Member of The Crypto Crew:

Please Also Visit our Sister Blog, Frontiers of Anthropology:

And the new group for trying out fictional projects (Includes Cryptofiction Projects):

And Kyle Germann's Blog

And Jay's Blog, Bizarre Zoology

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Crowned Crowing Cobra from Cryptid Chronicles

Crowned Crowing Cobra Drawing by Markus Buhler, posted on Darren Naish's Tet Zoo blog site last November (2011)
The following article on the topic was posted on Cryptid Chronicles and I thought it was one of the better statements on the topic:

Basilisks & the Crowing Crested Snakes
A fabulous reptilian monster of ancient and medieval legend is the part serpent, part rooster Basilisk, which is usually described as a crested snake, and sometimes as a cock with a snake’s tail (or having the head and legs of a cock, a snake-like tail, and a body like a bird’s).

The Basilisk is often confused with the cockatrice, though stories of the basilisk show that it is not completely distinguished from the cockatrice, it is usually depicted without wings. Mostly, the basilisk should be purely snake-like in form, while the cockatrice would have a most definite chicken-like form with hints of the reptilian, so it’s easy to see how the two would be interchangeable and easily confused.

The basilisk was depicted in a few illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages but appeared much more often as an ornamental detail in church architecture, adorning capitals and medallions. The best representation of the basilisk is found in the decorative field of heraldry.
In medieval lore, depending on source but always in widespread folk belief, the Basilisk was born of a snake egg hatched by a cock or came from an misshapen egg laid in a dunghill by a seven-year-old cock during the time that Sirius was high in the heavens. The Basilisk is also mentioned in many famous works of literature including chapter XVI of The Zadig, by Voltaire.
The foremost description we have for this beast is found in Pliny’s Natural History, a compilation of ancient (and mostly Greek) sources written in Rome in 77 AD. In it Pliny lists over 60 sources, most of which have been lost. After discussing the ‘catoblepas’ (another mythical creature) and its ability to kill people with its vision, Pliny describes the basilisk:

“The basilisk serpent also has the same power. It is a native of the province of Cyrenaica, not more than 12 inches long, and adorned with a bright white marking on the head like a sort of diadem. It routs all snakes with its hiss, and does not move its body forward in manifold coils like the other snakes but advancing with its middle raised high. It kills bushes not only by its touch but also by its breath, scorches up grass and bursts rocks. Its effect on other animals is disastrous: it is believed that once one was killed with a spear by a man on horseback and the infection rising through the spear rising not only the rider but also the horse. Yet to a creature so marvelous as this — indeed kings have often wished to see a specimen when safely dead — the venom of weasels is fatal: so fixed is the decree of nature that nothing shall be without its match.”

The antique Romans called him “regulus” or little king, not only because of his crown, but because he terrorized all other creatures with his deadly look and poison. Its gaze was reportedly lethal and caused “instant death”. His color was yellow, sometimes with a kind of blackish hue. Pliny the Elder mentioned a white spot on his head, which could be misinterpreted as a diadem or a crown. Others speak of three spikes on his forehead.
Cyrenaica is the historical name of the eastern region in Libya. Geologically, Cyrenaica rests on a mass of Miocene limestone that tilts up steeply from the Mediterranean Sea and falls inland with a gradual descent to sea level again. Cyrenaica was colonized by the Greeks beginning in the 7th century B.C. Primariliy, the basilisk was largely confined to northern Africa and western Europe but similar creatures have been reported in many other parts of the world. Iceland’s equivalent was a basilisk-like creature called the Skoffin.

The last recorded appearance of a Basilisk was in 1587 in Warsaw. There, two girls were killed by its breath, while playing in their cellar. Frightened citizens organized a hunt for the monster, but after finding and killing a small snake, declared the affair finished.
It seems improbable that there could be any foundation in reality for such a weird creature as the Basilisk, and it is possible that this fearsome creature really evolved from exaggerated travelers’ tales of the horned adder or the hooded cobra, confused with such awesome reptiles as the Gila monster.

