Thousands of ‘Penis Fish’ Appear on California Beach
A photographer came across a strange sight when he walked along a Northern California beach last week: thousands of sausage-shaped, 10-inch worms stretching for miles down the beach.
"I haven't seen anything like that before," David Ford, the photographer, told the Marin Independent Journal.
So he wrote in to Bay Nature's "Ask the Naturalist" column to understand what he had seen. The answer? The odd-looking worms were called "fat innkeeper worms," column writer Ivan Parr wrote. But that's not all they're known as. Parr explained further:
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, penis fish.
"I think its appearance lends it that name," Parr told the Marin Independent Journal. "You take a look at it and you don't have to have a dirty mind to make that connection."
While the "penis fish" might look obscene to human eyes, Parr explained that its shape is perfectly suited to its environment. It allows it to make u-shaped burrows in the sand. When the tide is in, it sends a net of mucous out of the front end of its burrow, and then contracts in order to suck water into its burrow and with it food like bacteria and plankton into the net.
Other marine animals, including a type of clam, crab and fish, shelter in its burrow and eat the contents of the net it doesn't want. This is how the "innkeeper" worm gets its more appropriate name.
The cozy arrangement is threatened by rough weather, however. Storms, especially during El Niño years, can wash away the sand that protects the worms, leaving them exposed.
Ford's discovery followed recent storms in the Bay Area, CBS Bay Area reported.
Ford saw the worms Dec. 6 on Drakes Beach on the Point Reyes National Seashore. He first noticed a flock of seagulls preying on the worms, who were mostly dead.
"Some of the seagulls looked like they couldn't even eat anymore," he told the Marin Independent Journal. "They were just so stuffed."
In addition to seagulls, innkeeper worms are also consumed by otters, fish, sharks, rays and some humans, The Guardian reported. In South Korea, they are known as gaebul and are a common sight in seafood markets.
"Typically consumed raw, it's chewy, salty, and surprisingly sweet," Gastro Obscura wrote.
There are four species in the fat innkeeper worm family, according to Bay Nature, and (Urechis caupo), the only North American member, lives exclusively between Southern Oregon and Baja. It is mostly commonly seen between Bodega Bay and Monterey.
Ford told the Marin Independent Journal that he was happy to have made the discovery.
"The ocean is full of wonders," he said.
To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.
A new EarthxTV film special calls for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people that call it home. EarthxTV.org
- Meet the 'Women Warriors' Protecting the Amazon Forest - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Tribes Are Using Drones to Protect the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Will Collapse by 2064, New Study Predicts ... ›
- Deforestation in Amazon Skyrockets to 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro ›
- Amazon Rainforest on the Brink of Turning Into a Net Carbon Emitter ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Anke Rasper
"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.
- World Leaders Fall Short of Meeting Paris Agreement Goal - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Change Conference COP26 Delayed to November ... ›
- 5 Years After Paris: How Countries' Climate Policies Match up to ... ›
- Biden Win Puts World 'Within Striking Distance' of 1.5 C Paris Goal ... ›
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?
- This Indian Startup Turns Polluted Air Into Climate-Friendly Tiles ... ›
- How to Win the Fight Against Plastic - EcoWatch ›
In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
- Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report ... ›
- Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›
Colombia is one of the world's largest producers of coffee, and yet also one of the most economically disadvantaged. According to research by the national statistic center DANE, 35% of the population in Columbia lives in monetary poverty, compared to an estimated 11% in the U.S., according to census data. This has led to a housing insecurity issue throughout the country, one which construction company Woodpecker is working hard to solve.
- Kenyan Engineer Recycles Plastic Into Bricks Stronger Than ... ›
- Could IKEA's New Tiny House Help Fight the Climate Crisis ... ›