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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Friday 20 September 2013


1867 engraving of a giant snake, from The Bestiarium of Aloys Zötl 1831-1887

During the 1920s, Raymond L. Ditmars, Curator of Reptiles at New York's Bronx Zoo, offered US $1000 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence for the existence of a snake measuring over 40 ft (12.2 m) long. The prize has never been claimed. Yet there are many extraordinary eyewitness accounts on record asserting that gargantuan serpents far greater in length than anything ever confirmed by science are indeed a frightening reality in various regions of the world, as demonstrated by the fascinating selection of examples documented here.


During the time of Rome's First Punic War (264-241 BC) with Carthage (which lay near present-day Tunis in Tunisia, North Africa), the Roman army, led by the renowned general Marcus Atilius Regulus, was advancing on Carthage, having reached the River Bagradas (aka Medjerda). As his battalions sought to cross this river, however, an enormous snake rose up before them from the reed beds, with great flattened head and glowing lantern-like eyes glaring malevolently at them as they cowered back at the sight of this monstrous reptile. Coil after coil in seemingly limitless extent emerged, and the soldiers estimated its vast length to be at least 30 m!

18th-Century colour engraving of a rock python, the likely identity of Carthage's giant snake

Deciding that discretion may well be the better part of valour, Regulus's army retreated further down the river bank, hoping to cross far away from its ophidian guardian. And when they looked back, the giant snake had seemingly vanished. Yet no sooner did they attempt to cross at this new location than, without warning, the huge flattened head rose up from below the water surface and seized a nearby soldier in its mighty jaws, enfolding and crushing his body in its vice-like constricting coils, before mercilessly drowning him. And each time another soldier tried to cross, this grisly scene was re-enacted.

In fury, Regulus ordered his men to wheel forward and arm their siege ballistae – massive catapults used for hurling immense rocks at fortresses. Missile after missile was duly fired at the snake, bombarding it unceasingly until, wounded and dazed, the huge creature finally began to retreat into the river. But before it could submerge itself completely, a well-aimed rock hit it squarely between its eyes, shattering its skull and killing outright this veritable leviathan of the serpent world. Afterwards, the soldiers skinned its colossal body, and records preserved from that time claim that its skin measured a tremendous 37 m. This stupendous trophy and also the snake's formidable jaws were eventually brought back to Rome and placed on display inside one of the temples on Capitol Hill. Here these spectacular relics remained until 133 BC, when, towards the end of the Numantine War against the Iberian Celts, they mysteriously disappeared, and were never reported again.

A rock python, southern subspecies

Always assuming that this Carthaginian mega-serpent's size had been recorded accurately, what could it have been? A rock python Python sebae is the most popular identity, but this species is not thought to have existed at any time in that particular area of Africa. And even where it is known to exist, no specimen even remotely as long as Regulus's antagonist has ever been chronicled. The longest confirmed specimen, measuring 9.81 m, was shot in school grounds at Bingerville, Ivory Coast, by Mrs Charles Beart in 1932.

The same applies to an astonishing report from tropical Africa featuring an extremely reliable eyewitness. In 1959, an ostensibly immense python reared up towards a helicopter passing overhead in Katanga (within what is now the Democratic Congo), flown by the highly-acclaimed, much-decorated Belgian pilot and World War II flying ace Colonel Remy van Lierde DFC** (1915-1990). A colleague on board actually managed to snap a photograph of the creature, and using the size of background bushes and other topographical features in the photo as scale determinants, van Lierde estimated that the python appeared to be around 15.5 m long – once again far greater than any scientifically-confirmed specimen. An interview with van Lierde featured in an episode of the early 1980s UK television series 'Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World', and can currently be viewed here (the interview begins at around 7 min 12 sec into the video). Just in case it vanishes, however, here is a verbatim transcript of Van Lierde's testimony from that episode:

"So as we had a camera on board, I decided to make several passes over the hole where the snake was in, in able [sic] to let the man take a picture of it, and I made certainly between four and six passes right over the hole where the snake was in. By then I was already flying for 25 years, so I've a very good experience of measuring things. And I would say the snake I saw there was close to 50 foot, close to 50 feet - I don't know, you say 50 foot, or 50 feet? - but very close to, certainly."

