Portuguese Man o’ War

by Goutham Krishna

Scientific name: Physalia physalis

Phylum: Cnidaria

Family: Physaliidae

The Portuguese man o’ war, commonly known as the “blue bottle jellyfish” is a marine predatory species, commonly found in the Atlantic and Indian ocean. It is an organism that usually lives in the ocean surface, with venomous microscopic nematocysts and feeding tentacles that are powerful enough to sting and paralyze mall fishes, pelagic crustaceans, and other invertebrates. These tentacles are normally 30 feet longer with the maximum length can extend up to 165 feet. Portuguese man o’ war is a species that is found mostly in tropical and subtropical ocean waters. They are reported to be seen in the coastlines of India and there were several incidents of visitors and natives in the shore being stung by this species.  Though the chances of a human getting killed by sting from these species are slim, there had been some incidents where unfortunate deaths have been reported due to the same.

Though these species are called blue bottle jellyfishes due to their similarity in appearance with jellyfishes, they are not genetically related to jellyfishes at all. They belong to the category of species known as siphonophores which are a colony of specialized species called zooids that work together as one. The man o war’s present in the Pacific Ocean (Pacific man o’ war) which are usually smaller than the common Portuguese man o’ wars in the Atlantic and Indian oceans are currently recognized as the same species though recent advancements in genetic studies are suggesting that they might be different species.

These species do not have the ability to swim in the water, instead of swimming, they use the winds and ocean currents to propel forward in the sea surface. Records suggest that the name “Portuguese man o’ war” is derived from a medieval naval reference. Since their species generally floats in the surface seawater and at that time has a reference to 18th-century Portuguese warships called man o’ wars.

Every colony of Portuguese man o’ wars have common and specific sex. Though marine biologists aren’t completely sure how the Man O’ War procreates, Mating generally occurs in the autumn season when the male and female colonies discharge sperms and eggs respectively in the water. The newly fertilized larvae of man o’ wars buds of new zooids of same-sex while growing and thereby forms a new colony.

The organism is translucent and appears in diverse colors including blue, pink, orange etc. where blue is most common. Man o’ wars has some predators of their own, including loggerhead turtle, The violet sea-snail etc. Portuguese man o’ war, due to its venomous nature are rarely used for any humane purposes at all. Hence, they are of very low economic and utilitarian values for humans.

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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