Over the last couple of months vast amounts of bluebottles were washed up on our shores, caused by strong onshore winds.
This interesting little creature is not regarded as an animal, but rather as a colony of four different specialized polyps and medusae fused together. None of the four can operate independently.
Bluebottles are constantly “fishing” for small fishes and shrimps. If you happen to be in the way of their tentacles, a reflex reaction triggers the release of nematocysts, the stinging cells. The venom, consisting of protein, causes an acutely painful reaction and red swelling of the affected area.
HELPFUL TIPS IF YOU ARE STUNG:
- Don’t move too much as it causes the venom to spread faster. Rinse off the tentacles in seawater and remove the remaining ones with tweezers or your fingers.
- Do not increase the toxic effect of the venom by:
* Using fresh water, urine, vinegar, alcohol, methylated spirits or soft drinks. Although some people regard these as remedies, it is not advisable. Vinegar is applied to minimise the effect of certain jellyfish species, but their venom is different.
* Rubbing the affected area with sand.
- After removing the tentacles, immerse the affected part in water of 40-45 °C to help destroy the protein in the venom. If this is not possible, ice-packs can be used to relieve the pain. One of the most effective ways to relieve the pain is to apply the gel in dune fig (suurvy) leaves to the affected area (see also page 00).
- A paste made of water and meat tenderizer also breaks down the protein in the venom so keep a bottle in your beach bag!
If symptoms are more serious and persist, get medical help.
I asked dr. Enrico Gennari, Director of Research at Oceans Research, Mossel Bay, whether it is advisable to remove bluebottles when cleaning the beach. “No,” he said, “do not interfere with nature as they are a source of food for other species in the ocean. You also have to be careful as the tentacles of the ‘dead’ bluebottles can still sting.” So should we be concerned about them on the beaches? “Just stay out of their way. I would be much more concerned about currents than bluebottles.”