Humans lord over the Earth while worms wriggle and writhe through the soil underfoot.
Or at least that's how we choose to see it in the natural world, with only occasional concerns over scalp-based games of pinochle.
Venture into the unnatural world of fiction, however, and you'll find various worms that turn our anthropocentric attitude right on its ear. Some of the creatures ahead inspire revulsion and fear, while others demand nothing short of complete human devotion.
So let us open the Sacred Book of the Worm. Let's slide out of our human skin and enter a world of squirming horrors.
Classification: Biochemically Altered Human
Description: When agreeing to spend the night in a haunted house for a $15,000 pay off, you generally accept a certain degree of Scooby-Doo-esque shenanigans. You most certainly don't expect someone to inject you with a complex enzyme molecule that gradually disintegrates your bones but leaves your nervous system and vital organs intact. In the second season of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery," a war criminal finds himself in just this predicament, forced to choose between a loaded revolver and life as a gelatinous worm-man.
"If this strikes you as absurdly far fetched I suggest you pay another visit to the basement," instructs his captor, the son of a musician tortured during the war. There, he says, one may find a fully transformed worm-man squirming about in the dark. Overcome by horror and convinced by trails of slime and an injection mark on his arm, the war criminal chooses the gun and never inspects the empty cellar.
Classification: Cryptid Death Worm
Description: Also known as the Mongolian Death Worm, the Allghoi Khorkhoi (large intestine worm) is said to reach five feet in length, spit acid and discharge electric shocks. While this monster allegedly makes its home in the sands of the Gobi Desert, lack of proof confines it to the world of cryptid fantasy for now.
Further Study: Mongolia Travel Guide
Classification: Electricity-Crazed Man-Eating Earthworms
Description: Who will be the worm face? Perhaps all of us, because as rural Georgians learned back in the late 1970s, downed power lines can raise legions of bloodthirsty earthworms up to bore into our flesh, flood our homes and munch down our loved ones.
Further Study: "Squirm" (1976)
Classification: Toothed Monster Worm
Description: With a name like "vile meat-weasel," you know this specimen is far from cuddly. Native to the abyssal chasms of Skull Island, these bloated worm creatures are among the more disgusting annelids on the list. While they first seem little more than calf-sized worms, their toothy mouth parts and propensity for swallowing humans whole is enough to thoroughly revolt this writer and make him forget everything else about their island home.
Further Study: Peter Jackson's "King Kong" (2005)
Classification: Mutated Human
Description: The demented Elijah C. Skuggs transformed many a mundane human into a repulsive freak, but poor worm here stands out as one of his least-human experiments. Thanks to a generous application of the mutagen Zygrot 24, Worm's body is now a boneless, segmented tube. Thankfully, he can still wear his eyeglasses and retains his powerful intellect, but his limbless condition leaves him powerless to wipe his own butt.
Further Study: "Freaked" (1993)
Classification: Subterranean Sandworm
Description: The great American graboid continues to capture our imaginations, as well as our ankles -- dragging us into its gaping, beaked maw with three tentacle-like appendages. Sometimes they leave the head. Fortunately, their dependence on loose desert soil and large prey drastically restricts their habitat.
Further Study: How 'Tremors' Graboids Work by Robert Lamb
Classification: Monstrous Earth Worm
Description: This 80-foot-long wormstrosity likes nothing more than to burst out of the ground and swallow treasure-seeking adventurers whole. That's what can happen if your tangle with the toothy mouth end, while the creature's posterior boasts a deadly stinger capable of skewering several halflings in one go.
Classification: Degenerate Humanoid Species
Description: It is right and good to fear the clown, gentle reader, especially when all that pale grease paint masks a degenerate race of humanoid worms. The town of Mirocaw is rife with these creatures, which saunter through the streets during their yearly Feast of Harlequin and burrow beneath the surrounding hills to engage in unspeakable rites.
Classification: Titanic Alien Worm
Description: Alternatively known as "bholes," these titanic alien worms thrive in certain dark depths of the Earth and its surrounding dreamworld. They reach several hundred feet in slime-slathered length and can launch a repulsive volley of otherworldly goo when threatened.
