This Is One Of The Most Terrifying Creatures In The Ocean. It's Also One Of The Most Interesting
August 2, 2015
If you've heard of the Portugese man o' war, you know to stay far, far away from them. However, they are one of the most interesting creatures on the planet...
Photograph by Jennifer Kiewit
The Portuguese man o' war, or Blue Bottle (Physalia physalis) is actually not a single creature, but rather an entire colony of distinct organisms. That also means that the man o' war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore. It can be found throughout the all of the world, it is most common in the tropical and subtropical Pacific.
Each man o' war is made up of four distinct zooids, and each one of them has a different task. However, they are all part of the same species. The colony can only survive if everyone works together. All zooids are connected to a hollow central stem. This provides stability to the colony and also serves as communal stomach.
The Pneumatophore is the most visible part of the colony. It is a gas-filled, translucent sac that allows the colony to float on the ocean surface. This bubble is usually about 9-30 cm (4-12 in) long and also serves as sail. Wind and ocean currents are the man o' war's only means of propulsion. If the wind becomes too strong or aerial predators are attacking the man o' war, the Pneumatophore can deflate and let the colony sink under water to escape.
The Dactylozooids make up the long tentacles that drag underneath the sail. Usually they are about 30 feet long, but can reach sizes of up to 165 feet. These tentacles are fishing for the food of the colony, namely small fish and plankton. They are also covered with stinging cells, similar to jellyfish. If these cells come into contact with a solid surface, they launch a barb attached to a thread and then squirt venom through the thread into the victim. Once the Dactylozooids have caught a victim, they contract and bring it up to the main colony for digestion.
The Gastrozooid is responsible for digesting the food caught by the Dactylozooids. They are shaped like short tentacles and have a small mouth on the tip. When they come in contact with food, several Gastrozooids will completely cover it with their mouths and start secreting digestive enzymes to break it down Once it has been liquefied, the Gastrozooids suck up the food and into the communal stomach. From there, the nutrients are shared throughout the entire colony.
Finally, the Gonodendron is responsible for reproduction. Male and female man o'wars eject sperm and eggs into the water which then form a new organism. However, this process is still little understood. The single cells of the colonial organism are capable of living alone and reproducing asexually. They may even split off from the colony and form a new one.
I find it hard to comprehend that the life we'll find on other planets will be weirder than this.
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