The Dangers of The Deep: Death-Dealing Palytoxins

by | Sep 23, 2014 | Science | 0 comments

20129_400wh copyAlright, Reef Folks, today I’m going to delve into a topic that needs to be addressed with any hobbyist – Palytoxins. I know – I hate to be a drag and dig out this chemical compound that all to often is swept under the rug, but it’s a necessary evil. An evil, in fact, that I’ve had a similar personal experience with (not me directly, but Jared got a nasty bacterial infection that nearly killed him a few years ago – all due to a tiny cut on his forearm). I got a phone call one morning, “I’m in the emergency room, I have an infection that’s streaking up my arm”. Lovely. We hadn’t been dating that long at this point so I was ready to cut my losses and move on, but he pulled through. He also described intravenous antibiotics to be “the most painful thing in the world to get through a tube”…. clearly he’s never had a potassium drip. So bear in mind there’s things in your tank that can very well kill you. Moving on, just what makes this vasoconstrictor so diabolical? Just why is it considered to be one of the most toxic non-peptide substances known to man, second only to the man-killing maitotoxin? Because – SCIENCE. This particular toxin usually results in a painful, rapid death without intervention. Paly targets and binds to the sodium-potassium pump protein, destroying the ion gradient necessary for cells. Originating in Hawaii in 1971 – legend has it the toxin is the result of a curse in Maui targeting a small fishing village in the harbor of Hana. I won’t get too far into the nitty-gritty here, you can read the Wiki page for that, but long story short – someone caught a “Shark God” (whatever that is), missing villagers were discovered to be eaten, said “Shark God” was dismembered and burned, the “Shark God” turned out to be an evil demon. Once his ashes were dumped into a tide pool, the pool was dubbed limu-make-o-Hana“, or “seaweed of death from Hana”. How dramatic. So how does this apply to you and your glorious little reef tank? Zoas. Yup, those pretty little deep sea cnidarians harbor a deadly dose of the highly toxic Palytoxin. This makes acute poisoning a definite risk. So what precautions can you take to ensure you don’t end up like my husband? Use your head. Don’t stick your hand/arm/elbow/whatever in your tank if you have an open lesion. I mean not even a paper cut! Palytoxin is thought to be a tumor promotor – do you want skin cancer because you’re too lazy to slap on a bandaid? Also, and I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but given it happened to a not-to-be-named service company I know of, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, remove a zoanthid encrusted rock and try to scrub the polyps off. It’s ludicrous I have to even say this but yes, the toxin can be airborne and it’s just as lethal. Since accidents happen and we all make mistakes, what does one do if they encounter an infliction? Go to your local emergency room. Seriously, this is no game and you’ll lose if you decide to wait for things to play out on their own. Symptoms include, but are not limited to “a bitter/metallic taste, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mild to acute lethargy, paresthesia, bradycardia, renal failure, impairment of sensation, muscle spasms, tremor myalgia, cyanosis, and respiratory distress”. Dear god, that sounds like a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Anyone out there have any fun Paly stories to share with me? I’d love to hear them, so long as they’re not too sad.

  • Caitlin Nichole

    I'm a New York Reef Enthusiast and Fish Nerd, amateur photographer, dog lover, beer brewer/drinker, cocktail mixer, semi-seasoned chef, Prosecco Indulging, lightly foul-mouthed, slightly antagonistic, sorta-artistic, wordy bookworm of a girl. Dog mommy of three, an Abyssinian dubbed "Mau", plus one Dwarf Cuttlefish and a few Clarions. I have a tattoo of an Octopus with flowers on my rear. I ride my bike to the beach and sip bourbon with a good (reef) book while watching the waves. I like to think I'm witty and charming - but I'll let you decide.

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