Portuguese Man o' War

Portuguese Man o' War
Portuguese Man o' War
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Siphonophora
Family: Physaliidae
Genus: Physalia
Species: P. physalis
Binomial name
Physalia physalis
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis), also known as the Portuguese man-of-war, man-of-war, or bluebottle, is a jelly-like marine invertebrate of the family Physaliidae. The name "man-of-war" is taken from the man-of-war, a 16th century English armed sailing ship which was based on an earlier Portuguese vessel.

Despite its outward appearance, the Man o' 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.[1] 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.

The Man o' War is found in warm water seas floating on the surface of open ocean, its air bladder keeping it afloat and acting as a sail while the rest of the organism hangs below the surface. It has no means of self-propulsion and is entirely dependent on winds, currents, and tides. It is most common in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, but can drift outside of this range on warm currents such as the Atlantic Gulf Stream.


Habitat and location

The Portuguese Man o' War lives at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged.[2] Since the Man o' War has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides. Although they can be found anywhere in the open ocean (especially warm water seas), they are most commonly found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream. The Man o' War has been found as far north as the Bay of Fundy and the Hebrides.[3]

In the Mediterranean Sea, the Man o' War was first spotted off the coast of Spain, and then later in Corsica[clarification needed].[4][5] In 2010, sightings of the Man o' War were recorded around Malta in the Mediterranean.[6] 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 the coast of County Antrim [7] On the other side of the Atlantic, they wash ashore along the northern Gulf of Mexico and east and west coasts of Florida. An abundance of Portuguese Men o' War can be found in the waters of Costa Rica, especially in March and April, while they are also found off of Guyana. They wash up on the shore during certain months of the year. They are reported abundantly in the waters near Karachi, Pakistan in the summer months, and are also common in the ocean off parts of Australia, where they are known more commonly as 'blue-bottles', and New Zealand. During these months, they come ashore in the Gulf of California after rain, where they are known as agua(s) mala(s) by locals.[citation needed] They are also frequently found along the east coast of South Africa, (particularly during winter storms if the wind has been blowing steadily on-shore for several hours), as well as around the Hawaiian Islands.

Strong onshore winds may drive them into bays or onto beaches. It is rare for only a single Portuguese Man o' War to be found; the discovery of one usually indicates the presence of many as they are usually congregated by currents and winds into groups of thousands. Men o' War typically travel in groups of 1,000 or more individuals.[2]

Attitudes to the presence of the Portuguese Man o' War vary around the world. Given their sting however, they must always be treated with caution, and the discovery of a number of men o' war washed up on a beach might lead to the closure of the whole beach.[8]


Physalia physalis

The Portuguese Man o' War is composed of four types of polyp.[2] One of the polyps, a gas-filled bladder called the pneumatophore (commonly known as the marissa or sail), enables the organism to float. This sail is translucent and tinged blue, purple, pink or mauve. The sail may be 9 to 30 centimetres (4 to 12 in) long and may extend as much as 15 centimetres (6 in) above the water. The gas which the Portuguese Man o' War secretes into its sail has approximately the same composition as the atmosphere, but may build up a high concentration of carbon dioxide (up to 90%). The sail must stay wet to ensure survival and occasionally they may roll slightly to wet the surface of the sail. To escape a surface attack, the sail can be deflated allowing the Man o' War to briefly submerge.[9]

The other three polyps are known as: dactylozooid (defence), gonozooid (reproduction), and gastrozooid (feeding) [10] These polyps are "clustered". The dactylzooids make up the tentacles that are typically 10 metres (30 ft) in length but can be up to 50 metres (165 ft).[2] 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 enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Gonozooids are responsible for reproduction.

A small fish, Nomeus gronovii, are nearly immune to the poison from the stinging cells, and can live among the tentacles. They have a commensal symbiotic relationship, i.e. a relationship beneficial for the symbiont, with no negative or pathogenic effect on the host. The tiny fish often "snack" upon the tendrils as well, changing the nature of the relationship to parasitic.[2]

The Portuguese Man o' War's float is bilaterally symmetrical with the tentacles at one end, whereas by contrast the chondrophores are radially symmetrical with the sail at an angle or in the centre. Also, the Portuguese Man o' War has a siphon, while the chondrophores do not.


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.[11]

The stinging venom-filled nematocysts[12] 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.[13]

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.[citation needed] A sting may lead to an allergic reaction. There can also be serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung function. Stings may also cause death,[14] although this is extremely 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.

Research suggests that in the normal course the best treatment for a Portuguese Man o' War sting is:

  • To avoid any further contact with the Portuguese Man o' War and to carefully remove any remnants of the creature from the skin (taking care not to touch them directly with fingers or any other part of the skin to avoid secondary stinging); then
  • To apply salt water to the affected area (not fresh water, which tends to make the affected area worse).[15][16] Follow up with the application of hot water (45 °C/113 °F) to the affected area,[17] which eases the pain of a sting by denaturing the toxins.[18]

If eyes have been affected they should be irrigated with copious amounts of room temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes and if vision blurs, or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, or there is any concern, a doctor should be seen as soon as possible.