Yet, as documented by British zoologist Dr. Karl P. N. Shuker in his Extraordinary Animals Worldwide (1991), an animal surprisingly alike has been reported living in central Africa and the Caribbean. Known as the crowing crested cobra, it is — according to those who claim to have seen it — an extremely large, venomous male serpent with a cock’s-comb-like crest, facial wattles, and a cockerel’s crow. Over the years various reports have been published about this animal. In 1944, for example, a Malawi physician, Dr. J. O. Shircore, declared in the journal African Affairs that he possessed parts of one of these creatures — a portion of the neck and the skeleton of the comb.
Crowing crested cobra, as reconstructed by Karl Shuker.

Caribbean Crowing SnakeIn 1829, a medical doctor reported he saw a crested snake, dead and slightly decomposed, in Jamaica. Then also in Jamaica around 1845 the English naturalist Philip Gosse collected many eyewitness accounts of a mysterous wattled snake that could allegedly crow like a rooster which natives call the Caribbean Crowing Snake but which is alternately known as the Crowing Crested Cobra which has also been reported in the West Indies. It is described as four feet (1.3metres) long, with a thick body. It is a dull yellowish brown colour with dark spots with red wattles and has a red crest like a rooster. This snake also apparently crows like a rooster and can spray it’s venom. Then a snake with wattles was shot in Jamaica on March 30, 1850, by the son of Jasper Cargill. In the 1940s the belief in this snake was still apparent among the inhabitants of the Island of Dominica. It was supposed to live in a cave, situated in the hills of the northern part of the island, where a gigantic stone heap, was said to be proof of its activities.
Crowing Crested Cobra
For centuries a larger, very venomous counterpart called the Inkhomi (killer) has been reported in Africa (from at least seven different nations in Africa including Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania). Partial remains have occasionally been obtained but never formally identified with any species known to date.

In George M. Eberhart’s Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, the following is accounted: Mystery snake of East and Central Africa. Variant names: Bubu (on the Lower Zambezi River in Mozambique),Hongo (Ngindo/Bantu), Inkhomi (Ngoni/Bantu and Nyakyusa-Ngonde/Bantu, “the killer”), Kovoko (Nyam-wezi/Bantu), Mbobo (Rungwa/Bantu), N’gok-wiki (Gbaya/Ubangi), Ngoshe (Bemba/Bantu), Songo (Yao/Bantu, “strikes down at the head”). Physical description: Cobralike snake. Length, up to 20 feet. Buff-brown or grayish-black. Bright red, forward-projecting crest on its head. Scarlet face. The male has a pair of red facial wattles. The dorsal vertebra of one specimen had articulating surfaces of 8x9 millimeteres. Behavour: Arboreal. May also be aquatic. Extremely vicious. The male makes a loud sound like a rooster crowing. The female makes a hen-like clucking sound. Both male and female emit a warning cry of “chu-chu-chu-chu.” Feeds on maggots from rotting flesh; it supposedly kills animals so that maggots will grow on the carcasses. Also eats hyraxes. Attacks humans by lunging down from a tree toward the head or face. The venom is extremely toxic, resulting in death almost instantaneously. Habitat: Trees, hills, rocks. Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa; Mozamibique; Zimbabwe; Malawi; Zambia; Tanzania; Central Africa Republic. Significant sightings: From a witch doctor in Malawi, J.O. Shircore obtained a plate of bone from the crest (with bits of skin attached), some neck bones, and several vertebrae from at least two different specimens of this snake. In May 1959, John Knott accidently ran over a 7-foot black snake in his Land Rover in the Lake Kariba area of Zimbabwe. It has a symmetrical crest on its head that could be erected by raising five bony structures.

This African mystery snake that is said to have a frill like a cobras, and a crest on their head and wattle-like skin on the throat, reportedly crowing like roosters, able to spray it’s venom – are all characteristics quite reminiscent of the basilisk of Greek legend. Perhaps, that “instant death” quality was an exaggeration of the basilisk’s venom-spraying ability.

