If you’ve gone to the beach and seen the blue balloon like “Jellyfish”, then you have seen a Physalia physalis. Commonly thought of as a Jelly Fish, the Portugese Man of War are actually an entirely different kind of creature. It’s not even a single creature, but a colony of creatures working together to exist as a single entity.
Feared around the world for it’s fierce string, they are quite common around the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area. I’ve seen them many times on the beach, but not so often in the water.
Well, my luck changed last Sunday. I was returning to shore and had decided to swim on my back.
I swam into the Portuguese Man of War “Tail of Death” as I will call it.
I got to shore and discovered that the little arms have something in them that make them stick to your skin like a piece of briar sticks to your clothes when you’re walking through the woods. Despite looking rather modest, the raised area of skin was felt like an ongoing bee string. My level of empathy has certainly increased for those who suffered a serious injury from a man of war.
I remember thinking to myself that afternoon, about how strange it was that I could be experiencing such a pain, and yet no visible physical damage was present. After the pain of the initial string is gone, then something brand new happens. All of the places where the tentacles of the Portuguese Man Of War “Jelly Creature” had touched me had begun to blister up and itch badly. As intense as the initial sting was, the itch that began on my hands and arms was incredible. It was most certainly the most intensely concentrated itch I have ever felt.
The itch that developed felt like an echo of the initial pain.
I had my camera with me as I often do when I snorkel. I figured I would record myself and talk about how it felt so that I could preserve the memory of the event (for myself).
For me, it was almost like experiencing the whole event 3rd person, I remember really thinking about the pain. Thinking while it was happening, how I had never felt anything as painful, and being impressed with the effectiveness of the toxin causing the pain. I was fascinated about how the pain could be so intense, and yet no permanent damage was happening to my hand.
I made the comment to someone near the first aid stand that getting stung makes you feel alive. When you can step back, and appreciate another creatures developed mechanism, and experience a moment in that creatures life. For all intents the “Jelly Creature” would have happily eaten me had I been a bit smaller, and overwhelmed by the toxins. I’m happy to have added this experience to my repertoire of lifes events, but I hope to never experience it again.