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Portuguese Man Of War Facts & Pictures (aka Bluebottle)

Updated on July 18, 2012
source: author's own work
source: author's own work

The Portuguese Man Of War (Man-Of-War, Man O' War, or Bluebottle (Australia)), is a marine invertebrate resembling a jellyfish.

Its tentacles are venomous and can cause a painful sting if touched which can be dangerous but rarely fatal to humans.

Although the Portuguese Man Of War may look like a single organism, it is actually a colonial organism meaning it is made up of many individual organisms called zooids which live grouped together, depending on each other for survival.

The venomous sting can cause severe pain and is known to cause allergic reactions in some. The recommended immediate treatment for a sting is to rinse affected area generously with salt water to remove any tentacles stuck to the skin. Do NOT use vinegar (makes it worse).

For the pain, apply cold or heat to the area - which ever feels better. The pain should eventually subside. If an allergic reaction is suspected (difficulty breathing, altered state of consciousness), call for help immediately.

Bluebottle Photographed on Australia's East Coast

source: author's own work
source: author's own work
source: author's own work
source: author's own work

Characteristics & Abilites

A Portuguese Man Of War consists of 4 kinds of polyps. At the top is the sail, a gas filled bladder called the pneumatophore. This allows it to float on the surface of the water. The bladder is usually 4 to 12 inches long (9 to 30 cm) and can be up to 6 inches tall (15 cm). If threatened from above water, the Man Of War has the ability to deflate the sail letting it submerge briefly to avoid attack.

The other 3 polyps in a Bluebottle are the defense (dactylozooid), feeding (gastrozooid), and reproduction (gonozooid) polyps. These polyps cluster together in the tentacle parts below the sail. The Man Of War's tentacles sting and kill shrimp and small fish, which are then dragged up to the digestive polyps which break down and consume the nutrients.

Where Do Bluebottles Live?

source: author's own work
source: author's own work

In the ocean of course! Well, seriously. The Portuguese Man of War / Bluebottle can be found most anywhere in the open ocean as they are transported around at the mercy of the tides, currents, and weather; however they are most commonly found in warm and tropical waters. That being said, Man-o-wars have been reported in the waters of the Mediterranean, Wales, the Gulf of Mexico, and are common off Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Africa's West Coast, and Hawaii.

Looks like a potsticker...

source: author's own work
source: author's own work


Portuguese Man Of Wars are responsible for many thousands of stings each year, with over 10,000 occurring in Australia each summer. The sting usually causes severe pain which usually subsides within an hour, but leaves red welts for a few days afterwords. It is extremely rare that a Bluebottle sting will cause death, but it has been known.

Many places in the world where Man of Wars frequent, such as Australia, will have warning signs at beaches where they may be present. Unfortunately, many of the most beautiful and comfortable swimming waters contain dangerous marine life. Swim at your own risk!

Close Up of Tentacles

source: Taro Taylor
source: Taro Taylor | Source

Close Up of Bladder (Sail)

source: Marshal Hedin
source: Marshal Hedin | Source

Try not to get this close in the water!

source: public domain (NOAA)
source: public domain (NOAA)

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