Killer beneath the dunes: The Mongolian Death Worm.

Art by Andy Paciorek

In the realm of myth, reality is a fool in the court of illusion. In the name of good storytelling, facts are used, abused, and distorted, truth and fiction mixed in the name of forming some greater whole. Today’s entry, commonly known as the Mongolian death worm, is a perfect example of what happens when certainty and fantasy intertwine. Just realistic enough for some to seek it, Yet too fantastic for many to believe, the Mongolian death worm is notable not only for itself, but also for those who seek it out.

Natively known as the Allghoi Khorkhoi, Allergorhai horhai, or even Olgoi khorkhoi, depending on one’s choice of Anglicization, all of these names are actually transliterations of the same term, which translates rather unpoetically as either “Intestine worm,” or “blood filled intestine worm” a reference to the creature’s apparent similarity to cow innards. In English speaking countries, it is best known as the Mongolian death worm, a homage to its deadly nature as well its country of origin.

Cover art for Mongolian Death Worm, the movie

The Earliest record of the Mongolian death worm is fairly recent, first referenced in 1926 by Roy Chapman Andrews. A paleontologist visiting Mongolia, he was handed sunglasses and tongs by some Mongolian government officials during an interview, who requested that he use them to seize any death worms he happened to find. However old the Mongolian death worm actually is is unknown, but had existed by that point at least long enough for even Mongolia’s 20th century elites to find it credible. Further evidence from a 2005 expedition seems to support this, collecting a story from a 93 year old man, who recalled his grandfather had apparently seen a death worm as early as the 19th century. Though not as reliable due to its second hand nature, this claim pushes the date of the Mongolian death worm by at least three decades before Andrews first recorded its existence, which was by then so completely believed that even official bodies were willing to try seeking it out.

Ever since it was was first recorded, rather skeptically, by Andrews, those who took the most interest in the death worm were men of a science more than the humanities, seeking the Mongolian death worm as though it were a real creature. Since it was first revealed to the world at large, exploration teams have been sent into Mongolia to collect reports of the worm and attempt to seize a specimen if possible. One such an expedition, lasting between nineteen forty six to forty nine, notably provided one of its members, Yuri Orlov, with the inspiration to publish a science fiction piece containing the Mongolian death worm, further spreading its existence to the world abroad. Another noted set of expeditions, and likely the most famous, occurred in the late nineteen-ninties, conducted by a mister Ivan Mackerle, a native of Prague who became interested in the death worm when a he was told of it by one of his students of Mongolian descent. Three expeditions were eventually launched by this interest, with the team using techniques that ranged from ordinary bucket traps to vibration devices, which were inspired from the movie Dune. While they once again failed to uncover an actual Mongolian death worm, dead or otherwise, these expeditions helped bring a new interest in the creature, and Mackerle today is considered an authority concerning them in general. For more information concerning the expeditions launched to find the death worm, Karl Shuker’s The Beasts That Hide From Man is strongly recommended.

An interesting aspect of the Mongolian death worm, and one of the props some cryptozoologists use to support its existence, is the remarkable consistency exhibited when describing the creatures appearance. Very frequently, but not universally described as somewhere between two to five feet in length, roughly sausage shaped, and of a dun-red hue that gave the death worm its native Mongolian name. Also notable is a general lack of any distinguishable head, devoid of eyes and more or less identical to its back end. There are, however, significant discrepancies concerning the precise details of the death worm, with its size, shape, color, and even texture widely described. The Mongolian death worm’s ends, for example, has been alternatively detailed as pointed, blunted, with ends like “bundled reeds”, spike-tipped, and even square headed with huge eyes. The texture of the death worm’s body, meanwhile, may be scaly, reflective, like a mirror, or having more worm like ‘skin’. Colour is likewise various, and the Mongolian death worm has been described as red, brown, white, and grey in hue, with yellow versions of the worm referred to by their own special name – shar khorkoi. The only description of the death worm’s movement that could be found detailed a sidewinder like movement during normal locomotion, and when attacking, will rear its body up halfway and swell itself visibly before ejecting its venom, a manner of assault not unlike that of a scorpion or cobra.

Attracted to the colour yellow and fond of damp areas, the Mongolian death worm is said to spend most of is time underground, only coming out during June and July, particularly just after rain. Though some stories claim that the death worm’s poison looses its toxicity after this period, others claim that the creature remains deadly while beneath the earth, capable of killing an entire camel herd walking above without leaving its den. Another favored habitat of the Mongolian death worm is around saxaul plants, from which the worm is said to derive its poison, either from the roots, which are themselves toxic, or the goya plant that Parasatizes it.

Art by Takeshi Yamada

Regardless of where it receives its toxin, poison is the key attribute of the Mongolian death worm. Capable of spitting its corrosive weapon from several feet away, the worm is also poisonous by both direct and indirect contact. Described as a corrosive kind of toxin which stains victims yellow or green upon contact, and always deadly when handled with bare skin. The death worm’s poison can also shoot directly up through and through inanimate objects, such as metal poles, to harm the wielder. Some of those researching the death worm have attempted to explain its capacity to kill through objects by way of an ability to throw lightning, as though the thing somehow wasn’t deadly enough. Fortunately, so long as one keeps their distance, the Mongolian death worm is fairly easy to kill, and both ordinary bullets and solidly flung stones are perfectly capable of terminating it utterly. certain objects can also be used to handle the death worm with relative safety, One account details the capture of a death worm with three layers of felt, causing it to ” shrivel like leather,” and turn the surrounding material green on contact. Another story references the handling a specimen using an iron plate, which also turned green from touching the creature directly. Roy Chapman’s forcepts and sunglasses are, of course, another example of handling methods thought to be somehow safe from the death worms capacity to transmit poison.

Concerning the question as to whether or not not the Mongolian death worm even exists at all, an obvious and unavoidable point of contention between believers and skeptics of the creature, is, in the my own humble opinion, unimportant. Sought for nearly a century at the time of writing, at great expense by multiple nations, lack of proof has yet to prove an effective deterrent,  with the latest known expedition occurring as late as two thousand five. The subject of its own movie, novel, and even documentaries, the Mongolian death worm is the biggest thing to come out of Mongolia since Genghis Khan himself. Regardless of whether its real, fictional, or something between, the death worm is a testament to the power with which a well crafted tale can seize the heart, and clear proof that sometimes, what is real and what is important are two very different beasts indeed.

Like this? Want more? Check out below.

1. Operation Death Worm: Mongolia 2005

2. Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras & Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature (P. 186-187)

3. The weiser field guide to cryptozoology: werewolves, dragons, skyfish, lizard men, and other fascinating creatures real and mysterious (P. 17-20)

4. The Beasts That Hide from Man: Seeking the World’s Last Undiscovered Animals By Karl Shuker (25-74)

5. Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures by Michael Newton (172-173)

6. Skeptic’s interview with Richard Freeman on the Mongolian death worm

7. Chinese Wildlife: a Visitor’s Guide by martin walters (p 23)

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