Please Note: This safety information is provided strictly as a
courtesy in an effort to educate beachgoers and ocean enthusiasts on
beach safety and not intended as medical advise. 808jellyfish is not
a medical site. If a severe reaction occurs as the result of a
box jellyfish sting immediately see a lifeguard for assistance,
seek treatment at the nearest medical facility, or contact a
(Bluebottle - Physalia spp. - Hydroid)
"`Ili Mane`o, Pa`imalau, Palalia or Pololia"
Family: Physaliidae, Order:
Class: Hydrozoa, Phylum:
The portuguese man-of-war
"jellyfish" - in Hawaiian,
Pa`imalau, Palalia or Pololia
- is actually any of various invertebrate, jelly-like marine
animals of the family:
These pelagic colonial hydroids or hydrozoans are infamous for
their very painful, powerful sting and are very common in
Hawaiian ocean waters.
The man-of-war ranges or occurs most commonly in the tropical
and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and
the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream, although found in warm seas
throughout the world. It is sometimes found floating - some even
say "swarming" - in groups of thousands.
is the only widely distributed species.
commonly known as the
frequently occurs in Hawai`i, in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The Australian Museum notes on
its luminous web page, that the portuguese man-of-war ". . . is
not a single animal but a colony of four kinds of highly
modified individuals [polyps]. The polyps are dependent on one
another for survival." Click here or on this image for a diagram
of the different types of descending polyps.
The man-of-war's body consists of a gas-filled (mostly
nitrogen), bladder-like float (a polyp, the pneumatophore) - a
translucent structure tinted pink, blue, or violet - which may
be 3 to 12 inches (9 to 30 centimeters) long and may extend as
much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) above the water.
Beneath the float are clusters of polyps, from which hang
tentacles of up to 165 feet (about 50 meters) in length. The
polyps are of three types: dactylozooid, gonozooid, and
gastrozooid, concerned, respectively, with detecting and
capturing prey, with reproducing, and with feeding. The "animal"
moves by means of its crest, which functions as a sail.
reproduce sexually - the sperm of one mature colonial hydroid
fertilizes the egg of another reproducing a larva. Then like
other invertebrates and hydroids, larval
reproduces itself by mitotic, asexual reproduction to yield or
i.e., grow, genetically identical colonial offspring within and
onto itself. (The mitotic process involves the facilitation of
the equal partitioning of replicated chromosomes into two
identical groups.) Asexual reproduction leads to a rapid growth;
sexual reproduction produces genetic differentiation, combined
both lead to rapid increase in species numbers. The biomass
increases or "grows" opportunistically from both reproductive
processes in favorable conditions: adequate food supply,
equable, suitable temperature, and adequate ranging territory or
space to live. It is no wonder that there is a thriving,
spp. in Hawaii's temperate, food rich, expansive ocean waters.
Tentacles of the dactylozooids
bear stinging nematocystic (coiled thread-like) structures that
paralyze small fish and other prey. The gastrozooids then attach
to the immobilized victim, spread over it, digesting it. The
Portuguese man-of-war is eaten by other animals, including the
loggerhead turtle, Caretta caretta.
The small fish,
lives among the tentacles of
and is nearly immune to the poison from the stinging cells.
feeds on the tentacles, which are constantly regenerated;
sometimes the fish is eaten by
Clown or Clown Anemone fish (Amphiprion
spp.) and the Yellow-jack fish (Caranx
reportedly have a similar commensal symbiotic relationship,
i.e., a mutually beneficial relationship with no negative or
pathogenic effect on the host or symbiont.
Reportedly, another interesting food chain manifestation occurs
occasionally. When leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys
feed on man-of-wars, like jellyfish - their favorite foods,
sharks are attracted to and feed on the sea turtles, and, may be
attracted to and try to feed on things that look like sea
turtles, e.g., humans swimming in murky waters, on surf boards,
The portuguese man-of-war itself will eat basically anything
that comes in contact with its stinging tentacle polyps, the
drifts down wind, the long tentacles "fish" continuously through
the water. Muscles in each tentacle contract and drag prey into
range of the digestive polyps, the gastrozooids, which, acting
like small mouths, consume and digest the food by phagocytosis -
by secreting a full range of enzymes that variously break down
proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The prey consists mostly of
small crustaceans, small fish, algae and other members of the
surface plankton which the man-of-war ensnares in its
entangling, stinging nematocystic threads.
is very painful to man and can cause serious effects, including
fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. When
stung, carefully, pick or brush off any visible tentacles - try
not to use your fingers - use your towel, fins, etc. Rinse with
fresh or salt water - do not use vinegar. For severe pain, try
applying heat or cold, whichever feels better to the victim.
Immediate medical attention may be required
as their stinging may bring about
The nematocystic sting toxin secreted from the tentacles of the
dactylozooids, a mixture of enzymes, is a neurotoxin about
seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom. The toxins
contain a complex mixture of polypeptides and proteins including
catecholamines, histamine, hyaluronidase, fibolysins, kinins,
phospholipases and various hemolytic, cardiotoxic and
The most common result of contact with the man-of-war - the
residual whip-like, red wavy, stringy welts on the skin from
contact with the blue tentacle - is a painful papular-urticarial
eruption. The lesions can last for minutes to hours, and the
rash may progress to urticaria, hemorrhage, or ulceration.
Recurrent episodes of urticaria may last four to six weeks at
the site of envenomation. (The pathophysiology of sting induced
urticaria is that it occurs following release of histamine,
bradykinin, kallikrein or acetylcholine resulting in intradermal
edema from capillary and venous vasodilation and occasional
ALL STINGS CONSIDERED
Craig Thomas,M.D., and Susan Scott