The Portuguese Man O’ War, 19 May 2014

Physalia physalis, the Portuguese man o’ war;
Volusia county, Florida (19 May 2014)

In our last post, we checked out a diminutive and tiny Blue button, a fascinating species of Class Hydrozoa. Now, let’s check out the significantly larger Portuguese man o’ war, Physalia physalis, also a member of Class Hydrozoa. Similar to the Blue button, the Portuguese man o’ war is also a colonial organisms — meaning it is an organism actually comprised of multiple types of organisms living together and functioning as a single biological system. The man o’ war’s polyp matrix (the organisms that make up the whole) is significantly more complex than the Blue button’s, however. The Man o’ war ain’t playin’ around.

A significant difference between the Blue button and the Man o’ war: Size. Wheres the Blue button is only a few inches across including its tentacles, the man o’ war’s tentacles can actually reach lengths upwards to 33 feet or so. In some cases, the tentacles can be much, much longer. Coastally, they tend to contract or break off. I haven’t seen a thirty-foot tentacle span on a man o’ war on our beaches! As for the blue-purple “float” this species is so known for, that can average a foot or so in length.

Another difference: This is one of the marine organisms you don’t want to be stung by. Unlike the Blue button’s mild-irritant of a “sting,” the Portuguese man o’ war can pack one hell of a punch. The venomous sting (delivered via nematocysts along its tentacles) is designed to immobilize its prey (namely fish), but it can also cause some pretty severe pain and damage on unlucky human recipients. I was taught at a very, very early age to watch out for that floating blue/purple balloon… and have yet to have been stung. Hopefully my luck will continue.

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