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Death Worm Expedition Departs

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 28th, 2009

Mongolian Death Worm

Illustration by Jiri Zacek/courtesy of Ivan Mackerle

Probably because the expedition leader works for New Zealand’s TV-3, journalist David Farrier has given rather exclusive information on his upcoming expedition to that station and NZPA. Scheduled to depart to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert on August 4, 2009, Farrier’s excursion will be in search of the Mongolian Death Worm.

The Death Worm is known by several names, including intestine worm, Allghoi Khorkhoi, and Orghoi Khorkhoy. It is said to resemble the creatures in Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, Dune, or look like a cow’s intestine, measuring about 7.5 feet (1.5m) long, living under the sands of the Gobi.

Some thought has been given to this cryptid being an unknown species of giant spitting snake, but one needs to be caught for verification.


Artist Rob Farrier’s death worm illustration.

Part of what TV-3 and NZPA says about the story follows:

Auckland-based journalist David Farrier, who is organising the expedition, and Motueka-based cameraman Christie Douglas, leave on Tuesday to spend two weeks in the Gobi, trying to verify the [Death] Worm’s existence and making a documentary about it.

They will hire local Mongolians to help them; a guide, translator and cook.

Farrier, who works for TV3, told NZPA he had always been fascinated by cryptozoology, or the search for hidden creatures.

The expedition and documentary, which would cost him between $15,000 and $20,000, would take a serious look at the Worm and what it was, Farrier said.

He said he was interested in the Death Worm because it was one of the most outrageous creatures that were rumoured to exist.

However, it was also one of the mythical creatures that had a better chance of being real.

Rumours could inflate the reputation of things such as the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, but sparsely populated Mongolia was not a place where rumours were going to propagate, Farrier said.

“If a Mongolian says they have seen a big worm-like creature out in the desert they haven’t really got any reason to lie.”

A number of experts have dismissed the Worm’s existence, putting it down as a rumour, but Farrier was not put off.

“I think it won’t be a worm, obviously a worm can’t survive in a desert. I’d say it would be some sort of snake that’s not meant to be there. It’s very out of place and a bit new.”

Farrier said there been up to four unsuccessful expeditions searching for the Death Worm in the last 100 years, the last two in 2003 and 2005, which had used night vision goggles to look for the Worm.

However, the New Zealand team planned to bring the Worm to the surface with explosives, as it is said to be attracted to tremors.

Farrier put his chances of finding the worm at between 5 and 15 percent.

“They are high for a ridiculous creature like the Death Worm but the area I am going to is a very specific place in the southern Gobi where all the sightings have been.”

He only plans to capture the worm on film.

“I have no intention of grabbing it, capturing it, stuffing it, or anything like that. I just want to prove its existence and if I can get it on film, that’s all I need to do.”

TV-3.

Explosives, humm? My sincere best wishes to Farrier and Douglas during their hunt for the Death Worm. I just hope their filming doesn’t turn into a version of some future movie entitled Mongolian Tremors rather than a serious documentary recording of a unique cryptozoological quest.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


9 Responses to “Death Worm Expedition Departs”

  1. cryptidsrus responds:

    That’s the first time I’ve heard that a worm cannot survive in the Desert.

    I’m not saying what he said is not true—just that I thought that under certain circumstances worms COULD survive.
    The Saharan Ant can survive scorching temperatures that would slowly fry many other creatures—why can’t a Worm?
    Worms spend most of their lives underground. And there are “cool” underground spots in the Desert—as far as I know. In some deserts there is also some sort of “shade” where an animal can get protection.

    I understand their skins are delicate and sensitive but given the apparent size and physiology of the Mongolian Death Worm I would think it would have developed an “Adaptation” that would enable it to survive the inhospitable environment of the Gobi.

    Again, it’s not that I doubt the gentleman—it’s just that I cannot think that there are “exceptions.” I do agree it could be a type of Snake—that would be a Magnificent Discovery—a Giant, Killer Snake—but what if it turns out to be Worm still???
    The descriptions from witnesses tally with those of a Worm. So wouldn’t that prve there are “exceptions” to every some beliefs?

