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"Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen!"
Stilgar, Dune (1984)

The Monster is coming for you, but you can't see it. What you do see is the floorboards splitting as it pushes through the ground underneath them towards the camera, or just dust being kicked up if it's outside.

It's not always played for scares though; sometimes it's just a convenient visual shorthand for indicating where something moving underground — such as Mole Men, or a Drill Tank — happens to be. It can be used as a legitimate tension-building device to hint a monster the audience hasn't seen yet (or hasn't seen much of) or as a way for lower-budget films to get the monster in without actually spending money on the generally more expensive effects shot.

Sometimes the effect will be the ground bulging up as if something has been forced through it, while other times it will be subsidence, as if the monster has actually consumed the earth, undermining the ground above it. note 

See also Sand Worm, Nothing Is Scarier, Traveling-Pipe Bulge. Compare Bad Vibrations. The Croc Is Ticking is the audible equivalent.

Nothing whatsoever to do with Movie Sign (although that is named after Dune's worm sign), Wormtongue or Wormtail.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the fourth episode of the original Bubblegum Crisis OVA, Sylia and Linna travel through subway tunnels at high speed and the road above them splits as they pass.
  • One Piece:
    • Occurs when Miss Merry Christmas travels underground.
    • When Captain Kuro moves faster than the eye can see, scratch marks appear on the walls where he's running.
  • 3×3 Eyes features at one point an invisible creature with three clawed legs; when it attacks, all you could see is three rows of claw-marks being rapidly carved to the floor.
  • In the 23rd episode of Petite Princess Yucie, Diabolos' evil roots attack in this manner.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman villain the Mole would leave a trail of bulging ground behind him as he tunneled; it is strong enough to crack pavement.

    Fan Works 
  • Ice and Fire (Minecraft): A deathworm's movement beneath the sand is visible thanks to a trail of disturbed sand particles.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dune (1984): (the Trope Namer being the book on which it is based) A Sand Worm makes the pretty distinct wormsign shape underground. For an added effect, we also see lightning-like effects. Presumably, the motion of the giant creature (and more importantly tons of sand) ionizes the air.
  • Dune (2021) and Dune: Part Two (2023) : Sand worms (also called Shai-Hulud) can be spotted at the distance with all the sand that's moved as they approach. As they approach the surface, they cause soil liquefaction.
  • Towards the end of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), the thing races underground towards McReady, splitting floorboards as it goes.
  • The Graboids in Tremors give these as they tunnel.
    • When Valentine and Earl are fleeing a graboid in the desert, a line of posts fall down as the graboid passes under them.
    • As the protagonists are fleeing inside the store, a line of planks start flying into the air as a graboid goes beneath them.
  • Western horror film The Burrowers. The titular creatures attack from under the earth, and then drag their prey down into it. They do this because, like vampires, they are vulnerable to the sun.
  • Subverted in Aliens. You don't see the floorboards move till it's too late, you just hear the beeping of the motion detectors.
  • Godzilla (1998) does this when Godzilla arrives from the ocean. The pier splits most satisfyingly.
  • Godzilla (2014):
    • Godzilla creates a massive swell in the water as he swims, with his dorsal spines protruding from the top. The act of landfall is preceded by a tsunami.
    • The MUTOs make their presence know with an EMP field they emit, causing all electronic devices to fail within their radius.
  • In The Frighteners the Big Bad evil ghost does this to various surfaces (wallpapers, rugs) in a haunted house.
  • Scorponok in Transformers.
  • The Driller in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Big wormsign.
  • He Who Walks Behind the Rows in Children of the Corn (1984). He doesn't walk, and He's between the rows, not behind them.
  • Freddy's worm-form pulls this off in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
  • In the Walter Koenig/Bruce Campbell vehicle Moontrap, wormsign on the moon marks the approach of the Kelium, ancient, burrowing robots with probing tentacles intent on cutting humans to pieces and using them for spare parts.
  • The emergence of the first tripod in the 2005 The War of the Worlds is preceded by splitting roads, collapsing buildings and bursting water pipes.
  • Screamers, are a type of subterranean killing machines.
  • The gopher from Caddyshack left ridges of disturbed earth all over the golf course.
  • Floor flies away as the monsters hunt the protagonists in Deep Rising.
  • Worm Signs are made by COBRA in GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra.
  • Space Jam has the cartoon character Bugs Bunny create a wormsign bulge in the real world (a special effect) as he and Daffy Duck approach Michael Jordan's home. This includes disturbing pavement stones. Surprisingly, while Bugs continues forward toward the house, a persnickety Daffy creates a branch wormsign that ends up in the Angry Guard Dog's doghouse. So, cartoon ducks are Tunnel Kings on par with rabbits. Who'd've guessed?
    • Or maybe he just learned how from spending so much time with Bugs.
  • In Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, the Sand Worm pushes sand up and causes it to collapse in its wake, leaving a shallow trench.
  • Bird Box. Wind and disturbed leaves or foliage presage the arrival of the creatures, whose appearance is never revealed. At one point Malorie is fleeing through a forest with the movement of trees showing three creatures are moving in on her.

