Man-o-War Resting on the Shores, Barbados Pocket Guide

Man O' War

Despite the fact that these simple organisms resemble the jellyfish, they are in fact related to the sea anemones and corals which all belong to the Phylum Cnidaria family. Organisms within this group tend to have two live forms, an attached polyp stage and a mobile medusa stage.


The Man O' War's unusual nature stems from the fact that 'organism' encountered in the sea is a colony comprising both polyp and medusoid forms.


Portuguese Man O' War

The Portuguese Man O' War (Physalia physalia) can be found in just about any warm water throughout the world but more so in the tropical and subtropical Man-o-War Resembling a Jellyfishregions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream. This organism  resides at the ocean's surface while the remainder hangs below. It has an air bladder that stays above the surface and ably functions as a float. The colour of the float can vary in tinted blue, purple or mauve but with a common trait of being semiopaque. The Man O' War's driving force is naturally a combination of currents, tides and prevailing winds as it has no other means of propulsion.


It is rarity to stumble across just one Portuguese Man o' War primarily because they are normally gathered by currents and winds into groups of thousands. On the east coast of Barbados is where you can find an abundance of  Men O' War as the prevailing winds wash them ashore.


It's Sting

The stinging venom-filled nematocysts in the tentacles of the Portuguese Man O' War can paralyze small fish and other prey. Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live creature in the water, and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the creature or the detachment of the tentacle.


Stings usually cause severe pain to humans, leaving whip-like, red welts on the skin that normally last 2 or 3 days after the initial sting, though the pain should subside after about an hour. However, the venom can travel to the lymph nodes and may cause, depending on the amount of venom, a more intense pain. A sting may lead to an allergic reaction. There can also be serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. Stings may also cause death, although this is rare. Medical attention may be necessary, especially where pain persists or is intense, or there is an extreme reaction, or the rash worsens, or a feeling of overall illness develops, or a red streak develops between swollen lymph nodes and the sting, or if either area becomes red, warm and tender.


Worldwide, quite a few course treatments have been listed in the event of a sting from a Man O' War. In Barbados we prefer to keep it simple and encourage you to immediately apply meat tenderiser or green paw paw to the affected area.


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