Which species of jellyfish are the most dangerous for swimmers?

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Swarms of jellyfish are descending on beaches across the British Isles as the country remains gripped by a blistering summer heatwave. As people head to the seaside for the weekend, Britons should be on high-alert for the creatures, which can deliver a potent sting  


Swarms of jellyfish are descending on beaches across the British Isles as the country remains gripped by a blistering summer heatwave.

As people head to the seaside for the weekend, Britons should be on high-alert.

Stings from jellyfish like the mauve stinger and lion’s mane have been likened to receiving an ‘electric shock’ and can leave victims hospitalised.

Lion’s manes jellyfish have already been spotted in Blackpool, Anglesey, Galway and Kent this summer. And three people had to be hospitalised after being stung by the species, which is commonly-found in Scandinavian waters, during the hot weather in Galway, Ireland, last month.

In recent days, swimmers in Folkestone were warned to wear a wet suit before taking a dip, after swarms of Lion’s manes jellyfish were spotted in the water. 

MailOnline has spoken to a range of experts for their tips on which species attracted to the resulting warmer waters are the most dangerous and how can you spot them.

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Swarms of jellyfish are descending on beaches across the British Isles as the country remains gripped by a blistering summer heatwave. As people head to the seaside for the weekend, Britons should be on high-alert for the creatures, which can deliver a potent sting  

Swarms of jellyfish are descending on beaches across the British Isles as the country remains gripped by a blistering summer heatwave. As people head to the seaside for the weekend, Britons should be on high-alert for the creatures, which can deliver a potent sting  

Why are there so many jellyfish at the moment? 

‘Jellyfish numbers can increase rapidly under the right conditions, but these “right conditions” may differ according to where you are and which species you are looking at,’ Nathalie Pettorelli, senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London told MailOnline.

‘Overfishing (which reduces predation pressure on jellyfish) and climate change have both been cited as being responsible for the increases in jellyfish numbers we have seen over recent years,’ she said.

Changing climatic conditions are also having an impact on marine ecosystems.

For example, the water is getting warmer, the pH of seawater is decreasing, and the location and timing of algae blooms have also changed.

‘These changes can all affect jellyfish numbers, but we don’t know exactly how each species is likely to respond to these changes, or how these changes may interact with other factors – such as over-fishing – to shape jellyfish numbers and distribution,’ Dr Pettorelli added.

Some species prefer warmer waters, however, these conditions do not always lead to more jellyfish.

For example, Dr Pettorelli says fewer jellyfish have been found in the Northern Sea during periods of warmer temperatures.

‘But in some other regions, such as the Irish Sea, there is evidence that warming conditions are leading to increased abundance of certain jellyfish species,’ she added.

Warmer waters can lead to changes in food availability for jellyfish, which is why numbers of some species increase alongside rising temperatures.

‘Recent sightings in UK waters indicate that some relatively dangerous jellyfish are around,’ added Dr Pettorelli.

‘Sightings of the lion’s mane species, which sting can often lead to hospitalisation, have been reported in various places this summer. 

‘However, most species found in the UK only deliver a mild sting,’ she said. ‘If you see large clusters of jellyfishes, it is best to exit the water as soon as possible.’

So what are the main species to look out for, how and where can you spot them, and how bad are their stings?

Lion’s mane jellyfish 

Sightings of lion's manes (pictured) in Blackpool, Anglesey and Galway follow the mass stranding of hundreds of barrel jellyfish in Weymouth, Dorset (stock image)

Sightings of lion's manes (pictured) in Blackpool, Anglesey and Galway follow the mass stranding of hundreds of barrel jellyfish in Weymouth, Dorset (stock image)

Sightings of lion’s manes (pictured) in Blackpool, Anglesey and Galway follow the mass stranding of hundreds of barrel jellyfish in Weymouth, Dorset (stock image)

  • Native to: Cooler regions of Pacific, Atlantic and North Sea
  • Spotted in UK: Blackpool, Anglesey, Galway, Hythe
  • Danger level: Severe sting that can leave people hospitalised
  • How to spot it: Largest known species of jellyfish with six foot (1.8m) tentacles 

Lion’s mane jellyfish can grow longer than a blue whale, and have the most severe sting of any jellyfish species found in British waters.

Stings from this species have been known to leave victims hospitalised.

With six foot (1.8m) tentacles trailing in the water behind them, Lion’s mane jellyfish are capable of delivering a powerful sting – even after they wash up on the shore.

The venomous creatures have become increasingly commonplace in British waters in recent years, with global warming making the UK a more attractive location.

Sightings of lion’s manes in Blackpool, Anglesey and Galway follow the mass stranding of hundreds of barrel jellyfish in Weymouth, Dorset.

Lion’s manes can grow up to 35in (90cm) wide and weigh as much as 55lbs (25kg).

