As you walk Tybee’s beach you are likely to see a variety of animals that live in the sand or have washed up from off shore. So it’s not only seashells, sand dollars, and fossil shark teeth that you might find; but you are also likely to see animals such as sponges, soft corals, horseshoe crabs, and a variety of other animals that live in deeper water but have been cast ashore due to currents, waves, and tides. And among the animals that you might encounter on the sand or in the water are jellyfish.
Most of the jellyfish we see along Tybee are seasonal and here only during limited months. During the winter we have a couple of cold-water species: the Lion’s Mane Jelly, and the Mushroom Jelly. The Lion’s Mane (photo 1 & 2) has a very mild “sting” that I consider more of an irritation (like a mosquito bite) rather than a sting. The Mushroom Jelly (photo 3) is our largest jellyfish, but it doesn’t sting.
One jelly that we see here year round is the Cannonball Jelly (photo 4). They are ball-shaped and feel more like rubber or plastic instead of soft and mushy. Cannonball Jellies don’t have any long tentacles that sting, so they are pretty harmless. They are probably my favorite jelly fish. Anytime I see one, especially if it has just washed up or still in the water, I’ll hold it upside down and look inside because sometimes there will be a Spider Crab hitching a ride up inside! (photo 5 & 6). So if you see a fresh Cannonball Jelly, check it out. There might be a “treasure” in there!
During the summer, we are likely to see a couple of other jellyfish along the beach. The flat, round, clear jellyfish is a Moon Jelly (photo 7 & 8). They can be the size of a dinner plate. You can identify a Moon Jelly by the four “horseshoe shaped” canals around the middle. Moon Jellies have fairly short tentacles, and they produce a relatively mild sting. You will notice it, but it’s not really painful.
It’s usually during late July and into mid-August when we get the Sea Wasp Jellyfish along Tybee (photo 9). They are clear and have long, hair-like tentacles. The Sea Wasp Jellyfish sting is strong, and you will notice it for sure. Because they are clear, you usually can’t see them in the water. But even when they have washed up on the beach, their tentacles can still sting. So you don’t want to mess with them.
There are a variety of treatments for jellyfish stings. Our Tybee lifeguards usually have something available during the “stinging season.” Some folks use vinegar, some use ammonia. I usually just use ice from my cooler. My son claims that cold soft drink works best! And then later on, I use an anti-itching cream because my Sea Wasp stings seem to itch for a few days.
Dr. Joe Richardson is a retired marine science professor who has studied, researched and taught marine biology/science along Georgia’s coast and Bahamas for more than 35 years. Dr. Joe also conducts Tybee Beach Ecology Trips (www.TybeeBeachEcology.com) year-round for families, schools, scouts, and other groups. He regularly reports his findings on his “Tybee Beach Ecology Trips” facebook page. And for more information and pictures about Tybee’s marine biogeography and seasonality, see his webpage: www.ceasurf.com/pages/TybeeDiversity.aspx