This dangerous beauty is called Portuguese man of war or Bluebottles, and the scientific name is Physalia physalis. The name comes from the uppermost polyp, a gas-filled bladder, which sits above the water and somewhat resembles an old warship at full sail. They are also, referred to as bluebottles for the purple-blue color of their pneumatophores.
It is a common sight on beaches in the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand to the Atlantic Ocean and coasts of Britain and Ireland, and beachgoers learn at an early age to avoid the vivid blue creature washed up on the sand because of its ability to deliver a nasty sting.
Surprisingly, Physalia – not real jellyfish. They belong to the family of jellyfish – siphonophores. They burn can severely immobilize the body and leave marks in the form of scars. In some cases portuguese man of war sting is fatal. The very best way to protect yourself from the consequences of it – to escape! But most importantly – be careful!
Portuguese man of war facts
The tentacles of this jellyfish can extend to 165 feet, although, the typical length is 30 (9 to 50 meters).
Although often thought of as one, the bluebottle is not a jellyfish, but instead, consists of a colony of thousands of tiny hydroid animals.
The individual polyps are dependent on each other for survival, each having a distinct role. A big, purple, gas-filled float (the pneumatophore) reaching up to 30 cm in height enables Physalia physalis to float on the surface. The crest running along the top of the pneumatophore imitates a sail when raised. The jellyfish has lots of digestive polyps (gastro zooids), which hang down and secrete digestive juices onto the prey that has actually been caught and immobilized by the sting of the long, contractile tentacles (the dactylozooids). The tentacles may hang down several meters and have a beard-like appearance actually. Each ‘beard’ contains specialized stinging cells (nematocysts), which produces a debilitating sting. Even though individual Physalia physalis is not an unusual sight on the coasts of Britain and Ireland, mass standings are uncommon, occurring only 3 or 4 times a century. Portuguese man of war sting causes severe pain, skin lacerations, convulsions, respiratory distress and in some cases death. The sting stays potent even after death, and the tentacles should not be touched.
It is a siphonophore, an animal that is made up of a nest of organisms collaborating, with particular polyps specialized for motion, capturing prey, feeding, and breeding. Portuguese man of war is carnivorous feeding primarily on small crustaceans and larval fish.
The bluebottle has actually a peacock-blue air bladder, generally 5-15 cm in length, that acts as a float and sail. This is why it is also known as the Portuguese man o’ war – the float resembles the sail of an 18th-century armed sailing ship.
There is a variety of hanging structures below the float, including long, blue stinging tentacles which may be as much as 20-30 m long in the very largest specimens.
These tentacles partially contract when the animal is washed ashore and can deliver a powerful sting even after death.
The bluebottle is carnivorous. It captures swimming or floating organisms, such as small fish, by paralyzing them with powerful stinging cells (nematocysts) on the tentacles. These nematocysts are made up of a sac filled with toxin, a coiled hollow thread, and a barbed head.
When small prey bumps up against the tentacles, it triggers the nematocysts which fire the barbed head with enough force to penetrate the prey. The toxin is then injected through the hollow thread. The small fish reproductive in, and it becomes the function of the digestive polyps to digest it and redistribute it as food.
A powerful portuguese man of war sting
The bluebottle belongs to a diverse group of animals called Hydrozoa. Some are soft-bodied, and some have a rigid skeleton actually. The bluebottle is part of a sub-group of soft-bodied, colonial hydrozoans called siphonophores. These have actually intrigued scientists for a long time because they look like one animal but actually consist of a colony of thousands of hydroid animals (or polyps), each with its own specialized purpose.
The polyps are grouped, and each group is responsible for a task – those with stinging cells (called nematocysts) look after prey capture, some polyps look after digestion, whereas others bear the reproductive cells (which look like dark-blue grapes).
Treatment for a portuguese man of war sting
“Portuguese man o war” very tenacious: even dried or frozen tentacles do not lose their properties for a long time. If you burned by “Portuguese man-of-war”, it is necessary to wash with the salt water immediately to remove all sensitive hairs stuck to the skin, and every half an hour is splashing on with baking soda solution. The bluebottle has actually a powerful sting even after death, but it is not deadly to humans although it may make you very sick. If you are stung, don’t rub the skin as it may pop any stinging cells that have actually not yet burst. The very best way to treat it is by immersing the stung area in hot water. The very best temperature is about 45 degrees centigrade. It takes a little while, but the heat of the water deactivates the toxins. Get medical help if you are badly stung or if you feel unwell after being stung.
Watch Dr. Wilma Blom, Auckland Museum’s curator of marine invertebrates, talk about some of the poisonous polyps and toxic creatures living in New Zealand waters.