The Ahuizotl is a legendary creature in Aztec mythology. Translated from Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs) the name means “Thorny One of the Water” (see note below).
The Florentine Codex, a manuscript both written and compiled by Nahuas during the sixteenth century, still provides us with a vast amount of first hand information concerning the ancient customs of the Aztecs before the conquest of Mexico. In this codex, ahuizotl are described as dog-like creatures, with hands capable of manipulation and an additional hand on their tail. The doom of many a fisherman, this creature was thought to murder those who ventured too far into the water’s depths.
“It has short fur, small, pointy ears, a smooth body and black tail, at the end of which sprouts a hand much like a person’s. This animal inhabits the depths of watery springs and if anyone reaches the edge of its domain, he is dragged by the tail’s hand and taken down to its depths...”
-Book XI, Florentine Codex.
Typically, Ahuizotls inhabited areas near fresh water –lakes and rivers— and liked to feast of fishermen, using the hand on its tail to snatch its prey. It was said to nest in watery caverns and that it could imitate the weeping cry of an abandoned infant, to attract its victims. It would carry the victim under water, so that the victim would be dead before arriving to the Ahuizotl nest deep in the caves, where it would feed. It was most feared for its vicious appetite for certain human parts, having a particular liking for the nails, eyes and teeth, discarding the rest of the body by dragging it out of its lair.
On the surface, the leftover corpses would be found lately completely unmarked but always toothless, with empty eye sockets and mutilated digits.
A = Atl = Water: the ahuízotl was a water dweller.
Huiz = Huiztli = Thorn. This animal’s wet hair became spiky when it climbed out of the water and shook itself.
-Otl = Yotl = To be like.
-Escalante Betancourt, Yuri, Animal asesino del agua: el ahuízotl, Arqueología Mexicana No.35, 1999, Los Animales en el México Prehispánico. Mexico City, Mexico.
-Molina, Fray Alonso de Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, preliminary study by Miguel León Portilla, 4th edition, Editorial Porrúa, 2001, Mexico City, Mexico.
-Sahagún, Fray Bernadino de Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, Prologue by Angel María Garibay, 6th edition, Editorial Porrúa, 1985, Mexico City, Mexico.
-Smith, Michael E. The Aztecs, 2nd edition, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 1996.