If I said “bluebottle” in Poland, you would probably think I was talking about a blue water bottle. If I said the same thing in Ireland, people would picture a common house fly. But the same word in Australia describes something more sinister…
There is a simple tradition in Australia of naming things based directly on their appearance; “Red Kangaroos”, “Brown Snakes” and “Red-Back Spiders” to name but a few. Therefore, it is no surprise that Australians avoid complex names like Physalia physalis and Portuguese man o’ war, in favour of what this creature looks like: a floating blue bottle.
They call these creatures “bluebottle jellyfish”, but they aren’t actually jellyfish at all! They are Siphonophorae, “which, unlike jellyfish, are not a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals (of the same species) called zooids or polyps.” (Thank you Wikipedia!)
Anyway… I am not a marine biologist. I was just a young Irish backpacker, trying to catch some waves at Byron Bay’s Tallows Beach, on the East coast of Australia, when I felt a searing pain across my upper-left arm.
We have no dangerous animals in Ireland. The worst thing you could come across is an angry swan! This means that most Irish backpackers are a little nervous when they arrive in a country famous for aggressive sharks, venomous snakes and deadly spiders. I was no exception.
So, when I realised I had been stung by some unknown sea-creature, I panicked and paddled my surfboard straight back to shore. When I was safely back on the beach, I looked at my arm and saw three thin tentacles, dotted with a beautiful bright blue, laying across my bicep. Even though the burning pain was growing fast I remember thinking that the colour was amazing!
I searched the beach for an Australian who could tell me what had stung me and what I should do about it. Many scared backpackers suggested I go straight to the hospital. Eventually, I talked to a life guard who said, “Don’t worry mate! It’s just a bluebottle sting. You’ll be ‚right!” I asked a lot of people what I should do about it and was given a lot of different suggestions; from ice and vinegar to cooking oil and beer.
However, I decided to listen to the life guard who told me to urinate on it… Urinating on yourself is a strange experience and urinating on your own upper arm is incredibly difficult! But, somehow, I managed it.And… it was a complete waste of time! My arm felt like I had a white-hot blade stuck in it and now I had to go back in the sea to wash myself off. I ran in, like a scared schoolchild, dunked myself, and came straight back out again. I was terrified of being stung again!
The pain was so severe it made me sweat. Luckily, my car was an automatic, so I was able to leave my left arm limp by my side on the drive back to my hostel. Once there, I medicated myself with fortified wine and planted myself in the pool. The moral of story: never listen to someone who tells you to urinate on yourself! – Eoin