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Protection of human skin against jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) stings

Abstract

In tropical and subtropical regions of the world, jellyfish stings cause fatalities by means of venom injecting nematocysts. For nematocyst discharge an adequate combination of chemical and mechanical stimulation is required. In order to test whether skin care products can protect against nematocyst discharge, we tested two sunscreens and one lotion applied to pieces of live human skin and exposed them to Cyanea capillata tentacles. (Test specimens were collected in 1990 along the shore of Rømø, Denmark and in the Flensburger Förde.) The fine structure analysis of the cnidom of C. capillata showed a high grade of variation in shape and size. The basic distinctive characteristic for stomocnides and astomocnides, the terminal opening at the tubule tip, could not be found. The identification of spines at the basal tubule of atrichous isorhizas suggested that these should be characterized as basitrichous isorhizas. An association between nematocyst morphology and a special function such as penetration or entanglement was not observed. All nematocyst types penetrated unprotected skin. Parafilm (an inert material) and unprotected skin substrates served as controls. The discharged nematocysts on the skin and Parafilm surfaces were counted using scanning electron microscopy. The percentage of discharged nematocysts on test substance protected skin surfaces ranged from only 7.7 to 38.2%, compared to 100% on the unprotected control skin. In addition to this marked reduction in nematocyst discharge, the relatively few discharged nematocysts on protected skin showed malfunctions, and the injection of venom would have failed because the tubules of the nematocysts did not penetrate the skin. The results indicate a general possibility that human skin may be protected against nematocyst discharge of jellyfish with the application of sunscreen or lotion.

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Communicated by O. Kinne, Oldenforf/Luhe

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Heeger, T., Möller, H. & Mrowietz, U. Protection of human skin against jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) stings. Marine Biology 113, 669–678 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00349710

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Keywords

  • Human Skin
  • Mechanical Stimulation
  • Inert Material
  • Skin Care
  • Terminal Opening