It could simply be that legends and stories of crowing crested cobras are passed around the world by travellers and adopted by some people as their own. Or maybe there is an unknown hybrid snake creature , or at least there was once, in some parts of the world and the stories were passed down the generations.
So perhaps there is a real reason the Basilisk was always presented as an icon of fear - from the reports of the cresting crowing snakes, it’s easy to see why the “king of the serpents” is the most dangerous serpent that ever existed on Earth.
It is really possible that it was ancient travelers’ tales of the above mentioned reptiles, or the crowing crested cobra, that originally gave rise to the myth of the Basilisk!Sources:
Cryptid Chronicles readers, what do YOU think??To discover more cryptids and mysterious creatures please follow us at


  1. I only wanted to say, my name is "Bühler" and not "Buher".

  2. The correction has been made. Unfortunately blogger lately has an unfortunate tendancy to leave out characters, words, and even whole sentences which are being typed in but not transcribed. Some things must be typed over repeatedly before they show up properly. And so we can have unfortunate errors such as this. No disrespect was intended.

  3. "In medieval lore, depending on source but always in widespread folk belief, the Basilisk was born of a snake egg hatched by a cock or came from an misshapen egg laid in a dunghill by a seven-year-old cock during the time that Sirius was high in the heavens. The Basilisk is also mentioned in many famous works of literature including chapter XVI of The Zadig, by Voltaire."

    I can't help but think of Tawusi Malek here because his name means "king cockerel" not "peacock angel" (sorry I don't know the exact origin of 'tawusi' - I suspect its Middle Persian OTOH - but the word now means 'peacock', 'cockerel' or simply 'fowl') and the peacock image was IMO imported from China by the Mongols of the Ilkhanate without the exact meanings of the fenghuang). Before that he was surely a cockerel linked maybe to Erlik Khan or to Nergal. In any case the peacock is linked to the cockerel and the basiisk, the peacock's 'tail' being serpentine.

  4. OHO, we think similarly there: but I have postulated an unknown large pheasant to go with certain reports-up to nine feet long, green and peacock-like in its Western European phase and red in its Russian phase, to go with certain snakebird traditions. In fact I was just about to re-introduce the concept when you did it for me. The creature is ordinarily known as a Wyvern in Western Europe (Gwiber in Wales) and the FEMALE is called a cockatrice because the female of this pheasant is as big and gaudy as the males of lesser kinds of phesants. Hence the myth that their "Cocks lay eggs"

    But I have something else to clear away before I get back to that part. Thank you very much for your submission.

  5. Interestingly, as shown in the last picture, the greek also knew this things as drakones. And I mean the drakones without prefix,suffix,named after location etc. so no skolopendra,ketoi etc. They mention the fact that they are combed and bearded in passing and even use them to tell people about more fascinating things like the beards of the cynocephali (Aelian, On Animals 10. 25: "Beneath their chin hangs down a beard; we may compare it with the beards of Drakones, and strong and very sharp nails cover their hands."( of Sevilla describes the cockatrice pretty much in the same way. Furthermore, in the alpine regions of Europe there is the "Kranzlnatter/Krönleinnatter" which translates more or less as crowned colubrid. It either has a comb on its head or a crown-like spot. It is refered to as a normal animal with mystical powers, but not as a mythical animal. So we could dissect these stories and assume that there was/is a poisonous combed bearded snake in Africa that inspired the Greeks and a combed very poisonous snake in Europe that was later absorbed by the legend of the cockatrice, explaining how an african cryptid can be sighted in Europe. Additionally, as you state, there would be the Wyverns of Britain. Given the fondness of antique sources back in the day, I think it wouldnt be going to far that people in medieval Europe mixed things up or named local fauna after animals reported from other parts of the world.


This blog does NOT allow anonymous comments. All comments are moderated to filter out abusive and vulgar language and any posts indulging in abusive and insulting language shall be deleted without any further discussion.