Thousands of “penis fish” wash up on a California beach

Thousands of "penis fish" wash up on a California beach

A storm lifted the shoreline to expose these worms, whose colloquial name is ‘penis fish’ and scientific name is Urechis caupo, to the tide.

Thousands of “penis fish” wash up on a California beach

North of San Francisco, about 50 miles offshore, Drake Bay is recognized as the most likely place where Francis Drake, a pirate in the service of Elizabeth I of England, set up temporary camp in California to fix his ship before resuming his circumnavigation of the globe to the Moluccas.

The bay is considered one of the earliest examples of contact between Europeans and Native Americans on the west coast of the United States. It is a place of historical interest, the first where an Englishman claimed land for his crown, within a natural sanctuary that California’s tourism website invites you to tour to find “amazing discoveries, including incredible wildlife.” This is what those who have strolled along the shore of Drake Beach in recent days have found: thousands of worms commonly known as penis fish, whose tragedy has been echoed by Bay Nature magazine.

From the shore it is common to observe common seals, but not so much to find “thousands” of these stranded marine worms. They were found by a hiker who, surprised, sent a photo to the naturalist publication (“I found thousands of them on December 6 on Drake Beach, after a storm. What happened?”).

Biologist Ivan Parr explains: these thousands of pink sausages inhabit the beaches in the area, and are commonly known as penis fish because of their phallic shape.

The scientific name of this species is Urechis caupo and it belongs to the Echiura family, made up of three other species: the echiurans found at Drake Beach are the only specimens that populate North America, explains Parr.

Its anatomy, “perfectly adapted to subterranean life”, allows it to dig u-shaped burrows in the sand no wider than its body: one to filter the water and capture plankton, the other to expel the rest, which in turn will be used by other animals that inhabit the cave or visit it periodically in search of food, as the biologist didactically relates: species of clams, crabs or fish. For this reason, this worm is also known as the fat roosting worm.

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