Der Steppenworm? Two new species differ from the elusive 'Mongolian Death Worm'

Apr 09, 2013
This picture shows a landscape from the Mongolian steppes on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Credit: Jyper / Wikimedia Commons

The 'Mongolian Death Worm', called olgoi-khorkhoi by the local population is a legendary animal with an unconfirmed existence that has preoccupied the imagination of the inhabitants and travelers in the region. It is said to inhabit the southern Gobi Desert where it terrorizes travelers with its deadly abilities to project acid that, upon contact, turns anything it touches yellow and corroded.

Two new sub-species of earthworms, Eisenia nordenskioldi mongol and E. n. onon, are reported from the same region. Although neither of them possesses the fatal characteristics of olgoi-khorkhoi, the sibling species exhibit the ability to partly regrow body parts when cut in two. Relatives of the sub-species are found in habitats as diverse as high mountains, deserts and geothermal hot-springs. They demonstrate tolerances and survival ranges thriving in environments from as little as -30°C up to +40°C.

Der Steppenworm? 2 new species differ from the elusive 'Mongolian Death Worm'
This image shows Eisenia fetida or the 'Tiger worm', one of the close relatives of the newly described species. Credit: Mihai Duguleana / Wikimedia Commons

E. nordenskioldi mongol has its name derived from the region of discovery. The name E. n. onon bears more romantic connotations, being inspired by the Onon River in Outer Mongolia, where Genghis Khan was born and grew up. The region is also supposed to be the resting place of this historical figure that inspires stories of great conquests, victories and brutality.

Earthworms as a group organisms have other more tangible, importance from an ecological point of view. , for example, spent 50 years of his working life studying these humble worms. They are key organisms for monitoring and maintaining . are also the basis of food-chains as the Early-bird and any fishermen knows.

This is a line drawing of Eisenia nordenskioldi mongol, one of the new species. Credit: Robert J. Blakemore

Whether olgoi-khorkhoi really exists, and whether the two new sub-species of the Siberian E. nordenskioldi species-complex are in any way related to it, is yet to be confirmed and in the meantime, can continue to inspire the romantic mind and stories.

Explore further: Scientists reveal global patterns of specialized feeding in insect herbivores

More information: Blakemore RJ (2013) Earthworms newly from Mongolia (Oligochaeta, Lumbricidae, Eisenia). ZooKeys 285: 1–21, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.285.4502

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Non-native earthworms are damaging hardwood forests

Sep 13, 2011

Think of earthworms and a few things come to mind: they make great bait for fishing, they aerate the soil, and they're an excellent addition to a compost pile. But what a lot of people don't know is many earthworms are actually ...

Recommended for you

Baleen whales hear through their bones

Jan 29, 2015

Understanding how baleen whales hear has posed a great mystery to marine mammal researchers. New research by San Diego State University biologist Ted W. Cranford and University of California, San Diego engineer ...

Starving honey bees lose self-control

Jan 29, 2015

A study in the journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters has found that starving bees lose their self-control and act impulsively, choosing small immediate rewards over waiting for larger rewards.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.