■ BY SUE ERWIN
When Melissa Rubin was taking a stroll along the beach last Friday, she wasn’t expecting to see venomous creatures just inches away from her feet.
“My husband and I walked the beach back from town after dropping off our rental bikes, and we were shocked to see so many on the sand,” she said. “It seemed a bit strange that these scary creatures were strewn across the beach,” Rubin said.
The visitors from New York City said that after walking the island beaches for years, they have never seen these jellyfish here before. They reported seeing at least 10 of varying sizes between Banyan Street and Turtle Back Colony.
Rubin emailed some photos to the Boca Beacon and asked how frequently they are seen around the island.
Florida State Parks Environmental Specialist II Karen Rogers said Portuguese man o’ wars float on the surface of the water, which makes them susceptible to wind and currents. “They are typically found offshore, but the strong winds that we have seen in the area over the past few weeks could cause them to wash ashore,” Rogers said.
Andrew Angelo, staff aquarium biologist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, works with cnidarians (jellies and related species) and noted that several people have emailed or commented to him that they’ve seen Portuguese man o’ wars recently on Sarasota County area beaches.
“It’s not surprising to see Portuguese man o’ wars during colder months in Florida,” he said. “Typically they stay somewhat offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s also not surprising for windy weather to push some of them ashore.”
Each man o’ war is a colony of several identical animals belonging to a scientific class called Siphonophora. Much like their cousins, true jellies, man o‘ war colonies have stinging tentacles. The man o‘ wars found locally may have tentacles dozens of feet long that cause a painful sting.
The beautiful creatures have vibrant blue and purple hues, but beware, the delicate marine animals can deliver a painful sting and are one of the most deadly kinds of jellyfish. To get nutrition, it uses its feeding tentacles to sting and paralyze small fish and other invertebrates. Few species prey upon them.
When you see a purple flag posted at the beach, that is a warning about dangerous marine life spotted in local waters.
Naturally, beachgoers should always avoid touching man o‘ wars and jellies. If stung, consult Florida’s Poison Control Centers for treatment tips: floridapoisoncontrol.org/poisoning-in-florida/aquatic-toxins or call Florida’s Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 for emergencies.
For more information, visit myfwc.com.