Blue, Jellyfish-Like Creatures Are Washing Up All Over America's Beaches. What's Going On?

Temperatures are on the rise as we head into the dog days of summer. It's the perfect time to hit the waves and enjoy the weather. You may want to exercise caution if you're thinking of heading to the Atlantic Ocean, however: East Coast shores are being inundated with jellyfish-like creatures known as Portuguese Man of Wars. The blue, tentacled animals have been washing up in New Jersey, but typically dot the shorelines of more southern beaches as they search for warm waters.

Portuguese Man of Wars aren't just an animal: they're actually considered colonies and not at all related to jellyfish, despite their striking appearance and tentacles. They can injure you if you come in contact with them, both with their tentacles and via secretions from the bulbous jelly part of the animal known as the polyp. The polyp is a blue-tinged sack that floats above the water and makes up a pivotal part of the animal's ability to kill and digest prey. It contains a mixture of carbon monoxide and other gases that, when they come in contact with mammals, have the ability to paralyze and injure them. Stings from Portuguese Man of Wars may even be fatal, depending on your sensitivity.

Typically, humans stung by Portuguese Man of Wars experience excruciating pain primarily at the point of contact. Symptoms can extend all the way to respiratory troubles, however. Rather than picking them up or touching them, it's best to avoid them and be aware of your surroundings. Portuguese Man of Wars are fascinating creatures even if they look pretty creepy. They're somewhat related to yet another animal that has inundated shorelines, this time on the Pacific coast: the Velella Velella. Both are siphonophoras, meaning they are floating colonies of various animals that all form a super organism. Velella Velella most recently hit the beaches of California and Oregon last summer.

Velella Velella are far smaller and not at all poisonous, however. They're around three inches in diameter at the most and are colloquially known as "by-the-wind sailors." Portuguese Man of Wars range in size but can grow to be as large as a foot in diameter with tentacles extending as far as 165 feet. It's the animal's tentacles that are perhaps the most difficult to avoid on the beach given their length. So, what should you do if you get stung? According to TechTimes, your best bet is to stay still and remove the animal from your skin with a stick or other object, then use seawater to wash the sting and ibuprofen to treat the pain.

Images: Mary Witzig/Flickr (2)