Portuguese man o’ war
Though part of the same hugely diverse group of marine animals, the Cnidaria, the Portugueseman-of-war, is not a jellyfish but siphonophore. Another surprise is that each one is a colony made up of four separate organisms, each of which has a different function. The gas-filled ‘float’ keeps the entire structure at the surface of the ocean, enabling it to drift vast distances in search of food, as seen in BBC One’s Blue Planet II.
Irene Mendez Cruz took this photograph in autumn 2017, while a student at Falmouth University, after a mass stranding on beaches in south-west England. Her plan was to photograph them in their natural environment, but for creative and safety reasons – the tentacles, which remain venomous even after death, are around 10m long and armed with deadly stinging cells – she took several specimens to an improvised pop-up salt-water studio, handling them with latex gloves. (They were doomed to die and were being removed from beaches due to public risk).