Thursday, October 10, 2013

The colonial man o' war

Several years ago in the month of January I came across a beautiful object in the water on Biscayne Bay. Once close enough, I realized that the object was a Portuguese man-o-war, beautiful but painful to touch. I attempted photographing the animal (or should I say animals) as it reflected its vibrant blue in the water, matched nicely with the blue sky. At some point, Vivian passed close by in her tan canoe which created a more colorful composition. The image above illustrates this.

As this was my first Portuguese man-o-war, I researched it and learned that it is not one organism but many that are attached to one another. While wind, current and tides dictate the Portuguese man-o-war's path, it can inflate and deflate its gas-filled bubble in such a way to create movement or allow it to submerge underwater if threatened. Whenever I learn about a symbiotic relationship in nature, I am struck with awe by the incredible skills and tricks that animals demonstrate with one another. I learned that the Portuguese man-o-war has a symbiotic relationship with several types of fish that are unaffected by its venom. These fish know enough to swim under the man-o-war's bubble so as to be surrounded by the tentacles. By doing this, the fish are safe from predators that could be killed by the man-o-war. At the same time, the man-o-war benefits because unsuspecting prey will be attracted to these fish, causing them to become prey of the carnivorous man-o-war.

Several months after that encounter, I ran across another Portuguese man-o-war in Biscayne Bay. It was December and as with the previous one, the animal had been blown into the western shoreline by consistent easterly winds. This time, the man-o-war was in a shallow and wind-protected location, having been driven into the mangrove shoreline. It was covered in detritus from the grasses and other organic material being blown around the water, but it was in good light for photographing it. What was most interesting is that it appeared to be moving independent of any water movement. It rolled around slowly and at one time, extended and retracted its bubble. This made for some interesting images, each unique in its own way.

I kept going back to the images and one day I decided to create something different. I had been experimenting with isolating birds by darkening the surroundings to a pitch black. Looking at the Portuguese man-o-war, I decided that technique would be quite interesting. The man-o-war has lots of texture and its movements created various shapes and color plays. So with that, I display here some of those images.  I don't know if I will ever see another Portuguese man-o-war in Biscayne Bay waters, but this one offered me more than I expected.

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