It starts with a link from Ryan Tamares on Google+, to an io9 story by Lauren Davis yesterday, “Penis Snake is neither penis nor snake, but looks like both”. We are in the world of phallicity (of the creature in question) and non-subsectivity (of the compound penis snake; the penis snake is not a snake).
When a crew of engineers stumbled across this critter while building a dam in the Amazon, many dubbed it the “penis snake,” and it’s easy to see why. But this phallic squirmer isn’t a snake at all but an extremely rare, limbless amphibian.
Last year, a group of engineers draining a portion of the Madeira River in Brazil discovered six of these creatures, which biologist Julian Tupan identified as Atretochoana eiselti. A. eiselti is a caecilian, one of the order of amphibians that resembles worms and snakes due to its lack of limbs. It’s also the largest known tetrapod to possess no lungs; it’s believed that it breathes through its skin, but it’s still unclear just how the amphibian manages to intake sufficient oxygen to survive.
What’s especially interesting about A. eiselti (aside from its resemblance to human genitalia) is that, until last year, the species was known only from two preserved specimens. In fact, before A. eiselti was discovered in the warm, turbid waters of the Madeira River, it was theorized that they lived instead in the cold, oxygen-rich waters of an elevated region. So this discovery has offered biologists a unique opportunity to study the species. However, given that the species is likely rare, it’s a bit distressing that the species was discovered during the drainage of its habitat. In discussing the conservation of the Amazon, won’t somebody please think of the penis snakes?
(The penis snake is also known jocularly as the man-aconda: portmanteau alert!)
Penis snake here is a resembloid compound: the creature is not a snake, but resembles one. So the compound is like trouser snake:
Compare penis worm, which is subsective:
Priapulida (priapulid worms or penis worms, from Gr. πριάπος, priāpos ‘Priapus’ + Lat. -ul-, diminutive) is a phylum of marine worms. They are named for their extensible spiny proboscis, which, in some species, may have a shape like that of a human penis. They live in the mud, which they eat, in comparatively shallow waters up to 90 metres (300 ft). (link)
What penis snake and penis worm share is the semantic relationship between the head noun and the modifying noun, which is resemblance: a penis worm is a worm that resembles a penis, and a penis snake is a snake-like creature that resembles a penis. (In trouser snake, the relationship is location rather than resemblance.)
On to the penis fish. There are (at least) two creatures that go by that name. One is a (marine) worm rather than a fish, but it resembles a penis. The other is a fish, but it does’t particularly resemble a penis (any more than fish in general do); instead, it’s reputed to parasitize the penis.
The first is Urechis unicinctus,
a species of marine spoon worm. It is widely referred to as a Fat Innkeeper Worm or the penis fish [also known as the sea penis].
The spoon worm is commonly eaten raw with salt and sesame oil in Korea and in part of Japan.
In Chinese cuisine the worm is stir-fried with vegetables, or dried and powdered to be used as an umami enhancer. In particular, the worm is considered an important ingredient in Shandong cuisine and is used in numerous recipes. (link)
Live gaebul (penis fish) sold at a fish market at Busan, South Korea:
Then there’s the dreaded, ouch-inducing penis fish, the candiru:
Candiru (English and Portuguese) or candirú (Spanish), also known as cañero, toothpick fish, or vampire fish, are a number of genera of parasitic freshwater catfish in the family Trichomycteridae; all are native to the Amazon River. Although some candiru species have been known to grow to a size of 40 centimetres (16 in) in length, others are considerably smaller. These smaller species are known for an alleged tendency to invade and parasitise the human urethra; however, despite ethnological reports dating back to the late 19th century, the first documented case of the removal of a candiru from a human urethra did not occur until 1997, and even that incident has remained a matter of controversy. (link)
But wait, there’s more. From a YouThink site on the “Top 10 Animals That Look Like Penises: Nature has produced some phallic creatures”, the list, from 10 to 1:
finless dolphin, bull terrier, naked mole rat, baby hippo, sea sponge, banana slug, sea lamprey, manatee, sea cucumber, geoduck
Some highlights, beginning with the geoduck, the (giant) penis clam of the Pacific Northwest:
The geoduck (Panopea generosa) is a species of very large, edible, saltwater clam in the family Hiatellidae. The common name is derived from a Native American word meaning “dig deep”. (link)
A geoduck, looking very phallic:
Yet another penis clam: the watering pot clam of Singapore, Verpa (or Brechites) penis (with penis as its specific name):
Then there’s the banana slug, so called because of its resemblance to a banana:
Banana slug is a common name for three species of air-breathing land slug in the genus Ariolimax. These slugs are often yellow in color and are sometimes spotted with brown like a ripe (or overripe) banana. (link)
A photo (here) labeled “Gigantic yellow penis slug attack!!!”:
The banana slug at UC Santa Cruz:
UCSC’s mascot is the banana slug (specifically, Ariolimax dolichophallus). In 1981, when the university began participating in NCAA intercollegiate sports, the then-chancellor and some student athletes declared the mascot to be the “sea lions.” Most students disliked the new mascot and offered an alternative mascot, the banana slug. In 1986, students voted via referendum to declare the banana slug the official mascot of UCSC – a vote the chancellor refused to honor, arguing that only athletes should choose the mascot. When a poll of athletes showed that they, too, wanted to be “Slugs,” the chancellor relented. (link)
Not the only phallic mascot:
The geoduck is the official mascot of The Evergreen State College, located at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound in Olympia, Washington. The school’s Latin motto, Omnia Extares (or, “let it all hang out”) is at least partially intended as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the creature’s phallic appearance. (link)
As far as I know, no Korean university has yet snapped up the gaebul as its mascot.
Meanwhile, there was once a movement to make the banana slug the California state mollusc (the abalone was the competition), but the governor at the time, George Deukmajian, vetoed the proposal as insufficiently dignified. The geoduck would certainly be a good candidate for the Washington state mollusc