  • Dune is the Trope Namer. The sandworms leave massive trails as they dig, able to be seen from miles away.
  • In Stephen King's IT, Pennywise once approaches one of its victims in this way.
  • In Nightworld some friends of Repairman Jack have evacuated to a nuclear bunker out in the boondocks to escape the Eldritch Abominations erupting out of a portal in New York's Central Park. Then another portal opens nearby, but everyone thinks they'll still be safe in the bunker...until they see what appear to be giant mole tracks running out from the portal, then curving around to make a beeline for their bunker. Sure enough they end up having to defend against worm-like creatures who start gnawing away at the bunker from all sides until they break through.
  • The Mysteries of Harris Burdick includes a picture of a terrified man cornered in a room, rearing a wooden chair up to strike an unseen thing moving toward him beneath the carpet. The title and caption read "Under The Rug - Two weeks passed, and it happened again."
  • The Discworld Almanack, in its piece about the worm herders who used to travel the Sto Plains, has an illustration showing wormsign around the feet of a serious-looking man carrying a shepherd's crook with a very small hook.

    Live Action TV 
  • A good Buffy example is the giant worm which leaves tunnel patterns in "Beneath You".
  • The Stargate SG-1 episode "The Scourge" has the flesh-eating insect plague do this.
  • The Silurian scorpions in Primeval.
    • In 4.4, Becker tracks a creature in a cafeteria by how it knocks over chairs.
  • One episode of Sliders had them sliding to a universe inhabited with a beast that did this.
  • The Dune miniseries.
  • Happens in the Fringe episode "Night of Desirable Objects".
  • The Mongolian death worms in Lost Tapes.
  • The Dramole monster in the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
  • The Krayt Dragon in The Mandalorian.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Rattlers from Deadlands are named so because when they make wormsign, people's teeth rattle from vibration.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Sometimes when a bulette is burrowing just below the surface, its crest will be raised and be visible to anyone nearby, cutting through the dirt like the fin of a shark through water. Thus its nickname of "Land Shark."
    • The Dark Sun setting has sink worms, so named because they leave a sunken depression behind them as they move through the silt or sand. Since sink worms are oddly quiet, this is often the only warning its victims have before it bursts from the sand beneath them.

