Their sting is not deadly to humans, but it’s among the most excruciating on the planet.
And take note, they can still sting even when they’re dead.
The Shore Beach Patrol Service on Hilton Head Island sent out a warning to beachgoers in South Carolina just this holiday season. Published on their Facebook page, the post reads: “We’ve seen dozens of Portuguese Man O’ War washed up on the beach today. They are very colorful creatures, but DO NOT TOUCH THEM! Their sting is extremely painful, and they will still sting on the beach! Advice on a remedy is varied, but most agreed to soak in hot water & seek further medical attention. We are burying the ones we find.”
Even though the Portuguese Man O’ War appears like a jellyfish, they are not one in the same. An individual Portuguese Man O’ War is also not a single animal but consists of a colony of single-celled organisms that work together. This creature is classified among the 175 species of siphonophores, with each individual part called a zooid.
Each zooid has a different function in the colony, with some of them tasked to catch prey, others to digest the food, and others whose assignments are reproduction and floating. All of these zooids need one another to be able to live. None can function independently, which to scientists, is another biological wonder.
The topmost polyp of the Portuguese Man O’ War, also called pneumatophore, is a gas-filled bladder that resembles an 18th-century Portuguese warship with a full sail. Hence, the name of this amazing yet scary creature.
Below the ocean’s surface, the Man O’ War can extend its tentacles from 30 up to 168 feet in length. These tendrils are covered with nematocysts that are filled with venom to paralyze fish and other marine life that it catches. Their sting is rarely lethal to people, but it is extremely painful. What’s more, even though they may be already dead and washed up on shore, they can still sting.
Portuguese Man O’ Wars are found throughout our planet’s oceans, floating in warm waters. No, they cannot swim, but instead, they rely on ocean currents or sail with the help of the wind through their pneumatophores.
Back on the South Carolina beach where they have been seen ashore, the Shore Beach Service patrollers have been gathering and burying these creatures under the sand. This way, they hope that no one will get accidentally stung by them. But what is somewhat puzzling is their appearance during wintertime, although such an event has happened before.