MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) - Beachgoers in one part of central Florida are encountering dozens of stinging sea creatures known as the Portuguese man-of-war.
Florida Today reported Sunday that a number of people on Brevard County beaches have suffered stings from the animals. Officials say most of the stings occur when people pick the creatures up on the beach, rather than in the water.
Man-of-war warnings were posted at some of the northern county beaches Saturday. There were reports of stings as far south as the Sebastian River State Park.
The man-of-war, known for their intense, painful stings and venomous tentacles, are not jellyfish but siphonophores, which are made up of several different organisms working together as one, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA says the species are mostly found in tropical and subtropical seas, and propelled by winds and ocean currents alone. They can sometimes float in groups of of 1,000 or more. They can sting, even weeks after washing onto shore.
The agency writes:
Resembling an 18th-century Portuguese warship under full sail, the man o’ war is recognized by its balloon-like float, which may be blue, violet, or pink and rises up to six inches above the waterline. Lurking below the float are long strands of tentacles and polyps that grow to an average of 30 feet and may extend by as much 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. While the man o’ war’s sting is rarely deadly to people, it packs a painful punch and causes welts on exposed skin.
Authorities say changes in current patterns can cause larger numbers of them to wash up on the Florida beaches.