In the same district a young man saw a huge pine suddenly overturned when there was no wind and no one to cut it. On hastening up to discover the cause, he found the surrounding earth in movement, and an enormous worm-like black animal in the middle of it, about twenty-five meters long, and with two horns on its head (Ferris 233).
Minhocão twists and winds through the jungles and waters of Brazil or, at least, the nightmares of Brazilians. Said to be an armored wormlike burrowing creature of enormous though variable size, some descriptions add tentacle-like structures or horns on its head, which gives it an impressive, cthonian aspect. Reports appear throughout the 1800s, when a number of Brazilians experienced close shaves with the beast. Auguste de Saint-Hilaire's "On the Minhocão of the Goyenes," published in the American Magazine of Natural History in 1846, appears to be the oldest reference in print. De Saint-Hilaire describes a giant, and very destructive aquatic worm. He regards it as probably "fabulous," but concedes that sightings "certified by so many persons" make it "impossible... altogether to doubt it" (131). Benjamin G. Ferris, nineteenth-century American politician, lawyer, and gentleman scholar, collected several reports of sightings, and found the creature to be plausible.
Cryptozoologists have proffered a menagerie of extinct creatures as possible minhocão: the glyptodon, the titanoboa, or a basilosaurus/zeuglodon, for example. Others posit the inevitable creature unknown to science. All of these present problems.
The glyptodon, a Pleistocene mammal, looks nothing like a worm. It resembles, in fact, an outsize armadillo, and it did not burrow. Some sort of basilosaurus/zeuglodon, a serpentine fossil whale, might yet survive. While such a creature might account for the earlier, water-dwelling version of the minhocão, it would not explain most later sightings, which generally place it on or under the land. Whales do not fare so well in these environments. The Mesozoic serpent titanoboa lacked armor, but at more than thirteen metres in length, it approaches the legendary monster in size. So far as we know, however, the titanoboa slithered off the terrestrial stage a little after the dinosaurs. A regular boa or an anaconda, described by a startled person, might also account for minhocão. A close encounter with a really large one might be exaggerated, upsized, and mythologized.
Saint-Hilaire toys with the idea of a species of South American lungfish, though one much larger than any known.
A previously unknown creature, then? Sure. Cryptozoologists have wondered if our thing could be a caecilian. These snakelike amphibians live underground, and many inhabit South America. They can be semi-aquatic, which would account for minhocão's appearances in the water. Their segmented appearance might suggest armor. However, the largest caecilians do not much exceed a metre in length; most species are considerably smaller.
For all the evidence we have, minhocão could be a really large segmented worm or a hitherto unknown gigantic species of dryer vent. Like most cryptids, the concept of the creature proves far more compelling than the evidence. Nevertheless, the jungles of South America would be a good place to hide a monstrous snake-worm, if one existed.
Unsurprisingly, the minhocão has found its way into fantasy gaming. It can be found burrowing through Final Fantasy, and I find it difficult to believe it has never appeared in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. It hasn't gained much a presence, that I can determine, in fantasy literature, though it gets mentioned in Jules Verne's Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon. The character Minha describes the minhocão as an aquatic reptile. Since the 1881 novel is a straight adventure rather than one of Verne's pioneering works of SF, it keeps the beast in the realm of legend.
Actual sightings since the 1800s seem rare indeed. Fear not, however: one Minhocão, at least, exists, and sightings are rather common. The name has been given to a highway.
The serpentine, elevated road, officially Via Elevada Presidente João Goulart runs for 3.5-kilometre through São Paulo, Brazil. Opened in 1969 as Elevado Presidente Costa e Silva, its name was changed in the twenty-first century in keeping with the practice of removing public names associated with the period of military dictatorship. Between 9:30 pm and 6:30 am on weekdays and all day on Sundays, Minhocão closes to motorized vehicular traffic, permitting pedestrians and cyclists to wander merrily over the mythic monster.
For ReQuest 2018.
George M. Eberhart. Mysterious Creature: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-Clio, 2002.
Benjamin G. Ferris. A New Theory of the Origin of Species. New York: Fowler and Wells, 1883.
Auguste de Saint-Hilaire. "On the Minhocão of the Goyenes." American Journal of Science and Arts. July 1847. Vol IV, Number 10, 130-131. Reprinted from The American Magazine of Natural History December 28, 1846. xix, 140.
Nick Van Mead. "Taming 'the worm': how the Minhocão is São Paulo's soul." The Guardian, Friday, December 1, 2017.