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).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

Search This Blog



Tuesday 6 March 2012


According to Hindu and Buddhist mythology, nagas are ancient serpent deities that can take human or semi-human form, and in Buddhist mythology a naga (or nagini if female) can have several heads. Sometimes they are depicted with human heads, but more often they are represented in their ophidian form merely as huge single- or multi-headed cobras with expanded hood(s).

Ornate gilded statue of a naga at the Wat Phra Kaew in the Royal Palaces at Bangkok, Thailand (Dr Karl Shuker)

One famous legend tells of how the Lord Buddha was shaded from the searing rays of the sun while asleep by the hoods of the multi-headed naga king Muchilinda – in another version of this story, Muchilinda protects him in this same manner from a severe rainstorm while he is meditating under the Bodhi tree.

Figurine of the Lord Buddha meditating in the lotus position upon the coils of the naga king Muchilinda, whose hooded heads are shading and guarding him ((c) Dr Karl Shuker)

Needless to say, however, no such thing as a multi-headed cobra (i.e. a cobra with more than two heads) exists in the realm of zoology. True, there are many fully-confirmed cases of two-headed snakes (click here to view a previous ShukerNature post of mine surveying a wide selection of examples and explaining the biological reason for their occurrence), including at least one such cobra, but nothing more dramatic.

Spectacular snake-woman artwork by world-famous fantasy illustrator Rodney Matthews, probably inspired by naga traditions in the Far East ((c) Rodney Matthews)

Consequently, when several different people forwarded me the photo opening this ShukerNature post a few days ago I was intrigued – but only for a moment.

Closer observation made it readily apparent to me that this three-headed cobra owed its additional heads not to the fickle fortune of teratology but rather to the magical manipulation of Photoshop. For whereas a bona fide three-headed snake (assuming that such an entity could ever survive to adulthood anyway) would hold its heads at differing angles and heights, the "three little maids in a row" orientation of this photographed specimen clearly exposed its photoshopped origin, in which the head of a normal cobra had simply been triplicated and the overlapping edges deftly blended to yield this eyecatching if wholly fake naga lookalike.

And sure enough, a Google image search soon uncovered for me the original photograph of a normal single-headed king cobra Ophiophagus hannah in India that had been photoshopped by person(s) unknown to yield the three-headed variant. Here is that original photograph (though I have yet to trace its ownership):

Moreover, further online perusal subsequently revealed to me that this same original photograph had also been utilised as the basis for several even more dramatic photo-manipulations. Here, for instance, is a five-headed variant:

Here is a seven-headed variant:

And an eight-headed variant:

Here is a truly incredible 18-headed variant, a veritable cobra Catherine Wheel!

Here is a very novel 14-headed variant, with the heads arranged in three separate tiers:

And here is the most imaginative variant of all, with the heads arranged in a spiral!

The last two variants are featured in a YouTube video currently online (click here to access it) that rightly denounces the multi-headed variants as hoaxes.

Nor is this the only cobra photograph to have been photo-manipulated to yield multi-headed naga images. Here's an impressive nine-headed specimen created by febing123, derived from a different original cobra photo:

An even more impressive twelve-headed specimen derived from a third cobra photo:

And here is a video presenting a wide selection of photo-manipulated multi-headed snakes, plus a few photos of some genuine two-headed (dicephalic) snakes at the end of the video.

Finally, if you want a modern-day naga of your own, this is how to obtain one – just click here to view a YouTube video showing precisely how to create a five-headed cobra with Photoshop.

And then people wonder why I don't have much faith any more in photographic evidence alone when attempting to determine the validity of a cryptozoological case!

Figurine of a female naga or nagini ((c) Dr Karl Shuker) 


  1. When i was in Indo-China back in 2000 people described nagas as huge (60 foot) snakeswith black, green tinted scales and a red crest on the head like a rooster.

  2. Hi Rich, Yes, I remember, but your snake is clearly a cryptid whereas the nagas referred to here in my post are the ancient serpent deities, whose name has presumably been applied to the cryptic snake on account of its awe-inspiring appearance and size. All the best, Karl

  3. I rember discussing the matter with Richard F back in 2005, by email. The term "Naga" as used in Cryptozoology is another marvel of inexactitude, probably worse than "Bigfoot" on that score. It can mean a giant snake, a fourlegged Dragon-Lizard creature, one of several different types of Sea-serpents but especially the Long-necked variety, a type of Merfolk, or even a kind of Giant Eel. That all on top of the multiheaded version which I expect was originally a cultural emblem out of Sundaland (Yes, that old: and it personifies a river with several mouths in existance when Sundaland was up back in the Pleistocene)

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  4. I heard that the naga was a river dragon from the Ganges which was now a cryptid after repeated sightings? Just wondering.

  5. The name 'naga' has also been applied to the cryptid that you mention, supposedly a huge crested water snake, as opposed to the semi-human hooded serpent deities documented here. So there are two separate naga types - one a mythological deity, the other a cryptid.

  6. The naga tribes of India often practiced headhunting. I wonder if the number of human heads collected would correspond to the snake deity's heads. Just an afterthought.