tatzelwurm: What is the strange feline-like dragon-lizard terrorizing the locals from the Swiss Alps? Is there really a historical creature or is this all just one big hoax passed down from generations? TAP TO GET PODCAST
The Swiss Alps have a lot to offer in the way of natural beauty. Spanning eight countries – including Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland – its breathtaking views are truly a sight to see. Between its forty-eight mountain peaks, countless lakes, and an extensive list of flora and fauna, there are many sights and wonders to take in. But don’t let all this beauty fool you. Although the Alps may be known for their glorious beauty, the Alps might also just be hiding a dark secret only a few have lived to tell about – the Tatzelwurm
The Swiss Alps have a lot to offer in the way of natural beauty. Spanning eight countries – including Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland – its breathtaking views are truly a sight to see. Between its forty-eight mountain peaks, countless lakes, and an extensive list of flora and fauna, there are many sights and wonders to take in. But don’t let all this beauty fool you. Although the Alps may be known for their glorious beauty, the Alps might just be hiding a dark secret only a few have lived to tell about.
According to European folklore, locals long since the 1600s have reported a mysterious yet dangerous beast that is said to lie not far beneath our feet. And depending on what country you’re from, the beast in question goes by many a name.
Some call it the “Stollwurm,” which translates to “tunnel worm.” Others call it the “Springewurm,” which translates to “jumping worm.” But most notably known for its Germanic name, the Tatzelwurm, or “worm with claws.”
Now, you may be thinking that something with the word worm in its name isn’t typically something you’d shy away from. But if you’re familiar with the Olgoi-Khorkoi, the acid-shooting Mongolian Death Worm, then you know what dastardly deeds these types of creatures are capable of. And while the Tatzelwurm may not be the most popular cryptid to date, that doesn’t mean it’s not to be feared.
While depictions of this beast vary, the general consensus is that the Tatzelwurm is a thick-bodied lizard with legs and a distinctive face that is quick to turn heads. Some believe this lizard ranges somewhere between 2-3 feet in length and is covered in dark brown scales, with razor-sharp teeth.
Others have noted the cryptid having rather smooth, white skin, with large menacing-looking eyes, and ranging nearly 6 feet tall. Now, despite the minor differences, this lizard-worm-type creature seems pretty legitimate. Except for the one distinctive feature that everyone agrees on – that its head is feline in nature and has a large, toothy Cheshire grin that looks as if it’s ready to pounce any moment.
Oh, yeah, and its apparent ability to hiss like a snake and kill a human with just one dangerously venomous bite. And let’s not forget that the Tatzelwurm is also said to release a poisonous fume as it pounces on its victims, and its blood is also made out of literal acid.
I feel like I should throw in a joke somewhere about what you get when you cross the Mongolian Death Worm and the Crowing Crested Cobra. But apparently, all it gets you is a one-way ticket to the afterlife.
Okay, so you might be thinking this tale is outrageously made up. I mean, can you imagine a large worm with a lizard-type body, complete with stubby legs and a large head that resembles a mountain lion? Yeah, me neither. But, if you were to ask researchers back in the 1600s, they would tell you this thing has it out for anyone any dares to step in its path. And there may even be proof the Tatzelwrum truly existed.
In 1680, perhaps the first written account of this local Swiss legend was introduced. Johann Jacob Wagner, a Swiss doctor and naturalist, published Historia Naturalis Helvetiae Curiosa. Which, sidenote: to me, this sounds like an epic Harry Potter spell.
This documentation provides a detailed list of the natural history of Switzerland. Divided into seven sections, Johann begins with a general description of this beautiful country, following the description of the Alps in regards to their shape and height. Johann also covers the glaciers, lakes, rivers, baths, and mineral springs and continues on to describe the animals and plants as well as organic and inorganic fossils and minerals, and then finishes with a detailed list of meteorology.
One interesting thing to note about this documentation is at the time, Johann also provided the first written description of the Switzerland caves, which just so happens to be where the Tatzelwurm, the native cave dweller, resides. With this original illustration of the Tatzelwurm, numerous sightings followed.
