Thousands of ‘penis fish’ appear on California beach

Fat innkeeper worms typically burrow under the sand but recent storms have swept away layers, leaving them exposed.

A beachgoer holds a fat inkeeper worm – otherwise known as a ‘penis fish’ – in Bodega Bay in June 2019.A beachgoer holds a fat inkeeper worm – otherwise known as a ‘penis fish’ – in Bodega Bay in June 2019.  Photograph: Kate Montana/iNaturalist Creative Commons. 


I’m not sure this is what the Weather Girls meant when they sang, “It’s raining men.”

Following a bout of winter storms in northern California, “thousands” of pink, throbbing, phallic creatures wound up pulsating along a beach about 50 miles north of San Francisco, Bay Nature reported.

According to the nature magazine, these 10in wrigglers are marine worms called fat innkeeper worms, but they are known colloquially as exactly what you’d want to call them: penis fish.

These penile figures typically burrow under the sand, far beneath the feet of beachgoers, but the recent storms brought on some waves that swept away the layers, leaving them exposed.

Image may contain:
                                            plant, outdoor, nature and
                                            waterDrake’s Beach photo courtesy David Ford


SHOOK 😳 Thousands of these marine worms—called fat innkeeper worms, or “penis fish”—were found on Drake’s Beach last week! These phallic organisms are quite common along the West coast of North America, but they spend their whole lives in U-shaped burrows under the sand, so few beachgoers are aware of their existence. ⛈🌊 A recent storm in Northern California brought strong waves that washed away several feet of sand from the intertidal zone, leaving all these fat innkeeper worms exposed on the surface. 🏖 Next time you go to the beach, just think about the hundreds of 10-inch, pink sausages wiggling around just a few feet under the sand. 🙃 .
Get the full story in our new #AsktheNaturalist with @california_natural_history via link in bio! (📸: Beach photo courtesy David Ford; Worm photo by Kate Montana via iNaturalist)

As seen in the second photo, seagulls enjoy gobbling up these penis fish, as do otters, other fish, sharks and rays. But the penis fish is a human delicacy to some as well. In South Korea, they call it gaebul.


The Korean name for this curious creature is gaebul, which translates as “dog dick.” Here in the States, it’s known as the fat innkeeper worm or the penis fish. Its scientific binomial is Urechis caupo, or “viper tail tradesman.” Whatever you call the animal, you can find them in abundance at Bodega Bay, where they build burrows in the tidal mud flats.

So the next time you bury your toes in the sand, think about what throbs beneath the surface.

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