Vinegar is not recommended for treating stings.[16] Vinegar dousing increases toxin delivery and worsens symptoms of stings from the nematocysts of P. physalis, the larger Man o' War species. Vinegar has also been confirmed to provoke hemorrhaging when used on the less severe stings of nematocysts of smaller species.[19]

The Portuguese Man o' War is often confused with jellyfish by its victims, which may lead to improper treatment of stings, as the venom differs from that of true jellyfish.

Predators and prey

The Loggerhead Turtle feeds on the Portuguese Man o' War, a common part of the Loggerhead's diet.[20] The turtle's skin is too thick for the sting to penetrate.

The sea slug Glaucus atlanticus also feeds on the Portuguese Man o' War,[21] as does the violet snail Janthina janthina.[22]

The blanket octopus is immune to the venom of the Portuguese Man o' War, and they have been known to rip off its tentacles and use them for defensive purposes.[23]

The Ocean Sunfish's primary diet consists of jellyfish, but it can also consume Portuguese Man o' War. Because of the Ocean Sunfish's size and bulk, it must consume large amounts of these animals to compensate for their low nutritional value.

The Portuguese Man-of-War is classified as a carnivore.[2] Using its venomous tentacles, a Man o' War traps and paralyzes its prey. Typically, Man o' War feed upon small aquatic organisms, such as fish and plankton.

Tayrona national park, Colombia

Commensalism and symbiosis

The Portuguese Man o' War is often found with a variety of marine fish, including shepherd fish, clownfish and yellow jack, species that are rarely found elsewhere. The clownfish can swim among the tentacles with impunity, possibly due to its mucus that does not trigger the nematocysts. The shepherd fish seems to avoid the larger, stinging tentacles, but feeds on the smaller tentacles beneath the gas bladder. These fish benefit from the shelter from predators provided by the stinging tentacles, and for the Portuguese Man o' War the presence of these species may attract other fish to feed on.[24]


Portuguese Man o'War Gulf Shores Alabama May 2008  
Portuguese Man o' War, March 2008 Miami Beach, Florida  
Portuguese Man o'War on Delray Beach, Florida  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore at Batemans Bay, New South Wales, Australia; only the air bladder is readily visible  
Portuguese Man o' War on Wollongong Beach.  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore on Maroubra Beach, New South Wales, Australia  
Portuguese Man o' War found at Boca Raton, Florida  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore in South Spain in early Spring – very unusual  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore in Melbourne, Florida  
Portuguese Man o'War captured live in Mayaro Beach, Trinidad and Tobago  
Physalia physalis on the shore in Karachi, Pakistan  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore in Palm Beach, Florida  
'Blue Bottle Jellyfish' at Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, New Zealand  
Portuguese Man o' War washed ashore on Horseshoe Bay Beach, Bermuda  
Washed ashore at Pine Knoll Shores, NC, 05/29/11  

