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What to Know About Bluebottle Stings

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 07, 2021

Often called bluebottle jellyfish or the "Pacific Man of War," bluebottles are clusters of polyps usually located in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Every year, thousands of bluebottle stings are reported in Australia. Most people who get stung by it experience pain but are not substantially harmed.

What are Bluebottle Jellyfishes?

Bluebottle jellyfish are not jellyfish. Technically, they are a zooid or a colony of individuals that need each other to live. Usually, they are encountered on the eastern coasts of Australia in the summer and autumn. In the winter, they are found on the southwestern beaches of Australia.

Bluebottles typically eat:

  • Larval fish. These are fish in their earliest stages of development, meaning they are either larvae or eggs. Larval fish are not able to swim against the current of the ocean.
  • Mollusks. Mollusks are organisms characterized by soft bodies. They also often have hard shells.
  • Crustaceans. Crustaceans are a massive group of organisms. They do not have bones but instead have hard exoskeletons.

Bluebottles are easy to spot with their bright blue tentacles and floats. While their floats are pretty small, they can have very long tentacles. They are often carried into medium-temperature beaches by warm water currents.

Usually, huge groups of them wash up on beaches during the high tide. They can also be seen from afar in the water and on the sand, which can help alarm you if there are bluebottles nearby. Bluebottle stings are prevalent because they gravitate towards shallower waters where people are more likely to swim.

Bluebottle Stings

The bluebottle uses its tentacles to catch, sting, and kill its prey. The venom it uses is a mix of phenols and proteins that are deadly to their prey, but not to humans.

Immediately after you get stung by a bluebottle, you will feel an intense jolt of pain. This pain will increase if the tentacles move around your body or the area that has been stung is touched. The pain will last for hours or minutes, depending on your particular situation. It will then wain to a softer pain and later go away entirely.

You will also develop an inflammatory reaction in your skin which usually forms in a line. Managing the pain of the sting is the only form of treatment management you can do. However, this can differ for young children, older people, or people who have allergic reactions to the proteins or phenols in the venom.

Treatment

Right after you're stung, you should wash off the affected area with water or seawater. This washes away any non-visible stinging cells that may still potentially be on your body. Do not rub the area with your hand, as this could exacerbate your symptoms.

However, it is important to get out of the water and remove the tentacles from your skin as soon as possible.

You should then find a place where you can comfortably relax; you should also find someone to watch over you. Lastly, submerge the sting in hot water. It has been found that 40 degrees celsius water can take away the pain after ten minutes.

However, if this is too hot for you, cooler water will also help. The heat in the water denatures the protein in the venom, but cold water can also calm the reaction. It is essential that you submerge the affected area or use a heating pack as soon as possible after getting stung. This treatment will be much more effective if it is applied sooner rather than later.

You can also treat it by taking a shower or submerging it in a bucket of hot water. If using a heating pack, be sure that it can reach up to 42 degrees celsius.

Usually, bluebottle stings will stop feeling painful within 1-2 hours. Any sort of inflammation or skin reaction will go away after a few days.

Do not treat your bluebottle sting with vinegar or alcohol as they might make the pain worse.

Complications. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Redness or sores across a vast area
  • Redness or sores on both the throat and face
  • Difficulty breathing or any other sign of a severe illness

Prevention

While getting stung by a jellyfish cannot be entirely prevented, some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting stung include:

  • Be mindful and watch out for beaches that might have bluebottles in the water or on the shore
  • Avoid touching bluebottles in the water or on the beach
  • Wear a full-coverage swimsuit and water shoes that cover your skin
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

Australian Family Physician: “Hot water immersion for bluebottle stings.”

Australian Museum: “Bluebottle.”

‌Government of Western Australia: “Bluebottle factsheet.”

healthdirect: “jellyfish stings.”

Marine Education Society of Australasia: “Crustaceans.”

NOAA: “Larval Fish Research in Alaska.”

UC Museum of Paleontology: “The Mollusca.”

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