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Minhocao

Drawing of the minhocão by Lance Bradshaw.

Other names: Miñocao, sierpe
Country reported: Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay

The minhocão (Portuguese: "giant earthworm"[1]) was a cryptid reported from regions of Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.[1] It was described as a subterranean serpentine creature with hard black scales and horns.[2][3] There have been no recorded sightings since the 19th Century.[1]

Description

The minhocão is said to grow up to 150 feet in length and 15 feet in width. It has black skin and a piglike snout, and is covered in thick, bony armoured skin or scales. In some accounts it has horns.[1] Auguste de Saint Hilaire described the minhocão in 1847:

"...the monster in question absolutely resembles these worms, with this difference, that it has a visible mouth; they also add, that it is black, short, and of enormous size; that it does not rise to the surface of the water, but that it causes animals to disappear by seizing them by the belly."[4]

It is most conspicuous for its tunnelling behaviour, atlhough it is also amphibious, living in water. Heuvelmans describes it "overturning trees like blades of grass, shifting the courses of rivers, and turning dry land into fathomless marshes" through its tunnelling.[2] It is mostly active after rainy weather, and overturns boats and eats livestock.[1]

Sightings

Undated

Auguste de Saint Hilaire gave several accounts of cattle, horses, and other livestock being pulled beneath the water when fording the Rio dos Piloes and Lakes Padre Aranda and Feia in Goyaz, Brazil.[4]

When Emil Odebrecht was surveying the uplands of Santa Catarina in Brazil, his progress was impeded on a swampy plain by a series of winding trenches along the course of a stream. They were too wide to step across, but not too wide that he could not jump them.[2]

In the Brazilian state of Parana, a woman going to draw water one morning foun the pool destroyed and saw an animal "as a big as a house" crawling away on the ground. She called her neighbours, who arrived too late to see the animal but saw its track, which showed it had passed over a rock and disappeared into deep water.[2]

Also in Parana, a young man saw a large pine tree fall over with no visible cause. Hurrying to the tree, he saw the earth moving and glimpsed a huge black wormlike animal "no longer than a lasso" (about 80 feet), whic had two moving horns on its head, lying close to its body. It was wallowing in mud.[2]

Bernard Heuvelmans believed that Percy Fawcett may have been referring to the minhocão when he wrote[2] "they talk here of another river monster - fish or beaver - which can in a single night tear out a huge section of river bank. The Indians report the tracks of some gigantic animal in the swamps bordering the river, but allege that it has never been seen".[5]

1849

Whilst travelling near Termas del Arapey in Paraguay, Lebino José dos Santos heard that a minhocão had caught itself in a narrow cleft of rock and died. Its skin was as thick as pine tree bark, and it had scales like an armadillo.[1]

One evening in 1849 on the Rio dos Papagaios in Parana, after a long period of rains, João de Deos heard what sounded like rain whilst the sky was clear and sunny. The next morning he discovered that a large piece of land on the other side of a hillock had been completely undermined: deep furrows led to a stony plateau where heaps of reddish-white clay showed the route the animal had taken to a stream which ran into the Papagaios. Three years later, in 1852, Lebino José dos Santos sought out the place and found the tracks still there. He concluded they had been made by two animals which were some 6 to 10 feet thick.[2]

circa 1860's

In the late 1860's, some 6 miles from the neighbourhood of Lage, Francisco de Amaral Varella and Friedrich Kelling[1] observed a gigantic animal, some 3 feet thick, but not very long, with a pig-like snout; Amaral was unable to tell if the animal had feet. Amaral called his neighbours, but when they arrived the beast "lumbered" off clumsily, leaving a trail of deep furrows about 3 feet wide in its wake, until it disappeared into the ground.[2]

A few weeks later a similar trench, possibly made by the same animal, was found nearly 4 miles away, on the opposite side of Lage. A party of locals followed the track, which led under the roots of a large pine tree before becoming lost in swampy ground.[2]

1863

In 1863 a "giant snake" or "sierpe" (serpent) settled in a place called La Cuchilla near Concordia in Nicaragua. A mound of earth appeared at the foot of a hill for no apparent reason, and a trusting peasant planted some fruit trees on it, but the ground collapse, laying bare a huge rock. Trees were uprooted and rocks were thrown up, blocking the road between Chichiguas and San Rafael del Norte.[2]

1864

In January 1864,[1] Antonio José Branco, who lived on a tributary of the Rio dos Cacharros 6 miles from Curitibanos, came home after an 8 days abscence to find the nearby road completely undermined, huge heaps of earth thrown up, and a grooved track 10 feet wide and about half a mile long, ending in a swamp. The tunneling had completely changed the course of a stream, and several pine trees had been knocked down. The track was still visible in 1877, and attracted hundreds of people.[2]

1868

In February 1868, during a journey to Concordia, Paulino Montenegro heard that of the "giant snake" in La Cuchilla, and, investigating with some friends, saw tracks which convinced him of the existence of "some large animal". The most recent of these was only 3 days old, and revealed that there had been two animals, and that one had crashed into an oak tree and then retreated. One had tunnelled into a pool, whilst the other had dug across stony ground, then gone into the same pool. From the imprints left in the mud Montenegre guessed that the animals had scales, and were about 40 feet long (Heuvelmans notes that it is not really possible to judge an animals length from a tunnel), 10 feet high, and 5 feet wide.[2]

Theories

Many of the first scientists to write on the minhocão, in the 19th Century, believed it may have been a new species of lungfish,[2] which Karl Shuker notes have somewhat piglike snouts. Shuker also writes that prehistoric lungfishes had scales, and during the dry season, African lungfishes cocoon themselves and lie buried in mud until the rainy season comes again, bringing to mind the minhocão's habit of activity during the rains.[4]

Bernard Heuvelmans, supporting a theory initially proposed in the 1860's and later by Emil Budde,[1] suggested that the minhocão may have been a surviving glyptodont, which he supposed to be a burrowing animal.[2] Karl Shuker was sceptical of this theory, noting that a glyptodont could never be described as "serpentine" or "wormlike". There is also no evidence that these animals were burrowing, and there is no reason to assume they would need to be, with their heavy armour.[4]

Shuker first proposed the theory that the minhocão may be a large species of caecilian, limbless burrowing amphibians closely resembling earthworms except for the visible mouth, and a pair of sensory tentacles on their head that resemble horns or ears when protruded, conforming to the description given by Saint Hilaire. Although they seem smooth, they do possess small scales. They also usually come above ground after heavy rainstorms, and are predators, grabbing their prey from below.[4] Heuvelmans eventually abandoned the glyptodont theory to support Shuker's caecilian theory.[6]

Some confusion with giant anacondas has also been suggested by Heuvelmans and George Eberhart. Heuvelmans briefly discussed the identity of an archaic basilosaurid whale (which are now known not have been armoured), and Eberhart also suggests that earthquake damage could be blamed on the minhocão.[2][1]

Similar cryptids

  • Giant anacondas, reported from across the Amazon and northern Argentina.
  • The sachamama, an enormous snake-like animal with a snail-like shell reported from Peru.

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Eberhart, George (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals
  3. Coleman, Loren & Clark, Jerome (1999) Cryptozoology A to Z
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Shuker, Karl (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors
  5. Fawcett, Brian & Fawcett, Percy (1953) Exploration Fawcett
  6. ShukerNature: SEEKING MEGA-CAECILIANS