Thousands of ‘Penis Fish’ Found on a California Beach

Warning: There is a strong likelihood that you will find the mere existence of Urechis caupo, a.k.a., the “penis fish,” to be disturbing. And watching these things move is just… so unfortunate. Please be advised. 

We’ve all seen our fair share of deep-sea horrors that haunt the bottom of the ocean and Jaws-esque movies featuring gigantic, human-gulping sharks. But nothing, people—absolutely nothing—will ever prepare you for an eye-full of penis fish. A fact that is especially unfortunate for one man in California, who recently found thousands of them washed ashore, all laid out on the sand. Pulsating in the worst way possible.

The New York Post picked up on this so-NSFW/not-NSFW-at-all story, originally reported by Ivan Parr in his “Ask the Naturalist” column in Bay Nature Magazine. According to Parr’s article, a man by the name of David Ford discovered the multitude of penis fish on Drakes Beach in Marin County on December 6. It’s unclear what Ford was doing on the beach, but somehow he came upon the penis fish strewn across the sand, like so many long, plump sausages. This is actually an apt description considering the fact that Ford also saw hundreds of seagulls feasting on the penis fish.

In terms of what these things actually are—aside from crimes against nature and our eyeballs—that’s best described by their other, far less disgusting, yet still pretty disgusting nickname, “Fat Innkeeper Worms.” Just as Urechis caupo earned the nickname of Penis fish thanks to its appearance, it’s known as the Fat Innkeeper Worm because it behaves much like an Innkeeper. And a benevolent one at that.

A pulsing penis fish found on a beach in Monterey Bay, California in 2016. Kim Powell

This comparison to an innkeeper is drawn because of the way Urechis caupo feeds itself, which is a process that’s both putrid and inadvertently selfless. Essentially, a penis fish feeds itself by digging a U-shaped hole in the ocean floor and then setting up a mucus net at one end of the hole that it uses to trap food particles and other detritus. Once it’s captured whatever food particles it can from the water, the penis fish retracts its mucus net from whence it came (its elongated, sucking proboscis), and consumes the particles for their nutrients. Larger food particles that the penis fish is unable to consume are left behind, however, and are eaten as freebie snacks by other ocean dwellers like pea crabs, shrimps, and scaleworms.

This act of commensalism, in which the penis fish helps others, but doesn’t itself receive gain or lose anything by helping them, is perhaps the one big redeeming quality of the entire Urechidae family. Although feelings of disgust may quickly return after hearing that after it’s done eating, the penis fish spouts out poo pellets, which it blasts out of its feeding tube with jets of water squirted from its anus. There’s also this little video, which may make you think of Yivo from Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs. Or of just moving to Mars.

What do you think of these thousands of penis fish? Do you need about a thousand pictures of Baby Yoda to cleanse your visual cortex and hippocampus of any memory of these things? Let us know in the comments!

Feature image: Kate Montana 

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