    Video Games 
  • BearZerkers: You can burrow underground, and this will appear in your path. It can be used to block other players' movement.
  • Champions Online: The tunneling power leaves a Bugs Bunny-esque burrow trail to show your position.
  • Dusty Revenge and it's prequel, Dusty Raging Fist have mole enemies who can pull a Fast Tinnelling attack, disappearing underground and trying to ambush you from below. However you can spot them and jump to avoid getting clawed from below thanks to bumps on the ground.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Various enemies in the series do this.
    • Moldorms in Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker leave ridges of sand above where they burrow so you can hook/clawshot them.
    • Leevers in Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and the NES titles have a visible trail on the surface of the ground before springing up.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages: While burrowing, the miniboss Subterror creates a small raised bump that marks its position.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: Zaganaga creates a sand whirlpool before popping up.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Molduga minibosses create a large raised mound above themselves as they swim through the desert sands.
  • Mail Mole: Molty leaves a temporary trail of wormsign wherever he goes.
  • Blasphemous: One enemy type is a worm-man who periodically burrows into the ground, following you, with the main reason you know where it is being the raised ground where it's burrowing. After reaching you, it leaps upwards, shrieking, though leaving itself vulnerable in the process.
  • Pikmin 3: The Sandbelching Meerslug, a boss that spends most of its time burrowing under the sands of its arena, leaves a trail of raised sand behind itself as it moves underground.
  • The Suffering: The embodiment of death by live burial does this when it chases after you. However, it leaves behind no permanent trail, and when it digs out of the ground to attack you the hole it creates will vanish. However, if you're quick, you can throw a bomb down the hole.
  • Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Sandopolis Zone, there are disturbances on the surface of the quicksand, marking the location of the wormlike robots. The disturbances stop right before they leap out.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl does this with Rayquaza, the second boss of its Subspace Emissary mode. When Rayquaza uses Dig, the ground gets cracked and pushed upward to show where it will attack from.
  • TimeSplitters Future Perfect; Tremors-like worms at the beginning of the Big Boo's Haunt level.
  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness has a class of undead that burrow in this manner before leaping out of the ground to strike at you.
  • Dune: The computer games, including Dune II. The first Dune game ups the ante by including static discharge from the sand, meaning the worms are followed by bolts of lightning — the worms build up large amounts of static electricity when moving through the sand, and when they start to surface, the electricity discharges into the sky. The interface voice in Dune: 2000 will also call out "Wormsign" and highlight it on the minimap if you have a radar.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age: You do this with the Sand Psynergy, which turns you into a big pulsating mound of sand, free to move around, but incapable of attacking. Played straight with the Scorpion King boss, who swims around underground leaving a wake, and one Venus Djinni, who will seemingly teleport around while under the sand.
  • Armageddon 2, a map-pack for Skulltag, has this done by its twin bosses in the "Sand Worm Trench" level. They pop up occasionally from under the sand to breathe fire at you, and spend the rest of the time under the ground, raising one hell of a dust cloud.
  • Monster Hunter: Among others, Blos-type monsters do this. Usually, by the time you see the dust clouds being kicked up, it's a bit too late to react - the real purpose of the dust clouds is to let you figure out exactly what the monster's attack pattern is, so you can avoid it from then on.
  • In Shadow of the Colossus, Dirge, the "Sand tiger" has this when approaching the player character from a distance.
  • Heavy Weapon: The Mechworm boss. If you see sand being thrown up under you, get out of the way or face a One-Hit Kill from its Dig Attack.
  • Terraria: Giant worms and other burrowing enemies leave a trail of little bits of dirt flying around as they're digging. They also have a very characteristic sound which can be somewhat unnerving if you can't easily defeat them yet. It does give a good indication of what side they'll be coming from next, though.
  • Serious Sam 3: BFE: Sand whales kick up a ton of dust when chasing players that attempt to leave the borders of the more open levels.
  • Starcraft II: Burrowed Zerg units can be spotted by a savvy player by spotting the "wormsign". In a more direct vein, a Nydus worm will produce wormsign in the area where it's about to pop out of the ground.
  • Battle Axe has gigantic Sand Worm enemies that can be spotted before they ambush you from beneath the ground, thanks to the lumps they make while digging.
  • Borderlands 2: Threshers create these both when they move and, in the case of Feeler and Turf Threshers, they send their tentacles through the ground to attack.
  • Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back: You can dig into certain types of ground in some of the jungle stages that have bees, which protects you from the swarm. As you move underground, Crash's position is indicated by a dirt patch moving along the ground.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum: Batman is forced to walk along a floating wooden boardwalk in Killer Croc's lair while Croc moves around somewhere beneath the water. Occasionally some of the rafts that serve as the walkway will be kicked up or outright destroyed behind Batman, forcing the player to outrun Croc as he chases them down from beneath the surface.
  • Desert Moon: Hunters give one off when they're under the sand, invulnerable to attacks.
  • Pokémon X and Y:
    • The wild Pokémon of the Lumiose Badlands leave a trail of dust to mark their location in lieu of Random Encounters.
    • The move Dig shows a trail of raised dirt approaching the target during the attacking turn.
  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Diglett line and the new mon Orthworm do this when moving in the overworld. During the Path of Legends storyline, the trainer has to chase down a giant Orthworm that leaves an enormous trail every time it moves.
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth: Siege Worms are big enough that, even without confronting them (which is a terrible idea most of the time), they'll completely wreck any tile improvement with just their wormsign. A Siege Worm passing through your territory usually means a few turns of extensive repairs even if you leave it alone.
  • Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare: Burrowed Chompers leave a trail in the ground in this fashion if they move around.
  • Mario Kart 8: Monty Moles leave trails of raised dirt in their wake as they burrow around. They serve as jump ramps you can perform tricks off of.
  • Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead: Seeing mounds of dirt can mean one of three things:
    1. You found a farm. Farm buildings should be nearby.
    2. You found a minefield. Warning signs should be nearby.
    3. A giant worm is nearby. Once you kill it, it splits into two weaker worms. Once you're done, you can use the wormsign to plant any seeds you may have.
  • World of Warcraft has tunneling worms who do precisely this. They're slightly more annoying than most enemies because while you can see them, you can't damage them until they burst out of the ground.
  • Zombies Ate My Neighbors: The giant green wormoids do this as an obvious tell for when they will attack, as a direct nod to Tremors.
  • Deep Rock Galactic: The Sandblasted Corridors are home to the Nayaka Trawler, which burrow and crawl beneath the surface to grab unsuspecting dwarves and drag them away. It announces its presence through loud burrowing sounds and a trail of dirt and rock; shooting at it can force it to the surface and expose its weak underside.
  • Mass Effect: The Legendary Edition gives Thresher Maws this to show players where they'll next surface (in the original release, they just burrowed and resurfaced without warning).

