By Bohol Island News Staff | 12:02 PM December 14, 2019
A phallic-looking phenomenon took over a Northern California beach last week after a strong storm uncovered thousands of fat innkeeper worms — colloquially known as penis fish — leaving them stranded on the sand.
The Los Angeles Times reported that photographer David Ford was walking along Drake’s Beach in Marin County on Dec. 6 with his camera when he noticed a massive flock of seagulls that appeared to be munching on something on the shore.
The quirky marine life is officially called fat innkeeper worms (Urechis caupo), according to
Ivan Parr, a biologist from the Western Section of the Wildlife Society.
He believed a recent storm in the Drakes Beach area is the reason so many of them mysteriously appeared on the beach.
He explained that the 10-inch fat innkeeper worm typically lives underwater, burrowing in mud or sand, but the storm likely carried them ashore.
The spoonworm, which can live up to 25 years, feeds and swims using its “spatula-shaped proboscis.” It typically eats bacteria, plankton and other small particles, which it collects using “sticky mucus nets.”
Parr said he’s heard of sightings over the years in California at Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay and Princeton Harbor.
Found almost exclusively in California, they are themselves considered a culinary delicacy in South Korea, with reputed aphrodisiac effects.
“Yes, the physical design of the fat innkeeper worm has some explaining to do,” wrote biologist Ivan Parr. “But the fat innkeeper is perfectly shaped for a life spent underground.”
Parr explained in a column on the Bay Nature website this week that fossil evidence of the animals dates back at least 300 million years.
The New York Post also reported that the creature dates back 300 million years and also can be eaten. An anonymous colleague at The Post who has dined on a stir-fried fat innkeeper worm in Shanghai, China, describes the taste as “like a Livestrong band mated with a clam.”