Life + Outdoors » Washed Up



I spotted the hairiest and smelliest hippie ever in the woods one day. But he lumbered away looking back over his shoulder. Then, unseen, he taught me how to communicate with him in code by banging a stick on a tree.

He recently banged out, "I've seen your Washed Up stories. Your pictures are always blurry and those fantastical animals you 'find' could be anything. That so-called octopus is just a child's red rubber ball. Those jellofish (sic) are plastic bags. And your hoax 'sharks' are clearly trout doctored with a Sharpie. Give us something believable."

I told him if he'd just go to the beach, he'd see these things and prove their existence. But he says he's afraid he'd leave footprints in the sand. I told him to wear shoes but he can't find any that fit.

So, here's an animal you can believe in.

You might mistake it for a clam. Any animal that might be mistaken for a clam is automatically boring and, by extension, totally believable. Meet the common lampshell (Terebratalia transversa).

The common lampshell doesn't have to worry about leaving footprints. It is attached to the bottom by a stubby stalk called a pedicle. Oddly, the word "pedicle" derives from the Latin for "small foot." The thing can't hop around on its one little foot so it lives its whole life just stuck there.

Therefore, the lampshell can't chase down its prey and rip it to pieces like the cool animals do. It filters water using a feeding structure called a lophophore. The lophophore is pretty indiscriminate, so the lampshell eats anything from fish feces to its own babies. What a loser.

Appropriately, the common lampshell has a shit-eating grin. They usually have ribbed brown shells but washed up ones may be smoother and whiter. The shell is hinged, which allows the two halves to open and close. That's their one move. Unlike a clam, which has shells hinged side-to-side like a book, lampshells are hinged top-to-bottom like your jaws when you yawn reading this story.

The common lampshell is a type of brachiopod (which you should pronounce BRAKE-ee-oh-pod if you want to kill a party). Brachiopods have been around since the Cambrian Period about 500 million years ago. But I swear it feels like 501 million years.

Back in the day, brachiopods were one of the most common animals in the ocean. They formed reefs and blanketed the bottom in places. There are more than 12,000 described fossil species but only about 600 species are left. Viewed one way, the modern ocean is 20 times more interesting now.

And their sex lives? Well, scientists haven't found any brachiopods with interesting kinks. Males and female never even get to snuggle. They each just stand there on their one small foot and spew forth. (Actually, that could be an interesting kink for the right person.)

If you are so desperate for adventure that you want to go find a common lampshell, try beaches near rocky shores. The shell hinges are locked pretty good, so both valves are often found together. Try flapping the shells to make it look like it's talking. Have it say something like, "Ooh, ooh! I have a small foot and I think you are boring, too!"

Anyway, I banged out a draft of this story on a tree with a stick. The big hippie dude replied, "Kiss my hairy ass! You're trolling me with your fake smallfoot creature! I'll stomp you if I ever see you, beach (sic)!"

So please warn me if you see this weirdo or his footprints.

Biologist Mike Kelly writes science-based satire as M. Sid Kelly. It's available at Eureka Books and on Kindle. He prefers his/him pronouns.

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