The Minhocão is a cryptid from Brazilian folklore. It is an alleged worm-like or serpentine burrowing creature described as a giant earthworm, eel, or fish.
It allegedly lives in shallow or muddy waters, lakes, swamps, bogs, and other slow-moving bodies of water in the Amazon River Basin regions of southern Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. Alleged sightings have also occurred in the Parana River Basin regions of Paraguay and Uruguay.
European colonialists, travelers, naturalists, and explorers first learned about the Minhocão in the 1800s from native accounts of the legendary creature.
Folklore describes the Minhocão as a worm- or eel-like cryptid measuring 50-150 feet. Some sources made more modest claims about the length of the cryptid, saying it was only about 30-40 feet long, while others claimed it reached 260 feet.
Multiple accounts claimed it had horns.
One of the first descriptive accounts of the Minhocão was by the French biologist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853). He was a naturalist known for travels in South America, including Brazil and Uruguay. He extensively documented South America’s rich flora and fauna.
A gigantic worm-like creature
In 1847, an American journal of science published de Saint-Hilaire’s detailed description of the alleged Minhocão. While traveling in Brazil, he learned from locals about a monster resembling a worm that lives in the Rio dos Pilões, Padre Aranda, and Feia lakes in the Goyaz (Goiás) province of the country.
According to de Saint-Hilaire, the Minhocão was a gigantic worm-like creature with a well-developed mouth. He described it as dark and stubby (short and thick), thus contradicting accounts that ascribed extreme lengths to the cryptid.
The monster was allegedly carnivorous. It rarely rose to the surface. It preferred to remain submerged, seizing large animals–such as cattle and horses–by the underside and dragging them down to the bottom of its watery habitats.
The French naturalist suggested that the name “Minhocão” was cognate with “minhoca,” the Portuguese word for “earthworm.”
Although the Minhocão was usually said to be similar to an earthworm, some accounts depicted it as a monster fish with fins.
Based on native Brazilian descriptions of the Minhocão as worm-like, de Saint-Hilaire proposed it might be an unusually large South American lungfish (Lepidosiren paradoxa).
The South American lungfish (also known as mudfish) is an air-breathing freshwater fish that lives in swamps and other water-logged environments of the Amazon River Basin and the Parana River Basin of South America, covering southern Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
However, biologists are unaware of any species of South American lungfish reaching the enormous proportions that folklore ascribed to the Minhocão.
A new underground monster?
Dr. Fritz Muller was a German naturalist who resided in the municipality of Itajahy (Itajaí) in the state of Santa Catarina, southern Brazil in the 1800s. He described the Minhocão in an account published in February 1878 by multiple scientific journals, including the German language journal Zoologische Garten and Nature.
Muller’s description of the cryptid in a report titled A New Underground Monster, relied partly on the testimonies of multiple locals, including Senhor Lebino José dos Santos of the municipality of Curitibanos in the state of Santa Catarina.
According to Muller’s Brazilian sources, the Minhocão was native to the southern highlands of Brazil. It was a monster-sized earthworm with a tough exoskeleton. Specimens reached about 150 feet in length and 15 feet in breadth or thickness. They preferred wet or water-logged habitats, such as swamps, bogs, or muddy, slow-moving bodies of water.
They were powerful burrowers known for digging massive trenches in the earth, especially after heavy rainfall. The monster’s burrowing diverted rivers, uprooted trees, and damaged roads. According to folklore, the burrowing activity sometimes caused seismic-like rumblings or thunder-like rumblings associated with inclement weather.
Fritz’s account also referred to an alleged sighting by Francisco de Amaral Varella, who claimed to have seen the creature and described it as having a porcine (pig-like) snout. It was about 3.5 feet thick and several feet long, but Varella couldn’t tell whether it had legs.
What was the Minhocão?
Muller’s account– based on Senhor Lebino’s testimony–claimed that residents of Arapehy (Arapey?) in Uruguay reported sighting the carcass of a Minhocão in 1849. Alleged eyewitnesses described the beast as having hardened, scaly skin as tough as the bark of a pine tree.
Claims that the Minhocão had an unusually hardened exoskeleton led to comparison with the armored armadillo (order Cingulata).
In his book On the Track of Unknown Animals, cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans proposed that South America’s Minhocão population might be surviving members of a subfamily of heavily armored giant armadillos that appeared about 48 million years ago but thought to have gone extinct.
