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Friday, 21 June 2013

Giant Snakes of the Mediterranean and North Africa

Mediterranean Giant Snake
Large Snake of Southern Europe. Variant name: Colovia.
Physical description: Length, 6–33 feet. Green. Distribution: Southern Spain; southern France; northern and central Italy; Greece; Serbia. Significant sightings: On July 22, 1969, a 7- foot, green snake caused a traffic accident when it crossed a road near Chinchilla de Monte Aragón, Albicete Province, Spain. A 6-foot snake with a huge head was seen several times on a farm in Orihuela, Alicante Province, Spain, in June 1970. A monstrous serpent with a mane and a head like a baby’s was seen in July 1973 near Aceuche, Cáceres Province, Spain. Snakes up to 33 feet long have been seen on Ovcˇar Mountain near Cacˇak, Serbia. Near Ivanjica in the summer of 2000, a bus had to stop because a 33-foot snake was crossing the road. Possible explanation: Stray specimens of the poisonous Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), a gray, brownish, or olive-colored colubrid snake that can attain a length of 9 feet. It lives along the coasts of Spain, southern France, and Liguria in Italy; in North Africa from Morocco to Tunisia; and in Cyprus, Greece, and the Balkans. However, it may be expanding its range. Sources: Ulrich Magin, “European Dragons: The Tatzelwurm,” Pursuit, no. 73 (1986): 16–22; Bernard Heuvelmans, “Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals with Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned,” Cryptozoology 5 (1986): 1–26; Paolo Cortesi, “The Big Serpent,” INFO Journal, no. 71 (Autumn 1994): 49–50; Marcus Scibanicus, “Strange Creatures from Slavic Folklore,” North American BioFortean Review 3, no. 2 (October 2001): 56–63,
(Entry from George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures, 2002)

Colovia Unknown Snake of Southern Europe.
Physical description: Serpentine. Length, 11 feet. Scaly. Distribution: Sicily, Italy. Significant sighting: A snakelike animal was tracked down and killed in a marsh near Siracusa, Sicily, in December 1933. It was destroyed because local superstition held that its appearance presaged disaster. Possible explanation: Escaped python or boa (Family Boidae). Source: Times (London), December 27 and 29, 1933.
(Entry from George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures, 2002)

"In 193[3] there were reports of farmers near Syracuse, in Sicily, being menaced by a huge and unusual snake that supposedly had a head like a dinosaur. Hunting parties were organised, and it was killed."—Dragons, a Natural History by Dr Karl Shuker, 1995, Aurum Press Ltd, London.
[The artwork is obviously not showing an 11 foot long creature and one more nearly 30 feet long is more likely. It is shown undulating in "Sea Serpent" style although the head seems to indicate the body is lying on its side and the undulations are therefore horizontal ones -DD]
1933 –  water monster seen in marshy area linked to sea (nr. Perugia, Italy); 11-foot reptile seen and killed, carcass later burnt (nr. Syracuse, Sicily); water monster seen at river mouth (River Ticino, Italy); 90-foot creature seen in water – later, a similar creature seen ashore (St. Lucia Lake, Natal, South Africa)

St Lucia Lake SS 1933 based on account given by Charles Higgs and family
One of Heuvelmans' more definite "SuperEels" of the large category,
 and I maintain that classification as one of the defining "Titanocongers"  

