Portuguese Man-of-War


What is it?

The Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis) is a siphonophore Phylum Cnidaria: corals, jellyfish, ascidians, etc.). This organism is actually a colony of modified jellyfish-polyps specialised to carry out different functions: moving, hunting, feeding and reproducing.

The pneumatophore or float can be as long as 30 centimetres and its tentacles can reach various meters in length (according to some sources, as long as 30 meters, although they rarely exceed 10-20 meters in length).

© OCEANA / Enrique Talledo

Where does it live?

This species is mainly distributed throughout the temperate waters of the Atlantic, and that is why it is referred to as “Portuguese,” although it can also be occasionally found in northern areas. It is not frequently seen in the Mediterranean although some specimens cross the Straits of Gibraltar pushed by the winds and reach the Alboran Sea.

What are its food habits?

This is a carnivorous species that feeds off small crustaceans and fish larvae.

Is it dangerous?

The stings from a Portuguese Man-of-War rarely cause death, although people who are prone to anaphylactic shock may go into a coma or even die, but these are rare cases.

Common symptoms

  • Abdominal, pectoral pain, headache
  • Arrhythmias
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbing and pain in extremities
  • General weakness
  • Irritation of the affected area
  • Rhinorrhea and watery eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Perspiration

What to do if stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis)

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Apply cold packs, but avoid contact with fresh water.
  • Rinse with salt water.
  • Protect the affected area as much as possible.
  • Apply a solution of equal parts of water and vinegar for 30 minutes, to remove the tentacles.
  • Rinse the area and apply vinegar diluted by 50%.
  • Apply cream that contains analgesics, antihistamines or cortisone.