Portuguese Man-O’-War Physalia physalis
“Organism: a form of life considered as an entity; an animal, plant,fungus, protistan, or moneran.”
In our endeavor as patter-forming primates to list, quantify and sort the world around us it is only natural (if you don’t mind the pun) that some items fall through the cracks, even in our most basic definitions of the world around us. Most people wouldn’t argue that the our classification of ourselves and many other creatures around us as separate organisms is a faulty definition, however some creatures put these assumptions to the test.
First spotted in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain, the “Portuguese Man-o-War” (named for the resemblance of it’s gas filled bladder to Portuguese ships) is quite literally a whole new type of animal. Although it appears as a single creature it is, in fact, four separate organisms that are physically reliant on one another in order to survive. Each of there polyp have a unique function- much like what we would consider the functions of our seperate organs. From top to bottom: the pneumatophore or “sail” is a bladder which fills with gas (mostly CO2) to allow the animal to float or, in the case of an attack, submerge briefly. The second polyp is the gonozooid, this organism is responsible for the reproduction of the group. Clustered next to this is the gastrozooid, which digests foods caught by injecting it with a chemical which breaks down proteins for use as nutrients for the group. The final element is the dactylozooid, which make up the 30-160 foot long stinging tentacles which catch and poison prey before delivering it to the gastrozooid for digestion. This creature, working together just to survive, seeks to redefine how we think about organisms as a whole– perhaps this article was not written by a single creature but by a mass of heterogeneous creatures functioning in harmony to separately digest nutrients, oxygenate, and process the light around me in order to move through the world.