Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Gobi, the camel, and the worm.


W
hen I started to do some reading about the Gobi Desert, I got the expected facts. It is the largest desert in Asia, covering parts of northern China and southern Mongolia. The desert basins of the Gobi are bounded by the Altai Mountains and the grasslands and steppes of Mongolia on the north, by the Hexi Corridor and Tibetan Plateau to the southwest, and by the North China Plain to the southeast.


Unlike many other deserts, the Gobi has few sand dunes in the Gobi; rather you'll find large barren expenses of gravel plains and rocky outcroppings - it's a desolate landscape.

As described in Wikipedia:

The Gobi is a cold desert, and it is not uncommon to see frost and occasionally snow on its dunes. Besides being quite far north, it is also located on a plateau roughly 910–1,520 meters (3,000–5,000 ft) above sea level, which further contributes to its low temperatures. An average of approximately 194 millimeters (7.6 in) of rain falls per year in the Gobi. Additional moisture reaches parts of the Gobi in winter as snow is blown by the wind from the Siberian Steppes. These winds cause the Gobi to reach extremes of temperature ranging from –40°C (-42°F) in winter to +40°C (104°F) in summer.

I'll be there in mid-July. I wonder how hot it's going to be. I hope not too hot....and I don't care if it's *dry* heat....hot is hot!!

The Gobi is home to the Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) which is one of the most endangered species of animals - listed as one of the top 10 critically endangered mammals on the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) list. Unlike its more well known cousin, the Dromedary, the Bactrian camel has two humps on its back.

I remember an episode of Planet Earth where the cameraman had to wait for months to capture footage of the elusive camel. Here's the "behind-the-scenes" video of how that footage was captured. I love the closing shot of the camels walking along the ridge of what appears to be a sand dune. So cool!

Considering its rarity, it's highly unlikely I'll get to see the elusive Bactrian camel in the wild. Fortunately, there are domesticated Bactrian camels so maybe I can get up close to see one of these.

I fully expect to read about camels when I read about fauna in a desert but I did not expect to read anything about worms. Worms? In the desert? In the Gobi? How the hell can a worm survive in temperatures that are as extreme as those in the Gobi? Hmmm....curiosity piqued, I decided I must learn more about this creature.

Well, Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster, the northwestern region of the US is home to Bigfoot, the Himalayas are home to Yeti and Mongolia is where you will find....THE Mongolian Deathworm. Oh yeah....a killer worm. No laughing please....this is a serious posting :-)

Reported to be between two and five feet long, the deep-red colored worm is said to resemble the intestines of a cow and sprays a yellow acidic saliva substance at its victims, who if they’re unlucky enough to be within touching distance also receive an electric shock powerful enough to kill a camel....or them.




The Mongolian Death Worm does have a Latin name - Allghoi khorkhoi, so one would be led to believe that it actually exists. However, everything I've read points to the contrary. While some Mongolians firmly believe in the existence of the Deathworm, none have ever actually seen one. No photos or even fossil evidence exist of this creature. Scientists and cryptozoologists who have attempted to find the worm have all come up empty handed. Hmmmm....I think someone is either drunk on fermented mare's milk or maybe hallucinating on fermented mare's milk and mistaking a big red, pleated tube for a worm.

So maybe it is all just lore but nonetheless, I consider myself to have been warned. Be very careful where I thread because I could awaken the beast, lurking just beneath the sand, waiting in silence for the perfect opportunity to strike on its prey....me :-)