Jellyfish stings are like 'supersonic harpoons'
Unprecedented slow-motion video shows what happens when a jellyfish injects its venom.
Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 08:31 PM
As anyone who has ever been stung by a jellyfish can attest, these animals have some of the most painful and deadly stings known to man. The stings aren't just potentially lethal, they're also lightning fast. They're so fast, in fact, that scientists have only just begun to achieve the capability of viewing jellyfish deploy their stingers in high definition, reports Nerdist.
Now thanks to the YouTube science channel Smarter Every Day, we can all revel in the terrifying wonder of the jellyfish's supersonic biological weaponry. Check out the following episode to witness the footage for yourself:
A jellyfish's stinging cells, called nematocysts, might be likened to hypodermic needles fitted on the tip of a harpoon. Viewing them in action at such high definition is so special that even renowned toxinologist Dr. Jamie Seymour, featured in the episode above, is giddy at the opportunity.
"Oh this is cool. This is like ... real science," he said. "This is the sort of stuff I get up in the morning for."
In the video, the nematocysts appear to trigger in slow motion thanks to high-speed cameras. In actuality they fire so quickly that you can be stung 20 times before blinking an eye. One of the more remarkable revelations from this experiment, however, is the time lag shown between when the needle-like nematocysts fire and when venom is discharged. According to Seymour, this is a new discovery.
Jellyfish are part of the phylum Cnidaria, which also includes the sea anemones and corals. In fact, the nematocysts filmed in the video are actually from anemones, not jellyfish. But the process should be basically the same for jellyfish.
If watching a supersonic harpoon filled with venom deploy doesn't make you squirm, consider this: jellyfish could soon rule the oceans. The animals are particularly adaptable to climate change, and as humans overfish the seas, jellyfish are filling the empty ecological niche. There is already indication that jellyfish numbers worldwide are rising steeply.
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