A picture released by iNaturalist on June 16, 2019 shows a person holding a marine worm in Bodega beach, California. Thousands of marine worms dubbed "penis fish" for their shape and color appeared this week on a California beach after a strong winter storm exposed them. The creatures -- more commonly known as fat innkeeper worms -- covered Drakes Beach, 50 miles north of San Francisco
Kate Montana / iNaturalist / AFP
Thousands of 'penis fish' exposed on California beach
none (Agence France-Presse) - December 14, 2019 - 10:31am

LOS ANGELES, United States — Thousands of marine worms dubbed "penis fish" for their shape and color appeared this week on a California beach after a strong winter storm exposed them.

The creatures -- more commonly known as fat innkeeper worms -- covered Drakes Beach, 50 miles north of San Francisco. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

SHOOK ???? Thousands of these marine worms—called fat innkeeper worms, or “penis fish”—were found on Drake’s Beach last week! These phallic organisms are quite common along the West coast of North America, but they spend their whole lives in U-shaped burrows under the sand, so few beachgoers are aware of their existence. ????? A recent storm in Northern California brought strong waves that washed away several feet of sand from the intertidal zone, leaving all these fat innkeeper worms exposed on the surface. ???? Next time you go to the beach, just think about the hundreds of 10-inch, pink sausages wiggling around just a few feet under the sand. ???? . . Get the full story in our new #AsktheNaturalist with @california_natural_history via link in bio! (????: Beach photo courtesy David Ford; Worm photo by Kate Montana via iNaturalist)

A post shared by Bay Nature Magazine (@baynaturemagazine) on

Despite their eye-catching appearance, the pulsating worms which reach around 10 inches are adept at digging U-shaped burrows on beaches and marshes, using the tunnels to catch food.

Found almost exclusively in California, they are themselves considered a culinary delicacy in South Korea, with reputed aphrodisiac effects.

"Yes, the physical design of the fat innkeeper worm has some explaining to do," wrote biologist Ivan Parr. "But the fat innkeeper is perfectly shaped for a life spent underground."

Parr explained in a column on the Bay Nature website this week that fossil evidence of the animals dates back at least 300 million years. 

"They are preyed on by otters, flounders, sharks, rays, gulls, and humans," the latter of whom eat them as sashimi, fried or grilled.

In this case the worms were caught out by heavy rain.

"We're seeing the risk of building your home out of sand," noted Parr. 

"Strong storms... are perfectly capable of laying siege to the intertidal zone, breaking apart the sediments, and leaving their contents stranded on shore.

The beach is named after Francis Drake, who is believed to have landed here in 1579 during his circumnavigation of the globe.

FISH
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