Venomous Portuguese Man O' War Found on Southeast U.S. Shores: What Beachgoers Need to Know

The Portuguese Man O' War is a colorful, venomous sea creature often confused with a jellyfish that can deal painful stings from its tentacles

Portuguese man o' war
Photo: Getty

This spring, beachgoers should be on the lookout for the Portuguese Man O' War across the shores of the southeast United States.

The venomous sea creature — which resembles a balloon and is closely related to (and often confused with) the jellyfish — has come ashore at beaches in South Carolina and Florida, according to The New York Post.

The Portuguese Man O' War is considered dangerous because the creature can deal painful stings to humans from its tentacles, even after it has died. The animals use their tentacles, which can be extended up to 100 feet, to "deliver venom capable of paralyzing and killing small fish," according to the National Ocean Service.

Stings from the colorful swimmers are rarely life-threatening to people.

"The Portuguese Man O' War is not going to kill you, but it's going to be painful, and it's going to be uncomfortable and very itchy for a while," Tony McEwan, a curator and marine biologist at the University of Hawaii's Waikiki Aquarium, told The New York Post. "Then it slowly, slowly dissipates."

"These animals are some of the most toxic animals in the world," he added. "They're not very maneuverable animals, so their prey has to be immobilized very quickly."

Portuguese man o' war

College student Hannah Almanzar told Today that she was stung by a Portuguese Man O' War while on her spring break trip in Florida.

"I thought, at first, it was just like my bathing suit," she said. "And then I felt it was just like, kind of like, burning everywhere else."

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"I kind of thought for a moment that I'm like either was going to die or was going to be close to it just because of how bad the pain was because I've never felt anything like that," she added.

Almanzar received an injection of anti-inflammatory medicine to help manage the pain at an emergency room, according to the outlet.

Lifeguards use purple flags to warn beachgoers of the presence of dangerous marine life — including Portuguese Man O' War. Watch for these flags when visiting a U.S. beach.

McEwan told The New York Post that he advises staying out of the water and wearing shoes at beaches where people have recently spotted the Portuguese Man O' War. Dog owners should keep canines away from beaches with Portuguese Man O' War present since the sea creature is also toxic to pets.

If you do get stung by a Portuguese Man O' War, experts recommend: spraying vinegar on the wound to help deactivate the venom, scraping the affected skin with a credit card to get rid of any residue, and soaking the affected skin in warm water. An antihistamine can be used to treat itching, according to Today.

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