When the ocean is angry it spits out all sorts of objects. Some objects are familiar to most of us, such as sea shells, dead fish, seaweed, or sea plants. But other times it spits our things that are unusual.
This particular day, the Atlantic Ocean chose to spit out a ton of Portuguese Man- of -War also known as Physalia physalis.
At first encounter I thought they were a form of jelly fish. I knew better not to get too close ( been stung by one and I can tell you it is NO FUN!) But fortunately for me the life guard at the beach explained what they were called.
Once at home I looked up Portuguese Man-of-War and this is what I learned.
Anyone unfamiliar with the biology of the venomous Portuguese man-of-war would likely mistake it for a jellyfish. Not only is it not a jellyfish, it's not even an "it," but a "they." The Portuguese man-of-war is a siphonophore, an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together.
A siphonophore is unusual in that it is comprised of a colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids — clones — with various forms and functions, all working together as one. Each of the four specialized parts of a man o’ war is responsible for a specific task, such as floating, capturing prey, feeding, and reproduction. Found mostly in tropical and subtropical seas, men o' war are propelled by winds and ocean currents alone, and sometimes float in legions of 1,000 or more!
The tentacles are the man-of-war's second organism. These long, thin tendrils can extend 165 feet in length below the surface, although 30 feet is more the average. They are covered in venom-filled nematocysts used to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures. For humans, a man-of-war sting is excruciatingly painful, but rarely deadly. But beware—even dead man-of-wars washed up on shore can deliver a sting.
Muscles in the tentacles draw prey up to a polyp containing the gastrozooids or digestive organisms. A fourth polyp contains the reproductive organisms.
Man-of-wars are found, sometimes in groups of 1,000 or more, floating in warm waters throughout the world's oceans. They have no independent means of propulsion and either drift on the currents or catch the wind with their pneumatophores. To avoid threats on the surface, they can deflate their air bags and briefly submerge.
It gets its name from the uppermost polyp, a gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, which sits above the water and somewhat resembles an old warship at full sail.
Man-of-wars are also known as bluebottles for the purple-blue color of their pneumatophores. The tentacles are the man-of-war's second organism.
Beachcombers be warned: The stalwart man o’ war may still sting you even weeks after having washed ashore.