Classification: Pluralizing Monster Worm
Description: Beware the worm that walks among us, such as the dreaded Venderen Worm that haunts the streets of Crotalorn. Surrounded by undulating tendrils that probe immodestly at its prey, the great worm can easily gobble up a human whole. That's fine enough strength for the shadows, but such a monster needs stealth to survive in the world of men. As such, the Venderen Worm shapes its form into that of a human, in time budding additional, subservient forms as well. Very old members of this secretive species may ultimitly populate whole households with their ring of supernumerary.
Further Study: "The Venderen Worm" by Brian McNaughton
Classification: Extraterrestrial Sandworm
Description: The sandworms of Saturn's moon titan remain something a mystery. A curious outer mouth protects the creature's true head as it swims through an abrasive sea of sands, only peeling back when the beast emerges to feast on prey. Strangely enough, its diet depends at least in part on interlopers from various afterlife dimensions.
Further Study: "Beetlejuice" (1988)
Classification: Extraterrestrial Sandworm
Description: The sandworm of Arrakis stands out as one of the most astounding and influential lifeforms in the universe. These massive, water-intolerant creatures reportedly reach lengths of up to 450 meters (1,476 feet), though some report even greater sizes. They thrive beneath the sands of barren Arrakis and rise to the surface when summoned by threatening sounds or a rival worm. While the creatures boats nothing more than animal intelligence, their larval sandtrout form produces a substance with profound influence on human civilization: an awareness spectrum narcotic called Spice Melange.
Further Study: "Dune" by Frank Herbert
Classification: Para-Elemental Fire Worm
Description: Creatures of fire and molten rock, Thoqquas boast an unquenchable appetite for minerals -- and so they burn their way through the deeper regions of the Magma and Earth realms, where they occasional run into parties of adventures and melt every weapon in sight.
Further Study: The gaming world of "Dungeons and Dragons."
Classification: Space Worm
Description: Also known as "space slugs," these great worms make their home in the void of space where they gorge themselves on asteroid as well as the odd spaceship here and there. They live long lives and may reach lengths of up to half a mile.
Further Study: "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)
Classification: Great Old One
Description: There are creatures in this universe so ancient and powerful that they attain some level of godhood in the eyes of mortal humans. And yes, some of them are worms -- such as the White Worm said to reside in a pit beneath a Derbyshire estate. Granted, it doesn't do much down there. It eats whatever humans feed it and otherwise just accepts their kinky devotion and keeps on living.
Classification: Space Worm Demigod
Description: Space worms that try to eat your spaceship are bad. Space worms that try to decimate your entire planet and free a host of dark monster gods from their cosmic prison are far worse. Behold the Conqueror Worm, one of the 369 Ogdru Hem, the children of the Ogdru Jahad, the so-called "dragon of revelation" destined to destroy the world. The worm entity hitched a ride to earth on a returning Nazi space capsule and attempted to cleanse the planet for its dark fathers. Lucky for us, someone stopped it.
Further Study: "Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm" by Mike Mignola
Classification: Titanic Subworld Worm
Description: The Cthonians are an ancient race of immense tentacled worms. If that wasn't bad enough, they also boast telepathic powers and cause earthquakes. Oh yeah, and they want to wipe out humanity. Great. While highly resistant to heat and pressure in the inner Earth, the Cthonians can't handle water. Rumor has it they serve an even greater and older member of their kind known only as Shudde M'ell.
Classification: Great Old One
Description: Rlim Shaikorth, another ancient white worm of immense power and age, mostly keeps to its iceberg fortress of Yikilth. From here, it drifts about amassing worshipers and blasting all in its path with apocalyptic winter.
Further Study: "The Coming of the White Worm" by Clark Ashton Smith
Classification: Great Old One
Description: Worshiped as a god by corpse-eating ghouls, Mordiggian is rarely glimpsed by mortal humans. The creature is described as a "worm-shapen column, huge as a dragon" and a "demonaic giant with eyeless head and limbless body." Humans and ghouls alike offer their dead as an offering to this so-called "charnel god" and those who interfere with such rites risk Mordiggian's dark wrath.
Further Study: "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith
Classification: God Emperor of Humanity
Description: Due to his hybrid human/sandworm nature, Leto Atreides II reigned longer and saw further in time than any ruler in history. Boasting near-physical invulnerability and godlike prescient powers, Leto dominated an immense interstellar empire for 3,500 years. While a time of peace in the known universe, his reign was just one aspect of his envisioned "golden path" to enable humanity's ultimate long-term survival long after his demise.
Further Study: "God Emperor of Dune" by Frank Herbert