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Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Sunday, July 10, 2005





Box jellyfish fled when
they saw red

Box jellyfish, those spineless lumps of gelatinous matter that float to shore every month and sting the living bejesus out of anyone within tentacle reach, apparently hate the color red. No kidding.

Australian scientists, for reasons yet unknown, decided to see how box jellyfish react to certain colors and discovered the creatures detest the color red. They found that when they placed a red object into a tank with box jellyfish, the animals squirted hastily in the opposite direction. This is considered a huge breakthrough in the study of floating lumps of gelatinous matter because if box jellyfish hate the color red, they might have feelings about other things, like Coke vs. Pepsi and the trouble in the Middle East.

The most immediate impact is that it could cause a major shift in the color of swimming apparel. Red bikinis will be HOT Down Under this summer!

But it could have an impact in Hawaii, too, because we have a lot of box jellyfish. (Box jellyfish are so called because they are cube-shaped, with four distinct sides. This is different from the 12-sided polyhedron jellyfish, which often is so confused it doesn't know which side is up.)

The problem is our box jellyfish are different from the box jellyfish in Australia. The primary injury mechanism for all box jellyfish is stinging tentacles (although, some have been known to carry switchblades and spear guns). Our box jellyfish, the Carybdea alata, impart a sting that is merely irritating, while the Australian variety, the Chrionex fleckeri (also called "the sea wasp" and, behind its back, "Bernard"), is a different story.

One jellyfish expert said this about Chrionex fleckeri: "You have virtually no chance of surviving the venomous sting unless treated immediately. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that you would most likely go into shock and drown before reaching the shore."

When you combine that with recent information that it hates the color red, Chrionex fleckeri is a fairly unpleasant customer.

UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII scientists need to begin conducting tests immediately to see if our box jellyfish dislike red or, more important, which colors they do like. If they are partial to chartreuse, for instance, you might want surf trunks of a different hue. Box jellyfish have about 37 eyes, so if they like a certain color and you are wearing it, dude, they're going to find you.

Another interesting thing about box jellyfish is that they have no heart. So when they sting you, they have absolutely no remorse.

They have no brain, either, but seem to have figured out how to come to shore the same time every month. They arrive en masse on Oahu's South Shore nine to 10 days after the full moon, fully armed and ready to boogie. The City and County actually has a Web site (www.co.honolulu.hi.us/esd/oceansafety) with calendars showing when the slimy buggers are expected to show up. Signs also are posted when the box jellyfish arrive, so if someone is stupid enough to ignore the calendar and signs and get stung, they probably deserve it. (I've been stung many times, so I know what I'm talking about.)

If you do get stung, douse or spray the sting with vinegar. An old wives' tale suggests peeing on the sting, but I think that was just some old wives pulling someone's leg.

To recap: To avoid being stung by box jellyfish, check the government Web site, look for beach warning signs, wear a red wet suit and move to Las Vegas.


Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mBox jellyfish fled when they saw red

Box jellyfish, those spineless lumps of gelatinous matter that float to shore every month and sting the living bejesus out of anyone within tentacle reach, apparently hate the color red. No kidding.

Australian scientists, for reasons yet unknown, decided to see how box jellyfish react to certain colors and discovered the creatures detest the color red. They found that when they placed a red object into a tank with box jellyfish, the animals squirted hastily in the opposite direction. This is considered a huge breakthrough in the study of floating lumps of gelatinous matter because if box jellyfish hate the color red, they might have feelings about other things, like Coke vs. Pepsi and the trouble in the Middle East.

The most immediate impact is that it could cause a major shift in the color of swimming apparel. Red bikinis will be HOT Down Under this summer!

But it could have an impact in Hawaii, too, because we have a lot of box jellyfish. (Box jellyfish are so called because they are cube-shaped, with four distinct sides. This is different from the 12-sided polyhedron jellyfish, which often is so confused it doesn't know which side is up.)

The problem is our box jellyfish are different from the box jellyfish in Australia. The primary injury mechanism for all box jellyfish is stinging tentacles (although, some have been known to carry switchblades and spear guns). Our box jellyfish, the Carybdea alata, impart a sting that is merely irritating, while the Australian variety, the Chrionex fleckeri (also called "the sea wasp" and, behind its back, "Bernard"), is a different story.

One jellyfish expert said this about Chrionex fleckeri: "You have virtually no chance of surviving the venomous sting unless treated immediately. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that you would most likely go into shock and drown before reaching the shore."

When you combine that with recent information that it hates the color red, Chrionex fleckeri is a fairly unpleasant customer.

UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII scientists need to begin conducting tests immediately to see if our box jellyfish dislike red or, more important, which colors they do like. If they are partial to chartreuse, for instance, you might want surf trunks of a different hue. Box jellyfish have about 37 eyes, so if they like a certain color and you are wearing it, dude, they're going to find you.

Another interesting thing about box jellyfish is that they have no heart. So when they sting you, they have absolutely no remorse.

They have no brain, either, but seem to have figured out how to come to shore the same time every month. They arrive en masse on Oahu's South Shore nine to 10 days after the full moon, fully armed and ready to boogie. The City and County actually has a Web site (www.co.honolulu.hi.us/esd/oceansafety) with calendars showing when the slimy buggers are expected to show up. Signs also are posted when the box jellyfish arrive, so if someone is stupid enough to ignore the calendar and signs and get stung, they probably deserve it. (I've been stung many times, so I know what I'm talking about.)

If you do get stung, douse or spray the sting with vinegar. An old wives' tale suggests peeing on the sting, but I think that was just some old wives pulling someone's leg.

To recap: To avoid being stung by box jellyfish, check the government Web site, look for beach warning signs, wear a red wet suit and move to Las Vegas.


Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

See the Columnists section for some past articles.



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