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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 man-o-war’s tentacles can be up to 150 ft. long.

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

  1. Unable to move on its own, the Portuguese man-o-war floats on the surface of the ocean, waiting for prey to swim by.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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