Thousands of sausage-shaped creatures with a bizarre phallic appearance have washed up on a beach after a wild storm forced them out of their underwater burrows.
The oddities are commonly known as the “fat innkeeper worm” and were discovered on a beach in the US state of California on December 6 following stormy weather.
Using the shape of its body the animal – sometimes referred to as a penis fish – burrows into mud or sand, often leaving the hole for other animals like crabs, clams and other worms to use.
In an article for environmental publication By Nature, biologist Ivan Parr said it was possible the storm was so strong that the force of it had disrupted the burrows to such an extent the fish became stranded.
“The fat innkeeper has many threats. They are preyed on by otters, flounders, sharks, rays, gulls, and humans,” Mr Parr wrote.
He said they also played an important and largely selfless role in an ecosystem beneath the sand, where discarded parts of food it collects is taken and eaten by other animals.
“Apparently, the fat innkeeper takes no (or little) issue in being the one team player amongst a bunch of clingers-on,” he wrote.
U-shaped burrows thought to be created by the penis fish have been found in records dating back 300 million years, Mr Parr said, with them also recorded to survive up to 25 years.
In some Asian countries, they are a culinary delicacy and served commonly with a hint of salt.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.