The Atlantic Portuguese man-of-war is a jellyfish-like creature also known as a “floating terror” with venomous, long tentacles that deliver a painful sting.
Sightings of the creatures are being reported on North Carolina shores.
Several social media posts have noted the presence of men-of-war washing up on Cape Fear-area beaches, as first reported by The Wilmington Star News.
A change in current patterns pushed thousands of men-of-war onto Florida beaches this month, according to multiple reports.
Florida Today reported many of the people stung didn’t get injured while swimming, but when picking up the jellyfish lookalike.
But North Carolina officials said they haven’t yet heard of a similar influx along the Tar Heel state’s shores.
Resembling an 18th-century Portuguese warship, the man-of-war is not actually a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which is a colony of specialized organisms that work together as one.
Similar to jellyfish, men-of-war float, rather than swim, on tides driven by wind and waves, so it’s common for them to be beached after storms or periods of strong onshore winds – like those North Carolina is expected to see this week.
Men-of-war are often moved by winds and ocean currents, occasionally traveling in clusters of 1,000 or more, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The water is warming up more quickly this year, and they are being seen a little earlier than normal in our area,” said Matt Babineau, a member of the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s animal care team, which cares for five different jellyfish species at the New Hanover County facility.
If you see a man-of-war in the water, experts advise moving away or heading for shore since their stinging tentacles can reach more than 100 feet long. And one is often followed by others in the area.
If you see one washed up on the beach, don’t touch it. These aquatic beauties are still able to sting even weeks after being washed ashore.
And the sting of a man-of-war is extremely painful and can be fatal, although that is rare.
The tentacles release thousands of microscopic venom-injecting capsules called nematocysts. On contact with skin, the capsules deliver a toxic chemical cocktail into the victim. The effects of the venom can range from mild to life threatening, but typically include immediate pain lasting 15 to 20 minutes. In more severe cases, a sting can trigger chest pain, difficulty breathing and even death.
While treatment for stings has varied over the years, including alcohol, seawater, shaving cream, urine and baking soda, research at the University of Hawaii and the National University of Ireland Galway shows most of those methods are ineffective and could even worsen symptoms.
The best way to treat a sting is to apply vinegar to the wound, remove any residual stingers or bits of tentacles on the skin and immerse the wound in hot water or use a hot pack to warm the area.