Thousands of Strange ‘Penis Fish’ Wash Ashore on California Beach

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Californians around Drake Beach woke up last week to thousands of strange “penis fish” covering their beach.

Photo by Kate Montana, iNaturalist Creative Commons

These creatures, also known as fat innkeeper worms, or Urechis caupo and it is classified as a type of spoonworm.

You can see from this photo why they have also been called “penis fish”.

A couple of these strange creatures would be odd enough but you can see from this Instagram post exactly how many of these “penis fish” invaded Drakes Beach in early December.

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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)

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The worms are usually found deep under the sand but storms can expose them for a time to predators or to culinary exotics.

Some cultures see the strange fish as a delicacy. In South Korea for example, the dish is known as “gaebul.”

Researchers estimate that an individual fat innkeeper can live for up to 25 years if they manage to avoid predators. As a species, fossil evidence shows that these creatures may have been around for over 300 million years.