Portuguese Man o’ War (Video Included)

Despite its outward appearance, the man-of-war is not a true jellyfish but a siphonophore, which differ from jellyfish in that they are not actually a single creature, but a colonial organism made up of many minute individuals called zooids. Each of these zooids is highly-specialized and, although structurally similar to other solitary animals, are attached to each other and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.

Below the main body dangle long tentacles, which occasionally reach 22 meters (66 ft) in length below the surface, although 10 meters (30 ft) is the average. The long tentacles “fish” continuously through the water and each tentacle bears stinging venom-filled nematocysts (coiled thread-like structures), which sting and kill small sea creatures such as small fish and shrimp. Contractile cells in each tentacle work to drag prey into range of the digestive polyps, the gastrozooids, another type of polyp that surround and digest the food by secreting a full range of enzymes that variously break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

In 2010, sightings of the bluebottle were recorded around the small island of Malta in the Mediterranean. In the summer of 2009, Pembrokeshire County Council warned bathers in its waters that the organisms had been sighted in Welsh waters. In Ireland, there were dozens of confirmed sightings (in 2009-2010), from Termonfeckin in County Louth to Ballymoney in County Wexford. On the other side of the Atlantic, they are known to come ashore all along the northern Gulf of Mexico and both east and west coasts of Florida. There is also an abundance of Portuguese Men o’ War in the waters of Costa Rica, especially in March and April, while they are also found off of Guyana. They wash up on the seashore during certain months of the year.


The Portuguese Man o’ War is responsible for up to 10,000 human stings in Australia each summer, particularly on the east coast, with some others occurring off the coast of South Australia and Western Australia.

The stinging venom-filled nematocysts in the tentacles of the Portuguese Man o’ War can paralyze small fish and other prey. Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live creature in the water, and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the creature or the detachment of the tentacle.

Stings usually cause severe pain to humans, leaving whip-like, red welts on the skin that normally last 2 or 3 days after the initial sting, though the pain should subside after about an hour. However, the venom can travel to the lymph nodes and may cause, depending on the amount of venom, a more intense pain. A sting may lead to an allergic reaction. There can also be serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. Stings may also cause death, although this is rare. Medical attention may be necessary, especially where pain persists or is intense, if there is an extreme reaction, the rash worsens, a feeling of overall illness develops, a red streak develops between swollen lymph nodes and the sting, or if either area becomes red, warm and tender.

Learn more from Wikipedia.

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18 Responses to Portuguese Man o’ War (Video Included)

  1. malc50 says:

    Hi magsx2, The Townsville City Council provides bottles of vinegar at strategic spots along The Strand, to help alleviate the effects of marine stingers, should a swimmer be stung. One tourist thought it was marvellous to have complimentary vinegar provided to put on his fish and chips!

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi malc50,
      Yes it would be hard to understand why someone would be giving out vinegar, the last thing you would think of using the vinegar for would be in case of stings.
      It says in Wikipedia that they don’t like using vinegar, I purposely left this whole section out, as I know lifesavers all around Australia have vinegar on standby, as they most likely do in other parts of the world as well.
      I wasn’t sure if this was only for the Portuguese man o’ war, as it is a little different than the standard, but it didn’t sound right to me.

  2. magsx2 says:

    Hi malc50,
    Thank You for the link and the confirmation, of course growing up and swimming in our waters around Australia, I always knew about the vinegar, glad it’s still the same, this is what I thought, and that is why I left out that bit in Wikipedia, I wonder where they got their information from, because they are usually spot on or I should say I myself have found Wikipedia to be very good usually.
    As I said the only reason I picked up on this, is because I knew since childhood, vinegar was used for stings.

  3. bingbing says:

    Picked one of them up at the beach when I was a kid. Stung like buggery for hours. Vinegar doesn’t help that much.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi bingbing,
      OMG, I bet you never did the same thing again, what an awful way to learn not to touch something. Vinegar doesn’t get rid of the sting altogether, but it does take a bit of the sting out, without it, it would of been worse.

      • bingbing says:

        what an awful way to learn not to touch something.

        LOL. I learned about electricity in a similar way, too. Dad used to fix TVs. Was watching him work one day, the back of the TV off and all that. Was getting curious and decided to touch the transformer.

        ZAP! It’s not called electric “shock” for nothing.

        Dad just grinned, and said he knew that’d be more effective than just telling me it was dangerous.

        It was.


  4. magsx2 says:

    Hi bingbing,
    Boy you were a gluten for punishment, seems you were very curious about a lot of things when you were a kid, which obviously is a wonderful thing, but it is a hard way to learn. But your Dad was properly right, if he would of warned you, you still would of most likely have touched it, but it does sound dangerous, how on earth did you manage to get to adulthood. 🙂

    • bingbing says:

      I’m Aussie. With all the sharks, jellyfish, snakes, spiders and rest of it, my American friends wonder how any of us got to adulthood.

      • magsx2 says:

        Hi bingbing,
        Yes, I have actually heard this from some Americans. You can’t blame them for thinking that, there are that many warnings in all the travel stuff these days, there is a list so long, it would actually turn some people off from coming here I’m sure.

  5. bingbing says:

    An old contact, quite the entrepreneur, said he was freaked even to step off the plane.

    ‘Twas the perfect time to tell him about dropbears.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi bingbing,
      Yes it sounds like it was a perfect time.

      For those that are reading this and are not Aussies, I will fill you in.
      Dropbears are like Hmmmm giant Koalas, about the size of a big black bear maybe, with devil like ears and teeth, they have claws like a tiger, and have been known to attack humans. They are very fast, no one has managed to get a photo of one yet. The powers that be deliberately keep the mention of these creatures out of any books, as they do not want to frighten people too much. 😆

  6. malc50 says:

    The “powers that be” can’t muzzle the Australian Museum, who at http://australianmuseum.net.au/Drop-Bear, advises “The Drop Bear, Thylarctos plummetus, is a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.” It goes on to advise, “There are some suggested folk remedies that are said to act as a repellent to Drop Bears, these include having forks in the hair or Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears. There is no evidence to suggest that any such repellents work. “

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi malc50,
      I would of never guessed the dropbear would be in a museum, my Grandfather never told me that one. 🙂 Hmmm seems they still haven’t got a picture of one yet, as I said they are fast. Size of a large dog, a large dog standing on both hind legs would be nearly the size of a black bear, my Grandfather wasn’t far off there, and as we all know, Grandfathers always tell the Truth. I hadn’t heard about the repellents, next time I’m out camping I must remember to pack the vegemite and the toothpaste, best to use both just in case. 🙂 Oh and the comments in the article are fantastic, I had a good laugh.

  7. Sue says:

    Oh yes I have to get in on this one as well. Now my Grandfather always warned me about the dropbear. His words to me all those years ago, was NEVER, NEVER, go in the bush alone, (there was a lot of bush at the back of my Grandparents place) as the dropbear will fall on you from the trees, and they attack, his description:- “A giant Koala, with very big teeth and sharp claws.” But no remedy if one did attack. Guess what I never went into that bush out the back at all, and I stayed away from the trees overhanging the fence. I was also aware of snakes as well.

  8. malc50 says:

    It’s harder these days to inspire awe in grandchildren. Matter-of-factly, without trying to be “smart”, my seven-year old grandson told he was smarter than me, ’cause he knew everything I had to teach him, and more on top of that!

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi malc50,
      That is so true, I think just a different generation, they think totally different than we did when we were kids. I think kids these days love their Grandparents just as much, but it’s a bit of a different relationship I think.

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