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Posts Tagged ‘Portuguese Man-of-War’

Portuguese Man-of-War, Fascinating Sea Creatures!

Posted by Greg on October 12, 2011

Portuguese Man-of-War (NOAA Image/Wikimedia Commons)

The Portuguese Man-of-War, or Bluebottle as it is known in Australia, looks like a jellyfish but actually isn’t. According to Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources),“The man-of-war is not a single animal. It is actually a colony of numerous organisms called polyps (or zooids) that are so specialized that they cannot live without each other.”

Four main types of polyps make up the man-of-war. One individual polyp becomes the large gas filled float (pneumatophore) that sits horizontally on the surface of the ocean. The float can be up to 15 cm above the water and is generally translucent, tinged with pink, purple or blue. The other polyps become the feeding tentacles (gastrozooids), the defensive/prey capturing tentacles (dactylozooids) and the reproductive polyps (gonozooids). The tentacles of the man-of-war can hang down in the water 165 feet (or 50 meters).”

The Portuguese Man-of-War got its name from the sail on the float polyp that resembled a Portuguese warship sail.  The “sail” can be from 4 to 12 inches long and can extend up to 6 inches above the surface of the ocean.  Another fascinating fact about man-of-wars is that when they reproduce, some will grow sails that lean left and some will grow sails that lean right, enabling them to spread out more evenly across the ocean when the winds catch them.

Portuguese Man-of-War (Lesueur US-PD/ Wikimedia Commons)

Portuguese Man-of-Wars are commonly found floating in warm tropical waters and sub tropical areas all around the world, but they have also been seen as far north as British waters. “In the United States they can occur in coastal waters from Florida (Atlantic coast, Florida Keys, Gulf of Mexico) around to Texas. However, some have been known to drift up the Atlantic coast on warm currents, or by storms, up into the cooler Northeastern United States.”

Man-of-Wars mostly float in the open ocean, but occasionally they can be found in shallow coastal waters and can sometimes wash ashore. Avoid contact with them, even if they appear to have been on the beach for a while. They can still be highly venomous! If you are stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War, according to the Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center (South Carolina DNR), “the latest medical research suggests carefully removing (with gloves on) any noticeable tentacles from the afflicted areas and then rinsing the area with plenty of lukewarm fresh water until the stinging sensation becomes lessened. Ice can help numb the affected area for pain relief. It has been suggested by lifesaving groups in Australia that applying alcohol may worsen the sting by making any remaining undisturbed nematocysts discharge. If the sting is severe, seek medical assistance.”

All quotes are from

Have a safe day at the beach!

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Safety Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Exactly Is a Jellyfish Anyway?

Posted by Greg on September 26, 2011

Ever run (or swim) into a jellyfish? I have. When we lived in Virginia we would occasionally get a bumper crop of them in the Chesapeake Bay and along Virginia Beach. I found out why these particular jellyfish are called sea nettles, because they feel just like the stinging nettle grass we had along the lagoons and waterways around Lake Monona, Wisconsin when I was a kid. They can interfere with an enjoyable swim or, more recently, an attempt to swim the straits between Cuba and Florida.  Actually, that was a Portuguese Man-of-War, which turns out not to be a jellyfish at all.

Moon Jellies (Photo by Malene Thyssen, from Wikimedia Commons)

So, from the National Park Service: “Jellyfish are related to other creatures, such as sea anemones, corals, and hydroids. All of these creatures use stinging cells for feeding and defense. With no brain to guide their actions, jellyfish must depend on currents to carry them to where food may be. Spring and summer winds and currents can sometimes cause many jellyfish to wash onto the beach at the National Seashore.” (Padre Island)

Sea Nettles (Photo by Jacob Davies, from Wikimedia Commons)

Here are a few examples of sea jellies and jelly-like organisms:
Moon Jelly: “Moon jellies are clear, fragile swimmers that propel themselves through the water by moving their bell in a waving motion. Four horseshoe-shaped markings in the center of its bell are its distinguishing characteristics.
Cabbagehead Jellyfish: “The Cabbagehead jellyfish moves along like a bulky, milky-colored bell. Unlike the Moon jelly, the Cabbagehead jelly’s bell lacks long tentacles, but has short oral arms that extend below the bell.”
Sea Nettle: “Like the land plant which shares its name, the Sea nettle packs a powerful sting. Several long tentacles dangle from the edge of its bell, and four long arms are suspended from the center of the bell.”
Comb Jelly: “Comb jellies, lacking stinging cells and having a complex digestive system, are not true jellies.”
Portuguese Man-of-War: “The Portuguese man-of-war is sometimes referred to as the “blue jellyfish,” but it is actually not a true jelly. Instead, it is a colony of hundreds of animals that live and work together as a single unit. Each type of animal forms a different part of the body with one of four specialized jobs.”
These excerpts come from  Sea Jellies and Jelly-like Organisms, a National Park Service brochure. It has quite a bit of  fascinating information on what we layman would call a jellyfish, but might not be (i.e. the Portuguese Man-of-War). And, by the way, the photos are awesome.
However bothersome they may be when you’re swimming with them, jellyfish can be fascinating and beautiful to view in the safety of an aquarium. We have seen some beauties in the aquarium here at the Albuquerque Biopark.   Mesmerizing.  Watching jellyfish in an aquarium tank is like watching a lava lamp!

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Monday Miscellaneous | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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