Jellyfish 101

There are two things every swimmer on Edisto Beach should know: Yes, there are jellyfish, but most of them are totally harmless.

Many times, jellyfish wash up on the beach and look like gooey eyeballs with a stem. These are the jellyfish that are the most common in the area and are known as the Cannonball Jelly. They don’t have tentacles and swimmers would have to go out of their way to be stung by these jellyfish (which are the least venomous of the South Carolina jellies).

Then there’s another kind of jellyfish that looks like the Cannonball Jelly, which is the Mushroom Jelly. These are similar in appearance to the Cannonball, but they have tentacles. They are not hazardous to humans, but they do like to annoy commercial fishermen by damaging nets and slowing down trawl lines.

Both the Cannonball and Mushroom jellies are whitish with a brown ring around the bottom.

Two jellyfish that South Carolinian residents and vacationers needn’t worry too much about are the Southern Moon Jelly and the Lion’s Mane. The Southern Moon Jelly has a transparent saucer-shaped bell which provides an excellent view of its pink horseshoe-shaped gonads. These are rare in South Carolinian waters and its sting is minimal.

The Lion’s Mane comes around during the winter months when most people are not in the water. They are saucer-shaped and have eight clusters of tentacles dangling underneath. A sting from this jellyfish is mild.

Now onto the jellyfish people do not want to encounter.

The Sea Nettle is responsible for many stings during the summer months. This jellyfish is saucer-shaped and has a brown or red hue. Its tentacles trail behind it in the water.

The sting from a Sea Nettle varies from person to person, but as someone who has been stung a handful of times during my lifetime in the water, it feels like brushing against a head of hair in the water and quickly turns into feeling like that head of hair had needles in it.

The pain is more irritating than anything, but it is important to get the nematocysts (stingers) off of the skin. These nematocysts discharge into the skin and cause the stinging sensation when they release the venom of the jellyfish.

Sea Wasps are the cube-shaped jellyfish that are the most venomous jellies in the South Carolinian waters. They pack a serious punch with their sting which could cause hospitalization. They have several long tentacles dangling from their cubed body. Fortunately, these are not prevalent in the area.

Though not indigenous to the area, the Portuguese Man-of-War sometimes drifts into the water. These feature a gas-filled clear bubble which acts as a float for its purple-blue body and tentacles which can reach up to 60 feet long. The sting from this jellyfish can cause severe pain, nausea, fever, shock, collapse, fainting, and muscle pain. Again, these jellyfish are extremely rare in the area, but it is important for any ocean swimmer to be aware of them.

If you are stung by a jellyfish, remove any tentacles that are adhered to the skin (generally, the tentacles do not stay on the skin, but merely brush across an arm or a leg). Use anything available to get the tentacles off to avoid being stung again.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol, urine, and picric acid should not be used on a jellyfish sting as they actually cause more nematocysts to release venom into the skin. Simple products almost everybody has at home are great for reducing the effects of the sting like mean tenderizer, baking soda, vinegar, and sugar (any one of these substances will do).

Scraping a jellyfish sting with something like a credit card may also help remove the nematocysts and alleviate the stinging sensation.

After treatment of the sting, the area will generally produce raised red bumps and could be sore or itch. In severe cases, medical treatment may be needed, but generally this isn’t the case.

Things to Remember:

  • Jellyfish are most prevalent in warm water. Swimmers in August and September generally suffer the most jellyfish stings, but the warmer the water the more likely jellyfish will occur. The summer of 2010 had an early jellyfish due to the extreme temperatures that summer which raised the water temperature
  • Dead jellyfish can still sting you, so it is best to avoid them when they wash up on the beach
  • Carry baking soda or vinegar with you when planning on staying at the beach all day. This will aid in the case of a jellyfish sting without disrupting the day


  1. I was there the summer of 2010. We had probably at least 3 stings a day, each. Most were mild, but a couple of us (including myself) had the experience of sea nettles wrapping around our legs… We figured it was the warmth of the water, which it was, that caused the jellyfish “epidemic”. However, as bad as jellyfish were, generally when we visit edisto we average one or two stings in the group for the whole trip, these being mild. 🙂

  2. Ugh. I’ve been going different beaches for nearly 30 years and have never been stung by a jellyfish. This summer will be our first trip to Edisto. After reading the previous post, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive about enjoying the water.

  3. Ugh! I agree with you Kevin. We will be going to Edisto in August and this is when it was stated most Jellyfish stings happen. I think I will not tell my kids because they will probably freak out and not want to go.

