Mongolian death worm

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Tartar sand boa (Eryx tataricus), likely prototype of the legend
An interpretation of the Mongolian death worm by Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx.

The Mongolian death worm (Mongolian: олгой-хорхой, olgoi-khorkhoi, "large intestine worm") is a cryptozoological worm-like creature alleged to exist in the Gobi Desert.

The creature first came to Western attention as a result of Roy Chapman Andrews's 1926 book On the Trail of Ancient Man. The American paleontologist was not convinced by the tales of the monster that he heard at a gathering of Mongolian officials: "None of those present ever had seen the creature, but they all firmly believed in its existence and described it minutely."[1]

In 1983 a specimen of Tartar sand boa (Eryx tataricus) was shown to locals who claimed to have seen "olgoi-khorkhoi" and they confirmed that this was the animal they called "olgoi-khorkhoi"[2][3].


The worms are purportedly between two and five feet long (60 cm to 1.5 meters) and are thick-bodied.[4]

In On the Trail of Ancient Man, Andrews cites Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar who in 1922 described the worm:

It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert.

In 1932, Andrews published this information again in the book The New Conquest of Central Asia, adding: "It is reported to live in the most arid, sandy regions of the western Gobi." Andrews, however, did not believe in the creature's existence.

Habitat and behavior[edit]

The worm is said to inhabit the western[5] or southern[1] Gobi. In the 1987 book Altajn Tsaadakh Govd, Ivan Mackerle described it as travelling underground, creating waves of sand on the surface which allow it to be detected.[6] The Mongolians say it can kill at a distance, either by spraying a venom at its prey or by means of electric discharge.[1][7] They say that the worm lives underground, hibernating most of the year except for June and July, when it becomes active. It is also reported that it most often comes to the surface when it rains and the ground is wet.[1][self-published source?]

The Mongolians believe that touching any part of the worm will cause almost instant death and tremendous pain. It has been told that the worm frequently preyed on camels and laid eggs in its intestines, and eventually acquired the trait of its red-like[clarification needed] skin. Its venom supposedly corrodes metal and local folklore tells of a predilection for the color yellow. The worm is also said to have a preference for local parasitic plants such as the goyo.[1][self-published source?]


  • In 1990 and 1992, Ivan Mackerle led small groups of companions into the Gobi Desert to search for the worm. Inspired by Frank Herbert's novel Dune, in which giant fictional sandworms could be brought to the surface by rhythmic thumping, Mackerle constructed a motor-driven "thumper" and even used small explosions to try to find it.[6]
  • In 2005, zoological journalist Richard Freeman of the Centre for Fortean Zoology mounted an expedition to hunt for the death worm but came up empty-handed. Freeman's conclusion was that the tales of the worm's powers had to be apocryphal, and that reported sightings likely involved an unknown species of worm lizard or amphisbaena.[8]
  • Reality-television series Destination Truth conducted an expedition from 2006–2007.
  • A New Zealand television entertainment reporter, David Farrier of TV3 News, took part in an expedition in August 2009[8][9][10] but came up empty-handed as well.[11] He conducted interviews with locals claiming to have seen the worm and mentioned on his website that the sightings peaked in the 1950s.

Cultural mention[edit]

Mongolian death worms on graffiti, Kharkov, 2009
  • The worm's first literary appearance appears to be was in the short story Olgoi-Khorkhoi by Ivan Yefremov (1942–1943), based on descriptions made by Andrews and Mongolian locals.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's book The Hobbit (1937) provides an earlier but fleeting reference, namely the "wild were-worms in the Last Desert." In the early drafts of the book (1930–1932), Tolkien specifically associated these were-worms with "the Great Desert of Gobi", as noted by John D. Rateliff in The History of The Hobbit.
  • The worm is briefly mentioned in the 1959 novel The Land of Crimson Clouds by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
  • In 2009, the short-fiction podcast The Drabblecast presented a humorous, multi-part audio story called "In Search of the Mongolian Death Worm".[12]
  • A film, Mongolian Death Worm, was released by the SyFy network on May 8, 2010. It stars Sean Patrick Flanery as a treasure hunter who gets caught up in adventures and encounters numerous examples of the deadly creatures.
  • Animal Planet has produced a docudrama show titled Lost Tapes.[13] In Season 1, Episode 13 (first aired February 17, 2009) is titled "Death Worm,"[14] showcasing purported actual footage (which is fictional) of two men who were attacked and killed; one of them was bitten and burned with a corrosive acid (greenish yellow in color, and corrosive enough to corrode the metal of his bike), and both were electrocuted. Their claim of the docudrama is that the bodies were never found, yet their equipment was recovered.[15]
  • In William Gibson's 2007 novel, Spook Country, the character Hollis Henry refers to the Mongolian death worm as a "mascot for her anxiety," using it to represent whatever she is most afraid of.[16]
  • In the 2012 novel, The Soft Exile by Eric Kiefer, the Mongolian death worm appears as a spirit animal.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Mongolian Death Worm". Retrieved 2010-01-29.[self-published source]
  2. ^ Ах, Гоби! Путешествие по Монголии в поисках легенды
  3. ^ Кузьмин С.Л., Дунаев Е.А., Мунхбаяр Х., Мунхбаатар М., Оюунчимэг Ж., Тэрбиш Х. Земноводные Монголии. Москва, КМК, 2017, с. 17-18
  4. ^ Shuker, Karl P. N. (1 November 2003). The Beasts that Hide from Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals. Cosimo, Inc. pp. 25–45. ISBN 978-1-61640-621-9.
  5. ^ Roy Chapman Andrews (1932). The New Conquest of Central Asia: a narrative of the explorations of the Central Asiatic expeditions in Mongolia and China, 1921-1930.
  6. ^ a b Dunning, Brian. "Skeptoid #344: Olgoi-Khorkhoi: The Mongolian Death Worm". Skeptoid. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  7. ^ Daniel Harris (2007-06-26). "The Mongolian death worm". Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  8. ^ a b Lauren Davis (2009-07-28). "The Hunt for the Mongolian Death Worm Begins Anew". Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  9. ^ "David Farrier goes on hunt for Mongolian Death Worm - Video". July 28, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  10. ^ "New Zealanders Embark on Hunt for Mongolian Death Worm". July 27, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  11. ^ "Digitising, the NZPA Report… & photos". January 9, 2009. Archived from the original on May 26, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
  12. ^ Sherman, Norm. "In Search of the Mongolian Death Worm". The Drabblecast.
  13. ^ ""Lost Tapes" – Animal Planet". 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  14. ^ ""Death Worm" – Profile". Feb 11, 2009. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  15. ^ ""Death Worm" – Video". Feb 11, 2009. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  16. ^ Gibson, William (2007). "80. Mongolian Death Worm". Spook Country. ISBN 0-670-91494-0.
  17. ^ Kiefer, Eric (2012). The Soft Exile. Busan, Korea: Gentleman Tree Publishing. p. 220. ISBN 978-0983071419.

External links[edit]