The Chemistry of Jellyfish Venom


Jellyfish are known to be gentle creatures, and in most cases pose little threat to People. However some jellyfish have the ability to cause severe pain and even kill humans, depending on the jellyfish. I had always loved sea life, and found jellyfish interesting. It was not until I was eight that I actually got to see a real jellyfish in San Diego. I was walking along the beach and saw it upturned in the sand, being a curious lad I immediately wanted to touch it. This ended up getting me my first sting, which was obviously not too severe but still very painful. And from then on I always wondered how a fish made of almost entirely water could cause such pain, and then I realized it must be chemistryComposition of ...

    • Porin:The main reactant in jellyfish venom is a protein that crosses membranes and allow substances to exit and enter cells.
      • mostly composed of, hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen
      • composed of various amino acids, arranged in long strands
    • the second component is one or more different neurotoxins that cause pain or discomfort
      • such as:
        • cftx-1
        • cftx-2
        • cftx-a
        • cftx-b
      • cftx-bt

Chemistry's Role

All these components of jellyfish venom form naturally in its body.While the main purpose of the toxins is too cause pain the main component of the venom is Porin. Composed of strands of amino acids they form a shape that can breach cell membranes releasing chemicals in the blood such as potassium. Now this potassium is what actually kills, because once the heart pumps in too much potassium from the blood, you go into cardiac arrest. Because this Potassium floods the nerves and the body can no longer send signals and in the heart muscle this causes heart rate to become out of rhythm, causing cardiac arrest.

Background Research

    • cnidocytes are a jellyfish's tentacles
    • nematocysts are harpoon like structures that administer venom
    • can penetrate skin in less than a blink of an eye
    • most of the pain comes from a protein known as porin
      • chemical structure varies by species
      • as well as administration method
        • porin is said to punch holes in cells
    • pain compared to a burning sensation
    • most venom contain glycosylation
      • this toxin causes carbohydrates to attach to hydroxyl
      • or glycans to lipids or other organic proteins
    • the porin punches holes in red blood cells
      • this releases potassium into the blood
      • and an abundance of potassium in the body is known as hyperkalemia
      • and once enough potassium is released this causes cardiac arrest
    • the toxins cause the pain of the stings
    • even separated tentacles can sting you
    • washing with fresh water will release more venom
    • some venom may cause allergic reactions which should be treated with medical attention
    • urban pollution and climate change actually help jellyfish populations
    • urine only irritates the sting
    • acidic solutions like vinegar help neutralize toxins
    • potassium makes nerves in muscles such as the heart to be less receptive to signals
      • this causes the heart's rhythm to pump off beat
      • this is what causes cardiac arrest
  • in some severe sting cases the kidneys can even fail due to the excess potassium an


jellyfish anatomy

how the stingers work

composition of venom

info. on porin

how jellyfish sting

effects of venom

treating stings

effects of excess potassium on the body and heart

information on excess potassium leading to cardiac arrest


Jesse Rahr