The more science learns about the biological world, the more unique things we see. Most of us know about jellyfish, corals, and anemones. These ocean animals are members of the phylum Cnidaria. In that phylum, a strange order named Siphonophorae has 175 species. The Portuguese man o’ war is a member of the order of siphonophores.
Siphonophores may look like one organism, but they are actually colonies consisting of thousands of clones that function in different ways. Siphonophores start with a single “bud” called a zooid. The zooid replicates itself asexually, producing thousands of clones. Each clone has a specific job, such as eating, moving, or reproducing.
The colony of clones functions together as if they were one animal. For example, the Portuguese man o’ war has gas-filled zooids, allowing it to float on the ocean’s surface. Other zooids capture prey, while others digest the food. The individual zooids rely on each other for survival as one large functioning colony we call the Portuguese man o’ war.
In 2020, scientists found a siphonophore that was 150 feet long, probably the world’s longest animal. Most siphonophores live in the darkness of the deep oceans and are bioluminescent, using chemicals to produce light that attracts prey. The Portuguese man o’ war is an exception as a siphonophore that lives on the ocean’s surface.
The deep sea diving expeditions of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the EV Nautilus have taught us much about the designs built into living things that allow life to exist in places totally alien to humans. Siphonophores make us realize that planet Earth is a wonderfully designed and unique place in the universe, full of amazing living creatures. We must treasure God’s gift and take care of it instead of abusing and polluting it.
— John N. Clayton © 2023