Several of the marine creatures have washed onto beaches along the west coast of Lancashire, including in Blackpool, while large numbers were also spotted in Hythe, Kent.

Three people were hospitalised after they were stung by lion’s manes in Galway, Ireland, during the hot weather last month. 

One woman was stung on the face, leading the lifeguard on duty to raise the red flag and warn people not to enter the water.

Ten of the jellyfish were spotted floating in coastal waters by one member of a triathlon group during a 2.5-mile (4km) swim in Galway Bay.

Compass jellyfish

The compass jellyfish (pictured) has venom in its tentacles which carries a very painful sting and experts have warned they are venturing closer ashore with the rising sea temperatures (stock image)

The compass jellyfish (pictured) has venom in its tentacles which carries a very painful sting and experts have warned they are venturing closer ashore with the rising sea temperatures (stock image)

The compass jellyfish (pictured) has venom in its tentacles which carries a very painful sting and experts have warned they are venturing closer ashore with the rising sea temperatures (stock image)

  • Native to: Atlantic and Mediterranean coast, including the UK, Ireland, Turkey
  • Spotted in UK: Bays off Dorset, Devon and Cornwall
  • Danger level: Very painful sting
  • How to spot it: Orange-brown colour. Bold dots and striking lines around body.

There have been numerous sightings of compass jellyfish in bays off Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

This UK native is is easily spotted, thanks to its trademark orange-brown colour, bold dots and striking lines across its body.

Compass jellyfish have venom in its tentacles which can administer a very painful sting. Experts have warned the species are now venturing closer ashore with the rising sea temperatures.

They are up to one foot (30cm) in diameter and have a life span of up to a year, changing their sex from male to female as they mature.

Peter Tinsley, marine evidence officer at Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: ‘The sea is warming up and the water is fairly calm which has stimulated a boom in jellyfish numbers, so you are more likely to see them in the bays.

‘We’ve had sightings of the compass jellyfish all along the Dorset coast and I would advise anyone to avoid touching them because of their sting.’ 

Mauve stinger 

Every year tens of thousands of holidaymakers require treatment for stings which have been likened to an 'electric shock'. Pictured is the mauve stinger (stock image)

Every year tens of thousands of holidaymakers require treatment for stings which have been likened to an 'electric shock'. Pictured is the mauve stinger (stock image)

Every year tens of thousands of holidaymakers require treatment for stings which have been likened to an ‘electric shock’. Pictured is the mauve stinger (stock image)

  • Native to: Warmer waters in Europe and around the equator
  • Spotted in UK: Guernsey, Northern Ireland, western coast of UK
  • Danger level: Very painful sting
  • How to spot it: Varies in colour from pale red to mauve-brown to purple

The number of mauve stinger jellyfish has increased over the last few years, due to the effects of global warming and over-fishing of their natural predators.

Every year, tens of thousands of holidaymakers require treatment for stings from this species, which are typically likened to an ‘electric shock’.

The mauve stinger is quite small and grows to around four inches (10cm) in diameter. However, their tentacles can reach up to 10 feet (three metres) in length.

Mauve stinger varies in colour from pale red to mauve-brown to purple.

This jellyfish is uncommon in the British Isles, but has been found in the deep waters off the west and north coasts.

Barrel jellyfish 

Barrel Jellyfish (pictured), also known as dustbin-lid jellyfish, can grow up to 35 inches (90cm) wide and weigh as much as 55lb (25kg) (stock image)

Barrel Jellyfish (pictured), also known as dustbin-lid jellyfish, can grow up to 35 inches (90cm) wide and weigh as much as 55lb (25kg) (stock image)

Barrel Jellyfish (pictured), also known as dustbin-lid jellyfish, can grow up to 35 inches (90cm) wide and weigh as much as 55lb (25kg) (stock image)

  • Native to: Atlantic, Adriatic, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Sea of Azov
  • Spotted in UK: English Channel, Irish Sea, Outer Hebrides, Dorset
  • Danger level: Very mild sting, and only if the tentacles are wet
  • How to spot it: Barrel shape. Also known as dustbin-lid jellyfish

Barrel jellyfish are often spotted from boats in the deeper waters of the English Channel, the Irish Sea, and around the Outer Hebrides.

However, in the past few weeks hundreds of Barrel Jellyfish have been washing up on British beaches, particularly around Dorset.

Barrel jellyfish, also known as dustbin-lid jellyfish, can grow up to 35 inches (90cm) wide and weigh as much as 55lb (25kg).

Their tentacles can reach lengths of six foot (1.9 metres). 

They are the ‘basking shark’ of the species – enormous but essentially harmless, feeding only on minuscule prey.

Still, experts from Dorset Wildlife Trust have warned members of the public not to touch barrel jellyfish even when they are washed up on the beach and appear dead as they can still give a mild sting if their tentacles are wet.

Barrel jellyfish vary in colour from whiteish pale or yellow, to shades of green, blue, pink or brown. They have a number of semi-circular lobe-like extensions.

This species – the largest found in south-west England – is not rare in the UK.

Beneath the dustbin lid-shaped bell are hundreds of tiny mouths (‘pores’), each surrounded by tiny stinging tentacles to catch plankton. 

Numbers have grown in recent years, which experts have credited to Britain’s increasingly mild winters, which in turn have allowed plankton populations to thrive.

Moon jellyfish

Moon jellyfish (pictured) have numerous short, hollow tentacles that form a fringe around the edge which are ringed by stinging cells (stock image)

Moon jellyfish (pictured) have numerous short, hollow tentacles that form a fringe around the edge which are ringed by stinging cells (stock image)

Moon jellyfish (pictured) have numerous short, hollow tentacles that form a fringe around the edge which are ringed by stinging cells (stock image)

  • Native to: Most of the world, from Australia in the south to northern Norway
  • Spotted in UK: All around the coasts of Britain and Ireland
  • Danger level: Stings can’t penetrate skin but may feel a minor sensation
  • How to spot it: Colourless with violet, reddish, pink or yellowish circular shapes

The moon jellyfish is one of the British Isle’s most common species and is found all around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

Their stings are not powerful enough to penetrate human skin, however, swimmers who brush up against one will feel a minor stinging sensation.

The body of the jellyfish is colourless, but the species has violet, reddish, pink or yellowish circular shapes on them.

They have numerous short, hollow tentacles that form a fringe around the edge of the body, which is ringed with stinging cells.

Aurelia aurita usually grows to approximately 10 inches (25cm) in diameter but can reach 16 inches (40cm). 

Blue jellyfish

Blue jellyfish, Cyanea lamarckii, (pictured) are generally azure in colour and is a close relative of the lions mane jellyfish. Like the moon jellyfish, their stings are mild and similar to brushing against nettles (stock image)

Blue jellyfish, Cyanea lamarckii, (pictured) are generally azure in colour and is a close relative of the lions mane jellyfish. Like the moon jellyfish, their stings are mild and similar to brushing against nettles (stock image)

Blue jellyfish, Cyanea lamarckii, (pictured) are generally azure in colour and is a close relative of the lions mane jellyfish. Like the moon jellyfish, their stings are mild and similar to brushing against nettles (stock image)

  • Native to: The west coast of Scotland, the North Sea, the Irish Sea
  • Spotted in UK: All around the coasts of Britain and Ireland
  • Danger level: Mild stings, similar to brushing against a nettle
  • How to spot it: Azure in colour

Blue jellyfish, Cyanea lamarckii, are generally azure in colour and are a close relative of the lion’s mane species.

Like the moon jellyfish, their stings are mild and similar to brushing against a nettle. 

The species occurs in coastal waters all around the British Isles. 

Blue jellyfish are most often found off the west coast of Scotland, the North Sea and the Irish sea.

They grow to approximately three to six inches (10 to 20cm) but can sometimes be as large as 10 inches (30cm) across.  

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU GET STUNG BY A JELLYFISH? 

There’s a widespread belief that urine is the best cure for a jellyfish sting.

However, last year researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa reviewed the solutions people commonly believe to work and found that only one was really a good idea – vinegar.

If you get stung by a jellyfish, pour concentrated vinegar on the affected area, then have someone in protective gear remove the stingers with tweezers.

If you get stung by a jellyfish, pour concentrated vinegar on the affected area, then have someone in protective gear remove the stingers with tweezers. Pictured is a jellyfish sting

If you get stung by a jellyfish, pour concentrated vinegar on the affected area, then have someone in protective gear remove the stingers with tweezers. Pictured is a jellyfish sting

If you get stung by a jellyfish, pour concentrated vinegar on the affected area, then have someone in protective gear remove the stingers with tweezers. Pictured is a jellyfish sting

And while it prevents further nematocyst discharge, vinegar doesn’t provide any pain relief from already injected venom.

The study found that product’s like Sting No More worked the best because they contain vinegar to shut down the nematocysts and high concentrations of urea to make tentacle removal easier.

The study found that product's like Sting No More worked the best because they contain vinegar to shut down the nematocysts and high concentrations of urea to make tentacle removal easier. Pictured is another sting 

The study found that product's like Sting No More worked the best because they contain vinegar to shut down the nematocysts and high concentrations of urea to make tentacle removal easier. Pictured is another sting 

The study found that product’s like Sting No More worked the best because they contain vinegar to shut down the nematocysts and high concentrations of urea to make tentacle removal easier. Pictured is another sting 

Once the tentacles are removed, it’s recommended heat is applied to the area, not cold.

It may be tempting to apply something cold to soothe the burning skin, but heat slows the venom down so it does less damage, the researchers say.

If your sting happened to be a box jellyfish, you’ll need urgent medical help as the string can kill within minutes.

They findings were published in the journal Toxins.

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