Scientists recently identified a new species of penis worm, a marine invertebrate named after its allegedly penislike shape.

The gist is as follows: Researchers led by University of Cambridge paleobiologist Martin Smith used electron microscopy to examine and catalogue the teeth of 110 fossilized penis worms. The fossils were originally recovered from the paleontologically prolific Walcott Quarry, but for years have been housed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Royal Ontario Museum. Smith and his colleagues used their observations to compile a “dentist’s handbook,” a reference guide that they then used to determine that the most common group of penis worm, Ottoia prolifica, should actually be classified as two distinct species: O. prolifica and the newly designated O. tricuspida.

This is a neat discovery! It’s also a compelling reminder that previously undiscovered creatures are often found buried away in museum storage. Sometimes, all it takes to identify a brand new species is a close look and a careful eye.

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Which, speaking of close looks, I’d like to draw your attention now to some photos and illustrations of penis worms, and to ask you, honestly, if they look to you like penises. Because, personally, I’m not seeing it. I’ve tried seeing it. But I just don’t. I’ve also thrown in a video, just to give you an idea of what these things look like in motion.

Photo Credit: Shunkina Ksenia | CC BY 3.0

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Artist’s depiction of a prehistoric penis worm | CC BY-SA 3.0

As David Shultz writes at Science, “the penis worms are a group of marine invertebrates named for their penislike shape. All species of the tubular animals, which can reach lengths of 39 cm [Ed.: that’s 15.35 inches], have an extensible mouth called a proboscis that is lined with sharp hooks, teeth, and spines.”

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Either that is a very funny juxtaposition of sentences, or I have no idea what a penis is shaped like. (And here I thought they were shaped like the penis snake.)


Contact the author at rtgonzalez@io9.com.

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