Stung while in river

envelope bumps on skinHi, Today I was swimming in the river Ouse, Nth Bedfordshire, UK as I do every summer but this time something stung me on the water. Attached is the pic. Ankle and back of knee. I felt both stings very clearly and painful enough for me to say “ow” out loud and want to get out of the water. The white bumps came up immediately. 4 hours later they faded to red dots but the burning is still very intense. Any ideas on what it could be? Bit concerned, very curious. Glad it was me and not my kids.  Many thanks.  Sarah

9 thoughts on “Stung while in river”

  1. puffin Hi Sarah, Thanks for writing. Was there anyone else swimming? If so, any indication that they were stung, too? Tom

  2. envelope I didn’t see what stung me and no one was with me. Oh, except my dog. A dad had jumped out of his inflatable boat to save his daughter, who was drowning on other side of river, leaving his son alone in a drifting boat, so I swam out and towed the boy back in. I saw about 10 people swim in that section of the river but not on the side I was in. I had been swimming in many other parts of the river that day with no strange stings. I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. I have asked locals this evening. Strangely a friend in a nearby village (same river) said her daughter said she’d seen a jelly fish while swimming this week end and that they had been teasing her ever since! I have found articles on freshwater jellyfish seen occasionally in the UK since 1880 but all the articles say there have never been any stings documented so they assume they do not sting. Thanks. Sarah

  3. puffin Hi Sarah, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. There are indeed freshwater jellyfish. In fact, I wrote an article about them years ago on a previous website ( But I don’t think they’re usually found in rivers, at least not if there’s any current. And everything I know says they aren’t capable of leaving the marks you got.

    backswimmer insectThe one thing I know of that is in the water that might give you bites like that is the small bugs called backswimmers. I’ve never been bitten by them, but apparently, they are capable of biting and it stings. Seems odd that you would have gotten bitten so many times, but do you remember seeing them in the river? Tom

  4. envelope Hi Tom, Thanks for reply. It remains a mystery! I didn’t see anything. It was on the slow current side of the river but there is still a gentle current. The stings were instantaneous on my foot and slightly later on my leg, or the other way round! But definitely not individual bites unless there was a swarm of back swimmers? Never heard of them. Will look them up. Thanks again. Sarah

  5. Hi
    Having read Sarah’s correspondence above regarding being stung while in the river Ouse, this afternoon I experienced a sting that sounds very similar, while swimming in the river Breamish (North Northumberland). I was stung on the hand and it felt similar to wasp stings and appeared as a red rash with white spots in the centre of each red sting. What I felt was soft and had it been in the sea, I’d have said it was a jelly fish texture. 2 hours later the rash has faded but the area that was stung, is still quite sore. The pool we were swimming in had a slow moving current, was about 6ft deep and is a pool we have swum in many times before. I had my wife and children with me and am curious as to what it was. If anyone can throw any light on the situation, I’d be most grateful and it might be easier to coax the family back into the river, knowing what it was!?
    Many thanks

  6. Hi Ian, I’m sorry to hear you got stung. We never really did figure out what it was that stung Sarah. Did you take any photos of the rash on your hand? Tom

  7. Hi Tom
    I didn’t take any photos of the rash but it was redder than the rash on Sarah’s ankle appeared. This morning the rash has faded but I’d describe the stung area on my hand as feeling like a nettle sting. I wondered whether there might be a plant that would cause such a sting?

  8. Hi Robin, thank you for your response. I can’t find an aquatic plant called stinging nettle. Can you email to me a source of info for that? Thank you!! Tom of AskaNaturalist

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