Marine Envenomation

Marine Envenomation is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

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Marine envenomation refers to poisoning caused by sting or bite from a vertebrate or invertebrate marine species.


  • Sponges:
    • Contain sharp spicules with irritants that cause pruritic dermatitis
  • Coelenterates (Cnidaria jellyfish):
    • Contain stinging cells known as nematocysts on their tentacles
    • Fluid-filled cysts eject sharp, hollow thread-tube on contact.
    • Thread-tube penetrates skin and envenomates the victim.
    • Box jellyfish can kill within minutes
  • Starfish:
    • Sharp, rigid spines are coated with slimy venom.
  • Sea urchins:
    • Hollow, sharp spines filled with various toxins
  • Sea cucumbers:
    • Hollow tentacles secrete holothurin, a liquid toxin.
  • Cone shells:
    • Venom injected through dart-like, detachable tooth.
    • Active peptides interfere with neuromuscular transmission.
    • Presents with puncture wounds similar to wasp stings.
  • Stingrays:
    • Most common cause of human marine envenomations.
    • Tapered spines attached to tail inject venom into victim.
  • Scorpion fish:
    • Lionfish usually mild; stonefish can be life threatening.
    • Sharp spines along dorsum and pelvis of fish
    • Often stepped on inadvertently
    • Neurotoxic venom
  • Catfish:
    • Dorsal and pectoral spines contain venom glands.
  • Sea snakes:
    • Hollow fangs with associated venom glands
    • Highly neurotoxic venom blocks neuromuscular transmission.

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