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Portraits of the Portuguese Man O’ War

Photography By
Zooids
(Aaron Ansarov)

The Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish. It is a siphonophore: a colony of specialized, genetically identical zooids that work together as one. The man o’war’s tentacles average 30 feet in length and may extend over 100 feet. The tentacles deliver venom that can kill small fish and cause people a good deal of pain (if usually no lasting problems beyond a welt).

The Florida-based photographer Aaron Ansarov set off to document them in a unique way. Bad weather days are the ones most likely to strand man o’war on the beach, so that’s when he ventures to the beach with his wife (also a professional photographer) and two children to find them. His wife will collect them in an empty cooler—at which point he brings the still-living man o’ war back to his homemade light table. Once the photos are complete, he returns the man o’ war to the beach and the wild.

Ansarov takes two approaches to photographing the man o’ war, with some photos focusing on the “purity of the creatures,” such as these ones below.

Zooids
(Aaron Ansarov)
Zooids
(Aaron Ansavrov)

Others are more about creating “fantastic patterns,” which he calls “Rorschachum Natura,” like these ones.

Zooids
(Aaron Ansarov)

 

Zooids
(Aaron Ansarov)

You can discover more of The Zooid Collection and other work by Ansarov on his site; prints are sold at San Diego’s T Short Galleries. Watch below to see Ansarov (and his family) at work.