Sea Creature Feature of the Week: Portuguese man o’ war

This blue and purple beauty may appear to be a species of jellyfish, but it is actually a colony of species. This species is classified as a siphonophore, which is related to jellyfish. Each colony member has a distinct task, such as floating, feeding, breeding, and prey capture.

The Portuguese man of war lives in tropical and temperate waters from the shore to the open ocean. They may be found in all oceans except the Arctic and frequently wash up on Florida beaches. They float on the ocean currents and winds rather than swimming. They may float in swarms of over 1,000. Because of its floating chamber, this species was named after an 18th-century Portuguese ship.

The Portuguese man of war feeds on tiny fish, pelagic crustaceans, and other invertebrates, and some species prey on this siphonophore. This species is reported to be eaten by loggerhead sea turtles, ocean sunfish, violet sea snails, and sea slugs such as the glaucus.

Their balloon-like float is one of their most distinguishing features. The pneumatophore is packed with gas, which allows them to float on the surface. The stinging cells (nematocysts) are extremely venomous. Their nematocysts may grow to be up to 165 feet long, making them extremely dangerous to swimmers. These cells are employed for either defense or nourishment. The idea is to paralyze their food so that it may be eaten more easily. Their venom is extremely painful to humans and can hurt you even weeks after they have washed up on the beach. Their sting can cause skin welts or allergy-like symptoms. Be mindful to enjoy them from afar, but avoid touching them and seek medical assistance if stung.