The subfamily (Glyptodontinae) included armadillos of the genus Glyptodon. The genus included multiple species from the Pleistocene era (about 2.5 million years ago) and Early Holocene (c. 11,000 years ago) native to the territories of South American countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
Appearing to ignore accounts that ascribed a hardened exoskeleton to the Minhocão, Muller agreed with de Saint-Hilaire’s proposal that descriptions suggested it might have been a South American lungfish.
However, cryptozoologist Karl Shuker rejected theories proposing that the Minhocão could be surviving members of the prehistoric subfamily (Glyptodontinae) of giant armadillos. Shuker argued that the Minhocão was unlikely to be a Glyptodont because the ancient armadillos were not aquatic or semi-aquatic creatures.
They were also not burrowing animals.
Although Shuker thought the lungfish was a more likely candidate than armadillos, he rejected de Saint-Hilaire’s suggestion that the Minhocão might be an unusually large South American lungfish. Instead, he proposed it might belong to the biological group of animals known as the caecilians.
Most caecilians belong to the order Gymnophiona and Clade Apoda. They fall into several families, including Caeciliidae, Typhlonectes, and Dermophiidae.
Caecilians are limbless, earthworm- or snake-like amphibians living in the soil or beds of slow-flowing streams of South and Central America, Asia, and Africa.
Their strong skulls are pointed at the anterior end, making them highly adapted to a burrowing lifestyle. Some also have fish-like scales.
However, no caecilians approach the dimensions folklore ascribed to the Minhocão. Thus, scientists consider stories about a supposed monster earthworm as unsubstantiated and don’t take them seriously.
Sightings and Tales
Reported sightings of the Minhocão go back to the 1800s.
According to de Saint-Hilaire’s Brazilian sources, sightings were rare because the monster preferred to keep out of sight.
Fritz Muller is the source of most reported sightings of the monster in the 1800s.
A sighting allegedly occurred in the 1840s in the area of the Rio dos Papagaios in Paranà State. According to Muller, locals told the story of a woman who went to draw water at a lake. She reported seeing a behemoth the size of an entire building.
Muller also recounted local accounts about a young man who claimed to have seen a black worm-like beast about 25 meters long uprooting a pine tree. The frightened man claimed the cryptid had horns on its head.
There was an alleged sighting of a dead Minhocão in 1849 near Arapehy, Uruguay.
Muller’s source, Senhor Lebino, claimed the monster died after it got stuck between rocks and couldn’t extricate itself.
Francisco de Amaral Varella
Fritz also reported that a resident named Francisco de Amaral Varella reported a sighting in 1870 near Lages, a municipality in the Planalto Serrano region of Santa Catarina state.
Varella allegedly saw an enormous Minhocão on the bank of the Rio das Caveiras (see the previous section for Varella’s description of the creature).
He called his neighbors, but the creature had escaped by burrowing into the earth before anyone arrived. However, it left evidence in the form of a deep trench.
Herr F. Kelling
Following Varella’s report, Herr F. Kelling, a merchant resident at Lages, reported sighting a similar trench in another section of the town about six kilometers from the first. The burrow passed underneath a pine tree to marshland.
Herr E. Odebrecht
Herr E. Odebrecht, also a resident of Brazil, reportedly saw Minhocão trenches during an expedition to survey an area in the Santa Caterina highlands.
Odebrecht noticed multiple trenches in the marshes along the Marombas River. He had no idea what they were. However, after learning about the Minhocão, he realized the cryptid made them.
|Location||Bolivia, Brazil, Peru,|
|Type||Lake Monster, Monster|
|Habitat||Countryside, Farmland, Forest, Jungle, Lake, Marsh, River, Swamp|
Where to find
On the Track of Unknown Animals, Bernard Heuvelmans, 1965.
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (Volumes 1&2), George M. Eberhart (2002).
https://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2009/02/seeking-mega-caecilians.html, Seeking Mega-Cicilians, accessed on February 8, 2023.
https://books.google.co.uk/, “A New Underground Monster,” Nature, Vol. 17, February 21, 1878, accessed on February 8, 2023.
https://www.denvermichaels.net/a-new-underground-monster/, “A New Underground Monster,” accessed on February 8, 2023.
The Minhocão is a cryptid from Brazilian folklore. Pic credit: Pixabay