It may just be the most bizarre thing seen all week.
Thousands of pulsating penis-shaped fish have mysteriously washed up on a California shoreline following a series of winter storms.
The underwater creatures are fat innkeeper worms, or Urechis caupo. Although the worms are technically neither penises nor fish, they are widely referred to as a “penis fish.”
The worm’s unfortunate nicknames and its sausage-y shape are the result of hundreds of millions of years of building U-shaped burrows along the beach. These burrows, like all good homes, are for eating and pooping.
In a jarring photo posted to Instagram, thousands of the pink 10-inch marine worms are seen covering the shore of Drakes Beach in northern California, about 30 miles northwest of San Francisco.
The photo was taken by David Ford, who saw hoards of the creatures and then shared the photo with Bay Nature Magazine on December 6.
According to Ivan Parr, a biologist who writes for Bay Nature: the species of worm gets its unique sausage shape by burrowing in the mud or sand for shelter or food.
“The same phenomenon has been reported over the years at Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay, and Princeton Harbor. I’ve heard my share of imaginative theories from beachcombers, such as flotsam of a wrecked bratwurst freighter. In truth, these are living denizens of our beaches rudely, yet also mercifully, mostly called ‘fat innkeeper worms.”
Detritus that the penis fish deems unworthy may become a meal for other tiny beach denizens, such as crabs, shrimp and clams. In fact, it’s common for a penis fish’s burrow to host various opportunistic animals looking for a free bed and meal. This is where the worm’s “fat innkeeper” nickname comes from.
The worm typically lives up to 25 years and there is fossil evidence that dates the species back 300 million years to a pre-historic era.
This might be unusual in California, but the worm is commonly eaten and even considered a delicacy in some East Asian countries. The dish is commonly served with a savoury sauce and is surprisingly sweet – though the only ones feasting on this meal are the seagulls.