The Tripodero of the Californian chaparral and foothills defies all scientific attempts at classification. Its small, strong body stands on two telescopic legs, with a kangaroo-like tail balancing it behind. As its legs can be collapsed or extended at will, the tripodero can stand tall over the brush, or crawl easily through the undergrowth. The tripodero’s face is all nose, with a storage pouch in its left jaw.
When a tripodero sees potential prey from its elevated vantage point, it sights down its snout and fires a clay slug, a supply of which is kept in a cheek pouch. Tripoderos have perfect aim and shoot with pinpoint accuracy. The clay pellet stuns the victim, allowing the tripodero to come in and devour it, bones and all.
Unlike other fearsome critters, the tripodero is associated primarily with construction sites, railroads, and engineering projects.
Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.
Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.
Dorson, R. M. (1982) Man and Beast in American Comic Legend. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.
Variations: Groot Slang, Big Snake, Great Snake, Great Snake of the Orange River, Ki-man
The Grootslang, literally “big snake” or “great snake”, dwells in or around the Orange River in the Richtersveld, South Africa, in association with fabulous diamond deposits. Its home may be in the Orange River itself, a pool underneath the King George Cataract, a big rock, or a semi-mythical cave known as the “Wonder Hole” or the “Bottomless Pit”. The cave is said to be the source of the diamonds of South Africa; from there they move down a pipe to the river, which carries them to the sea.
As its name implies, the grootslang is an enormous snake, big enough to take cattle at the water’s edge. It has huge diamonds in its eye-sockets, and its presence exerts an evil influence on all who see it. It is some forty feet long, and leaves a serpentine spoor on muddy river banks that is 1.5 to 3 feet wide. There are never traces of feet associated with the grootslang’s spoor.
Over time the grootslang has accumulated elephantine features. This stems partly from the cryptozoological desire to connect it to the mokele-mbembe and other such surviving dinosaurs, and partly from Rose’s description of it as “huge, like an elephant, with the tail of a serpent”.
Cornell, F. C. (1920) The Glamour of Prospecting. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., London.
Green, L. G. (1948) Where Men Still Dream. Standard Press Ltd., Cape Town.
Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.
Variations: Ro, Bete-Rô, Bete-Ro, Bete Rô, Bete Ro (Rô Beast)
The Rô Beast lived in a cavern at the Pointe de Roux, off Aytré near La Rochelle. A hideous dragon with a winged body and a long scaly tail, Rô was also armed with a malign, near-human intelligence. It used its cunning to lay traps for humans and devour them. It was feared across the coastline, and none could stand against it.
But the reign of Rô was ended by seven pagan heroes that arrived on a boat by high tide. They had come to judge Rô. Panicking, the dragon retreated to the Pont de la Pierre, keeping its eyes on its tormentors. There, the heroes loosed seven arrows: two closed its eyes, two pierced its ears, two sealed its nostrils, and one pinned its horrid mouth shut. Roaring and thrashing in agony, Rô was cast into a deep pit, where it will remain until the end of time. The seven pagan heroes took their places as guardians around the pit where Rô thrashed impotently.
Rô still lives, screaming its rage from its prison. When it howls to the north, the gulf of Chevarache in the Breton Pertuis is agitated with waves; when it howls to the south, it’s Maumusson that stirs. The old folk say that it’s a good thing it doesn’t turn to the west, for the islands would turn to dust.
The legend of the Rô beast seems to have grown around the local landscape. The Pont de la Pierre was a ruined cromlech. Seven granite stones (now gone) around a deep pit were said to have been the heroes’ seats of justice. The image of Rô was recognized in the arch of the principal portal of the Church of Talmont, although it may just as well be the lion of Ezekiel.
Who were the pagan heroes? The image of warriors from the sea evokes Vikings, but it may be a relic of an older Gaulish legend of gods arriving from the sea. As for the name Rô, Dontenville saw in it a corruption of an older pagan deity.
Dontenville, H. (1966) La France Mythologique. Tchou, Paris.
Lamontellerie, A. (1995) Mythologie de Charente-Maritime. Le Croit Vif, Collection Documentaires.
Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.
