There are some ocean animals people fear. They include sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, and sea urchins. This article is the last in a series of four articles. It will separate fact from myth and give you some concrete advice to help you protect yourself from sea urchin injuries.
What is a sea urchin?
Sea urchins are invertebrates that can be found on ocean floors worldwide. They live in warm and cold water, but prefer warmer water, and tend to live along rocky ocean floors in both shallow and deep water. They’re also common inhabitants of coral reefs.
There are approximately 200 different species of sea urchins, and they come in all shapes and sizes. The majority have a rounded body with long spines. The spines are used for protection, to move, and to trap food particles floating through the water. Sea urchins also have 5 paired rows of tiny tube feet with suckers that help them move, capture food, and hold onto rocks and coral. Their tube feet are found amongst their spines.
Another interesting feature of sea urchins are their pedicellarines: small claw-like stinging structures hidden among their spines. Pedicellarines are used for defense, trapping food, and keeping sea urchins clean.
Sea urchins are omnivorous: they eat both plants and animals. They primarily eat algae off of coral and rocks, but they also like decomposing matter such as dead fish, mussels, sponges, and barnacles.
Lots of predators like to eat sea urchins including crabs, large fish, sea otters, eels, birds, and humans. Sea urchin roe is considered a delicacy by many people.
Sea Urchin Facts & Myths
Fact: Not all sea urchins are covered in spines. Some have a hard shell that’s made of chalky plates.
Fact: The red sea urchin is known as the longest living animal on earth with some living over 200 years.
Myth: Only sea urchin spines have venom. Nope. Pedicellarines are venomous too.
Myth: Peeing on a sea urchin wound will relieve the pain. It won’t.
Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Sea Urchins
Sea urchins aren’t going to attack you out of nowhere. The reason people fear them is because their sharp spines are coated with venom. The most common human injury from sea urchins is accidently stepping on one. When that happens, the spines break off and lodge in your foot, producing a painful wound. If the spines aren’t removed completely, the wound can become inflamed, leading to a rash along with muscle and joint pain.
To protect yourself from sea urchin venom:
Wear reef booties or other beach shoes with thick soles.
Don’t touch them or attempt to pick them up.
Be careful where you reach because sea urchins often live in areas where you can’t see them like crevices.
How to Remove a Sea Urchin Spine & Treat the Wound
1. Get out of the water as soon as you can.
2. Remove the spine immediately to reduce your exposure to the venom. Use a pair of sterilized tweezers. Carefully grasp the end of the spine and remove it slowly, pulling it straight out so that it doesn’t break off and leave pieces embedded in the skin.
3, Remove the pedicellaria by applying shaving cream to the affected area and then scraping it off gently with a razor.
4. Soak the wound in vinegar for 30 minutes.
5. Take a hot bath to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Adding Epsom salt also helps.
6. Apply antibiotic ointment on the wound and cover with a loose dressing. This allows any bits of spine potentially remaining to work their way out.
7. Monitor the wounded area for signs of infection (pain, redness, swelling, pus). See a doctor if symptoms persist for more than two days.
8. Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following:
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty remaining conscious
- chest pain
- extreme swelling around the sting site
- severe bleeding
— Lisa Dworkin