It will happen to every surfer sooner or later. You step on the reef and bam: you feel pain in your foot. You look at it and you find a lot of black dots with reddened skin around them. Congratulations, you stepped on a sea urchin.
How dangerous is it? So what’s now? Who are these sea urchins anyway? You will get answers to these and other questions after reading this article.
Who are sea urchins
Sea urchins are members of the echinoderm class. They are one of the most ancient animals left on Earth. Thanks to their simple yet effective physiology, they have been able to outlive many species. Today, sea urchins can be found all over the world.
Sea urchins live in a lot more places than you might think. Now there are, according to various estimates, from 700 to 900 species of sea urchins. They have adapted to all kinds of climatic conditions and inhabit coastal and underwater areas around the globe. They can be easily found in the cold waters of the Arctic and Southern Oceans, in the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean, as well as in all parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans. About 20 species of sea urchins live in Russia.
It is logical that the geographical distribution depends on the species. Red sea urchins live along the entire coastline from Alaska to Baja California. And sand species live on the east coast of Africa, in the Red Sea, in Indonesia and the South Pacific. Most species, including diadems (long-spine urchins) and black sea urchins (a major threat to surfers in the tropics), prefer the warm waters of the Caribbean, West Africa and Southeast Asia. They can be found in cracks in coral reefs, on rocks, or in seaweed meadows.
When you stepped on a sea urchin
A person who stepped on this animal is unlikely to be able to get by with one injection. Dangerous for the surfer, sea urchins are round and studded with needles pointing in all directions. Some species gather in groups, which further increases the chance of planting a lot of needles in the body.
If you step on a sea urchin, you will feel a sharp pain. The injection site will most likely swell a little and turn red. The injection passes in about 2-4 days, but there is a high probability of grabbing some other secondary infection. Stepping on the injection site, of course, will be unpleasant.
Typical types of injections
Some types of sea urchins are more poisonous. Pricking them deeply with needles can lead to serious symptoms, including pain shock, muscle aches and breathing problems. These symptoms, however, will appear only in case of other health problems. In any case, the real likelihood of dying from a sea urchin needle stab tends to zero, as their venom is, for the most part, too weak for humans.
What to do if you stepped on a sea urchin
First you need to disinfect the wound and try to remove as many needles as possible. Depending on the type of hedgehog and the force of pressure on it, this task can be both easy and difficult. The fact is that the needles of many species are very fragile, and when trying to remove them, they can easily break and crush. Therefore, the needle should be taken out perpendicular to the direction of the injection. And do it as carefully as possible.
If the needle could not be removed, then you should not worry. They themselves will quickly dissolve in the body without a trace. After the “surgery”, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and treat. To speed up the dissolution process and reduce pain, you can apply a compress of lemon juice mixed with vinegar at night.
If the injection site begins to redden and swell within a few days, this means that the inflammatory process has begun. In this case, it makes sense not to delay and visit a doctor. He will prescribe the necessary medicines, which will most likely include antibiotic tablets and a healing ointment.
How not to step on a sea urchin
First, find out from local surfers if there is a danger of stepping on a hedgehog at this spot. It happens that there is a certain area on the reef that these marine inhabitants fell in love with.
Secondly, try to step on the reef as little as possible. If you fall into water, fall flat. Climb onto the board with your legs bent. And definitely don’t walk in kelp meadows if possible.
If you still need to walk on the reef (for example, returning to shore at low tide), then watch your steps, step gently, and stay away from dark spots and crevices on the reef. Keep in mind that reef slippers can save you from injections, but even they do not always cope with this task.
As they say, be afraid of sea urchins – do not ride on the reef spot! These quill-studded animals, as intimidating as they may seem, are quite harmless until you step on them. But even then, only the pain from the injections will wait for you, which will pass in a couple of days if you do not go into the water. And if you follow all the precautions, then the chance that you will step on a sea urchin will decrease significantly!
Below a small bonus, for the most inquisitive.
Interesting facts about sea urchins
– Sea urchins inhabit the seabed at depths of up to 7 kilometers. Therefore, some species have not yet been studied;
– Considering their modest size, they can be called real centenarians. On average, their life expectancy reaches 10-15 years, but some individuals can live up to 35, and even up to 200 years!
– The age of sea urchins is determined by counting annual rings on the shell plates;
– Most species reproduce by planktonic larvae;
– But some are viviparous. The eggs are attached to the surface of the body among the needles, and a completely independent baby hedgehog hatches from them;
– There are two subclasses of sea urchins: irregular (flat), they prefer soft ground and sand, and correct (round), these live on rocks and reefs;
– Wrong sea urchins, in principle, few people are interested in, but they like to feast on round hedgehogs;
– Among the natural enemies of hedgehogs is the sea otter (sea otter). Otters are very fond of purple sea urchins. First, they twist them in their paws for a long time (sometimes wrapping them in seaweed) to break the needles and get to the insides. Or break with a stone;
– Otters feed on sea urchins so much that their insides turn purple. In exceptional cases, even bones are stained!
– A person is also not averse to profiting from sea urchins. Sushi lovers are well aware of this;
– Other species of animals may live among the needles of hedgehogs, including some types of shrimp;
– Sea urchins need water of normal salinity. Therefore, they do not live in the Black and Caspian Seas, and in some areas of the Baltic Sea.