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▶ The Mongolian Death Worm

The desolate Gobi Desert is said to be the home of a mysterious, deadly creature called Allghoi khorkhoi, also known as the Mongolian death worm. It is described as a fat, bright red, snakelike animal measuring two to four feet in length, which is vividly likened to a cow’s intestine. In fact, the name ‘Allghoi khorkhoi’ means ‘intestine worm.’ The death worm is so feared among the people of Mongolia that many consider the mere mention of its name bad luck, and it is attributed with the dramatic ability to kill humans and animals instantly at a range of several feet. It is believed that the worm sprays an immensely lethal poison, or that it somehow transmits high electrical charges into its victims.

  The foremost investigator of the Mongolian death worm is Czech author Ivan Mackerle, who first learned about the creature from a female student from Mongolia. After Mackerle told her about a diving expedition he had made in search of the Loch Ness Monster she told him in a conspiratorial whisper, “We, too, have a horrible creature living in Mongolia. We call it the Allghoi khorkhoi monster, and it lives buried in the Gobi Desert sand dunes. It can kill a man, a horse, even a camel.”

Intrigued, Mackerle set out to learn more about this Mongolian monster, but information on the topic was very hard to come by. As he would soon learn, this was primarily because most Mongolians were afraid to discuss the death worm. In addition, the Communist government of Mongolia had kept the nation isolated, and outlawed the search for Allghoi khorkhoi, which the government considered a fairy tale. Communism collapsed in Mongolia in 1990, and the new political climate provided Mackerle the freedom to mount an expedition to the country’s desert wastes to hunt for the worm.

Mackerle and his colleagues befriended some Mongolian nomads who were willing to discuss the death worm, after a couple of bottles of Mongolian vodka loosened their tongues. They said that the worm squirts an acidic liquid that immediately makes anything it touches turn yellow and corroded. The nomads also said that the color yellow attracts the Allghoi khorkhoi. They told a story of a young boy who was playing outside with a yellow toy box, a death worm crawled inside. When the boy touched the worm, he was killed instantly. The boy’s parents found his body and a wavy trail leading away in the sand. They knew what had happened and followed the trail to kill the worm, but it killed them instead.

If the Mongolian death worm is real, it’s highly unlikely that it is literally a worm. Annelids and similar invertebrates are unable to survive in a brutally hot and dry climate like the Gobi desert, because their bodies cannot retain moisture and they would rapidly die of dessication. It has been suggested that Allghoi khorkhoi might be a worm that has adapted some sort of cuticle membrane to hold in moisture, but a more reasonable candidate would be a snake or other reptile.

Mackerle has posited that the creature might be a skink, a strange variety of lizard whose nondescript head is hard to distinguish from its tail. Skinks also live buried under desert sands. But they have four stubby legs and scales, unlike the reportedly smooth-bodied death worm. Mackerle has also suggested that it could be a type of lizard called the worm lizard, although that species is not poisonous. Among lizards, only the Mexican beaded lizard and the gila monster possess poisonous venom, but they do not squirt it, and their venom definitely is not instantly lethal on contact.

Another possibility is that the death worm is a member of the cobra family called the death adder. This species has an appearance similar to the descriptions of the Allghoi khorkhoi, and it does spray its venom. But although the death adder could conceivably survive in the Gobi environment, they are found only in Australia and New Guinea.

Then there is the matter of the death worm’s reputed ability to kill its victims from a distance, without even shooting venom. Some have proposed that this might be performed with an electrical shock of some sort. This hypothesis might have arisen from an association with the electric eel, but the eel and all similar electricity-discharging animals are fishes, and none of them could have the ability to live on land, much less in a desert. Most likely, the ‘death from a distance’ component of the Allghoi khorkhoi legend is an exaggeration based on fear.

And the death worm itself is most likely a fiction based on some desert-dwelling snake or reptile, which is not truly as deadly as its reputation would suggest. Unless, of course, it really is a species that’s never been identified before. Admittedly, any animal that can instantly kill anyone who tries to observe it would stand a good chance at escaping scientific classification.