On Drakes Beach in California, thousands of “penis fish” have washed ashore.
Urechis caupo is a species of marine spoonworm that spends the most of its life burrowed in the soft silt of the sea bed. It is better recognized by its more phallic name for rather obvious reasons. These worms, sometimes known as the “fat innkeeper worm” (because scientists keep dragging them around), can survive for up to 25 years under the sand, minding their own business and eating on plankton, bacteria, and other microscopic particles that fall into their mucus traps.
They can even reach a length of around 30 centimeters, but these 10-inchers look to have been disturbed, plucked up from their peaceful life, and scattered across a beach as far as the eye can see (and never unsee, thanks to this horrendous photograph snapped by local resident David Ford).
Ford told Vice, “I had no notion what they may be… it went on for two miles.” Additionally, to make you feel a bit worse: “They were dispersed all around as I continued to walk for another half hour. Seagulls that had consumed so much food that they could hardly stand were along the beach the entire time.”
Biologist Ivan Parr provided the information when Ford contacted Bay Nature, which publishes a “Ask the Naturalist” column.
There are four varieties of penile fish in Urech. Only U. caupo is present in North America; the other three species are located in Asia and are considered delicacies there.
The worms dig u-shaped holes in the sand or mud, and then they emit a sticky, mucus-coated net that extends from the hole’s opening to their mouths to suck up prey.
Plankton, bacteria, and other particles are sucked into this net by the worm as it pumps water through its burrow using contractions (peristalsis), according to Parr. The worm slurps everything back into its mouth, taking in the particles it wants to consume and throwing the remainder into the tunnel, until the net becomes jammed.
The creatures are known as “innkeeper worms” because other animals frequently enter the tunnels they have painstakingly constructed. They are known as “penis fish” because they resemble dongers in every way.
How did they come to be abandoned on the shore, then?
We can now clearly understand the danger of constructing your house out of sand, Parr added. Strong storms are more than capable of laying siege to the intertidal zone, destroying the sediments, and leaving their contents stranded on the coast, especially during El Nio years.
Since the penis fish beach party made people aware of the species, it comes as no surprise that people are huge lovers of the fish.
Or noticing similarities to their own unsolicited messages.
Mainly though, people think it’s either a big metaphor for the end of the decade or a sign of the dickopalypse.
Even though it’s really just some cute worms minding their own business, who’ve been put out of their homes by a storm. Poor little penis fish.