Science

Thousands of 'penis-fish' washed ashore on California beach


Thousands of ‘penis-fish’ are washed onto a California beach after storm pulled them from their underwater burrows

  • Biologist found thousands of fat innkeeper worms on the shore of Drakes Beach in California
  • He suggests a recent storm pulled them out of their homes made of sand and carried them to the shore
  • The marine creatures live in U-shaped burrows that it eventually leaves with other animals 
  • It lives to be about 25 years old and feeds on plankton, bacteria and other small particles on the ocean 

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Thousands of ‘penis-fish’ 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.

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 ‘penis-fish’ 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.

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Thousands of 'penis-fish' 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

Thousands of ‘penis-fish’ 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

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‘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.

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 'penis-fish' was spotted by biologists Ivan Parr on December 6 after a storm hit the area

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 ‘penis-fish’ was spotted by biologists Ivan Parr on December 6 after a storm hit the area

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. 

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

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

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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

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

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 penis fish 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. 

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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. 

 



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