It doesn’t have a brain, and it can’t swim. Yet the Portuguese man-o-war thrives in warm oceans and has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous creature’s (sic) in the sea. The man-o-war dangles hundreds of feet of poisonous tentacles underwater as it sails along the surface, propelled only by the wind.
Gas Bag: Rather than swimming, the Portuguese man-o-war drifts on the water’s surface. The gas-filled float (or bladder) keeps it on the surface while the crest on top catches wind to push the creature across the waves.
Dangerous Danglers: Twisting tentacles hang as long as 150 feet down from the float. At the slightest touch, tiny barbed harpoons shoot out, each injecting a victim with a stinging dose of poison.
All for One
The Portuguese man-o-war isn’t a single animal, but a colony of creatures working together. Starting out as a flat, worm-like organism, it sprouts polyps, each of which develops into a new part of the man-o-war. One kind of polyp grows up to be the float; others grow into tentacles and feeding tubes. Together, they make a deadly combination.
Digestive Juices: As the tentacles reel in a paralyzed prey animal, feeding tubes at the bottom of the float go to work. They dissolve the victim’s flesh and absorb its nutrients.
Dried Out: Baking in the sun all day, the float often dries out. When this happens, it deflates so the man-o-war can submerge itself and cool off in the ocean water.
Death by Tentacles
- Unable to move on its own, the Portuguese man-o-war floats on the surface of the ocean, waiting for prey to swim by.
- When a small fish brushes up against the tentacles, several barbed stingers are let loose into the victim’s body, spreading poison throughout its system.
- The fish is killed quickly, and the tentacles slowly bring the carcass up toward the feeding tubes near the float, where the small fish is digested.