The gargantuan Katanga mystery snake (Colonel Remy van Lierde)

Native to southeast Asia, the world's longest species of snake is the reticulated python Python reticulatus. Its current confirmed record-holder, measuring 10 m, was shot on the north coast of Sulawesi (Celebes) in 1912, and was accurately measured by civil engineers using a surveying tape. In summer 1907, however, a dark cane-coloured python estimated at 70 ft (21.3 m) long had been observed through binoculars swimming in the Celebes Sea by Third Officer S. Clayton of the China Navigation Company's vessel Taiyuan.


According to the record books, South America's common or green anaconda Eunectes murinus rarely exceeds 6.25 m. Yet there are numerous reports of specimens far bigger than this. Indeed, such monsters even have their own local names, such as the sucuriju gigante in Brazil and the camoodi in Guyana. Sometimes they are also said to bear a pair of horns on their head.

Exploration Fawcett – front cover depicting Fawcett's encounter with a giant anaconda (Arrow Books)

Perhaps the most (in)famous encounter with a purported sucuriju gigante occurred in 1907, when, while leading an expedition through the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil's Acre State, the celebrated, subsequently-lost explorer Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Fawcett shot a massive anaconda as it began to emerge from the Rio Abuna and onto the bank. In his book Exploration Fawcett, he claimed that as far as it was possible to measure the body, a length of 13.7 m lay out of the water, with a further 5.2 m still in it, yielding a total length of 18.9 m. Even though Fawcett was known for his meticulous observations, this claim is nowadays viewed with scepticism by many zoologists.

Drawing of Fawcett shooting the giant anaconda (source unknown to me)

On 22 May 1922 at around 3 pm, priest Father Victor Heinz witnessed a sucuriju gigante while travelling home by canoe along the Amazon River from Obidos in Brazil's Pará State. He and his petrified crew saw about 27.5 m away in midstream a huge snake, coiled up in two rings, and they gazed in awe as it drifted passively downstream. Fr Heinz estimated its visible length at just under 24.5 m, and stated that its body was as thick as an oil drum.

Sucuriju gigante encountered by Father Heinz and his crew (William Rebsamen)
Moreover, on 29 October 1929 he encountered another specimen, this time while he and his crew were travelling by river to Alenquer in Brazil's Pará State at around midnight. Approaching them in the dark from the opposite direction, its eyes were so large and phosphorescent that he initially mistook them for a pair of blue-green navigation lights on a steamer! Happily, this monstrous serpent paid no attention to its terrified observers!

Illustration of a giant anaconda coming ashore (William Rebsamen)

The following photograph depicts an alleged 40-45-m-long sucuriju gigante that according to Tim Dinsdale's book The Leviathans (1966) was originally captured alive on the banks of the Amazon and towed into Manaos by a river tug before being subsequently dispatched via a round of machine-gun fire – but does the photo depict a genuine giant anaconda, or just a well-executed hoax involving forced perspective? The question remains unanswered.

Old Brazilian postcard from c.1932 depicting an alleged 40-45-m sucuriju gigante, or a clever example of forced perspective?

Equally enigmatic is this second  photo, snapped in 1948, of a supposed 35-m (115-ft) sucuriju gigante, which reputedly came ashore and hid in the old fortifications of Fort Abuna in western Brazil's Guaporé Territory before being machine-gunned to death and pushed into the Abuna River.

Supposed 35-m-long sucuriju gigante floating dead in the Abuna River within Brazil's Guaporé Territory

More recently, on 19 August 1997, a veritable behemoth of a snake, jet-black and supposedly almost 40 m long, reputedly raided Nueva Tacna, a village near the Rio Napo in northern Peru. Its five eyewitnesses were later interviewed by no less eminent a person than Jorge Samuel Chávez Sibina, mayor of the Municipalidad Provincial de Maynas, who, in the company of radio journalist Carlos Villareal, flew over the village and afterwards stated that in his opinion: "There really is something to the villagers' stories". Moreover, a track supposedly left behind by this goliath measured about 488 m long and almost 10 m wide.

