Man O Wars, Ocean Snails & Blue Dragons

April 6, 2017

[Written by Jessica Riederer]

Most wildlife that makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean to Bermuda is appreciated, but strong shifting winds are currently delivering visitors that are rarely welcome by anyone; Portuguese Man o wars are showing up in large numbers.

Whilst islanders know to avoid them, visitors seem both fascinated and repulsed by them. Despite their well-deserved nasty reputation, they are worth looking at – when they are washed up on a beach that is! Man o wars are what we call siphonophores, which is an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together.

Their tentacles, that can flow more than 150 feet from their bodies, are covered in venom filled nematocysts which they use to capture their prey with.

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If you happen to see a Man o war washed up on a beach, it may be worth having a look at. This week, whilst exploring our coastline I found numerous Man o wars with an assortment of prey in their tentacles; one even had a baby octopus.

Please remember, though, if you are going to have a poke at one, use a stick as even when they have been stranded on a beach for a long time they can still deliver powerful and long lasting stings.

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Whilst Man o wars are not welcome here, there are other ocean animals showing up on our beaches right now too – and these are definitely worth looking at. Beach goers may have noticed purple snails washed up amongst the Man o wars.

Attached to each snail is a bunch of what looks like bubbles. These snails are called Purple Ocean Snails [Janthina janthina] and they are very cool critters for numerous reasons. First of all, whilst most of our planet’s snails slide about on the ground or Ocean floor on their big slimy feet, Purple Ocean snails float on the water’s surface. To stay afloat they build little bubble rafts – which are the bubbles you see washed up on our beaches.

Like Man o wars, these snails are pelagic, meaning they spend their entire lives in the open sea. Aside from being a beautiful purple snail that floats on a bubble raft, these animals are worth our appreciation. Why? They eat Man o wars!

A few days ago, for the first time I found a Man o war that was being eaten by a Purple Ocean Snail. I collected it and kept it in a tank to observe and photograph and within a few hours the 1.5 cm snail had completely devoured the Man o war. It really was incredible to see!

Unfortunately, by the time these snails end up on our shores, in most cases their Man o war eating days are over.

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There is another animal that, if you are very lucky, could be discovered on our beaches right now. This is an animal I have spent a very long time searching for so when I discovered one on Somerset Long Bay two days ago, I was beyond ecstatic. This insanely beautiful creature is a Blue Dragon.

Believe it or not, it is a type of slug or what we call nudibranch. Like Man o wars and Purple Ocean Snails, Blue Dragons are pelagic and also float on the ocean’s surface, usually far at sea. To remain afloat these snails spend their lives upside down. In fact, the beautiful central part of its body you are looking at is the bottom of its foot.

Riding upside down, it uses its foot to cling to the ocean’s surface. This animal is only 1.5 cm long. Due to their small size, they are rarely seen. Very beautiful and very appreciated because what do they eat? You guessed it; Blue Dragons also prey on Man o wars.

So when you are having to walk around Man o wars washed up on our beaches now, instead of cursing and being hateful, keep your eyes peeled as you never know what you could find washing in on these strong spring winds.

Sadly lots of plastic and other trash is also washing onto our shores. Even if you pick up a few bottle caps and bits and pieces and put them in a bin, you are helping to keep our island and wildlife safe and healthy. Man o wars, Purple Ocean Snails and Blue Dragons are all reasons to love our ocean.

- For more information about Jessica Riederer, visit her website.

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Category: All, Environment, News

Comments (10)

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  1. Jus' Wonderin' says:

    Very cool article!

    • Just the facts says:

      Agree! Fascinating creatures! Love stories like this.

  2. Say Whaat? says:

    Gotta love God for the circle of life with Man-O-Wars. I would have never thought that they had predators.

    Cool story!

    • PBanks says:

      Seriously, that’s some fascinating stuff.

  3. serengeti says:

    Nice article!

  4. Noreen Zurell says:

    Wow! Great article. I usually spend time in Bermuda in October and these creatures aren’t around. Guess I’ll have to ‘adjust’ one of my vacations to be there in the spring. Would love to see these fascinating creatures.

  5. kerrymac says:

    Your photos and explanations are awesome. I bought this person’s book from Brown & Co. at Christmas and I constantly flick through the pages in awe of all the images. Please keep us informed of our amazing planet!

  6. Skeptic says:

    Super article and absolutely gorgeous photos – well done!!

  7. Sue says:

    Great explanations and article Jessica and incredible photos!

  8. just wondering says:

    If you are looking for a good place to find Blue Dragons in the past a large number have been seen in the tidal pools of Spittal Pond. Maybe contact Weldon Wade and avid diver who has found and photographed a number of these – I have also watched them interact with Man o Wars – very cool