Things That Matter

These Penis Fish Are Taking Over California Beaches By The Thousands

If you’ve never heard about penis fish, the thousands of pulsating worms are here to give you a lesson in their existence. The marine spoon worm, scientifically known as urechis unicinctus, also widely known as the fat innkeeper worm are garnering the attention of many across the California coast after occupying the beaches of Marin County. 

Penis Fish are occupying Drakes Beach in Marin County after a storm in the Bay Area washed them ashore.

Penish fish have been sighted across the shores of Bodega Bay and Monterey according to a report by a biological who wrote about the phenomenon in Bay Nature magazine. 

Speaking about their presence, Ivan Parr writes in his piece for Bay Nature that the fat innkeeper worm can be “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. This is why we prefer scientific names. U. caupo is the sole representative in North America, found only from Southern Oregon to Baja, with the bulk of sightings between Bodega Bay and Monterey. So, whether or not you feel privileged by its presence, U. caupo is an almost uniquely California experience, perhaps having the best claim for State Worm. ” 

Accorind to Parr, penis fish are a type of spoon worm that can be found throughout southern Oregon all of the way to Baja California. Parr also points out that while the physical appearance of the penis fish is odd, it makes sense for the life it lives. “The fat innkeeper is perfectly shaped for a life spent underground. Within a beach or mudflat, it digs a U-shaped burrow extending a few feet in length but no wider than the worm itself. The burrow’s front entrance pokes up like a little sand chimney. These can be seen clustered around the low tide line of a mudflat or sandy beach. The backdoor is marked by a pile of worm castings, which get projected out the end of the tunnel with a blast of water from the worm’s hindquarters,” he explains in his piece.

According to the scientist currently observing the phenomenon of penis fish appearances, the fish collect food and create shapes that attract other creatures such as the arrow goby, pea crabs and scale worms.

Parr says that the appearance of the worms comes at the hands of building a home on sand.  “Strong storms – especially during El Niño years – are perfectly capable of laying siege to the intertidal zone, breaking apart the sediments, and leaving their contents stranded on shore,” explains Parr. The scientist explains that there are no research programs dedicated to” explicitly taking stock of the worms.” However, there is something you can do yourself to monitor the fish if you’re interested. Parr says that citizens can report mass stranding and note when and where they occur. Also, if you’re interested in reporting the, be sure to note how many stranded worms you see.

The appearance of the thousands of marine worms, have undoubtedly put Twitter in to a frenzy.

“Looks like the 2020 Republican convention in Charlotte is getting started early,” one Twitter user cracked in the comments section of a post about the worms.

In response to a post about the penis fish, a marine ecologist explained that the occurrence is unusual for this time of year.

 “Rough weather can rip species out of sediment, especially if the morphology of the animal acts like a sail.Alternatively, where sediments are mobile the motion of suspended larger particles can kill organisms. Both mechanisms lead to mass stranding.” He also noted that it is unusal for this to happen in the winter. “It happens a lot in summertime after a period of calm sunny weather. Bivalves are exposed at the surface, algae grows on them in the still water, then next storm the algae acts like a sail. In this case, it’s possible mucus nets they use for feeding might act as a sail”

Of course pictures of the penis fish inspired jokes about personal experiences as well. 

“And another reason I don’t go in the ocean,” another user joked.  

And on that note, stay safe out there kids!

If you’ve never heard about penis fish, the thousands of pulsating worms are here to give you a lesson in their existence. The marine spoon worm, scientifically known as urechis unicinctus, also widely known as the fat innkeeper worm are garnering the attention of many across the California coast after occupying the beaches of Marin County. 

Penis Fish are occupying Drakes Beach in Marin County after a storm in the Bay Area washed them ashore.

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