‘Spaghetti Monsters’ Menace Texas Beachgoers

This week in “nobody should have to tell you this,” don’t touch the things that look like severed eyeballs washing up all over the Texas coast.

But one beachgoer’s common sense is another’s impulsive streak, so local biologists warned visitors to avoid the influx of “spaghetti monsters” that inundated the area this month. The risk: receiving a venomous sting like that of a Portuguese man o’ war.

Jace Tunnell, of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University, explained the phenomenon and the nickname in a Facebook post.

Look, don’t touch

“If you see these floating up on the beach, just admire their creepy beauty,” the institute said. “But don’t touch, unless you want to feel the pain of the eyeball from the sea.”

They’re called Rhizophysa, and they’re actually collective organisms that float on ocean currents, hunting prey together as they go. One species even earned internet fame when oil workers found it lurking near the ocean floor off Angola, Africa in 2015.

Cousins of the much larger man o’ war, the diminutive carnivores washed ashore by the thousands on beaches from Padre Island to Corpus Christi throughout March.

Rhizophysa usually float harmlessly — to humans — far out at sea. There, they use light-emitting capabilities to attract and snare small fish and crustaceans in their tentacles. Once an unfortunate wayfarer lands in the clutches of a spaghetti monster, it’s usually curtains.

Tunnell told the Daily Mail that he counted about 30 of the critters on 100 meters’ worth of Texas beach in late March.

“In some that we have found, they will have thick tentacles that hang down that look like spaghetti — hence how they have the nickname of spaghetti monster,” he told the outlet. “Their gas-filled float at the top of the organism has a black dot that really does look like the pupil of an eye.”

The Rhizophysa visiting Texas now may be tiny, but some siphonophores can reach hundreds of feet long. They can sting painfully either way. Even though they lack the man o’ war’s punch, spaghetti monster stings can still hurt for an hour or more.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.