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Creepy Cryptids: The Mongolian Death Worm

          This month’s cryptid is a historical one – writings of it date back to the 1920s, and though it lives on in infamy to today, I don’t think it’s one of the more well-known cryptids out there. Today we’ll be examining the origins and various run-ins with the so-called Mongolian Death Worm. Let’s explore.

Origins and Documentation

          The first known written mention of the Mongolian Death Worm came in a book called On the Trail of Ancient Man, which was published in 1926 and written by Chapman Andrews. In this book, the Prime Minister of Mongolia is cited as describing the worm as a sausage in 1922. The quote then goes on to explain that it lives in remote areas in the Gobi Desert. The same citation was made in another of Chapman Andrews’s books entitled The New Conquest of Central Asia, which was published in 1932. Aside from these two books, it does not seem that there are any historical mentions of the Mongolian Death Worm – not in local literature, folklore, mythology, or any other form of culture. When sightings did begin to pop up in the Gobi Desert, it was called olgoi-khorkhoi – which translates to the large intestine worm.
          In 1983, locals who claimed they had seen the olgoi-khorkhoi were shown a Tartar sand boa – whose scientific name is Eryx tartaricus. Those who were shown the sand boa confirmed that it was the creature they saw and referred to as the olgoi-khorkhoi.

(The tartar sand boa.
via iNaturalist)


          There are a ton of different descriptions of what the Mongolian Death Worm looks like, but the basics are the same. It is a…giant worm, obviously. The length originally reported was 2 feet, but that now varies wildly between a few feet and actual car-lengths. Its color varies between beige and red, presumably to allow it to blend in with the sands of the Gobi Desert in which it resides. It has four beady little eyes on the front of it. Those eyes sat above a mouth that opened to spine-like teeth on four jaw-like flaps. Some renditions forgo the mouth and opt for a sort of sucker instead.
          The MDW (Mongolian Death Worm – let’s just make it an initialism now and save us all the time) is said to be extremely powerful, able to easily mine tunnels through the sand of the Gobi desert. It is said to be poisonous as well, and anyone who comes into contact with a Mongolian Death Worm dies a horrible death. Further renditions also show that it can spit this poison a distance in front of it. There seems to be a theme of descriptions growing larger than life when it comes to the MDW.

(An imagining of the Mongolian Death Worm by artist Pieter Dirkx.


          There aren’t really any encounters with the MDW that have resulted in proof. We only have eyewitness reports. Several people have gone to the Gobi Desert with the sole intention of finding it, but all have come up empty handed. There is no evidence of it existing – such as the tunnels, teeth, shed skin, etc, no strange noises or recordings that could be the MDW, nothing. So what’s my takeaway here? It’s pretty obvious that there is no huge worm creature digging tunnels under the Gobi Desert. The legend has grown out of control over the years because there hasn’t really been any clues to either confirm or debunk its existence. So the legend stretches beyond its original boundaries. It grows beyond the original 2-foot-long sausage creature originally described into a creature torn from the pages of a sci-fi novel. It has been the inspiration for countless forms of media – albums, movies, TV shows, documentaries. And, though I can’t find anything linking the creature to pop culture, maybe the MDW was the inspiration for such creatures as the Sandworms in Beetlejuice or Dune. So, even though it is very unlikely that the Mongolian Death Worm is real, it has had an impact. And in the end, isn’t that what matters?


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