The Ahuizotl is the legendary water monster of Aztec folklore once thought to live in lakes and rivers around Tenochtitlan, Mexico. Its name means “thorny one of the water” or “spiny aquatic thing.” The Ahuizotl is a creature that was firmly established in the legends of the Aztecs. The animal is mentioned in the Florentine Codex, a manuscript compiled in the 16th century describing aspects of life before the arrival of the Spanish.
This strange beast is similar in appearance to a small dog with monkey-like hands. The most unique feature of the animal is a long, slender tail with a human-like hand of the end. Using its unusual tail, the beast would snag its prey—humans—and drag them to a watery demise. The Ahuizotl feasted upon its victims; it was particularly fond of eating the eyeballs, teeth, and fingernails of its human prey. Several days after becoming a fatality of the water beast, the victim’s corpse would wash ashore with missing nails, teeth, and eyeballs.
Some have described the Ahuizotl as some sort of guardian of the water. The beast would snatch unsuspecting victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time—those who ventured too close to the edge of the water. However, this malevolent being went beyond guardianship of the waters; it actually lured victims to the water with cries—cries that mimicked that of a human baby. The creature is also said to have engaged in attacks on boats with helpless fisherman inside.1
It was believed that people who died by drowning were taken to the lovely, earthly paradise known as Tlalocan—the home of the water god Tlaloc, his wife, Chalchiuhtlicue, and his helpers, the Tlaloque. Only the priests of the Tlaloque were authorized to touch or remove the body of someone who had been killed by the Ahuizotl. The body was considered sacred to the Aztecs.2
What were the legends of the Ahuizotl based on? How did such a fierce animal find its way into the folklore of the Aztecs? Was the creature loosely based on some sort of known animal? The otter is the only animal that comes to mind; otters, however, do not seem capable of producing such legends. Could there have been a creature, now extinct, that gave rise to the stories?
This was an excerpt from my book Water Monster South of the Border. Listed among Loren Coleman’s “Top 10 Cryptozoology Books of 2016,” this book contains many other stories of creatures similar to the Ahuizotl.
- Carol Rose. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 8.
- “The Ahuizotl.” The Aztecs at Mexicolore. Accessed May 15, 2016. http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/aztefacts/ahuizotl.