Portuguese man-of-wars invade New Forest beaches!

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By Russell Wynn, 09 December 2017

After a break from blogging due to summer fieldwork commitments, we’re now catching up with updates on the WNF blog (although note that we also post regular news and sightings info throughout the year on our Facebook page).

One of the big nature news stories of the autumn was a record influx of Portuguese man-of-war on the beaches of southwest UK. These colonial marine organisms that look similar to jellyfish but are actually siphonophores. The venomous tentacles hanging beneath the surface float can deliver a painful sting, and are used to capture unwary fish and other marine animals.

They occasionally become stranded on southwest beaches in autumn after prolonged winds from the southwest, but this year saw record numbers and a much wider distribution than usual, including a handful reaching the fringes of the New Forest in southwest Hampshire (see links below from BBC News online).

A stiff onshore breeze on 16 October (courtesy of the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia) looked ideal for blowing things ashore, so I checked the shingle spit at Hurst between Cut Bridge and Hurst Castle and was amazed to find at least 40 individuals, which may be a record count for Hampshire. Most had lost their tentacles due to erosion, but I avoided touching them nevertheless!

 

A Portuguese man-of-war stranded on Hurst Beach (Photo: Russell Wynn)
A Portuguese man-of-war stranded on Hurst Beach (Photo: Russell Wynn)

 

A cluster of stranded Portuguese man-of-wars near Hurst Castle
A cluster of stranded Portuguese man-of-wars near Hurst Castle (Photo: Russell Wynn)

 

Close-up image of the float of a Portuguese man-of-war on Hurst Beach (Photo: Russell Wynn)
Close-up image of the float of a Portuguese man-of-war on Hurst Beach (Photo: Russell Wynn)

 

BBC News online links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41468513
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-41633037