Venomous Portuguese Man O' War found on Southern beaches

B.R. Shenoy

“These animals are some of the most toxic animals in the world,” Tony McEwan, Curator and Marine Biologist at the University of Hawaii’s Waikiki Aquarium told The New York Post.

Beachgoers in Florida, Texas, and South Carolina should be on the alert for the Portuguese Man O’ War or bluebottle this spring.

These balloon-like marine organisms are exceedingly poisonous and are often blue, pink, or violet.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are a kind of siphonophore, a group of animals related to jellyfish and occasionally mistaken for them.

They receive their name from the balloon-like "sail" that floats above the water and is supposed to resemble an 18th-century warship.

Its trailing tentacle-like polyps may reach up to 100-feet beneath the surface and are used to paralyze food such as tiny fish.

When anything brushes across the tentacles of the Portuguese Man O’ War, it discharges toxin-laden barbs. Even if the animal is dead and washed up on the beach, the cells continue to fire.

Lifeguards utilize purple flags to alert beachgoers to the presence of potentially harmful marine species, such as the Portuguese Man O’ War. When visiting a beach in the United States, keep an eye out for these flags.

McEwan told The New York Post that he recommends keeping out of the water and wearing shoes at beaches where the Portuguese Man O’ War has been observed recently. Dog owners should keep their dogs away from beaches that have the Portuguese Man O’ War since the marine critter is hazardous to pets.

What A Sting Feels Like

Human reactions to stings range from mild to moderate. It can be life-threatening in rare cases.

The tentacles will leave long, stringy red welts on the skin after stinging. The welts can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

There is pain, burning, swelling, and redness in the affected area. This rash may appear and disappear for up to 6 weeks.

In severe reactions, cramps, fever, sweating, weakness, faintness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur.

What to Do If You Are Stung

Per The New York Post, if you are stung by a Portuguese Man O’ War, Daniel Sasson, Research Scientist for the Marine Resources Research Institute in Charleston, South Carolina, advises you to do the following:

  1. Put vinegar on the wound to help neutralize the venom.
  2. Scrape the afflicted skin with a credit card to remove any tentacles clinging to the skin.
  3. Bathe the affected area in hot water to help remove toxins.
  4. Take an antihistamine for itching.

Have you ever encountered these creatures? Please share in the comments.

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