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My scaly skin was all of horn,
And fire I spit since I was born;
Whatever up the mountain came,
I killed and gobbled it for game,
As Tazzelworm.
~ English translation of "Der Tazzelwurm", a poem by Joseph Victor von Scheffel

Tatzelwurms, also known as stollenwurms, springwurms, and many other names, are serpentine reptiles reported in the Swiss Alps. Sometimes called a 'worm with feet', they are usually described with elongated bodies, anywhere from two to six legs, and sometimes a cat-like face.

Appearance Edit

Tatzelwurms are most often described as lizards or worms, 30-90 cm (about 1-3 feet) long. Their faces are sometimes described as catlike, with a blunt nose and wide, round eyes. Their bodies are around 8 cm (3 in) thick and cylindrical, with no clear neck and a tail that ends abruptly. They are most often described with two thin, stumpy legs, although both four-legged and six-legged descriptions exist. The length of their tails varies depending on how many legs they have; two-legged descriptions describe a long tail, but four-legged and six-legged versions describe a long body with a short tail.

Their bodies are described with smooth fur, skin, or scales. They are brown or white in color, with a lighter belly.[1]

Behavior Edit

Tatzelwurms are thought to reside in the Alpine regions of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. They live in caves and rock crevices, but will come out into the open if they sense a storm after a drought.

The reptiles are oddly aggressive, and can jump 2-3 meters (6.5-10 feet). They will hiss when angry. They are venomous, sometimes so venomous that even their breath is deadly. They also have tough scales that are impervious to most weapons. Tatzelwurms have been known to attack humans and livestock alike, both for food and in self defense.[1]

Names Edit

The word tatzelwurm is German for "worm with paws",[2] and has become the most popular name for the animals in English. Other German-derived names include stollerwurm and stollwurm ("tunnel worm"), bergstutzen ("mountain stump"), and springwurm ("jumping worm").

Believing the creatures to be relatives of gila monsters and Mexican beaded lizards, an Austrian schoolmaster gave the tatzelwurms a scientific name: Heloderma europaeum. Despite this, the reptiles are not identified by the scientific community at large.[1]

Cultural significance Edit

In German literature, tatzelwurms are generally portrayed as European dragons. The poem "Der Tazzelwurm" by Joseph Victor von Scheffel is written from the point of view of a tatzelwurm, as it recounts its days terrorizing the mountainside and laments that humans are no longer afraid of it.[3] Additionally, a play called "Der Tatzelwurm" depicts the eponymous dragon as a small serpent with claws that can grant wishes.[4]

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Heuvelmans, Bernard. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Kegan Paul International (1995). Pg 10-17.
  2. Wiktionary contributors. "Tatze", Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary (25 May 2017).
  3. Scheffel, Joseph Victor von. Gaudeamus!, A. Bonz & comp. (1876). Pg 7-8. English translation.
  4. Schmid, Hermann von. "Der Tatzelwurm", Hoffmann (1870). Pg 19.