Trying to Avoid Death Or Excruciating Pain From A Portuguese Man-of-War While Also Figuring Out What The Plural Of Man-of-War Is
One thing I gather is that when guidebooks and web sites describe the animal’s long tentacles, which can extend as much as 50 feet under the surface of the water, they’re describing an extreme. A typical man-of-war is much smaller Although how much smaller isn’t clear to me yet, it’s like describing humans by saying they can reach heights of 7 and a half feet. That’s true but of limited use.
A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife, by Noble Proctor and Patrick Lynch, says of the Portuguese man-of war (which is a siphonophore, not a jelly fish):
Powder blue, balloon-like transparent float visible at the water’s surface. Elongate tentacle-like processes and curtain-like folds hang below inflated float and may extend more than 50 ft … Beware of tentacles, which can sting long after animal’s death. Float size: To 1 ft.
Siphonophores are hydrozoans, which have an attached, tree-like (hyrda) stage and a free-floating (medusa) stage. Siphonophores exhibit an extreme form of this combination: they are complex colonies of medusae and polyps. The Portuguese Man-Of-War is an excellent example.
Wikipedia adds, somewhat helpfully:
The sting from the tentacles is potentially dangerous to humans; these stings have been responsible for several deaths, but usually only cause excruciating pain.
That’s good to know because I’ll substitute excruciating pain for death every time, if I have a choice.
The Providence Journal has more coverage today, here. One problem with everything I’ve read though is that I get no real sense of how many Portuguese men-of-war are in the region, whether this is is a real emergency, what the approximate chances are of encountering a man-of-war if you’re swimming in Rhode Island (or Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, for that matter). Newspapers and TV are known, after all, for exaggerating crises.
You’ll note, by the way, that I used the correct plural form of “crisis.” I mention it because of a debate about the plural of man-of-war. Sam Wells, a loyal Sphere reader from Texas (by way of Connecticut), insists that the plural of man-of-war is man-of-war. Some newspaper reports say “men-of-war,” which is what I’ve been using. The Providence Journal is actually asking readers what they think the plural is.
My favorite answers from the survey:
Do you have anyone on your staff that have graduated from the eighth grade? Maybe they can settle it for you. [Note that the author of this witty comment failed to get his noun and verb to agree; “anyone” is singular and requires “has graduated,” not “have graduated.”]
The plural of man-of-war is "Republican Party."
If you looked in the dictionary it tells you