Warning as Portuguese man-of-war found on England's beaches

Beachgoers in the UK are being warned to be careful following sightings of the potentially fatal Portuguese man-of-war.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has received reports of the stinging creature washing up on beaches in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

Sightings in UK waters are rare, with the last significant strandings being in 2009 and 2012.

The species is most commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Indian and Pacific oceans, but there was a spate of strandings in Ireland just a few weeks ago.

MCS spokesman Peter Richardson said: "We don't receive reports of Portuguese man-of-war every year, but when we do they can turn up in big numbers, usually around about this time of year.

"In the last couple of weeks we've received several confirmed reports of Portuguese man-of-war stranded on beaches around Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

"With the earlier strandings in Ireland, these recent sightings could herald the arrival of more of the creatures as they get blown in from the Atlantic."

Contrary to popular belief, the Portuguese man-of-war is not a jellyfish, although it is closely related. The creature is actually a siphonophore - an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together as one.

Its stings can be agonising and, in extreme cases, lethal.

They have "tentacle-like polyps" which can be tens of metres in length, and it is these that give the sting, said Dr Richardson.

"A stranded Portuguese man-of-war looks a bit like a deflating purple balloon with blue ribbons attached, children will find it fascinating," he said.

"So if you're visiting a Cornish beach this weekend, it's well worth making sure you know what these animals look like and that no one picks them up."

One of the animals was discovered at Portheras Cove, near Morvah, Cornwall, by volunteers of the Friends of Portheras Cove environmental group during a beach clean.

Group member Delia Webb said the creature was discovered lying among plastic debris.

"We find all sorts of strange and unusual items at our tiny Cornish cove, and we have had strandings of Portuguese man-of-war before," she said.

"They look amazingly beautiful, with hints of pink and blue, but thankfully we were aware of the potential danger lying beneath, and knew not to poke or prod it, just report the sighting to the MCS."