See also

  • Portuguese man-of-war dermatitis


  1. ^ Grzimek, B., N. Schlager & D. Olendorf 2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopaedia. Thomson Gale.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Portuguese Man-of-War. National Geographic.
  3. ^ Halstead,B.W., Poisonous and Venomous Marine Animals of the World, 1988, Darwin Press
  4. ^ "article in El Mundo issue 07/05/2009". Elmundo.es. 2009-04-28. http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2009/05/07/baleares/1241716755.html. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  5. ^ article in Ultima Hora issue: 3782 09/05/2009
  6. ^ "Jellyfish sightings pour in — including a Portuguese man-o-war". timesofmalta.com. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100609/local/jellyfish-sightings-pour-in-including-a-portuguese-man-o-war. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ "Dangerous jellyfish wash up". BBC News. 2008-08-18. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/7569233.stm. Retrieved 2011-09-07. /
  9. ^ Physalia physalis. "Portuguese Man-of-War Printable Page from National Geographic Animals". Animals.nationalgeographic.com. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/printable/portuguese-man-of-war.html. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  10. ^ "Aloha.com". Aloha.com. http://www.aloha.com/~lifeguards/portugue.html. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  11. ^ Fenner, Peter J.; John A. Williamson (December 1996). "Worldwide deaths and severe envenomation from jellyfish stings". Medical Journal of Australia 165 (11–12): 658–661. ISSN 0025-729X. PMID 8985452. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/dec2/fenner/fenner.html. Retrieved 2009-09-04. "In Australia, particularly on the east coast, up to 10 000 stings occur each summer from the bluebottle (Physalia spp.) alone, with others also from the "hair jellyfish" (Cyanea) and "blubber" (Catostylus). More bluebottle stings occur in South Australia and Western Australia, as well as stings from a single-tentacled box jellyfish, the "jimble" (Carybdea rastoni)" 
  12. ^ 5. Yanagihara, A.A., Kuroiwa, J.M.Y., Oliver, L., and Kunkel, D.D. The ultrastructure of nematocysts from the fishing tentacle of the Hawaiian bluebottle, Physalia utriculus (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa, Siphonophora). Hydrobiologia 489, 139–150, 2002.
  13. ^ Auerbach, PS. (1997). "Envenomation from jellyfish and related species". J Emerg Nurs 23 (6): 555–565. doi:10.1016/S0099-1767(97)90269-5. 
  14. ^ Stein MR, Marraccini JV, Rothschild NE, Burnett JW. (1989). "Fatal Portuguese man-o'-war (Physalia physalis) envenomation". Ann Emerg Med 18 (3): 312–315. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(89)80421-4. PMID 2564268. 
  15. ^ specialist from the University of Southampton appearing on BBC Breakfast program, date: 8am, Tue 19 August 2008.
  16. ^ a b Slaughter RJ, Beasley DM, Lambie BS, Schep LJ (2009). "New Zealand's venomous creatures". N. Z. Med. J. 122 (1290): 83–97. PMID 19319171. 
  17. ^ 3. Yoshimoto, C.M., and Yanagihara, A.A. Cnidarian (coelenterate) envenomations in Hawai’i improve following heat application. Transactions of the Royal Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 96, 300–303, 2002.
  18. ^ Loten C, Stokes B, Worsley D, Seymour J, Jiang S, Isbistergk G (2006). "A randomised controlled trial of hot water (45 °C) immersion versus ice packs for pain relief in bluebottle stings". Med J Aust 184 (7): 329–333. PMID 16584366. 
  19. ^ Exton DR (1988). "Treatment of Physalia physalis envenomation". Med J Aust 149 (1): 54. PMID 2898725. 
  20. ^ Brodie: Venomous Animals, Western Publishing Company 1989
  21. ^ By Carla Scocchi and Dr. James B. Wood site. "Glaucus atlanticus, Blue Ocean Slug". Thecephalopodpage.org. http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/MarineInvertebrateZoology/Glaucusatlanticus.html. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  22. ^ Morrison, Sue; Storrie, Ann (1999). Wonders of Western Waters: The Marine Life of South-Western Australia. CALM. p. 68. ISBN 0730968944. 
  23. ^ "Tremoctopus". Tolweb.org. http://tolweb.org/tree?group=Tremoctopus&contgroup=Argonautoid_families. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  24. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Portuguese man-of-war — Man of war Man of war , n; pl. {Men of war}. 1. A government vessel employed for the purposes of war, esp. one of large size; a ship of war. [WordNet sense 1] Syn: ship of the line. [1913 Webster] 2. The {Portuguese man of war}. Syn: Syn. ,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Portuguese man-of-war — Portuguese Por tu*guese, a. [Cf. F. portugais, Sp. portugues, Pg. portuguez.] Of or pertaining to Portugal, or its inhabitants. n. sing. & pl. A native or inhabitant of Portugal; people of Portugal. [1913 Webster] {Portuguese man of war}. (Zo[… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Portuguese man-of-war — n a very large, poisonous ↑jellyfish …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Portuguese man-of-war — noun count a soft transparent ocean animal that floats on top of the ocean and has a strong sting …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Portuguese man-of-war — n. any of a genus (Physalia) of large, colonial, warm sea siphonophores having a large, bladderlike sac, with a sail like structure on top, which enables them to float on the water, and long, dangling tentacles that have powerful stinging cells …   English World dictionary

  • Portuguese man-of-war — noun large siphonophore having a bladderlike float and stinging tentacles • Syn: ↑man of war, ↑jellyfish • Hypernyms: ↑siphonophore • Member Holonyms: ↑Physalia, ↑genus Physalia * * * noun, pl …   Useful english dictionary

  • Portuguese man-of-war — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms Portuguese man of war : singular Portuguese man of war plural Portuguese man of wars a soft transparent sea animal that floats on top of the sea and has a strong sting …   English dictionary

  • Portuguese man-of-war — any of several large, oceanic hydrozoans of the genus Physalia, having a large, bladderlike structure with a saillike crest by which they are buoyed up and from which dangle tentacles with stinging cells. [1700 10] * * * Any of various floating,… …   Universalium

  • Portuguese man-of-war — Por·tu·guese man of war .pȯr chə .gēz .man əv wȯr n, pl Portuguese man of wars wȯrz also Portuguese men of war .men əv wȯr any siphonophore of the genus Physalia including large tropical and subtropical oceanic forms having a crested… …   Medical dictionary

  • Portuguese man-of-war — noun (plural Portuguese man of wars; also Portuguese men of war) Date: 1707 any of a genus (Physalia of the family Physaliidae) of large tropical and subtropical pelagic siphonophores having a crested bladderlike float which bears the colony… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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