Saturday, July 6, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Mongolian Death Worm

Some people like worms, some don't. Gardeners generally like worms. Veterinarians and Doctors, not so much. They're slimy, segmented, faceless and are probably underneath you right now in the millions. Different worms live in different places though, and for that, we should probably be grateful.

Name: Mongolian Death Worm, Olgoi-Khorkoi

Size: 2 to 5 feet in length.

Appearance: A blood-red worm, its body is said to be anywhere from 15 to 24 inches around (38 to 60 cm). Some reports claim it is impossible to tell which end is the head and which is the tail, while others claim the head has a circular opening in the center, ringed with teeth.

Threat: High. As you would expect from where it lives, the Death Worm is an opportunistic feeder and is reported to take down camels, horses, and anything else that crosses its path with a combination of acid and electricity.

Fortunately, unless the illegal animal trade knows something the rest of us don't, you're only going to come across this creature deep in the depths of the Gobi desert. Not exactly the number one tourist spot in the world, even before the death worm is taken into account. One reason for the doubt as to its existence is the fact that it reportedly lives in one of the few areas of the world that are left to indigenous tribes. There are only 3 people for every square mile living in the area of the Gobi, most of which are family groups of 15 - 20 people, which means, for every family group living together, there are five square miles of empty, unwatched desert where this thing could be sunbathing for all we know.

There there are its weapons. Reportedly, the Death Worm is capable of sending out electric shocks, much like Electric Eels or Catfish. It lies in wait just under the sand for something to get too close, where it then releases the shock, stunning and sending the prey to the ground in convulsions. The effects of the shock are only temporary though, the killing stroke is when the worm then lifts itself out of the sand and sprays the pray with a powerful acid which can reach as far as three feet. Prey animals then die from a mix of the burns from the acid and exposure as their wounds prevent them from getting back up. This allows the worm to effectively eat at it's leisure.

One of the interesting things about this creature, is the amount of scientific interest in it, despite the lack of hard evidence. Most reports of sightings are anecdotal, second, third, or even fourth-hand reports from local tribesman and nomads. No actual pictures exist, only drawings on parchment and animal skins. No partial remains have been found, nor even leftovers from one of its meals, which would undoubtedly yield samples of the creature's acidic spit at the very least. Nothing has ever been found, and yet the television series Destination Truth and Beast Hunter have both mounted expeditions looking for it, as well as the Centre for Fortean Zoology and Zoological journalist Richard Freeman. You almost wonder if they know something we don't.

Despite being a fairly recent addition to the list of questionable animals created by western science, the Mongolian Death Worm has had a fair share of influence on both books and movies. It's unknown for sure, but it wouldn't be a bad assumption to make that Frank Herbert had it in mind while writing Dune. The monsters in the movie Tremors can also be attributed, at least in part, to stories of the Death Worm. It has had its own movie on the SyFy channel and even been referenced in cartoons.

So, while it's unlikely anyone reading my blog here is planning a family vacation to the Gobi, it is a good idea to keep in mind the natural world around you. In the sky, in the trees, on the ground, and especially don't forget about what's under the ground. What could be down there, right underneath your feet, right now?

~ Shaun


  1. The sand worms in Dune were influenced by the life cycle of mushrooms, and not in the way that he was eating psychodelics. :-)

    1. Good to know. Always nice to learn something new.