Thousands Of ‘Penis Fish’ Have Washed Up On A California Beach

Thousands of fat innkeeper worms (Urechis caupo), a type of spoon worm also commonly known as a “penis fish,” have recently washed up around Point Reyes following a bout of winter storms in northern California.

Bay Nature magazine reported on a mass stranding of the 10-inch phallic creatures on Drakes Beach in Point Reyes on Wednesday.

The magazine noted that strong storms – especially during El Niño years – can break up intertidal zones and leave their contents stranded onshore.

Bay Nature said similar stranding events have been reported over the years at Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, Pajaro Dunes in Santa Cruz County, Moss Landing in Monterey County, and Princeton Harbor in San Mateo County.

“Fat innkeeper worms burrow in the sand muddy sand and feed on detritus,” reports CBS San Francisco. “The U-shaped tunnel it creates often becomes a shelter for other marine critters, which gives the innkeeper worm its name.”

“When the tide is in, the worm slides up to the chimney of its burrow and exudes a sticky mucous net from a ring of glands,” writes Naturalist Ivan Parr. “The worm continues to secrete as it slips lower into the burrow, generating a slime-net that stretches from the chimney to the worm’s mouth. Using contractions (peristalsis) to pump water through its burrow, the worm sucks plankton, bacteria, and other bits into this net. When, like any vacuum, the net gets clogged, the worm slurps it all back into its mouth, taking in the particles it wants to eat and discarding the rest into the tunnel.”

The Guardian notes that “seagulls enjoy gobbling up these penis fish, as do otters, other fish, sharks and rays. But the penis fish is a human delicacy to some as well. In South Korea, they call it gaebul.”

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The Korean name for this curious creature is gaebul, which translates as “dog dick.” Here in the States, it’s known as the fat innkeeper worm or the penis fish. Its scientific binomial is Urechis caupo, or “viper tail tradesman.” Whatever you call the animal, you can find them in abundance at Bodega Bay, where they build burrows in the tidal mud flats. On Saturday afternoon, our small, but enthusiastic clamming/crabbing crew thrust shovels and shoulder-deep arms into that mud in pursuit of Pacific gaper clams (Tresus nuttallii), but we also pulled up at least twenty of these red rockets. We returned them to their subterranean homes – excepting those that were snatched by eager herring gulls. I learned later that the gulls were the smarter hunters; fat innkeepers are edible, and are even considered a delicacy in Korea. Still, even though we missed out on a prime opportunity to dine on dog dick, we had a successful, fun outing, encountering a number of curious species, some of which now reside my belly. ⊙ What you’re looking at here: • Fat innkeeper worm (Urechis caupo) • A ring of prominent setae on the butt end of the fat innkeeper worm (Urechis caupo) • Bay ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis) • Lewis’s moon snail (Euspira lewisii) • Bucket filled w/ Pacific gaper clams or “horsenecks” (Tresus nuttallii), white macoma or “sand clams” (Macoma secta), and Lewis’s moon snails • Red rock crabs (Cancer productus) back in the kitchen, icing after boiling ๑ ๑ ๑ ๑ ๑ #BodegaBay #gaebul #FatInnkeeperWorm #UrechisCaupo #BayGhostShrimp #NeotrypaeaCaliforniensis #LewissMoonSnail #EuspiraLewisii #PacificGgaperClam #TresusNuttallii #RedRockCrab #CancerProductus #crabbing #clamming #huntergatherer #SonomaCounty #California #naturalhistory

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