by Piter Kehoma Boll
The year was 1728. The young naturalist Carl Linnaeus was exploring some marshes in the vicinities of Lund, Sweden, in search of botanical specimens. Suddenly he was wounded by something that felt like a sudden dart hitting the skin. Linnaeus deduced that the cause was a small slender worm that buried itself deeply and quickly in the flesh, so that it was impossible to try to extract it. The wound caused such a severe inflammation that his life became endangered. He recovered, of course, but was so deeply impressed by the experience that he gave a name to the supposed animal, Furia infernalis, the fury from Hell, and introduced it in his famous Systema Naturae.
Several naturalists continued to spread the idea of such an animal and several works regarding the creature were published by very respected cientists. The animal was described as being a greyish worm of the thickness of a hair and with black extremities that inhabits marshy places and darts itself upon the exposed parts of the bodies of humans and other animals that happen to be in its reach. The torments caused by the worm after quickly burying itself in the flesh were so excruciating that they throw the victim into a state of madness and wild rage.
The idea of the existence of the creature soon became settled in people’s minds. The animal was supposed to live only in eastern Scandinavia and perhaps Russia and the Baltic contries, but did not happen further to the south nor in Norway. Even some medical treatments to cure the infection were published.
An older, wiser and more experienced Linnaeus, many years later, altered his opinion on the creature. He admitted that he possibly was drawn into error regarding the creature’s nature or even existence and considered it to be entirely fictional. However, it was too late. New cases of attacks continued to appear and the worm seemed to be a special danger to reindeer. Accounts regarding entire herds of reindeer being killed by the creature were so frequent that the purchase of animals from Sweden was entirely forbidden during the periods in which the disease was frequently reported.
Despite all the alarm, no one ever was able to present a specimen of the creature in order to validate its existence. The problem with the deer were later discovered to be caused by cestode larvae in the brain, i.e., they were afflicted by neurocysticercosis.
Today Furia infernalis is considered to be an entirely fictional animal belonging to the realm of Cryptozoology. But I wonder what had stung Linnaeus in that marsh three centuries ago.
– – –
Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae…
Brooke, A. C. 1827. On the Furia infernalis. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 3: 39-43.