(photo courtesy lkhornslough.org)
At high tide the mud flats on Windy Cove at Morro Bay
are covered with rippling water lapping at the shoreline. At low tide the
water rolls back and exposes many little holes in the mud. Some are
volcano-shaped mounds and some erupt little squirts of water. These are
the doorways of many interesting creatures living below in the dark mud.
One of the residents of the mud flats was a very hard-working worm named Ure. His pinkish-colored body was about eight inches long and fat like a sausage. He moved around in his burrow and pumped water through it by changing his shape. At times, he was skinny at one end and fat at the other. Sometimes, he was skinny in the middle.
Ure hadn't intended to run an inn when he began digging his U-shaped burrow. He dug with his snout and scraped with two golden bristles under his mouth pushing debris out the back. He could also blast extra mud with a powerful water jet.
All this work made Ure very hungry, so he began to prepare for dinner. He moved his head up near the entrance and began weaving a slime net so fine that no holes could be seen and, yet, water could pass through. He finished his net just in time for the high tide. He moved down to the bend and began pumping the fresh sea water through his burrow. This brought a smorgasbord of tiny, microscopic plants and animals called plankton into his net. After an hour of pumping, he moved back up and swallowed the net, plankton, and all.
Ure had plenty of food and was safe from most enemies, but he was lonely. This all changed one day after he finished his net. He felt a strange movement near the back door and sensed that he was not alone.
"Who's there?" yelled Ure.
"It's Hessie," said a small voice coming from a reddish scaleworm.
"Well, this is a private burrow, so you had better move on," said Ure.
"I don't have any place to stay, and I'm so hungry," pleaded Hessie.
"You had better leave or I'm going to blast you out!" yelled Ure.
He shot a jet of water that cleared everything out of his tunnel, except the scaleworm.
Hessie stayed close enough to Ure to keep from being ejected out the rear door.
"If you'll let me have the scraps of food you don't want, I'll have a meal and your house will be cleaner, too," said Hessie.
"Oh, all right, but don't get in the way," said Ure.
Having Hessie in the burrow was a big change for Ure, but little did he know how many more changes were ahead.
Things were going along fairly well. Hessie was watching Ure weave his net one day.
"That's really amazing the way you catch your dinner," said Hessie.
"Well, that's the way I've always done it," said Ure.
Ure was about to swallow his plankton dinner and Hessie was reaching for a tender morsel that had fallen from the net. Just then, a large claw reached out and snatched the treat. Ure nearly choked when he realized another intruder had arrived.
"Hey, this is a private burrow, and it's already too crowded! You'll have to leave!" shouted Ure to the owner of the claw, who happened to be Chris, a little pea crab.
Now, Chris was a feisty fellow and not easily discouraged. "There's plenty of room here and extra food, so just make room, or I'll pinch you good!" he said.
"There's to be no pinching here!" said Ure. "You'll have to get along. Well, now, perhaps you could guard the doors and pinch anything that might harm us. You can't grab all of the scraps away from Hessie, either. You'll have to share."
"Oh, I'll be glad to keep an eye on the doors. You won't be sorry," promised Chris.
Life in the burrow was just settling down again after the addition of Chris as a second boarder. It was almost too much for Ure when a little goby fish popped in one day. He again tried to discourage another boarder.
"No room! No room!" shouted Ure.
"Oh, please let me stay! The tide is out and I'll die out of water!" pleaded the little fish. "Call me Goby. I'll just pop in and out. I can be of help to you. I can bring you news from the outside and tell you if danger is near. Bat rays can pop you right out of your hole and eat you. Look, I've even brought in this piece of food that's too big for me to swallow. I'll share if the crab will tear it up."
Chris was more than happy to tear up the tasty morsel and share it, so he voted for Goby to stay. Ure could tell that Goby was friendly and getting along so well that he allowed him to become the third boarder.
Ure found that he was happy to have company. Hessie helped keep the burrow clean. Chris guarded the doorways. Goby brought news of the clams, mud shrimps, and other worms who were their neighbors. Ure's boarders looked to him for protection, shelter, and food. Many other visitors dropped by Ure's inn to enjoy his hospitality.
That's how he became known as the Innkeeper Worm of Morro Bay.
©1995 Evelyn Dabritz
Docent Dick Evans has told this story at the Morro Bay Bird Fest and to children on school tours at the Morro Bay museum.
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