Life + Outdoors » Washed Up

Barnacle Envy



Hello. I'm the mayor of Schlong Beach. Despite my town's name, you won't find any "phallic symbols" here. We are fully phallic. For example, the monuments to our heroes aren't ambiguous columns. They are massive marble boners.

However, our town's women rejected this sensibility, calling it "puerile" (whatever that means). So, they built a wall around a section of downtown and called it Vagican City. We have been unable to penetrate it.

At a city council meeting, the local marine biologist compared our mating situation to that of the West Coast's giant acorn barnacle (Balanus nubilus).

He told us that barnacles live within hard calcium shells stuck to various solid substrates. And they are one of the few sessile animals that copulate. Evolution solved the barnacle's obvious problem by selecting for longer penises. Relative to body size, the barnacle penis is up to eight times the length of its body. (That would be 50 feet for me.) With this maneuverable appendage, the hermaphroditic barnacles probe among their neighbors seeking receptive individuals.

The biologist guessed that if we somehow mimicked the barnacles, we could sling our penises over the wall and probe around for takers. One councilmember proposed a resolution to fund this project. But the marine biologist kept yammering on about giant acorn barnacles.

He told us that barnacles are crustaceans related to shrimp. A newly settled acorn barnacle glues its head to a suitable spot and builds an ever-expending shell around itself. Supposedly, the glue is among the strongest known natural glues and scientists are trying to replicate it for industrial use.

The barnacle also constructs a set of four calcium plates that form a beak-like operculum. The barnacle uses this structure to open and close its home to protect it from predators, and to prevent desiccation at low tide. When the operculum is open, it reveals the surrounding tissue's pretty orange color.

The barnacle uses modified feathery legs called "cirri" to filter the water for bits of edible matter and small planktonic organisms. These cirri actively sweep the water with a grabbing motion. When the cirri catch yummy things, they bring the objects into the shell and deliver them to the animal's mouth.

When giant acorn barnacles die, the operculum detaches and each shell becomes a cup-like structure that is used as a home by animals such as small octopus, crabs and the grunt sculpin. In fact, the grunt sculpin is specialized for this habitat. Its pectoral fins resemble the barnacle's cirri and the top of the fish's head looks like an operculum. This apparent mimicry presumably fools the fish's predators.

Like other barnacles, the giant acorn barnacle often forms clusters. They are the world's largest known barnacle, so some aggregations get big enough to be reef-like. They tend to grow in high-energy wave-swept areas, and clusters occasionally break loose and wash up. These clusters can make attractive specimens once the animals inside have rotted or been eaten away. Why the marine biologist thinks this is interesting or relevant is beyond me.

Anyway, through the magic of science fiction, the marine biologist created an elixir that gave each man the length and maneuverability required to probe beyond the wall. The councilmembers were the first to try. Unfortunately, the dogs of Vagican City were the first to notice. There ensued an epic tug-of-war accompanied by much growling and screaming.

But our marine biologist was clever. He did not drink the elixir himself. Instead, he used the Schlong Beach City Council's entangled penises as rigging to climb over the wall where he fathered a new generation of marine biologists.

Biologist Mike Kelly (he/him) is also the author of the book Tigerfish: Traditional and Sport Fishing on the Niger River, Mali, West Africa. It's available at Amazon or everywhere e-books are sold.


Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment