Portuguese Man o’ War: An Organism Made of Organisms?
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Portuguese Man o’ War: An Organism Made of Organisms?


This is a Portuguese Man o’ War. It looks
like a jellyfish, right? Heck, it even acts like a jellyfish. But it is not a jellyfish. In fact… it isn’t even a single thing. The Portuguese Man o’ War belongs to an
order of extraordinarily weird animals called siphonophores. There are about 175 species of them in the
world, most of which live deep in the ocean. Many siphonophores look like gelatinous strands
of rope, and some of them can reach lengths of 50 meters. That’s longer than a blue
whale! But their sizes and shapes aren’t the only
things that make them extraordinary. The weirdest thing about siphonophores is
that scientists still haven’t figured out if they’re a collection of colonial organisms
— like coral — or a single complex animal made up of specialized tissues, like we are. It’s kind of both of those things. And neither
of them. Because usually, a colony is defined as a
group of organisms that work together, but can function independently. But a single organism is composed of many
interdependent units that can’t survive on their own. Siphonophores have the scientific world all
confused, because their structures don’t fit either of those definitions. I mean they kinda resemble colonial organisms,
in that they’re made up of little, multicellular building blocks, called zooids. And in colonial organisms, like corals, each
zooid can perform multiple tasks, like feeding and reproducing. Since they can function just fine on their
own, each zooid is considered a separate organism, and together they make up a colony. But the zooids found in siphonophores are
different. From the outside, they look like they’re
functioning as part of a single organism that’s hunting and capturing prey. But if you take a closer look, you see that
they’re so highly specialized that they almost work like separate organs and tissues. The biggest clue here is that they’re arranged
in a precise pattern, just like specialized cells are arranged to create tissues — like
how brain cells form brains, or muscle cells form muscles. Take nectophores, for example — they’re
a type of zooid that’s in charge of movement. Each nectophore acts like an individual propeller
blade for a siphonophore, moving it through the water. But that’s literally the only job a nectophore
can do. It can’t eat, so it relies on other zooids, the gastrozooids, to kill and digest
prey for it. And the gastrozooids are what give the Man
o’ War its sting — each one has a single tentacle that contains a powerful neurotoxin
capable of paralyzing prey … or making a grown-up cry. The nutrition and energy that the gastrozooid
gets from its prey can then be transferred to a nearby nectophore, through connecting
tissue. There are even special reproductive zooids,
called gonophores, that produce sperm and eggs. These little zooids then mate with the
gonophores on other siphonophores. So, when you put all these things together,
the whole thing seems like a giant, perfectly ordered commune, with each zooid mastering
its job and relying on the other zooids to help it survive. Which would mean that the Portuguese Man o’
War is just a single organism. But that’s not really the case. Even though they work as part of a whole,
its zooids are often classified as individual animals, because they can move independently,
without direction from a central brain. And since each zooid is its own multicellular
unit, they don’t divide and duplicate like an individual cell in a human body. Instead, they’re born by budding, where
each new zooid develops along a chain. So each zooid is somewhat like a separate
organism, but together, they also all form another organism. And that… is just not … normal. So we still have plenty to learn about siphonophores
— for example, scientists aren’t exactly sure how their zooids communicate with each
other. And it really doesn’t help that these animals
are notoriously hard to study. With the exception of a couple of species
like the Portuguese Man o’ War, most of them live way down below the surface of the
ocean, so it’s not exactly easy to observe them in action. They’re also extremely fragile — their
gelatinous bodies often fall apart when they’re captured. So, biologists have their work cut out for
them when it comes to figuring out exactly what siphonophores are … or aren’t. Just as a side note, if you happen to be swimming
in the ocean and you see one of these things probably don’t touch it because bzzzt. Thanks for watching this SciShow Dose, brought
to you by our patrons on Patreon who help make SciShow possible. If you want to help
us keep making videos like this, just go to Patreon.com/SciShow! And don’t forget to
go to youtube.com/SciShow, and subscribe.

100 thoughts on “Portuguese Man o’ War: An Organism Made of Organisms?

  1. Kind of like kelp and slime mold. The interesting thing is how the individual cellular organisms turn into something different for the whole

  2. My science teacher saw these and thought they were balloons he didn’t touch it but took a pic and posted it and asked what it was people were joking saying “eat it on a sandwich” and stuff like that but someone said that if the tentacles brush upon you EVERYWHERE you will die of oxygen loss

  3. I'm so frickin scared right now because I nearly stepped on one of these craetures at the beach a couple of weeks ago

  4. Is this really all that is known about them? It seems like such a fascinating subject and this video is so short!

  5. I saw that on the beach today Omg good thing I never touch it an I watched the video before I Saw it🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹🇹

  6. Perhaps there was a prehistoric creature (not yet found?) That was like/was an ancestor of syphonophores that evolved into the first true solely independent organism? I'm still learning my bio history and paleoeverything so don't take me seriously, just spitting out my thoughts.

  7. Well, here it is folks. We finally have one example of communism working as intended. Just don’t get too close to it. It will still kill you.

  8. That is probably the next step in evo. They will run the earth when we are gone. But they will float through the sky instead of water. What’s a neck ta for?

  9. In one episode of futureama I remember Zoidberg saying something about his ghonapores and was what the hell he was talking about. Now his name seems to make a lot of sense

  10. Sounds like something that missed the evolution train and stuck together with other organisms for survival.

  11. So basically an underwater bee colony that happens to share tissue. Got it. This to me would like be calling the female and male angler fish a single organism. Sure, he attaches to her and eventually shares a nervous system and gets "his" nutrition that way becoming an attached sperm bank. But he still is a separate organism even if he can't survive without her. Even before they meet because he literally can't eat. Might as well classify him as a spermatozoon. Or I guess a single spermatozoon like creature carrying spermatozoa. 😂

  12. When I was about 6, I was playing in the waves in Baja California (ironically located in Mexico). My parents marveled at how we were the only people on the beach (cue ominous music). I saw what looked to be a piece of brightly colored plastic floating nearby, and being young and unaware that everything in the ocean is out to kill you, I reached out and grabbed it. I don't remember screaming (though I'm sure I did), but my parents came over and saw the long stinging ropes entwined around my tiny hands and working their way into my skin. "That shouldn't be!", they said. I agreed.

    Exiting the water, we went up to the manager's office at the place we were staying. He shook his head and wondered why we were in the water during Portuguese Man o' War season (the reason the beach was empty, but no one had bothered to mention to us). "Do you want us to try to sober up the doctor?", he asked. It was before noon. "No.", said my parents, thinking that it might be more risky than letting nature have its way with me. So my father took a pair of pliers and carefully pulled the barbed strings out of my 6 year-old hands. I do remember screaming at that point. Clearly.

    Around this time, my armpits started to hurt. My mother (a medical professional) recognized this as poison reaching my lymph nodes, and proceeded to lose her mind. It would take hours to drive back to the border, so basically, it was up to me to live or die (cue heroic montage). Spoiler alert: I lived – and more importantly: I learned.

    I learned that if none of the locals are on the beach, stay the 'f' out of the water. I learned that if you grab something in the ocean, you will regret it. I learned that sometimes doctors aren't the best solution. I learned that there are far worse things than getting stung by a bee (unless you're allergic to bee stings, which I'm not). Finally, I learned not to be so trusting about my parent's vacation planning abilities.

    In a way, I think we all have a Portuguese Man o' War out there waiting for us. It may be your boss, your spouse, your neighbor, or someone yet unknown to you. Whatever you do, don't try to grab them, unless your dad is around with a good set of pliers… 🙂

  13. Here's my reasoning: Portuguese man'o'wars can reproduce and their infants form these complex physical systems like their parents and in the same way. Meaning that this must be genetic information that gets encoded into the fetus from the time of it's inception. Therefore all of the separate living organs must originate from a single orgasm at least initially.

  14. My friend got stung by one of these in Miami… thank god he was drunk otherwise he would have been in deeper 💩

  15. how the hell I am 30 years old and I've never seen or heard anything even remotely similar to this? Have I somehow landed in a parallel universe overnight?

  16. For something that is spineless, brainless, and heartless… that has no eyes, ears, or nose- they are amazing!

  17. If you get bzzzzted, it will be dozens of bzzzzts, each bzzzt being a nasty little syringe which injects something like paint stripper under your skin. The cure is VINEGAR, or LEMON JUICE, or ANY MILD ACID. The relief is tremendous. Just send me all the money you have as gratitude.

  18. I was attacked by a swarm of Portuguise Man o War
    Instant Heart Attack,,, Loss of Breath
    Life long Nervous system failure
    Massive Power trying to drown me
    Week of Burning Pain
    They Are the monster in the Deep

  19. I'm Portugese and I never saw one of these things but i did not understand the translation because in Portugal we call it ''A Caravela Portugesa'' this translates to ''The Portugese Caravel'', but i have a parent that once saw it and almost touched it … ouch.

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