Blue bottles (man ‘o war)

Blue bottles (man ‘o war)

Blue bottles (man ‘o war)

Blue bottles are common to our beaches during high tides and when north easterly winds blow. The blue bottle is infamous for its very painful sting. Even dead bluebottles and detached tentacles can cause uncomfortable pain.

The bluebottle is often confused with jellyfish by its victims, which may lead to improper treatment of stings, as their venoms differ. It is therefore important to know the appearance of the bluebottle so that you can avoid its stings.

According to Wikipedia the bluebottle is also known as the Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis), blue bubble, man-of-war, or the Portuguese man of war. It is a jelly-like, marine invertebrate of the family Physaliidae.

The common name comes from a type of Portuguese war ship of the 15th and 16th century, the man-of-war or caravel (Caravela in Portuguese), which had triangular sails similar in outline to the bladder of the Portuguese man o’ war.

But what is actually a Bluebottle sting and how can it be treated?

The sting

Though rarely deadly, a bluebottle sting can be dangerous to children, elderly people, asthmatics and people with allergies as it can cause fever, shock and respiratory problems.

Medical attention is sometimes necessary when there is intense and persisting pain, an extreme reaction, a rash that worsens, a feeling of overall illness, a red streak developing between swollen lymph nodes and the sting, or if either area becomes red, warm and tender.

Generally contact with the tentacles will cause a sharp, excruciatingly painful sting and will leave whip-like, red welts on the skin which normally last about two to three days. The intense pain should subside after about one hour. However, the venom sometimes travels to the lymph nodes and causes a more intense pain. Scars and blisters may occur.


  • Immediately rinse the affected area of skin with sea water before attempting to remove the tentacles. Do not rinse with fresh water or rub the area.
  • Cover your hands and gently remove any tentacles.
  • Rinse the area with vinegar or apply baking soda paste or a meat tenderiser-water combination paste.
  • Pain can be treated with topical anaesthetic creams or calamine lotion. Also try immersing the affected part in water as hot as can be tolerated with a pinch of salt for 30 minutes.
  • Seek medical help. The victim may need a tetanus injection if it has been five years or more since he or she last had one.


The safest way to avoid stings is never to touch these animals with bare hands and not to enter water where they are present.

Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about Blue bottle sting. Call us on our EWP number or email us at
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