Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Have your heard of the Portuguese Man-of-War? These unusual sea creatures float, sometimes in very large numbers, on the surface of warm ocean waters and since they are not mobile in and of themselves, they are at the mercy of the winds, tides and currents. If you are so unlucky as to have a close encounter with a Portuguese Man-of-War, you will be astonished at the intense pain after touching those hanging tentacles.

What I have just found out is that these creatures are not single organisms, but a collection of four different polyps, or zooids, that live in community together.

Here is the blurb from Wikipedia:

The Portuguese man o' war is composed of four types of polyp. One of the polyps, a gas-filled bladder called the pneumatophore (commonly known as the sail), enables the organism to float. This sail is bilaterally symmetrical, with the tentacles at one end, and is translucent, tinged blue, purple, pink or mauve. It may be 9 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 in) long and may extend as much as 15 centimetres (6 in) above the water. The Portuguese man o' war generates carbon monoxide in its gas gland, filling its gas bladder with up to 13% carbon monoxide. The remainder is nitrogen, oxygen and argon, atmospheric gases that diffuse into the gas bladder. Carbon dioxide occurs at trace levels. The sail is equipped with a siphon. In the event of a surface attack, the sail can be deflated, allowing the man o' war to briefly submerge.

The other three polyp types are known as dactylozooid (defence), gonozooid (reproduction), and gastrozooid (feeding).These polyps are clustered.

The dactylzooids make up the tentacles that are typically 10 metres (30 ft) in length but can be up to 50 metres (165 ft). The long tentacles "fish" continuously through the water, and each tentacle bears stinging, venom-filled nematocysts (coiled, thread-like structures), which sting and kill small sea organisms such as small fish and shrimp.

Contractile cells in each tentacle drag the prey into range of the digestive polyps, the gastrozooids, which surround and digest the food by secreting enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Gonozooids are responsible for reproduction.

Just recently a Florida-based photographer, Ansarov , has documented the beauty of zooids. Here are a few of his stunning photos. I love the symmetry and astonishing colour in each of them.

It would be interesting to know what process he uses to get these kaleidoscopic photos. They are available for sale here at various sizes and prices.