  4. Do not let these posts keep you from enjoying your beach trip. I have been visiting Edisto for the past 5 summers. Each trip in August. My family and I have all experienced a sting or two in our life. FIRST thing to remember is that we as humans are invading the Jellyfish habitat. They do not mean to harm us in any way. Just be cautious when swimming and look for signs of them in the water. If you are to get stung, baking soda works the best. Rub the area down really well and take some tylenol. You will be just FINE. Enjoy your week at the beach. RELAX and don’t let worrying about the jellyfish take control! 🙂

  5. @Kevin and Kim:
    I’ve been going to Edisto all my life. Don’t worry.In the summer of 2010 temperatures were incredibly high, which caused large numbers of jelyfish. Every other time I’ve gone, it’s been perfectly fine. Edisto is my favorite beach in existance, sorry if I scared you. 🙂

  6. Great tips! We were there the last week of July 2010 and had a few minor stings. White vinegar was sold out at The Pig, so consider packing some and a plastic spray bottle/mister. Best to be prepared 😉

    We’ll soon be back to EB for the 3rd year in a row!

  7. As Brittany said, we are in their environment, and we should relax and enjoy our time in the water. However, please BE PREPARED! The water is very warm at this time of the year, and the jellies are increasing.
    On July 29, 2011, my daughter was stung by something with long tentacles, as she has long lash marks on both legs. She only saw a small white/clear middle and it was surrounded by reddish color. She said it was only about a couple of inches across. We were only in water a couple of feet deep and the tide was going out. After her sting, 2 other people at the access area we were at, were stung also. Later that night, we found out many other people were stung down by the state park.
    I knew what to have on hand, but didn’t bring it with us to the beach that day. 🙁 It was pure torture listening to her scream all the way back to our condo to treat her with vinegar. After 36 hours, she is still miserable. We are giving her Benadryl, Tylenol,& Motrin, around the clock to make her more comfortable, but if it’s not better by Monday, we’ll have to take her in to the doctor.
    Please, enjoy your visit. Edisto is awesome! But please be prepared and be vigilant! Timing on treatment is so important!

  8. 2010 bad year at Edisto – crazy week that July it even mad e it in the papers – my daughter and son got stung severely by a Man O War and we had to go to the Fire House to get help.

  9. in the summer of 2010, i was vactioning with my family in august, we had a dock in a salt marsh, i did a cannonball off it and landed straight onto a jellyfish, i dont now what type it was, but i was 12 at the time and i was crying for about 2 hours, we didnt now what to do so i just sat there taking the pain yelling, NEVER GO SWIMMING IN THE MARSHES, THEY ARE FULL OF JELLYFISH!

  10. We have been at Edisto Beach, nearer to the South of the Island on Point Drive. We have had small stings all week. Each swimmer averaged two to three stings a day. Finally, two days before the end of the vacation, my two kids were severely sting by a jelly fish that apparently had tentacles and wrapped them but – I was on shore and it was as if a shark had attacked byt the reaction in comparison to the other stings over the past two weeks but the welps were long, white, raised, and sting them like hellfire. Vinegar was readily available but I sped to the Piggly Wiggly store and got Lanacane and Pain Relief Triple Antibiotic ointment, as I only had the standard stuff. It was horrible. Regardless, I would suggest you swim in a low current area, the less the current, the less probably the j-fish will speed by you, and I would suggest if you ‘are’ renting a place in August or September, why not get a place that has a pool too, then you can have the options to swim in two spots, cutting the risk in half. As for you who say don’t let it hinder your decision, just think about your kids not knowing what is out there – that is not responsible parenting.

  11. We were at Edisto Beach last week (700 block on Palmetto). Everything was fine until Thursday when I was walking out of the water and got nailed by something. It actually contracted my foot and felt like a household current for a few seconds. I got out of the water, rubbed sand and then meat tenderizer, which helped. The next mornimg I woke up and my foot was swollen and had tenticle marks on both legs with welts. Not sure what got me, but took Benadryl that night and iced my foot for the long drive home on Saturday. Went to the Doctors on Monday and perscribed anti-bacterial biotic and cortazone cream…….Doctor took pictures for her students, since there arent any oceans in Ohio.

  12. As a native, I never go down to the beach without a small jar of vinegar. I would recommend that as soon as you got stung, rub the area with very wet sand for a litle bit then douse the area with vinegar. I also carry ibruprofen which also helps with the pain afterwards. I don’t know if any of this is medical science, but it seems to work for me.

  13. I have been going to Edisto since I was about 6 years old and I am now about to turn 33 and I have never experienced a sting. My 10 yr old son, however, has but he hasn’t let it ruin his visits since then. He gotten stung behind both knees one right after another. We found out white vinegar works great. It burns like the devil but works great. Don’t let these stories scare you away from visiting Edisto. Edisto is a great beach to visit. It’s not just Edisto that has jelly fish either, they all do, just be prepared in case you do get stung. Don’t let it ruin your visit. Relax and enjoy it !! 🙂

  14. I remember when I worked at Whaley’s there were days we treated 2 dozen Jellyfish stings. Old Mr. Whaley would charge $2 for a gallon of bottle water but he never charged anybody to treat their jellyfish stings.

  15. I have been going since 1998 Four Weeks every summer! I have only been stung once. Out of our whole group (16) We have probably gotten stung 10 times maybe.

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