What Is an Irukandji Jellyfish?

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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2020
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An Irukandji jellyfish is a type of venomous jellyfish that produces a condition in humans called Irukandji syndrome. Although experts suspect that there are several species of Irukandji jellyfish, the only two species identified to cause Irukandji syndrome so far are Carukia barnesi and Malo kingi. Irukandji jellyfish are usually found in tropical waters around Australia, but there are reports of Irukandji syndrome occurring in other parts of the world as well. In Australia, cases of Irukandji syndrome mostly occur between the months of November and May.

Since Irukandji jellyfish are identified by their ability to cause Irukandji syndrome, it is a good idea to understand the illness. “Irukandji” is the name of a group of indigenous people who lived near the north Queensland coast. In the 1950s, the name was given to the syndrome by a doctor examining people in the area who were suffering from symptoms of the illness. Examples of these symptoms are severe back pain, headache and elevated blood pressure. In addition, other symptoms include muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting.


Initially, a person who is stung might feel only a minor sting, if he feels anything at all. Within five to 45 minutes, though, characteristic symptoms of Irukandji syndrome will appear. There is no antidote for Irukandji syndrome and death can occur as a result of a sting. A person who exhibits symptoms of the syndrome should pour vinegar onto the sting for first aid treatment. He should go to the hospital for further medical attention.

The first species identified to cause Irukandji syndrome was Carukia barnesi in the 1960s. Named after the doctor who connected its sting with the syndrome, Carukia barnesi are small box jellyfish. They range from about 0.78 inches (2 centimeters) to 3.93 inches (10 centimeters) in size. Attached to their transparent bodies at each corner is a tentacle. The jellyfish’s transparency makes it difficult to see and, therefore, a dangerous threat to anyone in the water nearby.

For a long time, no other species were identified to also cause Irukandji syndrome. Malo kingi, another small box jellyfish, was finally discovered in 1999, although it did not receive its name until a few years after an American tourist died in Australia from a sting in 2002. This jellyfish, named in honor of the tourist, is described as having rings of tissues encircling its tentacles. It is thought to be one of the world’s most potently venomous animals despite the fact that it is smaller than a thumbnail in size.


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