In 1779, it said that Hans Fuchs, a Swiss farmer, was walking through the mountains one day when he encountered not one but two Tatzelwurms. Horrified at what he witnessed, Hans tried turning back to run and tell his family to stay far away from the mountaintops. But, in his attempt, Hans, unfortunately, suffered a fatal heart attack. Though, we’re not sure if the heart attack was directly caused by the Tatzelwurms spewing their venom or if Hans was so worked that his body simply couldn’t handle the mental shock. Regardless, with his final breath, Hans described the creature as being 7 feet in length with a snake-like body, clawed front legs, and a large feline-like head with sharp teeth.
In 1828, another story described a man who supposedly found the corpse of a Tatzelwurm lying just a few feet ahead. It’s said that he picked up the corpse and carried it all the way home to show off his fascinating find. However, upon arrival, crows had already eaten so much of the carcass on the way home that there was no real identification left.
A few years later, more Tatzelwurm illustrations began surfacing in historical literature. After the Bavarian hunting manual was released, titled New Pocket Guild of the year 1836 for Nature, Forest, and Hunting Enthusiasts, images were depicted of this worm-cat-like beast. Later, in the 1900s, Bernard Heuvelmans, a cryptozoologist we’ve mentioned previously on the show, described the drawing as being a “sort of scaly cigar, with formidable teeth and wretched little stumps of feet.” And again, in 1841, other illustrations appeared in the Swiss almanac, Alpenrosen, that resembled a long scaly creature with two tiny front legs.
While we don’t have a specific date for this next tale, there’s also the story of a man who was out gathering herbs along the mountainside with his son. After his son had gotten a little too far out of sight, he heard him let out a terrible screech. Running after him, the father stood there in paralyzed fear at the creature hiding beneath a large rock, which he described as being a “gruesome monster.”
According to the story, the monster hissed like a snake and had the face of a cat with big, bright eyes. Luckily, The man was able to save his son by stabbing the Tatzelwurm with a sharp stick. However, once he pierced its flesh, the monster sprayed out green blood that burned the man’s leg so badly that it caused a terrible limp, and it was all the man could do to hobble back home with the aid of his son.
If you ask me, this particular story sounds a lot like the Jangson Beom from Busan we shared a few months back, with both stories involving a man and his son out for a walk in the woods only to have the young boy calling out in distress due to a stalking beast. Or even the legend of the missing boy and the Mongolian Death Worm, where it’s said that the creature spewed acidic venom when approached. And with the growing popularity of these stories, the legend of the Tatzelwurm only continued to grow along with them.
And so did the hoaxes.
On more than one occasion, people throughout Europe have supposedly found remains of these creatures, only to be heavily exaggerated or doctored up. Like in the early 1900s when a Tatzelwurm skeleton was mysteriously donated to the Geneva Institute of Science.
After an unnamed individual took a photograph of the supposed skeleton, the picture showed a long-snakelike creature with two clawed arms and a larger-than-normal head. However, due to the mysterious circumstances, we’re not entirely sure if this skeleton was of the Tatzelwurm or if there was even a skeleton donated at all, as no one ever claimed to have donated it in the first place.
Or around the same time, when Balkin, a Swiss photographer, claimed to have photographed the Tatzelwurm near Meiringen, Switzerland. The photo in question received much hype and interest that a Germanic illustrated magazine, the Berliner Illustririerte, sponsored a winter expedition in search of this creature.
However, the trip was lackluster as there was no such evidence of this creature’s existence. And given the skepticism, people eventually chalked up Balkin’s original photograph as nothing more than a prank, with many believing that the photo was just a hilariously staged ceramic fish.
There’s also another supposed photograph that was taken in the 1960s. But after this photo was mysteriously gifted to a Geneva newspaper, researchers and cryptozoologists agreed that this photo was nothing more than a ploy by the Bavarian mayor trying to attract tourists. This is very reminiscent of the Beast of Bladenboro story we covered, where even though the mayor was skeptical of the beast itself, he was quoted saying, “A little publicity never hurt a small town.”
Again, in the 90s, there was the case of two naturalists who swore they found the Skelton of a lizard-like animal that resembled the Tatzelwurm near Domodossola, Italy. One of the men, Giuseppe Costale, claimed he witnessed a gray, crested reptile moving about in a zigzag fashion in the same area two years apart, once in October of 1991 and again in September 1992. But if you asked me, this sounds more like the depiction of the Crowing Crested Cobra found in Africa and less like a Germanic worm cat.
Even hoaxes as recent as 2009 have claimed to see the Tatzelwurm in broad daylight. Near the Swiss border in Tresivio, Italy, on several occasions, many Italian locals claimed they saw the Tatzelworm. They considered these creatures to be “raptor dinosaurs.” However, it was later speculated by authorities that these were no Tatzelwurms and that the people were seeing were only “missing monitor lizards that had escaped their masters.” In comparing a picture of a monitor lizard and the illustrations of the Tatzelwurm, I’m not sure where they were getting the similarities, but what do I know?
I find it deeply fascinating that when humans get an idea in their head, they run with it. Likening every mishap, misfortune, or strange phenomenon to be explained by their very assumptions. Sometimes we’ll see a weird light in the sky and automatically jump to the conclusion that UFOs are trying to take over. With the very likelihood of the strange light a reflection off of a building or simply lights off of an airplane.
Or if a light randomly flickers late at night, we think our house is automatically haunted when really it’s probably something as simple as a lightbulb going out or some type of electrical issue. But when we wholeheartedly believe in an idea, no matter how outrageous it may seem, no matter if there are a million other more logical explanations, it’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.
And while many believe that Tatzelwurm truly exists with its acidic fumes and venomous bites, there may be a more logical explanation. And not just that, it’s a hoax. But that strange worms or lizards are more common than we might think, Well, minus the cat head and strange feline-like behavior.
In fact, many people think that the Tatzelwurm is actually just a rare salamander that resembles the venomous Gila Monster that calls the Sonoran desert its home. The reason why so many people spectate the very real Gila monster is that, like the supposed venomous fumes the Tatzelwurm releases, the Gila monster is also considered to be an extremely venomous lizard. Others speculate that the Tatzelwurm could also just be a type of giant skink. However, neither the Gila monster nor skinks are particularly native to the Swiss Alps.
While there are several supposed sightings and stories passed down throughout centuries, the truth is we still don’t have physical proof that the Tatzelwurm actually exists. But that doesn’t stop the continuous stories of local legends. While the Tatzelwurm may not be as popular as most famously known cryptids like the Sasquatch or Nessie, the Tatzelwurm has still been recognized in pop culture references.
Take the hit cartoon network series Secret Saturdays, for instance. If you’re not familiar, the premise of this show “follows the adventures of the Saturdays, a family of cryptozoologists that work to keep the truth about cryptids from getting out, to protect both the human race and the creatures themselves.” The Tatzelwurm was first introduced In season 2, episode 6, titled “The Return of the Tsul ‘Kalu,” where it can be seen caged up and even makes another appearance in the Beast of the Fifth Sun, a Secret Saturday‘s spinoff video game.
And then there’s also German literature where the Tatzelwurms are portrayed as European Dragons in which the poem, “Der Tazzelwurm,” written by Joseph Victor Von Scheffel, follows the perspective of “the Tatzelwurm [recounting] it’s days terrorizing the mountainside and laments that humans are no longer afraid of it.
There’s also a play titled “Der Tatzelwurm” that depicts “the dragon as a small serpent with claws that can grant wishes.” Oh yeah, and in the game, Dungeons and Dragons, the Tatzelworm is known to have multi attacks such as bite, burning blood, and poison breath that “releases a poisons gas where the players take 21 poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.”
Despite the lack of evidence and physical proof that the Tatzelwurm ever existed, It seems that even the most bizarre creatures of our world have a cult following.
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