Panama City Beach is northeastern Florida’s jewel on the Gulf of Mexico coast.
The city has 27 miles of beautiful white-sand beaches to enjoy. Still, before you and your family take the plunge into the waters, it’s sensible to find out if there are any hazards.
Jellyfish occur naturally in the waters off Panama City Beach, as they do in the whole of Florida. They’re considered one of the oldest animals on earth, having been around for as long as 700 million years.
Thankfully the most common, including the moon and cannonball jellyfish, are considered harmless.
However, some of the rarer jellyfish in Panama City Beach can be hazardous, like the Atlantic sea nettle and the jellyfish-like Portuguese man o’ war.
The presence of different jellyfish species and their abundance depends on season and ocean conditions.
The peak season for many Panama City Beach jellyfish is from late March to early September, with the highest numbers typically found between June and August.
However, the jellyfish-like Portuguese man o’ war is seen during the winter.
The best advice is to check with local lifeguards for current jellyfish conditions before entering the water.
You can also check the beach warning flag system. Purple warning flags are displayed if there’s a known presence of dangerous marine life, which almost always means jellyfish.
The 10 Types of Jellyfish in Panama City Beach
To simplify, we’ve divided the types of jellyfish in Panama City Beach into two categories. Those that are considered mainly harmless and those that could be dangerous.
A quick method to judge the danger is to see if the jellyfish has tentacles. In general, but not always, jellyfish with long trailing tentacles have the worst stings.
However, even if you think a species is safe, you shouldn’t touch any jellyfish deliberately in case you’re mistaken or are particularly sensitive. The jellyfish we have rated as mostly harmless can still irritate skin and eyes.
Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)
The first of our Panama City Beach jellyfish is by far the most common. These translucent, purple-colored jellies can be seen in vast quantities at the water’s surface or washed up on beaches during the summer.
You may also see them congregated inside the Grand Lagoon.
Fortunately, moon jellyfish are considered harmless to humans. They have stinging cells on short tentacles inside their bell, but if you come into contact with them, you probably won’t feel a thing. Many people swim or snorkel around them quite happily.
People with particular sensitivities might feel the equivalent of a bee sting. You should also be aware that if one should touch your eye, you can expect at least moderate discomfort.
Cannonball Jellyfish (Stomolophus meleagris)
This jellyfish lives up to its name with an almost completely round bell that is about the same size as a cannonball.
Unlike moon jellyfish, cannonballs (also known as cabbage-head jellyfish) can swim for themselves, so they are able to actively hunt for food.
They stun small fish close by with a toxin that they release into the water. So, although they’re not considered harmful, you might feel tingling or irritation if you swim close to one.
You can get a mild rash if you touch one, but this usually goes away pretty quickly, particularly if treated with hydrocortisone cream.
People often ask, “Can you eat jellyfish found in Panama City Beach?” The most common answer is yes, the cannonball.
Cannonball jellyfish are so valuable in the Asian food market that some Florida shrimp trawlers have converted to catching them for export.
Upside-Down Jellyfish (Cassiopea)
These odd-looking fellows are often found in shallow seagrass areas where they lie pulsating on the bottom, upside-down, with their arms pointed upwards like they’re worshiping the sun.
There is some truth in that because the upside-down jellyfish has symbiotic photosynthetic algae living inside its arms that give it food.
They can also release stinging cells into the water around them to ward off predators, so if you swim too close, you might feel some stinging. They may cause mild skin irritation if you touch them.
Blue Button (Porpita porpita)
The blue button isn’t actually a jellyfish. It’s something called a colonial hydroid. However, as they look like a jelly, it’s fair to include them here.
They have a blue or golden brown colored round central body that’s about 3 centimeters / 1 inch in diameter and numerous bright blue colored “legs.”
When the summer winds blow toward the shore, these unusual creatures can be found washed up on Panama City Beach.
Luckily, most people find them harmless; at worst, contact usually results in slight skin irritation.
By-the-Wind Sailor (Velella velella)
By-the-wind sailors look and act like miniature Portuguese men o’ war.
They have small sails and only little tentacles.
Fortunately, they are only capable of a small sting that usually only causes a mildly painful rash compared to their much nastier relation.
Atlantic Sea Nettle Jellyfish (Chrysaora quinquecirrha)
Sea nettles are jellyfish that are best avoided when they appear during the summer months.
They have reasonably long tentacles measuring about 50 centimeters / 20 inches, which can cause a painful rash and burning sensation when you touch them. Fortunately, although very uncomfortable, this usually goes away after a few hours, even without medical treatment.
You can usually quickly identify the Atlantic sea nettle thanks to the distinct orange-brown stripes on their bodies which measure 12 to 18 centimeters / five to seven inches across.
Mauve Stinger / Purple Jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca)
The mauve stinger might be relatively small, but it steps up the game regarding nastiness. If you get stung, you must seek emergency attention.
Symptoms include long-lasting pain, swelling, a bright red rash, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness.
The mauve or purple colored bell measures 3 to 12 centimeters / 1.2 to 5 inches across and has eight long tentacles. Both the body and tentacles are covered in stinging cells.
