What You Need to Know About the Portuguese Man O' War
What exactly is a Portuguese man o' war?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the man o' war is not just one animal but four different animals working in unison to stay alive. Each part cannot survive without the other.
If you see a man o' war on a beach, you'll first notice its balloon-like blue, violet, or pink float (bladder), which is camouflaged in the sea. It lives in colonies of up to a thousand creatures.
Where can I find them?
They live in warm ocean waters around the world. They stay in temperate or tropical zones, but can found as far north as Canada.
Why are they "Portuguese"?
The man o' war is said to resemble an 18th-century Portuguese warship at full sail.
Is a man o' war a jellyfish?
While they may look a little like a jellyfish, they are not the same species. However, they are closely related.
The man o' war is a siphonophore, a group of polyps (each made up of thousands of different organisms) working together to survive as one.
So what are the four different animals?
The man o' war's uppermost polyp is a gas-filled bladder or float, which is probably the first thing you'll notice about it.
The second polyp is made up of stinging tentacles covered in nematocysts, cells that contain a barbed or venomous coiled thread. This is how they capture their prey.
The third polyp makes up the tentacle musculature that moves the man o war's food into its digestive system. This is how they eat.
The fourth polyp contains the animal's reproductive organs. This is how they reproduce.
Can the man o' war swim?
While jellyfish can swim, the man o' war cannot. It's at the mercy of the wind patterns and ocean currents, which is why so many end up on beaches at certain times of the year. They use their bladders to "sail" on the wind?
How big do they get?
The creature's float or bladder can be up to six inches tall, five inches wide, and 12 inches long. Their tentacles can be up to 165 feet long.
What does a man o' war eat?
This carnivore lives on crustaceans, fish, plankton, and worms, with a diet of mainly larval fish. A man o' war can eat about 120 larval fish a day.
How does a man o' war catch its prey?
It doesn't seek out food so much as it catches what floats by. Unsuspecting animals are captured and paralyzed in their poisonous tendrils before digestion.
How does a man o' war reproduce?
When they spawn together in large numbers, they release gametes (sperm or ova) to be fertilized. These create larvae that asexually bud to produce a new colony.
Are man o' war edible?
Unlike some species of jellyfish, they are not fit for human consumption and are, therefore, not caught on purpose.
How long do they live?
The man o' war has a very short life. It only lives about a year.
Is the man o' war dangerous to humans?
That's a resounding yes, sometimes to the point of closing a beach if there are too many on it.
How are they still dangerous once they're on land?
Even after they're out of the water and they've died, their stingers still pack a punch and cause a great deal of pain to unsuspecting beachgoers.
What does a sting look like?
When you get stung by a man o' war, you'll know it. Not only will you feel extreme, burning pain, but you'll see red or purple lines with small white lesions where the tentacles touched your skin.
What are some other symptoms of a sting?
Blisters and welts may appear on the skin. People who are stung near their eyes have reported blurred vision, light sensitivity and excessive tears.
Severe reactions are more likely in children and small adults.
Can I die from a man o' war's sting?
While fatalities are rare, there have been a few cases of people who died after being stung due to anaphylactic shock.
How long will the pain last?
The pain may last for several hours. However, welts can last up to two weeks, but you may not be out of the woods just yet. Itchy skin may appear up to four weeks after the sting, and the marks from it may remain on the skin for years or even permanently.
How can I treat a man o' war's sting?
Those who get stung should seek medical attention right away. If there are lifeguards or other beach personnel nearby, let them know you've been stung so they can assist you.
Carefully remove tentacles from your skin, but don't touch them directly with your hands, as they can sting you a second time. If you have latex gloves or other protective handwear, use it.
Rinse the affected area with salt water (not ocean water), and follow it up with hot water for 15 or 20 minutes. Cold water may make the pain worse.
Take antihistamines if you have them. Whatever you do, do not use vinegar or other folk remedies. They may make the pain from the sting worse and further spread toxins.