Landlocked between Russian and Chinese borders sits the picturesque country of Mongolia. Most associate this part of the world with Genghis Kahn, Tuvan throat singing or delicious cuisine. Encompassing the southern region is the Gobi, one of Earth’s largest deserts. The barren East Asian tundra spans across over half a million square miles. Temperatures here are extreme and range from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to well below freezing. Other perils include poisonous scorpions, seasonal flooding and fierce sandstorms. Despite extremely harsh conditions, many animals thrive here. Gazelle, bear, marbled polecats, jerboa, and highly endangered snow leopards inhabit the inhospitable terrain. Some say there is an unknown species also residing in the Gobi- a killer cryptid known as the Mongolian death worm.
Locals call the creature olgoi-khorkhoi, which translates to “intestine worm”, a name derived from its visceral appearance. Based on eyewitness testimonies, death worms are said to reach five feet in length with large spikes protruding from both ends. Indigenous people claim the invertebrates lay eggs inside of a camel’s stomach. Upon hatching, they absorb the color of their host’s blood and results in brightly saturated red-hued bodies. Simply brushing against the parasite results in excruciating pain and a near instantaneous demise. Reportedly, the soil-inhabitant can also kill prey from a distance, through shooting an electrical discharge or by spitting lethal venom. Those who are stricken by the deadly spray turn a sickening shade of yellow before perishing.
Death worms live underground and create distinctive waves of sand upon the surface whilst roaming. For ten months of the year, they hibernate and then become active in June and July. Native Mongolians report seeing the creatures surface after heavy rainfall. If larger food sources are unavailable they will consume rodents and other types of vermin. It is believed the appendage-lacking brutes are exoskeletal and shed their skin when in danger. Researchers speculate it may be an amphisbaenidae, a carnivorous reptile better known as worm lizards. These burrowing saurians reside throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and several Caribbean islands.
Westerners first heard of death worms in 1926 following the release of On the Trail of Ancient Man, a book written by American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. Four years prior to his publication, Andrews joined the American Museum of Natural History’s Central Asiatic Expedition. Government officials had alerted the United States institution of a terrifying legless serpent wreaking havoc in rural areas. Even Mongolia’s leader wholeheartedly believed in its existence. Prime Minister Damdinbazar publicly stated: “It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor legs and it is so poisonous that merely touching it means an instant death.” Such a prominent and highly respected figure speaking openly about a supposedly mythical breed greatly piqued the museum’s interest.
Prior to the group’s historic embarkment, a mandatory cabinet meeting was required. Professor Andrews and foundation representatives met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the Mongolian Premier himself. Permission for their extensive undertaking was only granted on the condition they would obtain a specimen of Allergorhai horhai. Upon both party’s agreement, the journey commenced. Throughout the 1920s a team scholars combed the Central Asian plateau in its entirety. While hunting for the enigmatic wriggler, Andrews became the first person to discover fossilized dinosaur eggs. Regardless of being unable to find evidence during their search, the archeologist stated every person gave a nearly identical description, down to the most “minute detail”.
Andrews was not the only explorer to seek the elusive ground-dweller. Ivan Mackerle, esteemed cryptozoologist and a leading expert on the Loch Ness Monster, traveled to Mongolia in pursuit of olgoi-khorkhoi. Mackerle visited the territory in 1990, 1992 and 2004 to interview nomads. An elderly woman shared several encounters she heard from local fishermen. When stalking prey, the creature will move half its body above the sand. Then their upper half begins to inflate and a toxin-filled bubble forms and is used to spew venom at unsuspecting victims. Although the questioned senior citizen appeared incredibly sincere, she admitted her information was based on others’ experiences.
One particularly intriguing account involved a small boy who was playing with his bright yellow ball, which unfortunately caught the limb-lacker’s attention. Gobi residents claim this particular color attracts the slithering beast. When the curious youngster approached it, he reached out and gently stroked the flesh. Within mere seconds the unsuspecting child was deceased. His parents soon discovered their son’s corpse and immediately recognized the post-mortem symptoms. Furious and grief-stricken, they decided to hunt for the slug-like perpetrator. Neither parent ever made it back to the village alive. Townspeople suspected they had been killed by the vengeful fiend.
During his final voyage, Mackerle became familiar with another layer of the centuries-old enigma. While visiting a Buddhist monastery he was warned of writhing executioners’ supernatural abilities. Monks believed the ferocious annelids were filled with evil energy. Stranger yet, they advised the investigator that a firsthand encounter would destroy him. In spite of brushing off their ominous words, Mackerle suffered from terrifying nightmares about wriggling crimson carnivores the same evening. Upon waking, he felt a burning sensation on his back. Covering his flesh were dozens of inflamed boils. None of these painful wounds were present hours earlier and could not have been inflicted by any known insects. Mackerle was convinced his affliction was caused by the wicked one’s spirit. In fact, the researcher was so traumatized by this incident that he never returned to Mongolia.
Zoological director, Richard Freeman, was captivated by tales of the massive oriental grub. In 2005 his organization, Centre for Fortean Zoology, ventured to the eastern sector. Freeman soon learned the cryptid is very much real to nomadic tribesmen. His interpreter informed him of an entire village shifting positions after local inhabitants set eyes upon the terrifying scarlet monster. Over 1,000 miles of the Gobi were scoured by investigators in hopes of unearthing proof of death worms. Excursion members came up empty-handed but Freeman firmly believes verification has not come forward for strictly political reasons. From 1945 through 1990, Mongolia was under communist rule. Throughout the decades-long reign, authorities criminalized searching for the leech-entity. Those in power insisted aforementioned endeavors were a waste of resources since the animal “did not exist”.
Nearly a century after the initial quest for Mongolia’s murderous maggot, more questions than answers still remain. Countless individuals have embarked on nearly identical crusades only to return empty-handed. Scientists argue the geographic environment rules out any possibility of annelid or nematode presence. High temperatures and an arid setting do not support the theory of such lifeforms’ existence. If an unknown species is inhabiting the Gobi it’s more likely a class of burrowing lizard. Cryptozoology enthusiasts remain open-minded citing complications have hindered any discoveries. Given the desert’s precarious surroundings, a lack of human population and restrictions to the area, it’s entirely plausible an unidentified living organism has simply avoided detection. However, until conclusive evidence comes forward, olgoi-khorkhoi will remain a mystery.