  • In Goblins, a network of cracks spreads across a wall towards an enemy who's attacking Dies Horribly. As the attacker pauses to notice this, two spiky, burrowing outgrowths from Dies' shape-changing arm burst out of the cracking wall and stab him.

    Western Animation 
  • Bugs Bunny leaves trails as he digs; several episodes follow his trail for a bit before he emerges...often to realize that he should've taken that left turn at Albecoikey. Also in later shorts, he would bring a reluctant Daffy Duck along for the ride.
    Daffy: What a way for a duck to travel. Underground.
  • Spongebob Squarepants takes this trope literally in the episode "Sandy, Spongebob, and the Worm"—Sandy is tracking a giant Alaskan Bull Worm and finds a small wooden sign with "worm" written on it.
  • Gopher from Winnie the Pooh can often be seen doing this.
  • In the Pluto the Pup short Pluto and the Armadillo, when Pluto and the armadillo dive underground, they leave wormsigns as they chase each other around. At one point, the armadillo pops out of her wormsign and rides Pluto's wormsign, then dives back underground and becomes a wormsign again.
  • The Whispering Death dragons from Dragons: Riders of Berk leave wormsigns when moving through the ground. Their presence is signified by hearing whispers, giving them their name.
  • Godzilla, Jr. from Godzilla: The Series creates several, much like his father.
  • The Sandshark that attacks Korra, Asami, and their Earth Kingdom captors in The Legend of Korra is first seen in a rolling dune of sand circling the wreckage of their airship. When it starts chasing them, its fins kick up quite a lot of sand.
  • The Weremole leaves these in its wake in Courage the Cowardly Dog
  • Animaniacs: In "Draculee, Draculaa", the Warner siblings leave a wormsign as they reach Transylvania during a failed attempt to go to Pennsylvania. Yakko explains that he and his siblings know they aren't bunnies but it's a Warner Bros tradition. In the end, they try to go to Pennsylvania by tunneling again but end up in Tasmania.
  • The Adventures of Dawdle the Donkey: In "Dawdle And The Mole Field", the mole that appears in the episode leaves such a trail everywhere he goes.
  • Casey Bats Again: Locked out of the baseball field, Casey attempts to dig his way inside, but a policeman sees the ground rising and pushes it (and Casey) back with a roller.

    Real Life 
  • Gophers sometimes make their tunnels quite near the surface, leaving a raised "ridge" of dirt that's been disturbed by their passage. They don't tunnel nearly as swiftly as they do in cartoons, but a gopher moving through a previously dug tunnel of this type can produce a "lump" along the ridge that moves at an appreciable rate of speed.
  • Some insects, and other small critters like moles and sidewinders, can hold their breath and "swim" under the surface of soft sand for a short time. Notable in that the sand doesn't rise in their wake, but collapses instead.
  • Small crocodiles and large snakes in muddy lakes.
  • Any homeowner can tell you that moles really do leave trails like this on the surface over their burrows.
  • In South America, if you see hundreds of insects and other small creatures come out of their hiding places in plain daylight, it means that army ants - or worse - driver ants are coming.
  • Plant-parasitic insects leave trails similar to this in leaves or thin bark as they chew their way through the host-plant's tissues.


Video Example(s):



The only way to see a Nestler coming is by their wormsign trail, so pay attention and stay alert!

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