Today, science news writers got excited about a purportedly new species of “worm snail” found by Field Museum researchers. It’s a slime-shooting, finger-length thing that shows up where no one wants it to.
Guys, it’s a sea dick.
Scientists went scuba diving at the similarly dick-shaped state Florida’s Keys to visit some shipwrecks that have turned into man-made reefs. There, they found a never-before-described species of worm snail, Thylacodes vandyensis, or as they nicknamed it, Vandy. Vandy is a very nice name for the animal we will from here on out refer to as the slimy sea dick.
The researchers found slimy sea dicks attached erect to the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a ship deliberately sunk to serve as an artificial reef. Each little penis-snail has an orange, squiggly shell and ejaculates a stream of mucus, not out of its tip but out of a pair of appendages near its base, to pick up microorganisms to feed on, according to the paper published yesterday in the journal PeerJ.
A sea dick and its mucus web (Image: Rüdiger Bieler)
The slimy sea dick is both an exciting find and something to watch out for, as unexpected dicks tend to be. The researchers think it might be an newly-discovered invasive species that traveled all the way from the Indian or Pacific Ocean attached to cargo ships, according to a press release by the Field Museum.
It’s important to note, though, that there could be a couple million more species of sea creatures we haven’t discovered yet, according to a Reuters report from 2015, even if the researchers say they know their sea dicks and the local fauna fairly well (there are plenty of other worm-snail species). Meanwhile, “The authors did their homework to demonstrate that this is not a native species,” José Leal, science director of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Florida not involved with the research told National Geographic.
Image: Kate Golembiewski, The Field Museum
Invasive or not, slimy sea dicks could still be an issue for Florida’s natural reefs, according to New York Times reporting. That story notes that other water willies can harm coral reefs or ward native fish off with a molecule they shoot out.