Thousands of ‘penisfish’ washed ashore a California beach (Video/Pictures)
Thousands of ‘penisfish’ are washed onto a California beach after storm pulled them from their underwater burrows.
Thousands of ‘penisfish’ have washed ashore Drakes Beach, California.
Formally known as fat innkeeper worm, an expert believes a recent storm forced the worms out of their underwater homes and carried them to the beach -leaving them exposed to predators.
Dubbed the ‘penis fish’, thousands of them have washed up on Drakes Beach, California, leaving local residents completely stunned of the likeliness the fish holds to a certain part of the male body
This 10-inch marine creature looks like a ‘pink sausage’ and creates U-shaped burrows in mud or sand that it leaves behind for other creatures to move in – hence its name ‘innkeeper’.
The sea of these ‘penisfish’ was spotted by biologists Ivan Parr on December 6 after a storm hit the area.
‘The same phenomenon has been reported over the years at Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay, and Princeton Harbor,’ Parr wrote for Bay Nature.
‘I’ve heard my share of imaginative theories from beachcombers, such as flotsam of a wrecked bratwurst freighter.’
‘In truth, these are living denizens of our beaches rudely, yet also mercifully, mostly called ‘fat innkeeper worms.’
The fat innkeeper worm is a type of spoon worm with a spatula-shape limb, which it uses to both feed and swim.
It spends most of its existence underground in muddy and sandy parts of the sea floor – and it lives for up to 25 years.
They dine on bacteria, plankton and other smalls particles, which it captures using ‘slime nets’ that are consumed once they have caught enough food with it.
Innkeeper worms create U-shaped burrows as their temporary home, which are then used by other creatures – hence the its name ‘innkeeper’.
The burrow includes a sand chimney that allows it to enter and exit, and a way to capture food.
Experts have found evidence of these creatures in history, as there are U-shaped burrows dating back 300 million years.
However, because of their size and soft bodies, they have many threats including otters, sharks seagulls and humans – but experts say they are harmless and passive creatures.
They may be a rare siting in the US, but South Korea, Japan and China.
Those who have dined on this worm have said it is chewy, salty and surprisingly sweet.
It’s often served with a savory sauce made from sesame oil and salt or a spicier dip consisting of vinegar and gochujang.
Those who prefer their penisfish cooked might grill it on a skewer with salt, pepper, and sesame oil.
WHAT ARE ‘FAT INKEEPER WORMS’?
Known as the ‘fat innkeeper worm’, the echiura worm is a little round worm that lives at the bottom of the sea.
These unusual and pudgy worms, Urechis unicinctus, look as gentle as they are – they’re quite slow and are harmless to humans as they have no teeth.
In Asian countries such as South Korea or China, they are used as a food that can be consumed raw or cooked in different styles.
The worms typically live in burrows in muddy and sandy parts of the sea floor.
Their U-shaped burrows are also used by many other creatures as their temporary or permanent homes.
For this reason, Urechises are often called ‘fat innkeeper worms’. They are also called ‘penis fish’ for quite an obvious reasons.
Currently researchers do not believe their cohabitants do any good for them.
The worm itself reaches around 20cm (eight inches) long but their burrows can be several feet deep.
It pumps water into its burrow by waves of muscle contractions running down its body.
Inkeeper worms eat by creating ‘slime nets’ that trap plankton drifting in the water.
When they have caught enough in their net they swallow it.
See what Parr wrote for Bay Nature below
Naturally, 2019 Closes with Thousands of 10-Inch Pulsing “Penis Fish” Stranded on a California Beach by Ivan Parr
The ocean probably shouldn’t have hit send on this one. (Photo courtesy David Ford)
I saw thousands of these on Drakes Beach on Dec. 6, after the recent storm. What happened? -David Ford
You could be forgiven for being offended by the above photo: thousands of 10-inch wiggly pink sausages strewn about Drakes Beach. The same phenomenon has been reported over the years at Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay, and Princeton Harbor. I’ve heard my share of imaginative theories from beachcombers, such as flotsam of a wrecked bratwurst freighter. In truth, these are living denizens of our beaches rudely, yet also mercifully, mostly called “fat innkeeper worms.”