    Does anybody know whether Worms surviving in the Desert is possible? Just wanted to know if that was possible. If I’m wrong I understand.
    Anyway, I wish Farrier the best of luk on his expedition and hope it yields great results.
    Smart idea with the explosives—very “politically incorrect,” but smart—lets’ see what happens. :)

  2. greatanarch responds:

    A few comments on this one:

    How does he manage to spend $15,000-$20,000 on a two week, two man expedition with only three staff? We got four people out there for three weeks for a fraction of that, including staff and vehicles. It’s not as if there good hotels in Mongolia to spend money at.

    The CFZ expedition in 2005 had no night vision equipment, and I doubt that Adam Davies did in 2003 either. There is no reason to think it is nocturnal.

    Although one of the beliefs about the Death Worm is that it prefers the hottest weather, anyone going to the Gobi Desert in August should be prepared for some very uncomfortable temperatures.

    If I had seen a Death Worm I would most certainly have grabbed it, and so should anyone else who sees it. At the very least I would get a DNA sample; I would also like to show one to the curator of the Gobi Museum!

    I doubt that it spits poison or acid. There are plenty of witness sightings to testify to its existence, but the accounts of its dangerous nature seem to be purely anecdotal.

    I suspect that explosives might just alarm it. Better to bring small mammal traps and catch something as bait.

    1.5m is not 7.5 feet surely? I think the first is closer.

    Is it remotely possible that it could have an electric sense? This would be useful to a creature that lives underground in dry soil. It might detect the electric fields of small animals; better still, it could generate its own field and use this to sense prey above ground.

  3. stranger responds:

    I really hope it is some truly unusual beast. Something to expand the horizons of biology. Electric shock AND poison/acid! I know greatanarch is disappointed they are trying for photos and not capture. However, has anyone asked if these things might be larvae? Those explosions they are planning might yield something really scary!

  4. mystery_man responds:

    Cryptidsrus- I think you bring up a very interesting point regarding the Mongolian Death Worm, and I wanted to give some thoughts about these cryptids and maybe answer some of your questions.

    I think there are many things about the Mongolian Death Worm that are fully in keeping with established biological precedents, and actually not that many things that I would call entirely far fetched. In many ways, I would have to disagree with the assertion made by Farrier that this would be a “ridiculous creature.”

    For instance, we already have a large worm that is known to “spit” at enemies. The Palouse earthworm reaches lengths of over three feet long and is known to discharge a substance at animals that provoke it. The Mongolian Death worm is said to fire a corrosive acid of some kind, but even this is not entirely fanciful. It could be that these creatures use a mechanism similar to that employed by the Bombardier beetle. These beetles have two seperate resevoirs of different chemicals stored in their abdomen, specifically hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide. When the beetle is provoked, these two chemicals are shot out through a chamber which contains catalytic agents, the two chemicals mix, and produce a violent chemical reaction. The resulting discharge is a spray that reaches around the temperature of boiling water. I wonder if the Mongolian Death Worm might use a similar mechanism to produce the corrosive discharge that is reported.

    The size and spitting of corrosive chemicals are biologically feasible. So how about the electrocution? This two is obviously seen in animals like the electric eel and electric catfish, so although we are dealing with a terrestrial animal here that would lack the luxury of the conductive properties of water, perhaps it has an adaptation to produce these electrical currents on land.

    Now to your question of whether a worm could live in the desert. The habitat in the Gobi desert is certainly not inhospitable to life. In fact, the Gobi desert has an incredibly diverse ecosystem and a lot of biodiversity. You can find tenecious, desert adapted plants here, as well as a wide variety of wildlife. Here we can find birds, insects, lizards, and larger animals such as the Asiatic ibex, wild ass, Saiga antelope, black-tailed gazelle, marbled polecats, even a type of bear called the Gobi bear. The temperates in the Gobi desert, although experiencing extreme variations, are also generally comparatively cooler than other deserts due to the northern location and high altitude. It is often called a “cold” desert.

    Even in places where the temperature gets incredibly hot animals can survive this. In fact, one of the most heat tolerant creatures on Earth is an invertebrate called the Pompeii worm, which lives by the undersea hydrothermal vents. These creatures can withstand temperatures of up to a searing 176 degrees Farenheit. So the habitat, the heat, and the biological precedents found in nature do not rule out a worm-like creature living here.