Variations: Olgoi khorkhoi, Olgoj chorchoj, Allergorhai-horhai, Allergorhai horhai, Allghoi khorkhoi, Temen-Sul-Khorkhoi, Temeen Suul (Mongolian name of Tartar sand boa), Intestine Worm, Mongolian Death Worm, Tartar Sand Boa, Eryx tataricus
It has forever been in human nature to exaggerate the lethality of animals, regardless of whether or not the animal is actually deadly or even poisonous. Salamanders become fiery creatures whose breath slays, water shrews are accused of poisoning and killing cattle, geckos are so virulent they cause leprosy, viper venom causes the human body to melt… the list is endless.
One of the victims of this demonization is the creature known in Mongolia as the Olgoi-khorkhoi or “intestine worm”, also known in English by the even more sensationalistic name of “Mongolian death worm”.
Mongolian folklore is ambivalent on snakes. They are associated with dragons and the water world, and thus are worthy of respect and should not be killed; on the other hand, they are symbols of malice, antagonists to the forces of good, and hostile beings that should be destroyed. Saying the word mogoi (“snake”) is not recommended, with euphemisms like urt khorkhoi (“long worm”) or khairkhan (“holy” or “merciful”) used instead.
The olgoi-khorkhoi is a serpent that looks like a sausage, two feet (0.6 meters) long, and lacks a head and legs. Its color is a white brocade. It is so poisonous that looking at it is dangerous and anyone who touches it dies instantly. It lives in the sandiest, driest areas of the Western Gobi desert. If it shows up in a yurt, the inhabitants move out. It comes out after the rains when the ground has become damp.
Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews was informed of the olgoi-khorkhoi’s existence by the Mongolian Premier, and went on to hear much about it. Usually people had not seen one themselves, but knew others who had, and every time they went to a play where the olgoi-khorkhoi was said to be abundant, the inhabitants told them the creature could be found a few miles away. The scientist was optimistic about his chances of capturing one thanks to the neutralizing powers of dark glasses and steel forceps. No specimen was ever seen or captured, however.
The existence of the olgoi-khorkhoi was popularized by Andrews and fellow paleontologist and science-fiction author I. A. Efremov, and much has been posited since about its appearance, habits, and true nature.
However, the real identity of the olgoi-khorkhoi is far more prosaic: it is the Tartar sand boa, a desert-dwelling, nonvenomous snake. This was confirmed by Gorelov, who showed a specimen of the boa to people in the Gobi. They asserted that it was indeed an olgoi-khorkhoi and that they were afraid of it. Gorelov also reported an individual olgoi-khorkhoi preserved in a jar and exhibited in Dalaanzadgad Town during a holiday.
Andrews, R. C. (1926) On the Trail of Ancient Man. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.
Andrews, R. C. (1932) The New Conquest of Central Asia. The American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Kuzmin, S. L.; Dunayev, E. A.; Munkhbayar, K.; Munkhbataar, M.; Oyuunchimeg, J.; and Terbish, K. (2017) The Amphibians of Mongolia. KMK Scientific Press, Moscow.
Shuker, K. P. N. (2003) The Beasts that Hide From Man. Paraview Press, London.
The Karnabo is found on the Rocroi plateau, near Regniowez in France. It is an Ardennes bogey, comparable to the Mahwot but with a more restricted distribution. Belief in it may trace back to some forgotten historical event. It lives in an abandoned, sealed-off slate quarry.
In appearance the Karnabo is hideous to behold. It is almost human in shape, but it has basilisk eyes and a long, trunk-like nose. It is believed to have come from Rièzes, and to be the offspring of an itinerant sorcerer and a 67-year-old female ghoul. Its evil deeds are numberless.
The horrible nasal whistling of the Karnabo is enough to paralyze or asphyxiate anyone foolish enough to wander within range of the quarry. Livestock are killed outright. While the Karnabo may have inherited its father’s diabolical powers, it also learned from him how to cure paronychia by chanting magical phrases. It works its curative powers on Good Fridays.
Once a young girl dared to play in the vicinity of the slate quarry. As soon as she came near the entrance of the tunnel, the Karnabo pounced on her and dragged her underground. Since then neither her nor the Karnabo have been seen, and the entrance has been sealed off. On stormy nights the sobbing of the girl and the nasal roars of the Karnabo can still be heard.
Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.
Meyrac, A. (1890) Traditions, coutumes, légendes et contes des Ardennes. Petit Ardennais, Charleville.
As an incarnation or ally of the god Set, the Akhekh is associated with darkness and water (both elements of chaos). Pierret gives it an eagle’s head on a winged lion’s body; Budge specifies that it is an antelope with two wings on its back, and the head of a bird crowned with three uraei – the cobras on Pharaonic headdresses.
