I was stung by a jellyfish the other week. Actually, I was stung by two jellyfish in the space of three days. But the first one must have been a tiddler, because after the initial panic – is my leg going numb? am I going to drown? – and slatherings of hydrocortisone the reaction quickly subsided. Pathetic, I thought. Not much more than a transparent floating squishy stinging nettle.
Two days later I was splashing happily about a few dozen yards from another Aeolian beach when someone snuck up from below and pressed a red hot skillet against my wrist. Flailing away, I got stung again on my thigh. By the time I got back to the beach most of my forearm had swollen up, and my wrist was decorated with raised white welts, quite elegant in their way, like variations by Picasso on the Nike swoosh. After a couple of hours the welts turned red, and by the next day had started to blister and suppurate. Not so pretty any more. And then a week later – oh joy – I had a secondary allergic reaction (this is quite common, apparently), with new hives springing up around the welts. The earlier sting mysteriously reappeared, too. (They seem to be healing now at last.)
The creature responsible was a pelagia noctiluca, or mauve stinger, the most toxic species of jellyfish to be found in European waters. And quite beautiful, in its way. But its numbers are on the rise, thanks to the usual suspects: global warming, overfishing, pollution. And a couple of years ago a giant swarm of them wiped out an entire salmon farm (100,000 fish) in Northern Ireland. Scary.