Beach in California flooded with thousands of ‘penis fish’

Admit it, and it’s not an everyday picture: a beach in California is flooded by thousands of spoonworms with the scientific name Urechis unicinctus. They are popularly known as ‘penis fish’.

The resemblance is, therefore very striking. The worms in question usually hide underwater, deeply nestled in mud or sand. Due to a massive storm, they have now surfaced on Drakes Beach, a deserted beach about fifty kilometers from San Francisco.

“I’ve already heard the wildest theories of beachgoers,” says biologist Ivan Parr. “Some even thought that a ship with bratwurst had sunk.” But for the sake of clarity, that is not the case. “This example shows that it is not a wise decision to build a house on sand,” says Parr. “Heavy storms can completely change the intertidal area (the area that remains above the water at low tide and underwater at high tide; e.d.). What is normally hidden is then left behind on the beach.”

The scrub worm can live up to 25 years and uses a trunk to eat and move on. The species love bacteria, plankton, and other small particles. The strange creatures have so far been mainly noticed in California, just think of places like Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay, and Pillar Point Harbor.

View this post on Instagram

The Korean name for this curious creature is gaebul, which translates as “dog dick.” Here in the States, it’s known as the fat innkeeper worm or the penis fish. Its scientific binomial is Urechis caupo, or “viper tail tradesman.” Whatever you call the animal, you can find them in abundance at Bodega Bay, where they build burrows in the tidal mud flats. On Saturday afternoon, our small, but enthusiastic clamming/crabbing crew thrust shovels and shoulder-deep arms into that mud in pursuit of Pacific gaper clams (Tresus nuttallii), but we also pulled up at least twenty of these red rockets. We returned them to their subterranean homes – excepting those that were snatched by eager herring gulls. I learned later that the gulls were the smarter hunters; fat innkeepers are edible, and are even considered a delicacy in Korea. Still, even though we missed out on a prime opportunity to dine on dog dick, we had a successful, fun outing, encountering a number of curious species, some of which now reside my belly. ⊙ What you’re looking at here: • Fat innkeeper worm (Urechis caupo) • A ring of prominent setae on the butt end of the fat innkeeper worm (Urechis caupo) • Bay ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis) • Lewis’s moon snail (Euspira lewisii) • Bucket filled w/ Pacific gaper clams or “horsenecks” (Tresus nuttallii), white macoma or “sand clams” (Macoma secta), and Lewis’s moon snails • Red rock crabs (Cancer productus) back in the kitchen, icing after boiling ๑ ๑ ๑ ๑ ๑ #BodegaBay #gaebul #FatInnkeeperWorm #UrechisCaupo #BayGhostShrimp #NeotrypaeaCaliforniensis #LewissMoonSnail #EuspiraLewisii #PacificGgaperClam #TresusNuttallii #RedRockCrab #CancerProductus #crabbing #clamming #huntergatherer #SonomaCounty #California #naturalhistory

A post shared by Christopher Reiger (@christopherreiger) on

Penis fishes are estimated to have been around for 300 million years. In addition to otters, flatfish, rays, sharks, and seagulls, humans also pose a threat to them. In South Korea, they are eaten as a true delicacy.

Bay Nature

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button