Saharan Crested Snake
Giant SNAKE of North Africa. Variant name: Taguerga.
Physical description: Length, 30–120 feet. Dark brown with black diamonds on back. Whitish below with dark-gray stripes. Pointed snout. Black crest about 4 inches long on head. Large, chestnut eyes. Thicker body segment about 13 feet long behind a thin neck. Rest of tail tapers to a point. Behavior: Drinks motor oil. Distribution: Algeria; Tunisia. Significant sightings: In 255 B.C. during the First Punic War, after a lengthy struggle in which catapults and siege engines were put to use, the legions of Roman consul Marius Atilius Regulus killed an enormous snake, 120 feet long, along the Wadi Majardah in Tunisia. Its skin and jaws were taken to Rome and publicly displayed in a temple until 133 B.C. Africanus Leo wrote in the sixteenth century that large, venomous dragons lived in caves in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. Charles Tissot wrote in 1884 about a venomous snake in the Tunisian Sahara called the Taguerga, which grows 12–15 feet long. In 1958, Belkhouriss Abd el-Khader, an Algerian who served in the French army at Beni Ounif, Algeria, was bitten by a giant snake about 43 feet long. The snake was killed and its skin preserved, though it has since been lost. In 1959, a 120-foot snake with a crest 3 feet long was killed at a garrison near Aïn Sefra, Algeria, by a French battalion, the Twenty-Sixth Dragoons, commanded by Captains Grassin and Laveau. It had been trapped in a trench filled with branches by nomads and had just eaten a camel. The soldiers’ carbines were not sufficient to kill it, so they dispatched it with machine guns. On January 6 or 7, 1967, a crested serpent about 30 feet long was seen at the construction site of the Djorf-Torba dam east of Béchar, Algeria, by worker Hamza Rahmani, who wedged it against some rocks with his bulldozer. Its teeth were hooked and nearly 2.5 inches long. At Djorf-Torba in late 1967, Hamza Rahmani came across the track of a snake leading to barrels of oil that it had been in the habit of drinking. A few days later, he saw the snake coiled in the shadow of a pile of crushed rock. He estimated its length as 18–23 feet. Possible explanations: (1) The African rock python (Python sebae), though it only reaches a length of 30–33 feet. It lives in forests south of the Sahara, not in the desert, but it is possible some may subsist in remote pockets of tropical vegetation in North Africa. A Dr. Bougon thought that the Punic War snakeskin may actually have been a python’s intestine, which would be 120 feet long in a 33-foot snake. Charles Tissot thought the skin may have been artificially stretched. (2) The venomous Puff adder (Bitis arietans), which lives in southern Morocco and grows to only 4 feet 6 inches but can appear much larger. (3) The Horned viper (Cerastes cerastes), though it is only about 2 feet long. (4) An exaggerated Levantine viper (Vipera lebetina), known in Arabic as taguerjah. (5) An unknown species of viper 7 feet long, based on the size of the teeth recovered from the Djorf-Torba snake, if it was venomous. The small Many-horned viper (Bitis cornuta) of South Africa has a small crest. (6) An unknown species of python 33–48 feet long, also based on the size of the Djorf-Torba teeth, if they came from a nonvenomous snake. (7) A surviving Gigantophis garstini, a North African python that reached 30 feet and lived 55 million years ago. Sources: Valerius Maximus, Dictorum et factorum memorabilium libri novem, I. 8.19; Aulus Gellius, The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, trans. John C. Rolfe (London: William Heinemann, 1927–1928), vol. 2, p. 101 (VII. 3); Dio Cassius, Roman History, X; Julius Obsequens, Prodigiorum liber, 29; Africanus Leo, A Geographical Historie of Africa (London: G. Bishop, 1600); Charles Tissot, Exploration scientifique de la Tunisie (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1884–1888), vol. 1, pp. 329–335; Bougon, “Les serpents de cent vingt pieds,” Le Naturaliste 23 (1901): 56–57; Bernard Heuvelmans, Les derniers dragons d’Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1978), pp. 19–43; Helfried Weyer and Henri Lhote, Sahara (Bern, Switzerland: Kümmerly and Frey, 1980).
(Entry from George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures, 2002)

[There are evidently some real and mundane snakes represented here plus two sets of larger reports which have unusual features. It may be that some of the European reports of giant snakes are Montpelier snakes as Heuvelmans suggests on his checklist, but that is only the reports in the realm of 6-9 feet long. It might also be that there are some large unknown vipers of North Africa in the same size range: these would be Bitis vipers and might have some sort of a spiny back crest. And there probably are pythons in North Africa surviving on the fringes of the desert. However there are also a couple of very unusual "Snakes" which include the "Dinosaur" headed ones in Sicily, the 33 foot long "Snakes" in Sicily and Serbia are more likely the medium-sized giant eels or "Megacongers" that have wandered overland in going from one body of water to another, as lesser eels are known to do. These are big and dull greyish or olive brown, more or less an even colouring all over. Some of the Saharan snakes belong to this category and they have a "Mane or fin" on the back (The same type is also reported in South Africa) More unusual and more arresting is the really huge giant eel, the Titanoconger, reported as 80-120 feet long, some specimens of which evidently get lost and are dying when looking for larger bodies of water in the Sahara. And I do not know what kind of creature was drinking out of the oil drums, or even if that had actually happened rather than being an excuse somebody had made up to account for stolen fuel supplies.--DD]

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