    I think the main problem with the Mongolian Death Worm being an actual worm has to do with the way a worm’s respiratory system works. Since these organisms do not have lungs, they rely on breathing through their skin, which requires a moist surface at all times. If a worm dries out, it suffocates. Now of course deep under the surface, there might be moisture. Some worms are also able to retain moisture through an organ called the nephridia which is basically like kidneys for invertebrates. However, I do wonder whether any worm could maintain the adequate moisture they require in the type of dry climate we are talking about here.

    Another problem is that worms need something to eat, some sort of nutrients to absorb in the soil. I wonder whether there would be enough of this sort of biological material for a worm of this size in the soil of this sparsely vegetated habitat.

    If a worm was somehow able to surmount these obstacles in the desert, then sure, why not? Stranger things have been found.

    I think in the end I would have to say that a worm might not be impossible, after all we have uncovered surprising life-forms that have adapted to incredibly harsh conditions (we call these extremophiles ). However, when looking at how terrestrial worms are known survive, their general biology, and the almost complete absence of known desert worms in these conditions, I do think it is more likely that we are dealing with a type of snake or other reptile. We have a lot of reptiles desert adapted, yet not really any desert worm like what the Mongolian Death Worm is supposed to be like.

    Anyway, hopefully this is helpful to the discussion. I do find the Mongolian Death Worm to be a fascinating cryptid that deserves further investigation.

  5. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Explosives?? A thumper is the proper method to lure Sahi Hulud from its subterranean dominion ;-)

  6. mystery_man responds:

    cryptidsrus- I wanted to add something about the food sources involved here. Since the Mongolian Death Worm allegedly can produce electric shocks and is apparently not afraid to use them, this is probably a hunting mechanism similar to what the electric eel does. So I suppose that takes care of the food problem. There are plenty of prey items in the desert, take your pick of animals I mentioned plus the many others living there. So, a carnivorous worm eliminates the problem of nutrients in the soil. I tend to think that the corrosive spray would be more suitable for a defensive purpose, however electric shock capability and corrosive spray seems a bit like overkill. There would have to be some evolutionary reason why both of these rare features would be present in one animal. It is interesting to speculate about.

    So really moisture seems to be the main obstacle to this being a true worm. There are ways I suppose this obstacle could be overcome, and staying well under the surface except for hunting would explain this cryptid’s elusive and rarely seen nature. Still, it would have to come to the dry surface to feed, so that’s going to put a worm at risk.

    I think reptile is more probable considering what we know, but if the moisture problem has been solved somehow, I can’t see how it would be completely impossible for this to be some type of worm.

    Oh, and I can’t resist. “Graboids! Let’s call them GRABOIDS! We found them, we should name them!” :)

  7. maeko responds:

    i am inclined to find traditional stories of indigenous people to have a grain of truth and to believe that there is little benefit for them to telling tall tales.

    As mystery_man mentioned, there is already a known species of worm, the Palouse earthworm, that has been reported to be up to 3ft. it is also said to live in burrows at 15ft deep. this species is one of the few earthworms that are native to North America and found in the northwest.

    if Palouse can be proven to reach such a size, i do not think it would be a stretch for a sister species to be found in Mongolia being that the two continents were joined by Beringia not so long ago. a 3ft worm should easily be able to dig burrows deeply enough to reach a water table. Palouse is also said to store water during drought.

    so, i think it possible. hopefully, the tales from the nomads are more than oral ancestor memories about a creature that is now extinct.

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    Thanks for the information, Mystery_Man.

    As usual, your knowledge enlightens any discussion and comments here.

    Again, it’s not that I doubted the man—
    Just thought there might be “exceptions.”
    Thanks for the info again. And great Cryptid to study—I agree.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    cryptidsrus- Don’t be sorry you doubted the man. Questioning and poking at the fringes of what we know is important. You asked a very good question about whether a real worm could really be at the heart of this cryptid. I think, all things considered, it could be. It is perhaps not as impossible as many claim, and I don’t agree with the man that we are dealing with a ridiculous creature, as I mentioned before.

    I’m glad you took the time to put out your questions and concerns. It is a good line of inquiry. :)



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