Despite its outward appearance, the man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which differs from jellyfish in that it is not actually a single organism, but a colonial organism made up of many minute individuals called zooidsEach of these zooids is highly specialized, and, although structurally similar to other solitary animals, they are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.

The name “man o’ war” comes from the man-of-war, an 18th-century armed sailing ship, and the cnidarian’s supposed resemblance to the Portuguese version at full sail.

The Portuguese man o’ war lives at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged. Since the man o’ war has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides. Although it can be found anywhere in the open ocean (especially warm water seas), it is most commonly found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans and in the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream