Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 24 April 2014


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, though it would be somewhat squat judging from its dimensions (visions of amphisbaenians, i.e. worm-lizards, or even those limbless worm-like amphibians known as caecilians also come to mind, but again their outline would be squat).

However, it also has one characteristic that instantly sets it apart from any bona fide herpetological entity, squat or otherwise, 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.

Worms of many types - a chromolithograph from 1886

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.

Then again…

A very vermiform representation of the Mongolian death worm (© Tim Morris)

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.


  1. 15-20 cm in diameter? Possibly a misprint?

  2. I checked Dr Koffmann's letter to Michel Raynal as quoted by him on his Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology website, and those are definitely the dimensions given. So clearly this grey mystery creature must be quite squat in form, hence 'short grey snake'.