Let’s Talk About: Portuguese Man Of Wars

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http://nebraskaturfgrass.com/forums/users/bestdoci/topics/ Today I want to talk about something that I’m honestly surprised we’ve yet to discuss in the past: The Portuguese Man of War.  In case you haven’t heard of them before, Portuguese man of wars are a marine species infamous for their excruciatingly painful stings.  The Portuguese man of war, however, is more than just its sting (more specifically, three things more).  What’s really cool about them is that they are essentially just the Power Rangers of the oceans (just without the sweet guitar accompaniment).  So let’s talk about Portuguese man of wars.

follow url The first big misconception people make about these guys, is that Portuguese man of wars are jellyfish.  While being cnidarians as well, the two only share the same phyla.  Portuguese man of wars are actually what is known as a siphonophore.  This is also what makes them marine Power Rangers. Siphonophores are actually not one single animal, but a collection of animals working in conjunction.  In the case of the Portuguese man of war, it is actually a collection of four different colonies of zooids- which is essentially a fancy science word for clones.  What this means, is that what we consider one species, is actually a collection of thousands of different clones, working together as one.  It’s super cool.

The four different zooid colonies that make up a PortuguesePortuguese_Man-O-War_(Physalia_physalis) man of war are responsible for four separate things.  You first have the top most colony, or polyps, that comprise the “sail”.  They make the gas filled bladder that allows the organism to float, and that gives the species its name, due to its resemblance to a Portuguese war ship at full sail.  You then have the two boring polyps, aka the digestive and reproductive zooids.  These guys do what you might think, digest food and produce the reproductive organs.  Finally, you have the most exciting polyps: the tentacles; which are responsible for their infamous sting.

The tentacles of the Portuguese man of wars produce this, sometimes deadly, sting thanks to things called nematocysts- which you might as well just picture as thousands of tiny, barbed needles that are ready to inject venom into unsuspecting animals, cause that’s pretty much what they are.  These nematocysts are used to paralyze and capture prey for the Portuguese man of war to eat, or to protect the whole organism from predators.  Making matters worse, these tentacles can grow to lengths of over 150 ft (luckily they tend to stay around 30 ft), and can still sting you after the organism has washed up on shore and died.  The experience honestly sounds horrible.

A discharged nematocyst under a microscope, in its true horrendous nature

A discharged nematocyst under a microscope, in its true horrendous nature

Adding to all of this horribleness, they also travel in groups numbering in the thousands, just to really ruin your day.

Those are Portuguese man of wars though, crazy Power Ranger Mechazords of the sea, with the propensity to relentlessly sting you, even past death.  If you want to know more about these guys, check out the links below.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/portuguese-man-of-war/

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/portuguese-man-o-war.html

http://oceana.org/marine-life/corals-and-other-invertebrates/portuguese-man-o-war