Those unfamiliar with the Portuguese Man O' War might mistake one for a jellyfish. It is not a jellyfish; it is a colony of organisms working together.
"Blue Bottle" jelly fish is another name some call these organisms due to their blue color. The tentacles of these creatures are filled with venom they use to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures they feed on.
They are not named Portuguese Man O' War because they are from Portugal. They got their name because the sail on their heads resemble that of a Portuguese war ship sail. They have a clear inflatable float that act as sails, which stays on top of the water like a balloon. The rest of their body is purple with long tentacles that dangle beneath the surface.
The Man O' Wars' tentacles deliver venom to paralyze their food.
Their only predators are the loggerhead turtle and sea slugs - both immune to Man O' War toxins.
Humans stung by their venom feel excruciating pain immediately after being stung. But rarely will the sting be deadly. If you come across a dead Man O' Wars on the beach they, too, can still deliver a sting.
When I first encountered a Man O' War, I was not sure what it was so I kept my distance. The East Coast of Florida attracts more of them due to prevailing east and southeast winds.
Merry Beth Ryan, a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, can be reached at www.merrybethryanphotography.com, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (941) 544-5023.
But those on Boca Grande know the Man O' War is found on both Florida coasts. This year I was commercial fishing on the East Coast when thousands of Man O' War were floating everywhere. I had never seen so many in one place and had to be careful not to touch any as I reeled in or released fish.
Man O' War move using a combination of winds, currents and tides. Strong onshore winds can drive them onto the beaches. They travel in groups of a 1,000 or more so it is rare to just see one. They are often found floating on the surface but are often washed into the shoreline in the surf so be careful when walking along the beach.
If stung by one of these beasts it is best to see a doctor to treat the whiplike red welt on the skin that can still be present days after the initial sting. The poisonous venom can travel to lymph nodes causing severe pain and allergic reactions and fever.
If you must self-treat a Man O' War sting apply saltwater and follow up with hot water applied to the affected area to reduce the pain. Vinegar is not recommended in treating Man O' War stings as it is used to treat other jellyfish stings
These Man O' War organisms look beautiful and approachable but take pains to watch from a safe distance.