of it," he told LiveScience. "Think about a glob of Jell-O you're trying to pick up with two hands," he said, explaining the need for a pitchfork to pick it up.

When the 40-pound (18-kilogram) jellyfish arrived near shore, it appeared to be dead. But even a dead animal or a detached tentacle can sting a person, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

And the lion's mane isn't lacking in that arena.

The lion's mane jellyfish's sports a disk-shaped bell that can reach some 3.2 feet (1 meter) across, with its trailing thin tentacles extending more than 32 feet (10 m), according to the Australian Museum. Eight clusters of 150 tentacles each hang from the underside of its body.

Like other jellyfish, the lion's mane's tentacles are equipped with nematocysts, or capsules that contain a trigger and stinging structure. A single tentacle can be armed with hundreds or thousands of nematocysts, which get activated upon making contact with an object like a person's legs, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

When spread out, the tentacles of the lion's mane jellyfish form a net-like trap through which only the teensiest animals can pass. In fact, this tangle of tentacles is often difficult for swimmers to avoid, which can mean painful stings for many, according to the Australian Museum.

Warburton said he didn't think the stings were too bad, though perhaps they seemed painful for children who aren't used to getting stung.