Mongolian Death Worm: The Gobi Desert's Deadliest Cryptid

An enormous red worm scurries across a barren desert
Whether or not the Mongolian Death Worm is a real animal, its image can still haunt your nightmares. Tiffany Fox/Midjourney

Deep within the vast deserts of Mongolia, there are whispers of a wriggling beast: the dreaded Mongolian Death Worm. The cryptid's fearsome reputation has captured the imagination of adventurers, cryptozoologists and folklore enthusiasts alike.

The mythical sand snake adds to the allure of the vast and mysterious desert landscape, with local tales recounting its ability to kill victims with electric shocks or corrosive venom. Even if the Mongolian Death Worm exists only in our imaginations, the tales are no less intimidating.


Death Worm Lore

Locally known as Olgoi-Khorkhoi ("large intestine worm"), the Mongolian Death Worm has been an integral part of Mongolian folklore for centuries. According to the tales passed down through generations, the mythical creature is said to resemble a large, thick-bodied worm measuring anywhere from 2 to 5 feet long.

It possesses bright red or yellowish skin and corrosive, yellow saliva — a lethal poison known for its ability to instantly kill anyone who touches it.


Sightings and Encounters

While skeptics dismiss the creature's existence as pure myth, there have been numerous reported sightings and encounters over the years. Local people and tourists have described witnessing the creature in the Gobi Desert, one of the largest deserts in the world and a remote, hostile region with extreme temperatures and arid conditions.

The accounts often depict the worm emerging from the sand, swiftly attacking its victims before it burrows underground, rapidly retreating like a sand boa.


The Government's Request

Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews received a unique request from Mongolian officials ahead of his 1920s expeditions to the Gobi Desert. He recounts the meeting in his book, "On the Trail of Ancient Man."

The Mongolian premier at the time asked him to capture a specimen of the allergorhai-horhai (death worm) for the government. While Andrews had never seen the creature, he had heard many stories about its existence. The creature was described as a headless, legless, sausage-shaped animal, believed to be about 2 feet long, extremely poisonous and capable of causing instant death upon touch.


The paleontologist promised to capture the allergorhai-horhai, if encountered, using long, steel forceps and wearing protective glasses to counteract its poisonous effects. The meeting concluded on friendly terms.

Ultimately, as you may have guessed, Andrews did not encounter any death worms on his extended desert adventure. But he did find dinosaur egg nests and a bunch of cool fossils.


Cryptozoological Investigations

Death worms have attracted the attention of cryptozoologists and adventurers whose expeditions into the treacherous Gobi Desert have yielded various findings but no concrete evidence. Some researchers suggest that the worm's venom may possess unique properties that rapidly dissolve organic matter, leaving behind no trace of its victims.

In 2005, a cryptozoological team led by British cryptozoologist and author Richard Freeman ventured into the Gobi Desert to search for the creature. Though they didn't encounter the elusive legend, they documented testimonies from locals and collected samples of the desert soil. These efforts aimed to shed light on the possible existence of the Mongolian Death Worm.


Explanations and Speculations

Scientists and skeptics offer alternative explanations for the rumors of the Mongolian Death Worm. Some propose that the creature may be a misidentified known animal, such as a species of large, burrowing skink or an unknown species of legless lizard. Others suggest that the tales surrounding the creature are purely based on folklore, perpetuated by the region's rich storytelling traditions.

One theory proposes that the Mongolian Death Worm could be a surviving relic from prehistoric times — a living fossil that has adapted to the harsh desert environment over millennia. This hypothesis draws parallels to other cryptids believed to be remnants of ancient creatures, such as the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti.


A Run-of-the-Mill Reptile?

Skeptics have claimed the death worm is actually just one of the following reptiles:

Worm Lizards

The limbless reptiles are often mistaken for snakes due to their elongated bodies. However, the worm lizard belongs to a different taxonomic group called the amphisbaenians. They are not venomous.


Venomous Snakes

These reptiles possess specialized glands capable of producing venom, which they inject into their prey through fangs to immobilize or kill them. Some examples include vipers, cobras and rattlesnakes.

Sand Boas

These nonvenomous snakes belong to the family Boidae. The sand boa snake is named for its adaptation to sandy environments and is known for its burrowing behavior.

Legless Lizards

Legless lizards are reptiles that resemble snakes due to their lack of limbs, but they are not true snakes. They are distinct from both snakes and worm lizards due to their movable eyelids, cylindrical body shape and giving birth to live young. Unlike snakes, the legless lizard has visible external ear openings, and unlike worm lizards, it possesses a forked tongue and belly scales.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.