Last weekend our class went on a field trip out to Bamfield Marine Research Station. This was a full on overnight field trip including bunk beds, car games and not so sober bonding experiences. It was great. On our first morning there one student, probably Kathleen but definitely encouraged by our professor Chris, decided that they would lick an anemone. This was followed by curiosity and ultimately a little biological peer pressure to see what it would feel like.
Anemones are part of Cnidaria which is the same phylum (third largest biological group) as jellyfish. Cnidarians usually develop from an egg into a planura larva, then settle to form a polyp and finally produce a sexually reproductive medusa stage (Cool Video). Jellyfish are the medusa stage. Anemones though do not have a medusa stage and instead the polyp stage is their adult stage. They still do have nematocysts that basically inject you with venom (Live action nematocysts). This is what makes Cnidarians sting.
Fortunately for us we are large enough that when we got just a little venom from the contact of the anemone to our tongues it just made them incredibly numb for about 30 minutes or in my case for over 24 hours…
While on this excursion Chris our professor mentioned that when he was in grad school there was a student that just needed one more credit to graduate. Therefore he was given the task of licking gumboot chitons (Cryptochiton stelleri) in order to research the claim that they have hallucinogenic effects. This was a legend developed by people native to the area. It was unfortunately found to be nothing but a myth after what was hopefully many many salty chiton licks.
After thinking about the desire to expose oneself to interesting but ultimately uncomfortable biological defense responses I remembered Dr. Justin O. Schmidt and I wanted to share. Dr. Schmidt is the man that single-handed developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. This is a scale comparing the various stings of insects in the order Hymenoptera which includes bees, wasps and ants. Dr. Schmidt is not only curious about the difference in potency and type of venom but he also maintains a certain type of purity by only getting stung in a natural way. He never tries to force a Hymenopteran to sting him just in case the sting is not as powerful or true compared to a normal in the spur of the moment sting. I do want to emphasize that while he might appear crazy he has published several papers (honeybee venom, venom enzymes) on the chemistry and biology behind toxins and their ecological interactions.
As far as I’m concerned that is an inspiring combination.