Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Sunday 3 October 2010


Sachamama-like beast on 16th-Century Peruvian pottery
(Dr Karl Shuker)

In recent times, reports of giant anacondas and other serpentine colossi in South America have attracted notable media attention. Some of these reports, moreover, have referred to the sachamama, but in reality the latter is no 'ordinary' giant snake, because according to the local people who claim to have seen it, this bizarre Peruvian mystery creature resembles a snake with a shell!

On 14 August 1997, the villagers of Nueva Tacna, near Iquitos, in northern Peru, witnessed an incredible event. According to one eyewitness, local fisherman Maximo Inuacari, a loud rumbling sound reverberated from a patch of jungle, as if something large and heavy were roaming through it. Inuacari, sitting in his boat on the Napo River nearby, began to paddle away, and as he did so a 'monster' emerged from the jungle onto the shore behind him, having uprooted many trees and gouged a 1600-ft-long, 30-ft-wide trench during its noisy progression towards the river. According to Inuacari, it resembled a huge black cylinder, and dived into the water, creating a huge whirlpool that submerged several boats.

Another eyewitness, Luis Iluma, who had a better view of this bizarre beast, claimed that it had two tentacles like elephant trunks and two 3-ft-long 'ears' on its head, a muzzle, and a long black snake-like body bearing a shell-like structure in the middle of its back.

This is not an isolated record. Following the above incident, explorer-journalist Arnost Vasícek visited South America, and spoke to several people during his preparation of a detailed account (Blesk Magazin, 14 November 1997). Two were biology teacher Nelly Armos and director Carlos Quinto, both of whom were from a school near Oran, and who had spent a considerable time researching traditional accounts and lore of strange South American animals. One such creature, referred to in old Peruvian Indian legends, is the sachamama - a giant black snake with a large head bearing tentacles, and a calcareous shell upon its back.

According to the legends, this mysterious creature appears only very rarely, and can remain in a state of torpor underwater for many years. When it wakes, however, it can suck prey into its mouth from quite a distance, but cannot pursue prey through the jungle because its progression is impeded by its large shell. So was the beast seen by Inuacari and Iluma in August 1997 a real-life sachamama?

Its description in legends was echoed during the 19th Century by a missionary called de Vernazz, who claimed to have shot one that measured over 45 ft long and 6 ft thick while boating on the Pastaza River bordering Peru and Ecuador. Moreover, there are examples of ceramic pots and saucers from Peru's ancient Moche culture, dating back over 1500 years and owned by the Casinelli Museum in northern Peru's Trujillo region, which depict a huge black snake-like or slug-like beast with tentacles, and a conch-like shell on its back. In addition, Vasícek documented some 16th-Century examples of Peruvian pottery depicting a very similar animal, which also sported a forked tongue and two pairs of snail-like, bulbous-tipped feelers - one pair at the base of its snout, and the other pair at its snout's tip.

Assuming that the sachamama does exist - which is in itself a very big assumption - and that its local description is accurate, it is hardly likely to be a snake, judging from its tentacles and shell. But could it possibly be a giant species of slug? Slugs do possess cephalic (head-borne) tentacles, and some have an external shell on their back too. The existence of such a monstrous mollusc seems highly unlikely, but there is no doubt that something created havoc near Nueva Tacna on 14 August 1997 - as confirmed by local governor Jorge Chavez and various Peruvian journalists who flew over the area by helicopter shortly afterwards to survey the devastation. If it were not for its shell, the sachamama is very reminiscent of another trench-excavating mystery beast from South America - the Brazilian minhocão, which I believe may be a giant form of limbless amphibian called a caecilian.

Iquitos scientist Nixon Reugifa attempted to explain this destructive August 1997 visitation as the work of floodwater, and another idea offered by sceptics was that a wind vortex was responsible, but both were subsequently rejected. Indeed, Reugifa eventually discounted his own idea when more eyewitness accounts and details came to light that revealed the path taken by the destroying agent to be too selective to be satisfactorily explained by flooding. Similarly, none of the fishermen recalled feeling any sensation of wind movement during the incident, thereby eliminating the vortex hypothesis. So was the culprit a living legend? A snake with a shell? As yet, we simply have no answer.


  1. Theoretically at least, mollusks have no upward limit to size...especially where there's enough water (and food).

  2. Perhaps some South American version of giant land snail? Achatina achatina get very large...it is not unbelievable that a terrestrial snail could reach almost double that size.

  3. Yes, it is Pachamama for Mother Earth, as Sachamama is the Forest serpent, mother of all serpents, including Yakumama (water serpent) and Wayramama (air serpent).

  4. Instead of a mollusk could it be a turtle? Some have long necks and odd protuberances hanging from the jaws. The Mata-mata and snake necked turtles immediately came to mind when reading this.

  5. I've wondered about a giant freshwater chelonian too. Of course, the shell is distinctly molluscan in shape, but this could merely be stylised, or based upon a second-hand description in which the sachamama's shell was likened to a mollusc's and so the artist (never having seen the beast himself) drew it as such.

  6. I'm not sure, but I feel this may be an extremely specialized water snake, many specialized water snakes have tentacle-like projections on the tip of the snout. the shell doesn't seem to be to much of a problem seeing as many other classes of reptiles do, even an ancient crocidilian named armadilosuchus had one. the external ears seem to be a bit problematic though, unless these ears were in fact misidentified horns of some sort,,,

  7. The great pink sea snail lives!

    Really, it looks, for all the world, like a very massive mollusc.