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'Penis fish' flood California beach and, yeah, that's messed up

Fat innkeeper worms aren't fish. They're also not very photogenic.

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It's known as the "penis fish," but it prefers "Urechis caupo" in polite company. 

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

I was having a pretty normal Friday when all of a sudden I was thrust into a seemingly NSFW social-media hellscape of weird photos showing strange animals that resemble something from the human-male-anatomy zone. Throw in the phrase "penis fish," and you have my attention.

Bay Nature's Ask the Naturalist column is on the case of the "thousands of 10-inch wiggly pink sausages" recently spotted on Drakes Beach in Northern California's Point Reyes National Seashore. Despite the  common name "penis fish" floating about, Urechis caupo is actually a kind of marine worm. 

The animals usually have the good sense to stay hidden from prurient human eyes. "Innkeeper worms build U-shaped burrows in the muddy sand of low-zone mudflats," says the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "These fine 'innkeepers' maintain lodgings for their buddies in the mud."  

The aquarium says the worm creates a slime net to trap food. It then swallows the food and the slime all together. It calls this tidbit of knowledge a "cool fact." Sure, Monterey Bay Aquarium. Sure.

YouTube user Kim Powell posted an eye-catching video of fat innkeeper worms on a California beach in 2016. Please watch it if you would like to see the critters pulsate. Powell notes that sea otters consider these a delicacy.

There is a scientific explanation for the odd phenomenon of so many penis fishes congregating in one place. The worms seen on Drakes Beach in early December were exposed by a strong storm, said biologist Ivan Parr in Bay Nature

It's not the fat innkeeper worm's fault it looks the way it does, but it's also OK to snicker to yourself when you see one. We all have our Beavis and Butt-head moments.

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