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What Is A Portuguese Man O' War? and How to Protect or Treat against these Stingers?

Posted by ecostinger on 23rd May 2020

The organisms that make up this predator are called siphonophores. This was mistakenly called a jellyfish but was reorganized as a group of zooids which depend on each other. The group is separated into four different polyps; one of which resembles a battle ship giving the colony its name. They are highly poisonous animals and can be lethal.

The first polyp is called pneumatophore which is the see-through element of the animal, half of which stays out of the water as it floats along the surface. The second part is the tentacles made up of different lengths which trail below. Some lengths can reach up to more than 100 feet long but the average is about 30 feet. When a fish or other small animal gets stucl on the tentacles, it gets drawn up to the mouth and dissolved for consumption. The tentacles are the ones that deliver the painful sting and although it is rarely lethal, the pain can be very difficult to bear. The third and fourth group of organisms that make up this siphonophore are the digestive and reproductive systems. Each polyp cannot live without the others despite being made up of different individuals.


There are numerous urban legends about how to treat the sting of a Portuguese Man o' War. These range from peeing on yourself (using other people's pee is just nasty, so don't even!) to a fresh water rinse. None of these work! Urine is downright unsanitary and will not work. Experts have recommended using acetic acid or white vinegar to wash of any stingers left on the skin. After making sure that there are no more protrusions left, apply a heat pack on the affected area. Alternatively, you can also immerse the affected area in a pail of warm water. The pain should subside in several minutes but keep the warmth on it for 20 minutes even if the pain is already gone. Warmth should be about 45 degrees Centigrade or 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prevention and Protection

In order to prevent being stung by the Portuguese Man o' War, your best strategy is to look for any suspicious floating things in the water and even in the sand anywhere near the shore. Sometimes, these animals are seasonal. Do your research regarding the times you might be vacationing in the beach or near the ocean.

If you are aware of the possible presence of Portuguese Man o' War, you can wear a full body cover swimsuit or wetsuit in case you are doing diving or snorkeling activities. A hooded vest may be necessary in some cases. These are some preventive measures to keep you safe, and these fill body swimsuits can also protect against other sea creatures such as Box Jellyfish Stingers, Sea Lice, and also protect against UVA and UVB Radiation.

First aid for Portuguese Man o' War stings starts with the removal of any visible tentacles attached to the skin. It is important to be careful about handling tentacles of the Portuguese Man o' War because these will surely still have unfired stingers which can sting other parts of the body. Do not rub the stung area, the rubbing motion can spread the stingers to other parts around the wounds. Experts recommend flushing with sea water if there is no distilled white vinegar on hand or very warm fresh water. Rinse carefully and try to make the rinsing last for for 30 seconds. Do not use your hands to try and remove stingers, as you might be inadvertently stung.

Apply heat on the affected area; a heat pack will do the job well. If you have no idea how hot the water is, try to use the hottest that you can bear by manually trying out the heat with your finger. Be careful in doing this! The heat can alleviate pain and prevent inflammation of the area. Some experts recommend using an ice pack if there is no heat pack. There is conflict in immersing the part of the body in actual warm water to alleviate the pain. The conflict stems from the fact that sometimes fresh water can induce the stingers to fire or explode causing more pain.