While it’s not a good idea to touch any jellyfish unprotected, you definitely don’t want to handle a mauve stinger. Even washed up on the beach and seemingly dead, the stinging cells can remain active for a long time.
If you’ve asked, “are there any jellyfish that glow in the dark in Panama City Beach? You’re asking about mauve stingers. They have bioluminescent cells on their body that will flash brightly if the jellyfish is disturbed.
Pink Meanie (Drymonema larsoni)
Pink meanies at Panama City Beach are only a relatively recent event. This stinging jellyfish was only discovered in 2000.
A large-scale sighting took place along the Gulf Coast in 2022, and lifeguards warned beachgoers to stay out of the water.
It appears that the pink meanie jellyfish visits the area to feed on the moon jellyfish, and they’re expected in late summer when their food is in its highest numbers.
They’re reasonably large jellyfish weighing about 22 kilograms / 50 pounds when fully grown. Critically they can have tentacles that extend up to 20 meters / 70 feet behind them in the water.
Pink Meanies are not the deadliest jellyfish on our list by any means. However, they can cause a painful sting to humans, and because they can appear together in significant numbers, it’s always a good idea to be extremely cautious when they’re around.
Box Jellyfish / Sea Wasp (Cubozoa)
Box jellyfish are known as the most dangerous jellyfish in the world.
While that sounds dramatic, at least the deadliest, like the Australian box, are NOT found at Panama City Beach.
However, while they are fortunately very rarely seen, the box jellyfish species that swim in the Gulf of Mexico are still considered potentially dangerous.
Box jellyfish have a translucent square-shaped body that vastly varies in size between species. The smallest only reaches a maximum of 25 millimeters / 0.98 inches. At the other end of the scale, larger species can measure up to 30 centimeters / 12 inches and have stinging tentacles up to three meters / ten feet long.
Box jellyfish stings should always be treated by emergency medical personnel. The sting can be excruciating. Thankfully fatalities are incredibly rare, but you don’t want to take any chances.
Portuguese Man O’ War (Physalia physalis)
The man o’ war isn’t a jellyfish, but it shares a lot of similar characteristics.
In January 2022, huge numbers of man o’ wars were found stranded on the beaches of Panama City Beach.
At the time, David Vaughan, beach safety director for the South Walton Fire District, commented, “The man o’ wars are the ones that you don’t want to tangle with.”
These marine hydrazones have a distinctive translucent gas-filled sail that’s usually blue, purple, pink, or mauve-colored and floats on the surface.
However, of most concern is what hangs underneath. Multiple long tentacles can be as long as 30 meters / 100 feet.
The sting from the tentacles is powerful. Fatalities are extremely rare, but if a victim doesn’t receive medical treatment, they may suffer difficulties in breathing, cardiac problems, fever, and shock.
Never touch a Portuguese man o’ war that’s stranded on the beach. They can still deliver their sting, even when they’re dead.
Jellyfish Season in Panama City Beach
For most species, the jellyfish season in Panama City Beach runs from late spring to early fall.
The highest numbers are expected during the summer months, from June to August.
Remember that the exact timing of jellyfish season can vary depending on ocean conditions and other factors. So, checking with lifeguards for current conditions is always a good idea.
The exception is the Portuguese Man O’ War which is almost always seen in the winter or early spring when winds blow into Panama City Beach from the south.
Do Jellyfish in Panama City Beach Sting?
Yes, Panama City Beach jellyfish, including the Atlantic sea nettle, mauve stinger, pink meanie, box jellyfish, and Portuguese man o’ war, can all cause nasty stings.
However, fortunately, the more common species, including the moon jellyfish, are not considered dangerous to humans.
How To Avoid Jellyfish Stings
Never deliberately touch a jellyfish. Even jellyfish washed onto the beach can still sting you.
Tips for Avoiding Jellyfish While Swimming
Even if warning flags aren’t displayed, jellyfish can still be in the water.
Wear protective clothing like a rashguard, wetsuit, or full-body swimsuit that covers your skin and protects you from stings.
Consider wearing swimming goggles or a mask to spot anything in the water before you touch it.
First Aid for Jellyfish Stings
If you get stung by a jellyfish, following the right first aid and seeking follow-up medical attention is essential.
The University of Florida suggests:
- Remove any remaining fragments of jellyfish using tweezers.
- Rinse the sting site with large amounts of household vinegar for at least 30 seconds to neutralize stinging cells. Use ocean water only if you don’t have vinegar.
- After rinsing, soak the area in hot water between 107 °F to 115 °F (42 °C to 45 °C) for between 20 and 40 minutes. This can break down the poison.
- Carefully dry and apply antihistamine or cortisone cream.
- Seek emergency care if symptoms worsen or a dangerous species is suspected of having caused the sting.
Panama City Beach jellyfish are, fortunately, for the most part, not especially dangerous, and with millions of beachgoers and watersports enthusiasts visiting every year, harmful stings are very rare.
However, unless you are certain a species is safe, it’s always a good idea to avoid swimming or wading near jellyfish where possible.
Check with lifeguards for current jellyfish conditions, and ensure you take note of purple warning flags before entering the water.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.