The akhekh is a symbol of terror, but the uraei also connect it to the power of the Pharaoh. Ramesses II was described as being an akhekh to his Hittite enemies. The Metternich stele shows a king in a chariot drawn by an akhekh galloping over two crocodiles.
Budge, E. A. W. (2015) The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. II. Dover Publications Inc., New York.
Pierret, P. (1875) Dictionnaire d’archéologie égyptienne. Imprimerie Nationale, Paris.
Ayotochtli, “tortoise-rabbit”, is Nahuatl for armadillo. Two somewhat mangled forms of the word appears in Topsell’s work.
Topsell attributes the description of the Aiochtochth or Aiotochth (also known in Spanish as Armato and Contexto) to Cardanus. It is found in Mexico, near the Alvaradus River. An aiotochth is no bigger than a cat and has the snout of a mallard, the feet of a hedgehog, and a very long neck. It is covered by a segmented, lobster-like shell resembling the trappings of a horse. It protects itself with that shell such that neither its head nor neck are clearly visible, with only the ears sticking out. Some of these creatures were brought back to London gardens where they were put to use destroying worms.
The entry for the aiochtochth immediately follows that of the Tatus or Armadillo, and Topsell claims they are comparable.
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.
Tylor, E. B. (1861) Anahuac, or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, London.
The Asp was the first snake to be born from Medusa’s blood, and it has the most poison in its body of any snake. As such it has garnered a fearsome reputation in classical sources. When speaking of the asp it is important to differentiate between the Egyptian cobra, the aspic viper, and the asp of legend, which is both and more besides. It is never clear exactly what the asp in ancient literature is supposed to be; indeed, it is best regarded as a composite of all that was feared in venomous snakes.
According to Topsell’s reference to Aristophanes, the name is derived from an intensive of spizo, “to extend”. It is also the name of a shield, an island in the Lycian Sea, and an African mountain, among other things.
Lucan gives the asp pride of place in his catalogue of snakes, but it is not described killing in gruesome detail. The reference to a “crest” and a “swelling neck” suggests a cobra.
Nicander says that the asp can grow up to a fathom (about 1.8 meters) long. It has four fangs and two tuloi (“cushions” or “mats”) over its forehead. It rears its body up from a coiled position, and its bite causes painless death.
Philoumenos specifies three types of asp. The chersaiai (“terrestrial”), Egyptian asp, or Egyptian cobra is 3 to 4 cubits long and pale grey, black, or red in color. There are three rows of black-bordered rufous spots on its back that join to form a zigzag band towards the tail. The chelidoniai (“swallow-colored”), asp viper, or water asp is smaller, 1 cubit in length, mottled with chestnut markings on a light brown background. There are reddish stripes on the head. The ptuades (“spitters”) or spitting cobras are 3 feet long and are grey, green, or gold in color. To that may be added the Hypnalis, so called because it sends its victims to eternal sleep.
Asps themselves are preyed upon by ichneumons, who coat themselves in an armor of dried mud. The asp can still win the battle by biting the unprotected nose. Ichneumons also eat asp eggs.
Asps are highly common in Egypt, and are regarded as the sacred snake of the Pharaohs. Pharaonic crowns show the asp to represent the king’s power. It is likely this is the snake Cleopatra used to kill herself.
The primary reference to the asp in Christian symbolism is Psalm 58. Asps have poor eyesight and will stop up their ears to avoid being charmed. To prevent themselves from hearing the music of charmers they close one ear with their tail and press the other to the ground. Thus they represent those who reject the message of God by stopping up their ears.
Not all asps are irredeemably bad. One female asp fell in love with an Egyptian boy, warning him of danger and keeping watch over him.
While very venomous, asp bites are sometimes nonlethal. The venom spreads rapidly to the core of the body. Typical symptoms include suffocation, convulsions, and retching. It can cause blindness by breathing in a victim’s eyes.
Aelian believed the bite of the asp to be beyond curing. He also contradicts himself by saying that the asp’s bite can be cured through excision or cautery. Pompeius Rufus supposedly tried to prove that an asp’s venom could be sucked out and neutralized, and had an asp bite him on the arm to make his point. He died because someone took away the water he would have used to rinse out his mouth.
Topsell denied allegations that asp bites were incurable. He suggests cutting into the flesh at the bite and drawing out the venom with cupping-glasses or reeds. Rue, centaury, myrrh, and sorrel, opium, butter, yew leaves, treacle and salt, induced vomiting, garlic and stale ale, aniseed, and a number of other remedies are prescribed.
As with all snakes, asps are frequently given legs and dragon’s features in medieval illustrations. A creature with its ear stopped up is unquestionably an asp. In Romanesque sculpture it appears as a dragon with a crest or mane; the asp from the Saint-Sauveur church of Nevers is a sort of six-legged lizard with a flattened head and a mane running the length of its body.
Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. I. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Aldrovandi, U. (1640) Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae. Antonij Bernie, Bologna.
Anfray, M. (1951) L’architecture religieuse du Nivernais au Moyen Age. Editions A. et J. Picard et Cie., Paris.
Braun, S. (2003) Le Symbolisme du Bestiaire Médiéval Sculpté. Dossier de l’art hors-série no. 103, Editions Faton, Dijon.
Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.
Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.
Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.
Macloc, J. (1820) A Natural History of all the Most Remarkable Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Serpents, Reptiles, and Insects in the Known World. Dean and Munday, London.
Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Serpents. E. Cotes, London.
In Maltese, dajna refers to a fallow deer or an unkempt woman. It is also the name of a titanic primordial camel that lived on Malta before the Deluge.
A dajna or thunder camel had the head and neck of a camel but was ten times the size of an elephant. It could not fit into Noah’s Ark and went extinct as a result, but a population of these colossal camels survived in the netherworld.
Although a dajna is highly dangerous to human beings, the yellowish milk produced by the females is a remedy for baldness. Only heroes dare retrieve it.
Mifsud, S. D. (2017) The Maltese Bestiary. Merlin Publishers Ltd, Blata l-Bajda, Malta.
Variations:Tse’naga’hai,Rolling Rock, Traveling Rock, Traveling Stone, The-one-having-no-speed; Tieholtsodi, Water Monster
Tsé’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was one of the many Anaye or Alien Gods. These primordial monsters were born from unnatural sexual practices, and grew up to ravage and persecute the Navajo people. Tsé’nagahi took up residence at Betchil gai, the Shining Rock, or at a lake where Tsé’espai points up. An enormous mobile stone, it killed people by hurling itself at them. If it saw someone at a distance, it would set off in pursuit, overtaking them if they stood still only to turn around and roll over them.
Nayenezgani planned ahead before coming within range of Tsé’nagahi. When he approached the traveling stone’s lair, he took his black knives and planted them in the ground. Then as he come closer he planted his blue knives, followed by his yellow knives and his serrated knives at closer intervals.
When Tsé’nagahi saw the monster-slaying hero approach, it immediately started for him, hurling itself at him as though thrown by a giant hand. But it rolled over the knives in the ground, which cut slivers of rock out of its body. These fragments became the different rocks used for pigments, each colored based on where it came from: stone from Tsé’nagahi’s bones became white rock, his flesh became blue pigment, his hair black pigment, his mouth and blood red pigment, and his intestines yellow ocher. The moisture from his sweat, mucus, tears, and urine became the wet spots that ooze from rocks today.
Nayenezgani fired off a lightning arrow, and Tsé’nagahi realized it had bitten off more than it could chew. It wheeled around and fled with Nayenezgani in pursuit. The hero continued to knock pieces off Tsé’nagahi as they raced across the land of the Navajo, leaving characteristic geological deposits behind.
In the end the chase led to the San Juan River, where Tsé’nagahi dove underwater. Nayenezgani continued to head it off and attack it – three times he did so, and the fourth time Tsé’nagahi was gleaming like fire underwater. It was virtually unrecognizable as the monstrous rock it had once been.
“Sawé [my baby, my darling], take pity on me”, it implored Nayenezgani. “If you spare me I will no longer harm your people. I will remain in the rivers, I will keep the mountain springs open and supply your people with freshwater”. Nayenezgani stayed his hand. “Very well then”, said the hero, “if you keep this promise I will spare you. But rest assured that if you ever break it, I will seek you out and this time I will kill you”.
Tsé’nagahi kept his promise. From that day forward he was Tieholtsodi, the Water Monster, a soft-furred otter with horns like a buffalo. Tieholtsodi is benevolent and benign; he is everybody’s friend.
Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.
Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.
O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.