Octopus Monday: The tentacles of war

Strictly speaking this is not an octopus. It’s a Portuguese man-o-war, but it does have tentacles and is captivating so I thought I would try to sneak it past myself and into Octopus Monday.

‘Man O War’
Physalia physalis
Film + Aquarium: Morphologic
Original Soundtrack: Geologist

Morphologic is a collaboration between marine biologist Colin Ford and musician Jared McKay which aims to explore the artistic possibilities of living coral reef organisms. Man O War is part of Morphologic’s Natural History film series which takes a macroscopic view of a Portuguese man-o-war’s highly venomous tentacles. I’m assuming that the colours have been inverted but aside from that it’s very much a faithful record of the creature’s behaviour.

The film itself is hypnotically beautiful – almost as fascinating as the Portuguese man-o-war itself.

Obsessive watching of nature documentaries meant I already knew that although the man-o-war and the jellyfish are members of the same phylum (Cnidaria) they are completely different creatures. What I didn’t know was that the men-o-war is actually a colonial organism called a siphonophore. It’s made up of four different types of polyps called zooids which are incapable of surviving separately from one another so they form a kind of collaborative creature.

At the top is the pneumatophore which is the bit that looks like an inflated plastic bag and bobs around on the surface of the ocean. Trailing down from the pneumatophore are the dactylozooids (tiny stinging organisms which combine to form the venomous tentacles), the gastrozooids (shorter, worm-like tentacles responsible for digestion) and the gonozooids which deal with reproduction. The dactylozooids are the bits that look like tangled telephone cords and the gastrozooids are the stubbier, smoother things.

Colonial organisms are fascinating. I have absolutely no idea how, but the creature is so much more than the sum of its parts. The reason I love this Morphologic film so much is that it manages to capture the sense of something very strange and very beautiful being utterly hypnotic in a way that a traditional nature documentary cannot.

So yes, it’s not an octopus, but very much worth a look…

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