Featured Image Credit: Susan Allen
By: Kira Krall
Popular beaches in southern England are on high alert after a record-breaking 144 Portuguese Man-of-Wars washed up in only 3 days. The previous record was 40 in both 2000 and 2009. Get an up-close look at the purple people stinger below.
Portuguese Man-of-Wars are similar in appearance to jellyfish but belong to a group of organisms called siphonophores. Their trademark colony is a six-inch tall float that drifts above the water. The prey-snatching colony takes the form of tentacles that can grow up to 165 feet long.
The creature’s stinging cells spell instant death for many marine species including small bony fish. Their venom usually isn’t fatal for humans, but a Man-of-War sting is extremely painful. Unfortunately, Man-Of-War stings can still happen when there’s no siphonophore in sight. Detached tentacles retain their stinging ability long after they fall off the rest of the colony. Because of this danger to beach-goers, Perranporth beach in Cornwall shut down for four and a half hours.
What’s unusual about this stranding event is that Man-of-Wars are typically found in tropical or sub-tropical environments. The Marine Conservation Society in Wales considers this year’s extremely active Atlantic hurricane season a major cause for the explosion in sightings.
If you are ever stung by a Man-of-War, remove the tentacle and get medical help as soon as possible. Rinsing the affected area with water can help ease some of the painful side effects of the venom.