More than fifty people, including several children, have been stung by Portuguese Man o' War, Physalia physalis, on beaches around the city of Mumbai in Maharashtra State, India, this week, with a number requiring hospital treatment as a consequence. Many city residents have been visiting the beaches in the past few days, as Monsoon rains have begun to ease up in the area, but this has brought them into contact with the venomous Cnidarians, which have proliferated off the coast in the recent hot weather.
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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