This Floating Terror is One Animal Made of Many

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This predatory jellyfish-like sea animal is not just one terrifying creature but actually many joined together.

The venomous Portuguese man o’ war, Physalia physalis, is found floating in warm waters across the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans in massive groups sometimes numbering in the thousands. The animal resembles a jellyfish but is actually a siphonophore, a multicellular organism constructed of many specialized zooids.

Each of the creature’s four polyps serve a physiologically independent purpose. The primary structure is visible above the surface and known as a pneumatophore, which protrudes out of the water in the shape of a ship’s sail.

The pneumatophore is a gas-filled organism that assists in the man o’ war’s collaborative flotation and submersion capabilities. Its translucent structure is often a lightly shaded blue or pink color and spans a length between 9 and 30 centimeters.

Image: Winnie T, Flickr

The second most important organism comprising this unusual creature is collectively known as the dactylozooid, which is actually a group of long tentacles that extend deep down into the water beneath the surface and serve as defense mechanisms, equipped with venom-filled nematocysts that are capable of stinging and killing squid and fish.

The gastrozooids serve as the digestive organism that breaks down foodstuffs collected by the contractile cells of the tentacles. The fourth independent organism present within the whole jellyfish-like creature is the gonozooids, responsible for the reproductive process.

These four separate polyps work together in assisting the terrifying Portuguese man o’ war in its slow drifting existence across the ocean, prepared for any kind of foreign encounter. 

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