Amphisbaenians and a tentacled caecilian illustrated in an engraving from 1811 – could the exploding 'worm' of Kalmykia be allied to one of these limbless herpetological forms?
A very curious type of vermiform mystery beast that may (or may not?) be allied to the notorious Mongolian death worm (click here, here, and here for a variety of ShukerNature investigations concerning this much-dreaded Gobi-dwelling cryptid), but which is much less well known even in cryptozoological circles, has been reported from the steppes and desert dunes of Kalmykia. This is a region of Russia to the north of Chechnya and Dagestan, and lies immediately to the west of Kazakhstan.
According to a letter of 6 January 1997 written to French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal by veteran Russian cryptozoologist Dr Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, this unidentified creature is referred to by the Kalmyks as the 'short grey snake'. Measuring 50 cm (20 in) long and 15-20 cm (6-8 in) in diameter, it has smooth grey skin, and is rounded at its anterior end, but terminates abruptly with a very short tail. So far, its local 'snake' appellation would seem to be appropriate (visions of amphisbaenians, i.e. worm-lizards, or even those limbless worm-like amphibians known as caecilians also come to mind).
However, it also has one characteristic that instantly sets it apart from any bona fide herpetological entity, and ostensibly places it among vermiforms of the invertebrate kind instead. For according to the Kalmyks, their so-called 'short grey snake' does not possess any bones.
This would appear to be substantiated by their claim that if one of these beasts is struck hard in the middle of its back with a stick, it explodes - leaving behind a patch of slime or grease stretching more than a metre (3 ft) in diameter across the ground as the only evidence of its former existence. Although she is not absolutely certain (her original notes were destroyed during a burglary in her office), Dr Koffmann believes she was told that this animal is slow-moving, and moves in a worm-like manner. As to whether it is dangerous, however, some Kalmyks affirm that it is, but others state that it is not.
No mention is given of any facial features (although Koffmann claims that a second, smaller variety also exists here, which has a clearly delineated mouth). In any event, Kalmykia's exploding 'worm' exhibits sufficient differences from the Mongolian death worm for me to see little reason for assuming that these two creatures share anything other than the dubious honour of being presently unrecognised and thus ignored by modern-day science.
This ShukerNature post is exclusively excerpted from my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), which contains the most comprehensive documentation of the Mongolian death worm (as featured on its front cover) ever published.