The Mongolian Death Worm keeps my son awake at night.
His grandfather cautions in hushed tones of a monstrous creature called the Deathworm. Moving silently below the sand dunes of the Gobi desert, it rises suddenly to take the lives of cattle and people.
In Mongolian, the death worm is called Olgoi Khorkhoi. A name which brings to my sons mind a large blood-red intestine - that is how the name translates.
Eyewitnesses describe it as a giant worm with scaled skin, covered in dark-red blotches. It's about the size of my nine-year-old son, plus half his height again. The thick body tapers slightly towards spiked projections at both ends.
When provoked the deathworm will rear up. Its body inflates crackling with electricity. Eventually an acid bursts from it turning yellow whatever it touches. Living things die.
No photo exists; artists usually exaggerate it as a 100-foot, man-eating monster with sharp, inward pointing teeth.
No one can tell the head from the tail, theories abound of what the deathworm could descend from.
The scaled skin likely denies its worm ancestry and betrays a reptilian heritage.
Some liken it to an Amphisbacnidae (Worm Lizard) - a limbless species with no external eyes or ears. These creatures also move in a serpentine fashion. Fossil hunters unearthed some specimens close to the area the Mongolian Death Worm inhabits.
Others believe it could represent a variety of poisonous sand boa, or spitting cobra. The cobra sprays venom into its victims eyes and some varieties look the same reddish color.
Or could it could be a prehistoric, outsized Polychaetes (an aquatic worm). These live in extreme environments, from the coldest depths of the ocean to the extreme heat of hydrothermal vents. The Gobi was once an inland sea!
Perhaps the most fanciful notion believes it a guardian thought form charged with protecting Genghis Khan's grave. A grave which still lies undiscovered.
You can rule out zoos - no one has caught a live Mongolian Death Worm.
Experts term it a cryptid, since they dispute its existence. Even so, my son is convinced you may find one under his bed!
Russian scientists came across a dead specimen in 1972 - but it has since disappeared. Many believe it still lies in the basement of a Russian museum awaiting rediscovery.
If you truly want to see one, you will have to travel to the Gobi desert and a region which borders China.
It comes out to play in June and July, especially after rain floods its burrows. An affinity with the color yellow has led to many sightings close to flowering sauxal bushes.
The deathworm has become ingrained in popular culture. It even starred in its own movie. Filmed in North America the actors look nothing like Mongolians and ate Chinese food. Not a recommended watch!
But the deathworm has appeared more widely in popular culture than just the movies. It has also appeared in TV documentaries, computer games and even a well-known rap song.
The creature might sound like science fiction - but every Mongolian I meet believes in its existence.
Many eye-witness accounts exist ...
Professor Roy Chapman Andrews (the inspiration for Indiana Jones) was first to send reports of the deathworm in the 1920s.
In his book On The Trail Of Ancient Man, Professor Andrews quotes many reputable people, including a Mongolian prime minister.
Since democracy arrived in the 1990s, several expeditions have set off to search for the deathworm. Eye witnesses interviewed include a policeman, park rangers and a colonel in the Mongolian army.
The expeditions have failed. But creatures new to science have been found, including a 6-foot long-horned snake, and a dragon-like lizard.
Your chances of coming across the Mongolian Death Worm are more remote than the Gobi desert itself! The Mongolian desert is a vast area where you can drive for days without seeing life, never mind the deathworm!
If you do come across the deathworm, take a picture! But, please read the following precautions...
Alternative spellings for the Mongolian Death Worm in Mongolian include allghoi khorkhoi, allerghoi horhai, or olgoj chorchoj.
Some people claim to have seen a yellow version known as the Shar Khorkhoi (yellow intestine).
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