The St. Augustine Beach Police Department, has issued a warning to bathers to be wary after large numbers of Portuguese Man o' War, Physalia physalis, have washed up on beaches in the city in St John's County, Florida, over the last two weeks. These venomous Cnidarians wash up on beaches in Florida at this time every winter, but this year they seem to be particularly numerous, possibly in response to the exceptionally severe storm-season in the Caribbean last year, which will have stirred up nutrients from the ocean floor, as well as washing them from the land, prompting blooms of the plankton upon which the Man o' War feed.
A Portuguese Man o' War washed up on a beach. Oceana.
Portuguese Man o' War are colonial Siphonophores only distantly related to true Jellyfish, Scyphozoa, though commonly referred to as such. Their bodies are made up of thousands of individual zooids, each with their own sting, tentacles and digestive system. New zooids are formed by budding from other members of the colony, but remain attached to these to form a single colony. Each year a generation of specialist sexual zooids (gonozoids) is produced which produce eggs and sperm, with fertilised eggs going on to form new colonies. These animals are anchored to the sea surface by a highly modified zooid which forms an air sack, filled with a mixture of carbon monoxide defused from the zooid and nitrogen, oxygen and argon from the atmosphere, which are brought into the sack through osmosis. Portuguese Man o' War produce an extremely strong venom, for both capturing food and defending the colony, and which is capable of causing extremely painful stings, and sometimes death, in Humans, for which reason people are advised to be extremely cautious on beaches where these animals wash up, not just of entire animals but also detached tentacles, which are less visible but still capable of stinging.
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