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Portuguese Man-of-War  - Physalia physalis
Photo by Scotty LaRosa

The Portuguese man-of-war is a floating colony of polyps, each responsible for either floating, collecting food, eating, or reproducing. This colony forms a hydrozoan with a pink or purple gas-filled float and numerous, long tentacles. The float grows up to 6 inches and the tentacles grow from 10-30 feet long. Man-of-wars move by floating on the surface, allowing their float to be blown by the wind. Some man-of-wars are "right handed" and drift at a 45 degree angle to the wind, while others are "left-handed" and drift 45 degrees to the left of the wind. This allows greater dispersion of the animals.

Portuguese Man-of-War
(Physalia physalis)

Bahamas, Caribbean, Florida, also in warm temperate or tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans

Float on surface

Fish, shrimp, and crustaceans


The status of this species is representative of the populations within the waters of this Sanctuary only, not global populations.

Quick Fact
The Portuguese man-of-war is highly toxic; contact with its tentacles will result in a painful, intense sting, welting, and blistering. People in the water must be aware that man-of-war tentacles can drag for up to 30 feet behind the animal.

Learn More
- Oahu Lifeguard Home Page
- The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology