Deep within the shifting sands of the Gobi Desert, an area already popular due its unsolved mysteries and its legends, lives the elusive Olgoi-Khorkhoi, the Mongolian Death Worm. Or so legend has it.
The Worm is a bright red worm, a mysterious cryptid said to inhabit the southern Gobi Desert. There are different local Mongolian tribesmen who claim to have seen the beast in their travels, however, the stories have never been confirmed, not even after many attempts by research expeditions over the years.
Gobi in Mongolian language means “very large and dry”. It is 1,300,000 km2 in area and is one of the largest deserts in the world. There are so many myths related to Gobi desert, one of them being, the drying up of land which was once sea, associated with the war between the good and evil forces where many prophets were persecuted.
The stories describe the Olgoi-Khorkhoi, which means in Mongolian “large intestine worm” (not because it lives in the intestine, but because it resembles the large intestine), as a 1 meter long worm, and red, like an intestine filled with blood. Artistic illustrations depict the worm with a gaping round mouth filled with inward-pointing teeth and some describe it with a spiky end and the ability to spray deadly burning acid (believed to be sulphuric acid) or acidic venom that will corrode or burn anything that it comes in contact with and along its path turning it yellow colour and death instantly. There are also claims it can discharge electricity from its body, and the death worms will reportedly shoot up from beneath the sand without warning to kill their food, camels and rodents, but also humans can be their prey as well.
According to the legend, the Olgoi-Khorkhoi originally laid its eggs in the intestines of a camel and thus acquired its blood red color. Many locals are convinced of the existence of the mysterious creature, and even the Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar described the death worm to a western explorer in 1922. However, there are also many skeptics who suspect the stories of the killer worm are folklore only, and even if reports are very descriptive and uniform, as of yet none of the accounts have ever been confirmed.
In addition, many independent researchers, adventurers, and zoologists have searched the farthest reaches of the Gobi Desert to spot the infamous death worm, but none have succeeded in finding it.
Even if the history of the death worm has been passed down in Mongolia for generations, it only came to the attention of the western world in the 1920s after paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrew’s book described the legend in detail. However, the author himself remained skeptical of its existence.
Czech cryptozoologist Ivan Mackerle is credited as being the most popular investigator of the creature. He learned of the worm from a student and made the trip to southern Mongolia in 1990, even if is investigations were difficult, because many Mongolians were loath to speak of the legendary beast. Making it more complicated was an order by the Mongolian government outlawing searches for the death worm. Eventually the ban fell and Mackerle was able to search for answers.
In his book “Mongolské záhady” (Mongolian Mystery), he chronicled the worm from local reports. The beast is described as a:
“sausage-like worm over half a meter long, and thick as a man’s arm, resembling the intestine of cattle. Its skin serves as an exoskeleton, molting whenever hurt. Its tail is short, as if it were cut off, but not tapered. It is difficult to tell its head from its tail because it has no visible eyes, nostrils or mouth.”
Even though he never witnessed it himself, Ivan Mackerle eventually determined the Olgoi-Khorkhoi could be real.
But the question is: If it’s real, what could the Mongolian Death Worm be?
LiveScience quotes British biologist Dr. Karl Shuker, author of the book “The Unexplained”, who describes the legendary beasts as “one of the world’s most sensational creatures, concealed amid the sands of the southern Gobi Desert. It spends much of its time hidden beneath the desert sands, but whenever one is spotted lying on the surface it is scrupulously avoided by the locals.”
Although the creature is believed to remain mostly below ground, sightings are said to be more common in June and July, while some say it will only come out when the ground surface is wet. Shuker himself never reported seeing the Mongolian Death Worm, but hypothesizes that the worm might be the carnivorous amphisbaenid, a limbless, burrowing lizard that lives in warm climates.
Other researchers suggest the descriptions loosely match the death adder, a member of the cobra snake family. The death adder, found in Australia and New Guinea, is physically similar to the death worm, and is able to spit venom several meters.
Its reputation for being a potentially dangerous animal hasn’t deterred expeditions into the desert by journalists, entertainment reporters, and television programs as recently as 2009.
All searches, including a National Geographic Channel series on the worm, have come up empty-handed and have drawn no definitive conclusions. So, could the Mongolian Death Worm be nothing but legend?
Even if this elusive creature has never revealed itself to outside investigations, to the locals it is very real, and is yet another danger to avoid in the mysterious Gobi Desert.