Rough seas wash up dreaded Portuguese man o’war

Portuguese man o’war on the beach in south Nags Head on Wednesday. [Photo by Jessalyn Pugh]

This week’s strong winds courtesy of Hurricane Humberto have washed ashore an assortment of sea creatures, including the dreaded Portuguese man o’war.

A couple of the colorful, jellyfish-like creatures were spotted on the beach in Nags Head Wednesday, one near Jennette’s Pier and the other near milepost 19.

Man o’ wars are closely related to jellyfish but are actually a species of siphonophore, a group of animals that are closely related to jellyfish.

“A siphonophore is unusual in that it is comprised of a colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids — clones — with various forms and functions, all working together as one,” NOAA writes on its website. “Each of the four specialized parts of a man o’ war is responsible for a specific task, such as floating, capturing prey, feeding, and reproduction.”

They get their name from their resemblance to an 18th-century Portuguese warship under full sail. The creature’s “balloon” can be blue, violet or pink and rises up to six inches above the waterline, NOAA says.

But underneath, the man o’war has long tentacles that grow an average of 30 feet and as long as 100 feet.

“The tentacles contain stinging nematocysts, microscopic capsules loaded with coiled, barbed tubes that deliver venom capable of paralyzing and killing small fish and crustaceans,” NOAA writes.

The stings are rarely fatal to people, but can be very painful and raise welts.

And seeing one washed up on the beach doesn’t mean you’re safe. They can sting weeks after washing ashore.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.