The Portuguese Man-Of-War, known to most people as a jellyfish, is not a fish or even a single animal, but is actually a floating colony of four different organisms. They are different, though, than the traditional Jellyfish, known as the box Jellyfish, and their stings should be treated differently.

Man-Of-War can be found in many tropical parts of the world, but are plentiful on South Florida beaches in the winter, when favorable currents blow them ashore.

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The Man-Of-War is known for long blue, threadlike tentacles, which dangle far below the part of the colony which lives on the surface. The surface portion acts as a sail, helping move the Man O’ War along. The tentacles below, which can trail feet from the main body, act among other things as a stabilizer and rudder.

The tentacles also protect the Man O’ War and stun its prey, which if it happens to be Human, can cause painful welts.


The man-of-war’s body consists of a nitrogen-filled bladder-like float which is translucent and which may be 3 to 12 inches long and may extend as much as 6 inches above the water.

Beneath the float are clusters of polyps, from which hang tentacles of up to 165 feet in length concerned with detecting and capturing prey, with reproducing, and with feeding. The “animal” moves by means of its crest, which functions as a sail.

The Man O’ War can eat basically anything that comes in contact with its stinging tentacle polyps which “fish” continuously through the water. The sting is very painful to man and can cause serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action.


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The indications that you have been stung by a Man O’ War are: Stinging, burning, redness, swelling of lymph nodes. You may see long welt lines. In some people sensitive to the Man O’ War venom, there may be severe reactions, including difficulty with breathing and cardiac arrest.

The sting toxin secreted from the tentacles is a neurotoxin about seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom. The welts can last for minutes to hours.

Studies on the effectiveness of meat tenderizer, baking soda, papain, or commercial sprays (containing aluminum sulfate and detergents) on nematocyst stings have been contradictory. It’s possible these substances cause further damage.


If you have been stung with what you think is a Man O’ War, try these steps to minimize the pain and damage.

—Rinse the area with seawater or fresh water to remove any tentacles stuck to the skin. This can be from a spray bottle or in a beach shower.

—For severe pain, try applying heat or cold, whichever feels better.

—While most stings are NOT generally fatal, some people can have severe allergic reactions to the sting that can cause a health danger. Consider even the slightest breathing difficulty, or altered level of consciousness, a medical emergency. Call for help immediately.

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— Irrigate exposed eyes with copious amounts of room temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes. If vision blurs, or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, see a doctor.