Stinging Invertebrates

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Sea anemones, jellyfish and corals all have tentacles with unique stinging cells. And while most invertebrates pose little threat to humans, others – like the box jellyfish – are some of the world’s most venomous creatures.

And although these invertebrates have plentiful differences, they release venom in the same way. “There’s a trigger on the cell and when the trigger is released, the barb with explosively eject and pierce the object in contact with the tentacle,” says Bruce Carlson, Chief Science Officer at the Georgia Aquarium. “The venom is injected into the site where the barb penetrates. The strength of the venom varies with the species and the number of stings, and it is important to remember that the majority of species pose little danger to humans.”

But that doesn’t mean throw caution to the wind, as some invertebrate species have a “potent venom that can cause serious injuries or even death, especially if the contact results in thousands of stinging cells releasing venom into the wound,” Bruce warns.

One of these jellyfish is the infamous box jelly. This carnivorous invertebrate might only live less than 1 year in the wild, but it can grow to ten feet in length and 10 inches across and has one of the most deadly venoms in the world. It’s powerful venom attacks the heart, nervous system and skill cells, and both animals and humans are at risk for falling victim to the box jelly’s poisons.

Some treatment plans are available for painful and poisonous invertebrate stings, Bruce explains that “a doctor’s immediate attention is necessary for severe cases both to help alleviate pain and possibly shock. An antivenin is available in Australia for some of the most lethal box jelly stings, however, a severely stung individual may die in minutes and never live long enough to be treated.”

In this video, view a seemingly nontoxic cone snail in the wild. But his creature has a ‘harpoon’ filled than 100 different poisons – more than any other animal on the planet – and currently no ant venom exists.

Learn more about invertebrates and check out this National Geographic photo gallery of coral reefs.