Habitat: intertidal and subtidal coast of Chile and Peru
Status: No Conservation Concerns
I don’t even know where to start with this creature. It’s got to be one of the strangest I’ve come across in all my time running TFC… and that’s saying something! What you’re looking at is a marine invertebrate, Pyura chilensis, that resembles a rock leaking organs. Yes, you read that correctly. It was described in 1782 by Juan Ignacio Molina (gee, thanks Juan). It’s also commonly known as the tunica rock or “lick.” Lick… really? This looks like literally the last thing I would want to ever ‘lick’! However, I appear to be in the minority… as people actually EAT THESE THINGS!
But, okay let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. First let me tell you a little bit about this blood rock, as I’ve so affectionately dubbed it. P. Chilensis normally live in dense populations in the intertidal and subtidal coasts of Chile and Peru. They’re filter feeders, meaning they get their food by sucking in water rich in organic matter and then filtering out the microorganisms to chow down on. These creatures are all born male but then become hermaphroditic during puberty.
Okay, pause. 1. Who the heck knew blood rocks can go though puberty??! and 2. Thank you LORD for not making me a hermaphroditic gut-oozing rock creature.
Mkay, sorry, had to get that out of my system. Anyways, as I was saying, these hermaphroditic creatures reproduce by releasing a cloud of sperm and eggs up into the water. If it is alone, it will self procreate. That sounds like… fun?
Now to the really strange part – ze eating. P. chilensis is characterized by a strong flavor given by high iodine content, but the taste actually corresponds to the vanadium secreted from its blood. Vanadium is a heavy metal that is considered toxic when ingested at any more than incidental levels. That doesn’t stop locals from donning their wet suits and goggles to go out and harvest this [delicious?] bloody treat.
It can be eaten dried, raw, fried or cooked and allegedly is very tasty. It is usually cut into small pieces, and flavored with chopped onion, cilantro, and lemon – a blood and guts ceviche, if you will.
As I said, P. chilensis has an extremely high concentration of valadium in its blood, causing safety concerns for its prolonged consumption. However, no in-depth studies have been conducted to directly determine just how much valadium is contained in this creature’s tissue or blood. It is known that P. chilensis can have ten million times the amount of vanadium in their blood as there is in the surrounding seawater. A typical person’s diet contains only trace amounts of vanadium; typically 6-18 micrograms. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vanadium can cause liver damage in high doses of 1.8 mg or more daily.
So putting everything together… the fact that it looks like zombie brains and the only flavor it has stems from a high content of a potentially dangerous heavy metal… ya… I think imma pass on this dish.