Painful, rare jellyfish threatening Jersey Shore swimmers

Is the mauve stinger floating at a beach near you? The jellyfish, usually found in Europe, have been stinging beachgoers in NY and NJ, “and it hurts.”

Mauve stinger jellyfish have been leaving painful welts, burn-looking marks and even patches of dead skin on beachgoers across New Jersey and a few on Long Island, New York.

The Europe native jellyfish is a rare sight across the northeast U.S. but not a welcome one as it's considered one of the most venomous Mediterranean jellyfish. 

‘Purple People Eater’ and ‘Purple Meanie’ are just a few names uttered by the New Jersey Jellyspotters’ group for the mauve stinger. Its beautiful purple color, translucent features, and night glow can entice curious beachgoers but beware.


How much does the sting hurt?

"It was a really small one, only maybe about two inches, but that was sufficient to really pack a big punch," Paul Bologna, Director of the Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences at Montclair State University, told FOX Weather of the jelly that stung him. "The sting for me was extremely terrible, partly because I stung myself on purpose, and it actually sort of killed all the skin and a little bit of an area around it."

The researcher put the creature on his arm to get first-hand knowledge of the sting. He said that was only a small jellyfish, others were not so lucky and encountered larger ones.

Intense pain and scars can stick around for two weeks. The jellyfish can even inject the mauve stinger pigment into the skin, tattooing the area for years, reported a study from the University of Genova. 

The mauve stinger has a purple mauve bell covered by warty-looking stingers, which is unusual because most jellyfish don’t have stingers on their canopies.

They also have stingers on their eight tentacles and four mouth arms, according to the Australian Museum.

The bell grows up to four inches in diameter, and the tentacles can reach out to nine feet.

"Every jellyfish has the potential to sting you. The issue is always sort of how potent is their venom," Bologna explained why the sting is so powerful. "So we know that things like the Pacific Box Jelly can kill you within a couple of hours."


Why are the mauve stingers in the Northeast?

Bologna noticed appearances of the rare invertebrates over the last several years when weather conditions send deeper water to the surface, called upwelling.

"We had this series of what we call upwelling, where cold, deep water comes up along the coast. And for quite some time in August, we had pretty cold coastal waters. And right after that is when these kind of started showing up on the beaches," explained Bologna. "So we think that it's likely that that deeper water brought them in and then subsequently they got kind of moved in with the tides, and then they wash up onto the beaches. So we've got a lot of reports in New Jersey and even some now in Long Island."

Bologna said beach water has been warmer for the past week, eliminating the jellyfish for the Labor Day weekend on the Jersey Shore. But recent photos from Northeast beachgoers tell a different story. 


What to do if you are stung by jellyfish

Bologna carries a commercial jellyfish sting treatment called "Sting No More" to the beach, on his boat and in his lab.

"But you can use white vinegar to sort of stop the stinging cells, so they don't continue to string you," Bologna suggests. "And then wash with saltwater, wipe the area with a clean cloth, and then a hot compress helps to kind of reduce the level of venom that might have been injected into you."

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