The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

The coast of the northern Australian state of Queensland is a real resort paradise. Who can you not meet here at the surf line — beauties in bikinis, couples with children, courageous surfers and ... people in pantyhose. Yes, despite the heat, women and men in nylon tights are not uncommon on the beaches of northern Australia. And this strange fashion is easy to explain.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Back in the XIX century, when the coast of Queensland was not a resort, but a penal servitude, unexplained deaths in the water were recorded here. A person could swim far from the shore or stand waist-deep in water — this did not play a special role. Suddenly, he would lose consciousness and die for no apparent reason.

Doctors determined that the death occurred from cardiac arrest and could not say anything more specific. Local divers told stories that in the water a person can experience a sharp unbearable pain, as if a hot metal was applied to the body.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

The coast of Queensland is called a paradise for surfers

Immediately it became difficult to breathe, and the heart began to beat at an incredible speed. In this state, only a very strong, trained person could get to the shore or get into the boat without assistance. But even strong guys after this attack suffered from pain, cramps and vomiting for several days. No one could give an explanation for this.

Residents of the tropics are well aware that many different dangers lie in wait for them in the water. Predatory and venomous fish, sea snakes and jellyfish found off the coast of Queensland have been well studied and in none of the cases of death or seizure in the water were seen near the victim.

The local aborigines of Irukandji were sure that an evil invisible demon lived in the water, which could cause unbearable pain or kill at its discretion. The white population of Queensland was more realistic and believed that in the water a swimmer could be attacked by a certain miniature creature, which they called a "sea wasp". No one could say what it is and what it looks like.

In some cases, strange burn marks were found on the bodies of the victims, similar to those left by poisonous jellyfish. But all the survivors of the attack of an unknown creature claimed that they did not see anything near them in the water. In the second half of the XX century, terrible cases on the coast of Queensland significantly affected the attractiveness of the resort for tourists, but science was powerless before an unknown danger.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Chironex in ultraviolet light

Dr. Flecker's prey was marine plants, shrimp, small fish and several harmless jellyfish. At the end of the study, the biologist, already desperate to find something, came across a small and absolutely transparent jellyfish that he had never seen before.

Hugo Flecker realized that this was the " irukandji demon "or"sea wasp". In front of him on the table lay a typical representative of the order of cubomeduses, which are commonly called "box jellyfish". These strange creatures do not have a round or dome-shaped shape, like other jellyfish, but look like a cube. Bundles of tentacles hung from the lower corners of this "box".

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Nematocides with a deadly poison

This specimen was distinguished from its other relatives by its amazing transparency. The jellyfish lowered into the aquarium became almost invisible and it was possible to find it only with the help of an ultraviolet lamp. The tentacles of this creature contained stinging nematocyte cells, which contained the deadly poison that caused painful burns and death.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Chironex in a flask with water

The new species of jellyfish was named "chironex", which translates from Greek as "the hand of death". The lethal dose of the poison of this jellyfish is 0.04 milligrams per kilogram of human weight, while one medium-sized individual contained so much poison that it was possible to kill 60 physically strong men.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

A whole cocktail of deadly proteins for humans was found in the composition of the venom of the "sea wasp". There was tetramine, which paralyzes the nerve endings, thalassin, which affects the blood vessels and heart muscle, and congestin, which causes allergic edema, and hypnotoxin, which "turns off" the nervous system. Even if a person did not die in the first seconds after contact from cardiac arrest, he was almost doomed in the water and quickly drowned.

The study of the deadly creature allowed biologists to make several more important discoveries. As it turned out, the 24 eyes of chironex see well and even distinguish colors. The creature was indifferent to white, saw black well, and tried to stay away from red. The fact that jellyfish of this species are afraid of red, led scientists to the idea of fencing beaches with bright red nets.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

But it's time to talk about women's tights, which are so popular with swimmers of the Queensland coast. It turns out that chironex does not always sting. Analyzer cells located on the tentacles notify the jellyfish about whether they have encountered a living object or not.

If the object is alive, that is, it is a potential prey, then stinging cells with poison were triggered, if it was some kind of object, then nematocytes did not work. This feature of the chironex was adopted by divers, surfers, lifeguards and just lovers of sea baths.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Touching the nylon fabric, chironex did not react to the person, recognizing him as an inanimate object. That is why Queensland rescuers, before entering the water, pull on two pairs of tights — on their legs and, having cut a hole for the head, on the upper part of the body.

Nematocytes on nylon fabric

Australian companies immediately saw this as an opportunity to make money and launched the production of" stinger suites " -special tight suits made of nylon fabric that cover the entire body. But they are not in great demand, since they cost more than $ 100, that is, 10 times more expensive than two pairs of cheap tights cost. In this regard, in Queensland, ordinary items of women's wardrobe are preferred to special clothes and only visitors are surprised at the outfit of swimmers in tights on the beach.

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Stinger Suites

But why in some cases did the tentacles of the jellyfish leave no traces, and in others covered the human body with bright red lines of burns? The fact is that in the normal state, the tentacles of the chironex are very short, no more than 15 cm in length. But during the hunt, the jellyfish spreads them by more than 3 meters!

The touch of the "hand of death", or Why they bathe in pantyhose in the north of Australia

Faced with a "sea wasp" just passing by, a swimmer gets a deadly burn in the form of a barely noticeable red spot. And if a person falls into the" embrace " of a jellyfish looking for prey, then those terrible wavy ornaments remain on his body.

Fortunately, Chironex is not found in the seas that wash our country. Only bathers from Northern Australia, New Guinea and the Philippine Islands are at risk. Despite the fencing of beaches and tricks with tights, jellyfish kill up to 100 people every year. So if you are going to the beaches of Queensland, it is better to stock up on tights, and even better-choose the beaches of other paradisiacal corners of our planet.

Keywords: Jellyfish | Danger | Swimmer | Defeat | Death | Poison

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