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It may look like a bloated jellyfish floating on the surface of tropical marine waters, but it is a colony of siphonophores. Siphonophores are a bizarre animal group consisting of colonies of hundreds to thousands of genetically-identical individual creatures. The strangely-named Portuguese man o' war (Physalia physalis) is an amazing part of the ocean's extensive web of life.
A siphonophore begins as a fertilized egg and “buds” as it develops. The budding action forms distinct structures and organisms called polyps. These tiny organisms cannot survive independently, so they merge into a tentacled mass. The mass of polyps cooperate as one creature to travel and catch food. The species cannot properly function without every polyp as part of the system. Even though all of the polyps that make up the Portuguese man o' war are clones, they come in unique shapes and serve different purposes. Some polyps form tentacles to trap prey, some digest food, and some facilitate reproduction. How each part of the animal knows its role is beyond our comprehension but is quite indicative of God's design.
Tiny fish comprise about 70 to 90 percent of the man o' war's diet. Surprisingly, small fish still choose to live among the siphonophore's tentacles. They are not immune to its stings and must swim nimbly between the stingers. The fish eat the leftovers of paralyzed prey that the animal avoids. In this instance, the fish are provided with shelter and food, while the Portuguese man o' war is fulfilling its ecosystem role. The resident fish speed up the decomposition process of the leftovers from the man o' war's diet.
Although it has an excellent defense with its venomous sting, the Portuguese man o' war still manages to have a long list of enemies. Loggerhead sea turtles and some ocean fish are thick-skinned enough to eat the man o' war. Blue dragon sea slugs can devour the animal and appropriate its toxins. They store the stinging cells as a predator deterrent. That means the Portuguese man o' war benefits blue dragon sea slugs long after death.
Humans often use teamwork to accomplish things, but this animal could not live without it. The complexity of this sea creature provides too much evidence for intelligent design and engineering for us to ignore.