Tatzelwurm

Mystery LIZARD of Central Europe.

Etymology: German, "clawed worm."

Scientific name: Heloderma europaeum, given by Jakob Nicolussi in 1933.

Variant names: Arassas (in French Alps), Bergstutz ("mountain stump"), CAT-HEADED SNAKE, Daazelwurm, Dard, Hockwurm, Kuschka (from the Slovenian kuscar, "lizard"), Lindwurm (in Innsbruck, Austria), Praatzel-wurm, Springwurm (in Tirol, Austria, "jumping worm"), Stollenwurm, Stollwurm (in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland, "hole worm"), Tazzelwurm.

Physical description: Lizardlike body, 3 inches thick. Length, 1-4 feet. Skin reported as either smooth or scaly. Whitish or light brown on the back, lighter underneath. Blunt head, sometimes described as catlike. Large eyes with a piercing glance. Wide mouth with sharp teeth. Forked tongue. Indistinct neck. Most reports give it two short, stubby front feet with three toes that point outward; others mention four legs or none at all. Short, thick tail.

Behavior: Active in stormy weather. Can jump several feet. Hisses, whistles, or snorts. Hibernates in the winter. Sometimes sleeps in hay in farm buildings. Basks in the sun. Allegedly venomous. Said to attack cattle. Aggressive. May attack if disturbed.

Habitat: Mountains and rocky areas at altitudes from 1,600 to 7,200 feet.

Distribution: The Swiss, Bavarian, French, Italian, and Austrian Alps, with some reports from Silesia in Poland.

TATZELWURM 537

Significant sightings: Hans Fuchs suffered a heart attack and died when he ran across two Tatzelwurms in 1779 near Unken, Salzburg, Austria.

Kaspar Arnold saw a Tatzelwurm on the Spielberg, near Hochfilzen, Tirol, Austria, in July 1883 or 1884. He watched it from a mountain restaurant for twenty minutes and was certain it only had two legs.

A two-legged Tatzelwurm leaped 9 feet in the air toward two witnesses near Rauris, Salzburg, Austria, in the summer of 1921. It was gray, about 2—3 feet long, and had a head like a cat.

In 1934, a Swiss photographer named Balkin claimed to have photographed a Tatzelwurm near Meiringen, Switzerland, but his photo was probably a faked image of a ceramic fish.

In the summer of 1969, a local man reported a 30-inch-long animal with two hind legs near Lengstein, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. It seemed to be inflating its neck.

In 1990, two naturalists found the skeleton of a lizardlike animal in the Alps near Domodossola, Italy. Giuseppe Costale saw a gray, crested reptile moving in a zigzag fashion on Pizzo Cro-nia in the same area on two occasions, in October 1991 and September 1992.

Present status: Early knowledge of the Tatzelwurm may have contributed to European Dragon lore. There have been few reports since the 1960s.

Possible explanations:

(1) Snakes, especially in those few reports in which no front feet are reported.

(2) Reports of Tatzelwurms with four legs might be misidentifications of Pearl lizards (Lucertola ocellata), Alpine salamanders (Salamandra atra), Otters (Lutra lutra), Pine martens (Martes martes), or Badgers (Meles meles).

(3) An unknown species of Anguid lizard (Family Anguidae) related to the limbless Blindworm (Anguis fragilis) and the European glass lizard (Ophisaurus apodus), suggested by Robert Kirch.

(4) An unknown European species of amphisbaenid lizard related to the two-legged Mole worms (Family Bipedidae) of Mexico and Baja California.

(5) An unknown European species of Venomous lizard (Family Helodermatidae), proposed by Jakob Nicolussi, although members of this North American family have two pairs of legs and are by definition poisonous. There are no known instances of Tatzelwurm poisoning.

(6) An unknown species of skink related to the Three-toed skink (Chalcides chalcides) of Spain and the French Alps.

(7) An unknown European species of salamander related to the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus), which can grow to more than 6 feet in length, suggested by Ulrich Magin.

Sources: C. Kohlrusch, comp., Schweizerisches Sagenbuch (Leipzig, Germany: R. Hoffmann, 1854), pp. 47-49, 170; J. A. S. Collin de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal (Paris: H. Plon, 1863); Friedrich Sieber, ed., Sächsische Sagen (Jena, Germany: E. Diederichs, 1924), p. 196; Karl Meusberger, "Etwas vom Tazzelwurm," Der Schlern 9 (1928): 189-190; Ivo Putzer von Reibegg, "In Sache 'Tazzelwurm,'" Der Schlern 9 (1928): 287-288; Ada von der Planitz, "Zum 'Tazzelwurm,'" Der Schlern 9 (1928): 288; Hans Flucher, "Noch einmal die Tatzelwurmfrage: Ein Überblick über das Ergebnis unserer Rundfrage," Kosmos 29 (1932): 66-68, 100102; Jakob Nicolussi, "Der Tatzelwurm und seine Verwandschaft," Der Schlern 14 (1933): 119-127; Karl Meusberger, "Neue Beiträge zur Tatzelwurmfrage," Der Schlern 15 (1934): 64-85; Otto Steinbock, "Der Tatzelwurm und die Wissenschaft," Der Schlern 15 (1934): 453-468; Hans Rudolf, "Razzia auf den Tatzelwurm," Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung44 (1935): 551-558, 601-604; H. Dübi, "Von Drachen und Stollenwürmen," Archives Suisses des Traditions Populaires vol. 3 (1939); Arnold van Gennep, Le folklore des Hautes-Alpes (Paris: G. P. Maisonneuve, 1946-1949); Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 32-37; Ulrich Magin, "European Dragons: The Tatzelwurm," Pursuit, no. 73 (1986): 16-22; Luis Schönherr, "The Tatzelwurm: Mythical Animal or Reality?" Pursuit, no. 85 (1989): 6-10; Ulrich Magin, Trolle, Yetis, Tatzxlwürmer

538 TATZELWURM

(Munich, Germany: C. H. Beck, 1993), pp. 69-82; Fabio Gariani, "Enigmi striscianti," Stargate, no. 5 (September 2000), http://www. edicolaweb.net/st000559.htm, and st000560.htm.

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