Origin and biology of this dangerous species…not just the usual debate about whether pee or vinegar is the better treatment.
You’ve excitedly grabbed your boogieboard. You’re sprinting down to the breaking
waves, and all you can think about is how refreshing the water will feel against your
sunscreen-coated, lightly sweating body. Mid-plunge into the ocean however, a sudden
sharp pain shoots up your leg. This time, it’s not a cramp. Something is wrapped around
your calf; a long tentacle attached to a clear bulbous body.
As we all know, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Everyone recognizes and fears
these trademark blue bubbles that pack a surprisingly painful punch. I often encounter
Portuguese man-o’- war washed up on the shore during those windy days at a beach in
But how much do we really know about them?
No one bothers to learn anything beyond the fact that you really don’t want to be stung by one of these suckers and that pee is the best traditional treatment. However, the Portuguese man-o’- war is, in fact, a noteworthy creature.
First off, the Portuguese man-o’- war gets its name from sailing ships. The unique
patterned ridge on the blue bubble part of the creature resembles an armed Portuguese
voyaging ship at full sail, specifically from the eighteenth century.
The shape of thebubble is also thought to resemble the helmets of the soldiers that rode in these ships. Although “Portuguese man-o’- war” is what we commonly call it, a couple of other recognized nicknames include “blue bottle” and “floating terror.” Self-explanatory, unlike the former.
Thought the Portuguese man-o’- war was a type of jellyfish? Think again; this little guy is
actually a siphonophore, a group of animals closely related to jellyfish. While jellyfish
are unicellular, siphonophores are actually comprised of multiple genetically identical
organisms that closely work together to constitute a single creature. Man-o’- war…more
like, men-o’- war. The venom-filled tentacles and the floating bubble are actually
separate organisms! The four individual animals that make up the man-o’- war are called
polyps, and they each have their own special functions.
Man-o’- war tentacles can get long. At Sherwoods Beach, you might see a one with a
blue-tinted, clear string trailing maybe a foot or so behind it. Oftentimes, we’ll only see
the bubble and a bunch of short dark blue tendrils. However, the man-o’- war’s stinging
strands often become detached or severed in the rough surf and after being dragged
over sand countless times. In open water, these painful tendrils are a horrifying 30 feet
on the average.
In fact, they have been known to grow some up to 165 feet long!
Imagine that dangling straight down just below the water’s surface. We’re talking taller
than the Disneyland California Screamin’ rollercoaster.
Who’s still up for a diving trip a mile off the coast of O‘ahu?
“Portuguese Man-of- War.” National Geographic. National Geographic Partners, LLC,
2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
“Portuguese Man-o’- War.” Waikiki Aquarium. University of Hawaii, 2017. Web. 20 May
“What is a Portuguese Man o’ War?” National Ocean Service. NOAA, 27 July 2015.
Web. 20 May 2017.