What in the name of Secretariat is a fat innkeeper worm? The fat innkeeper worm (Urechis caupo) is a type of spoonworm (Ehciuroidea), an order of non-segmented marine worms identified by a spatula-shaped proboscis used for feeding and sometimes grasping or swimming. The fat innkeeper’s family (Urechidae) contains only four species worldwide, collectively known as either innkeeper worms or, well, penisfish. This is why we prefer scientific names. U. caupo is the sole representative in North America, found only from Southern Oregon to Baja, with the bulk of sightings between Bodega Bay and Monterey. So, whether or not you feel privileged by its presence, U. caupo is an almost uniquely California experience, perhaps having the best claim for State Worm.
Yes, the physical design of the fat innkeeper worm has some explaining to do. But the fat innkeeper is perfectly shaped for a life spent underground. Within a beach or mudflat, it digs a U-shaped burrow extending a few feet in length but no wider than the worm itself. The burrow’s front entrance pokes up like a little sand chimney. These can be seen clustered around the low tide line of a mudflat or sandy beach. The backdoor is marked by a pile of worm castings, which get projected out the end of the tunnel with a blast of water from the worm’s hindquarters.
A beachgoer holds a fat inkeeper worm in Bodega Bay in June 2019. (Photo by Kate Montana, iNaturalist Creative Commons)
When the tide is in, the worm slides up to the chimney of its burrow and exudes a sticky mucous net from a ring of glands. Sometimes you can see these mucous nets, looking like decaying jellyfish, draped around the burrow entrance. The worm continues to secrete as it slips lower into the burrow, generating a slime-net that stretches from the chimney to the worm’s mouth. Using contractions (peristalsis) to pump water through its burrow, the worm sucks plankton, bacteria, and other bits into this net. When, like any vacuum, the net gets clogged, the worm slurps it all back into its mouth, taking in the particles it wants to eat and discarding the rest into the tunnel.
The residual bits don’t go to waste. These leftovers are taken by a cast of freeloaders who live in the innkeeper’s burrow: a clam (Cryptomya californica); a “sequined” scale-worm (Hesperonoe adventor); a pea crab (Scleroplax granulata or Pinnixa franciscana); a hooded shrimp (Betaeus longidactylus); and even a fish, the arrow goby (Clevelandia ios). The first three are residents in the U-shaped Hotel California, whereas the shrimp and goby come and go, the latter mooching off other industrious invertebrates. The goby may even bring food to the crab, who minces it into smaller pieces, which the goby steals. In turn, these tenants give the fat innkeeper its preferred name.
Apparently, the fat innkeeper takes no (or little) issue in being the one team player amongst a bunch of clingers-on. In fact, it’s the textbook example of commensalism – a relationship in which (simply put) one organism forms a dependency on another, the latter being neither helped nor severely hurt in the relationship. Lucky it.
The innkeeper is a survivor with fossil evidence of U-shaped burrows dating back 300 million years. They are quite long-lived, recorded up to 25 years old. That said, the fat innkeeper has many threats. They are preyed on by otters, flounders, sharks, rays, gulls, and humans.
And then there are phenomena such as the one depicted in this photo. So how did thousands of fat innkeeper worms get strewn across Drakes Beach? Well, we’re seeing the risk of building your home out of sand. Strong storms – especially during El Niño years – are perfectly capable of laying siege to the intertidal zone, breaking apart the sediments, and leaving their contents stranded on shore. Do these high-energy storm events have a long-term impact on fat innkeepers? So far as I know, there are no programs explicitly taking stock of the worms. However, you can help monitor this and other species by continuing to use citizen science to report mass strandings, noting when and where they took place, and roughly how many stranded worms you see.