The bluebottle jellyfish has an innocent enough sounding name, but it is not the kind of companion you would want to have swimming by your side on a nice sunny day or on any day for that matter. It isn’t really a jellyfish at all, and it can’t even swim. There’s little danger from a creature swimming over you to deliver a sting. If you should come into contact with this cnidarian, either you’ve swum into it by mistake or the wind or current moved it into your path.
Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the name given to the bluebottle is the Portuguese man-of-war. This is a creature that can deliver a fierce sting should you come into contact with it while in the water. It can also deliver a fierce sting if it has been washed up onto the beach and one steps on it, even if it has been dead for a number of hours.
A Water Creature that Can’t Swim
Jellyfish can swim, or at least most of them are able propel themselves through the water. The Portuguese man-of-war, not being a true jellyfish or a fish at all, has no means to move through the water. What it does have is a sail of sorts. Part of this sea animal is usually above the surface of the water and is shaped somewhat like a sail. The wind therefore takes the creature where it wants to go – and sometimes where it would rather not go, like on a beach.
A Creature Made Up of a Community of Creatures
The Portuguese man-of-war looks like a single creature, one that has a body and numerous tentacles. What it is actually is a community of smaller creatures, called zooids. Zooids cannot exist on their own, so they band together to form a bluebottle jellyfish.
The sail of bluebottles consists of a gas-filled bladder. The size of the sail depends on the size of bluebottles and, on larger creatures, can be up to a foot long and 6 inches high. Bluebottles have to keep this sail wet and will occasionally roll side to side to do so. In the event of a threat, bluebottles can deflate their sail and submerge. Most of the time however, bluebottles are under sail.
There are three other parts of bluebottles besides their sail, which is where the zooids come into play. Bluebottles have organs that allow them to feed, to reproduce, and to cause people, fish, and other creatures great discomfort, these being the defensive organs that can sting. The tentacles, consisting of dactylozooids, can be very long. Typically, they are about 25 to 30 feet long but have been known to be as long as 160 feet. The tentacles also contain digestive organs or polyps, which are made up of another type of zooid, the gastrozooids. The gonozooids, the third type of zooid, are responsible for reproduction.
A Bluebottle’s Sting
A bluebottle’s sting can be extremely painful. While the toxin it releases can kill small fish, it is not carried through the human body by the bloodstream but remains near the surface of the skin. If a person has been stung in a number of places however, that person could go into shock, and there are also those who are allergic to the toxin. In most cases, the sting will cause no permanent harm, and the pain will usually not last longer than an hour or so. The welts that are left however can linger for days, if not weeks.
When stung by a tentacle, the tentacle will usually cling to the skin, as it has a number of microscopic barns that enable it to do so. It will have to be peeled from the skin, but in doing so, it can sting bare fingers, and once removed, it can continue to sting if touched. A detached tentacle’s ability to sting can last for hours, if not days.
Treating a Sting
Treating a bluebottle sting in the same way a jellyfish sting is treated will often be unsuccessful, simply because the bluebottle is not a jellyfish and its toxin is not the same as the toxins found in various species of jellyfish. The best immediate treatment is to continually wash the affected area with salt water, and there will usually be plenty of salt water around. Washing the area with fresh water can make the pain worse. Using vinegar can make the pain more severe as well, although vinegar can be effective in treating a jellyfish sting.
There’s not too much good that can be said about bluebottles, except that its color is somewhat attractive. It’s also nice to know that one won’t attack you. If it were capable of avoiding you, it might even try to do so, but it can’t.