"Tale of the Tatzelwurm"

Investigation by Dr. Abner Mality

Guten Tag, Wurmfreunden! Herr Doktor Mality with you once again and today I'll be gallivanting about the mountains and valleys of Europe, particularly the Bavarian Alps of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Give me a minute while I adjust my lederhosen and drink a little schnapps, then join me as I go on a search for the elusive TATZELWURM!

The what, the what, you ask? The tatzelwurm, the mysterious "little dragon" of the mountains, whose name means "claw worm" in German. But that's not the only name this strange creature has. It has also been known by variant names like "stollenwurm", "springwurm", "Bergstutzen" and "Arassas", depending on where it was seen. Animals meeting the unique description of the tatzelwurm have been seen from Bavaria all the way down to the French Alps and even northern Italy.

Well, just what is this weird beast? Though descriptions vary, it is generally agreed that the tatzelwurm is a thick-bodied stumpy creature like a lizard or large amphibian, ranging in length from 2 to 6 feet. It is sometimes described as having either four legs or just two, but all agree that the front two legs are powerfully clawed. Many say it has a cat-like face. Folklore surrounds the tatzelwurm and some tales say it can spit poison capable of killing humans...shades of the dreaded Mongolian Death Worm!!! But no person has ever been reported killed by the tatzelwurm's venom, so that can perhaps be chalked up to exaggeration.

Is our pal Tatzy a real animal...or just a kind of hobgoblin to file next to dragons and griffins? In recent years, sightings of the creature have seemingly diminished to the point where many think the animal is extinct, if in fact it was a real animal. But later on we will take a look at another viewpoint that perhaps the tatzelwurm is alive and well in the 21st century.

Vague reports of the beast start appearing in the 1500's but it was not until 1779 that a historically reputable report of a Tatzelwurm sighting emerged. An Austrian farmer named Hans Fuchs came across two clawed, reptillian creatures attacking his livestock. One of the creatures leaped towards Fuchs, who was able to avoid the monster but suffered a heart attack due to the shock. Fuchs was able to live long enough to tell his family about th encounter before dying.

The Fuchs encounter increased awareness of the Tatzelwurm phenomenon. Other reports of the creature came trickling in and by 1836, there was a picture and description of the Tatzelwurm in a book laboriously called The New Pocket Guild for Nature, Forest and Hunting Enthusiasists. The crude picture depicts a scaly oval with a toothy grin and tiny feet. It's one of the few illustrations of the Tatzelwurm known to exist.

As is usually the case, local people considered the animal to be a part of their natural landscape, although one that was seldom seen. As we move into the 20th century, sightings become increasingly rarer...but some of them were quite spectacular.

In 1924, a couple of travellers claimed they found the skeleton of a Tatzelwurm (or, as they called it, the Stollenwurm in the Nur Valley of Switzerland. A veterinary student claimed the sksleton was that of a roe deer, but the finders vigorously disputed that claim, saying the bones had features that could not belong to any deer. Again, as is typical in tales of the unknown, the skeleton somehow got lost or misplaced. Once again, definitive proof of a cryptid species had eluded science.

In 1954, even more exciting evidence was claimed. A Swiss photographer by the name of Balkin said he had actually shot a picture of a Tatzelwurm in an alpine forest. The resulting picture was woefully inconclusive and appeared to show a very static and inaminate looking stubby creature amidst logs and rocks. Biologists widely decried the Balkin photo as a hoax and few take it seriously.

Since that time, the Tatzelwurm has been seldom seen. There was a spate of sightings in the early 70's but little since then. This has led many to conclude that either the creature was a myth or it has simply gone extinct. However, a recent report in the Fortean Times magazine by German cryptozoologist Ulrich Magin has come up with a surprising number of reports about lizard-like creatures being seen in Northern Italy and Switzerland.

As recently as 2009, many reports were made in the Tresivio area of Italy, near the Swiss border. Authorities chalked up most of these reports to "missing monitor lizards" that had escaped their masters. Some of the sightings were even said to be of "raptor" dinosaurs! Only the oldest residents of Tresivio called the mysterious creatures by the name they always knew them as..."basilisco" or basilisk. That was the Italian name for Tatzelwurm...a creature almost faded into non-existence.

But could these "dinosaurs" or "missing reptiles" be the Tatzelwurm acting up again after years of quiet? It would sure be nice to think that Tatzy is still lurking around the Alps...even though it is certainly possible that the recent sightings WERE due to scaly pets on the loose.

At the end of the day, we are left with the question: what is the Tatzelwurm? The great cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans believed that it was a reptile related to the American Gila Monster or perhaps the Mexican Beaded Lizard. The stubby body, thick tail and blunt head do meet the description of those creatures. But they are inhabitants of the dry and arid desert...quite different from the moist and temperate mountains of Central Europe. Others like Karl Shuker have postulated that the Tatzelwurm may be a gigantic salamander, which is certainly more likely in the Alpine environment. The mountains of Japan are home to a type of giant salamander that can reach four feet in length and it has a strange, wedge-shaped head. Salamanders, though, are generally sluggish and non-aggressive and the Tatzelwurm has been known to jump and attack. Another theory states that it might be some unknown type of mammal related to an otter. The head and face has been described as cat-like. But this is not considered very likely, as too many descriptions fit with a reptile or amphibian.

Or is Tatzy just a folktale that is slowly dying out, like tales of elves and fairies? It's a possibility, but there are JUST enough level-headed sightings of something strange in the mountains that maybe, just maybe, the elusive Tatzelwurm still clings to life.

Look! Over there! That log...didn't it just get up and run away on stubby little feet?! Ach, du lieber!!!

Until next time, this is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights...