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 Portuguese man-of-war

  The man-of-war ranges or occurs most commonly in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream, although found in warm seas throughout the world. It is sometimes found floating - some even say "swarming" - in groups of thousands. Physalia physalis is the only widely distributed species. P. utriculus, commonly known as the bluebottle, frequently occurs in Hawaii, in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

  The Portuguese man-of-war itself will eat basically anything that comes in contact with its stinging tentacle polyps, the dactylozooids. As Physalia drifts down wind, the long tentacles "fish" continuously through the water. Muscles in each tentacle contract and drag prey into range of the digestive polyps, the gastrozooids, which, acting like small mouths, consume and digest the food by phagocytosis - by secreting a full range of enzymes that variously break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The prey consists mostly of small crustaceans, small fish, algae and other members of the surface plankton which the man-of-war ensnares in its entangling, stinging nematocystic threads.

  The man-of-war's body consists of a gas-filled, bladder-like float (a polyp, called the pneumatophore) - a translucent structure tinted pink, blue, or violet - which may be 3 to 12 inches (9 to 30 centimeters) long and may extend as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) above the water. Beneath the float are clusters of polyps, from which hang tentacles of up to 165 feet (about 50 meters) in length.  The "animal" moves by means of its crest, (pictured here tinted pink) which functions as a sail.

  Some of the tentacles of the Portuguese Man-Of-War bear stinging nematocystic (coiled thread-like) structures that paralyze small fish and other prey. 
The sting of the Portuguese Man-Of-War is very painful to man and can cause serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. Pick off any visible tentacles. Rinse with fresh or salt water. Apply ice for pain. IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION MAY BE REQUIRED as their stinging may bring about shock.

  • Pick off any visible tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, or anything handy, being careful to avoid further injury.
  • Rinse the sting thoroughly with salt or fresh water to remove any adhering tentacles.
  • Apply ice for pain control.
  • Irrigate exposed eyes with copious amounts of room temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes. If vision blurs, or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, see a doctor.
  • For persistent itching or skin rash, try 1 percent hydrocortisone ointment four times a day, and one or two 25 milligram diphenhydramine (Benadryl) tablets every 6 hours. These drugs are sold without prescription. Diphenhydramine may cause drowsiness. Don't drive, swim or surf after taking this medication.

  Although formerly considered effective, vinegar is no longer recommended for Portuguese man-of-war stings. In a laboratory experiment, vinegar dousing caused discharge of nematocysts from the larger (P. physalis) man-of-war species. The effect of vinegar on the nematocysts of the smaller species (which has less severe stings) is mixed: vinegar inhibited some, discharged others.

  No studies support applying heat to Portuguese man-of-war stings. Studies on the effectiveness of meat tenderizer, baking soda, or commercial sprays (containing aluminum sulfate and detergents) on nematocyst stings have been contradictory. It's possible these substances cause further damage. In one U.S. Portuguese man-of-war fatality, lifeguards sprayed papain solution immediately on the victim's sting. Within minutes, the woman was comatose, and later died.

 





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