Translation: hammer child
Alternate names: nozuchi, bachihebi, and many other regional names
Diet: insects, frogs, and mice; also fond of sake
Appearance: Tsuchinoko are short, stumpy snake-like yōkai. Their body shape resembles a hammer or a mallet head with no handle. They range in size from thirty to eighty centimeters long. Their scaly skin is speckled in various earth tones, and they have light-colored bellies. Their viper-like fangs carry a deadly venom. Unlike snakes, tsuchinoko have eyelids. Due to their shape and color they are often said to resemble beer bottles.
Behavior: Tsuchinoko are found throughout Japan. They are active during the day from spring through fall, and hibernate through the winter. They make their nests in holes along wooded riverbanks. They give off a call which sounds like “chee,” and they snore when they sleep.
Tsuchinoko feed on insects when they are young, and frogs and mice as they grow larger. There are occasional reports of them eating larger animals like cats or dogs. They can eat vast quantities of food for their small size. They are also quite fond of sake. They are attracted to the smell of miso, dried squid, and burning hair.
Despite their awkward shape, tsuchinoko are extremely nimble. They can move about like an inchworm, but they are best known for their habit of rolling and tumbling about. They can roll sideways like a log, or tumble vertically from tip-to-tail. They can also swallow their tail–making their body into a ring–and roll like a wheel. Tsuchinoko are great jumpers as well. By some estimates, they can jump from two to five meters.
Origin: Creatures resembling tsuchinoko have been part of Japanese folklore since prehistoric times. Jomon period pottery and stone tools with motifs resembling stumpy snakes have been discovered. During the Edo Period, a number of venomous, rolling, snake-like yōkai–such as the nozuchi and tsuchi korobi–were recorded in folkloric encyclopedias.
Tsuchinoko became a national sensation during the 1970’s, when a number of sightings and supposed live captures of tsuchinoko were reported. This sparked a “tsuchinoko boom,” and people all over the country began hunting for tsuchinoko. An explosion of eyewitness accounts, blurry photographs, and talk show specials cemented tsuchinoko as a household term. Since then, it has remained an extremely popular subject among cryptozoologists, with monetary rewards occasionally offered to anyone able to produce a photograph or a physical specimen.
Tsuchinoko are known by many regional names, such as bachihebi, dotenko, inokohebi, korohebi, tatekurikaeshi, tsuchinbo, tsuchihebi, and so on. They are also sometimes considered to be identical to the yōkai nozuchi or tsuchi korobi–although others say that they are separate creatures.