Last December, resident David Ford found a mass of then-identified worms at Drakes Beach in California. “I didn’t expect to see such bizarre creatures on the ground. I had no idea what they might be…it went on for two miles. I walked for another half hour and they were scattered everywhere,” he said. Thousands of people have since described them as “pulsing penis fish.”
|Photo Credits: Popular Mechanics|
It turns out, these species are called fat innkeeper worms (Urechis caupo), an ocean-dwelling spoon worm that’s commonly found in the shallow waters along the western coast of North America. They can up live up to 25 years, feeding and navigating their environment with the “spatula-shaped proboscis” in front of their mouths. Aside from feeding themselves on a variety of small particles as well as bacteria and plankton, they also prey on flounder, small sharks, rays, gulls, and even otters.
|Photo Credits Pixabay|
But, the main question the public keeps asking is how these worms ended up on the beach. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, experts believe that the recent storm in California is to blame. Ivan Parr, a biologist at the Western Section of the Wildlife Society, explained that these creatures typically dwell underwater and burrow into the sand — until aggressive weather takes them to shore.
|Photo Credits: All That's Interesting|
“We’re seeing the risk of building your home out of sand. Strong storms — especially during El Niño years — are perfectly capable of laying siege to the intertidal zone, breaking apart the sediments, and leaving their contents stranded on shore,” Parr said.
Due to its odd appearance, the worms became a viral sensation and people wanted to start seeing more of them. Thus, the Monterey Bay Aquarium decided to double down on the viral story by live-streaming one in their exhibit hall. According to Active Norcal, Northern California's premier online destination for outdoor content, these creatures’ peculiar shape has a purpose as the worm uses it to create U-shaped burrows on the beach to catch food.