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*****Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast

Portuguese Man o'War

Sunset Beach, NC


Jo O'Keefe Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved. Photos may be used for educational purposes only. Contact me with inquiries.
Not all Portuguese Man o' War specimens found on the beach are as magnificent as the 16-inch-wide one lower on this webpage. Here are photos of two others,.
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Physalia physalis
Portuguese Man-o'-War, Sunset Beach, NC, 10/26/07

Strong storms Thursday and Friday brought more than rain. This very large Portuguese Man o' War washed up on Sunset Beach. The royal purple float, or "sail," of this one was seven inches wide. The entire specimen was 15 to 16 inches wide. Their gas-filled float can reach 12 inches wide. My flip-flop, added to one photo for a measure of comparison, is 10 inches long.

A Portuguese Man o' War, Physalia physalis, is a Hydrozoan made up of four types of complex animals living together in a gelatinous mass. The dangling tentacles are its defense mechanism. As wind and current move the Man o' War through water, nematocysts on the swinging tentacles sting and kill small fish, crustaceans and and other animals.

Because the tentacles are dangerous for up to two months following death, I wrote "DON'T TOUCH" in the sand. I warned the family staying in the nearest beach cottage to avoid it. Wave action had spread small pieces of pink tentacles on the sand when the animal was washed up. Stepping on them or touching the animal could cause excruciating pain. The best remedy when stung is very hot water. Sometimes emergency medical treatment is necessary. Wounds can take weeks to heal.

Because today Sunset Beach was covered with thousands of clumps of sargasso, and because Portuguese Man-o'-War are most often found in the Sargasso Sea, it is not surprising that such a large one washed up.

Loggerhead turtle hatchlings instinctively swim to the Sargasso Sea. Because they are immune to the toxins of the Man o' War, they frequently eat them.