Illusive online photograph of a supposed giant black anaconda

The above photograph is one in a series from a project entitled 'Vietnam Army Caught the Giant Snake', created by Vietnam students in 2010, using toy tanks and other vehicles, and clearly in some photos toy soldiers too. The snake corpse may have been real, but was far smaller in reality than it seemed to be to those online viewers mistakenly assuming that the vehicles were real, full-sized ones; in short, the photos were clever optical illusions. Full details can be found here on the Vietnamese site documenting this project. It has also been covered on the Snopes hoax-busting site.


How reliable are such reports as those presented here? Obviously, human estimation of size, especially when dealing with elongate, coiling objects like snakes, is far from perfect, and much given to exaggeration. Preserved skins do not provide reliable evidence for giant snakes either, because it has been ably demonstrated that those obtained from heavy snakes like anacondas can be deliberately stretched by as much as 30 per cent without causing much distortion to their markings.

Researchers have also suggested that their great size could cause giant snakes to experience problems in maintaining caudal blood pressure, and that they would need to remain submerged in water for their immense weight to be effectively buoyed. Furthermore, snake specialist Peter Pritchard has calculated that the maximum length of a snake species is 1.5-2.5 times its shortest adult length – which means that as small adult common anacondas measure 3-3.7 m long, the greatest theoretical length for this species is only marginally above 9 m.

Frontispiece to garrison deserter John Browne's Affecting Narrative book from 1802, depicting an 'ibibaboka' - clearly a grossly-exaggerated anaconda yet supposedly encountered by him in 1799 on St Helena!

Even prehistory – a domain replete with reptilian giants - once offered little support for serpent monsters. Traditionally, the largest species of fossil snake on record has been North Africa's Gigantophis garstini, which existed approximately 40 million years ago and was believed to measure more than 10 m but not to exceed the minimum length needed to claim the Bronx Zoo's longstanding prize. And then along came Titanoboa.

All speculation concerning the impossibility (or at least the very considerable improbability) of giant snakes suffered a major blow in 2009, when scientists announced that 28 specimens of a hitherto-unknown fossil snake of truly gargantuan proportions had been discovered in the Cerrejón Formation within coal mines at La Guajira, Colombia.

Life-size model of Titanoboa at the Smithsonian Institution (© Smithsonian Institution)

This new species, which existed 58-60 million years ago, was christened Titanoboa cerrejonensis. By comparing the sizes and shapes of the vertebrae of its eight largest specimens to those of modern-day snakes, researchers confidently estimated that the aptly-named Titanoboa had attained a maximum length of 12-15 m, weighed around 1135 kg, and boasted a girth of about 1 m at its body's thickest portion. Suddenly, giant snakes were a myth no longer – here was indisputable evidence that at least one such species had genuinely existed.

So could there be others too – still thriving in secluded swamps and rivers, their colossal forms in flagrant disregard of what should or should not be possible according to the laws of biophysics, lurking like primeval serpent dragons amid our planet's remotest, shadow-infested realms? Perhaps one day a future Fawcett will uncover the truth – provided, unlike Fawcett, he lives long enough to bring the required evidence back home with him!

1825 print of warrior Matsui Tamijiro battling a giant snake (Utagawa Kuniyoshi)

UPDATE - 17 September 2022
I have just been informed that some anonymous reader has reported this blog article of mine for allegedly containing shocking content! I wish to state categorically here and now that it does no such thing. The three photos of supposedly dead giant anacondas are all assuredly hoaxes (the two b/w ones, moreover, have been published in numerous books and articles down through the years, both in hard-copy physical format and digitally online), most especially the colour one, a known photographic hoax, all of which I've clearly stated in this article. It is a shame that some people have nothing better to do with their lives than failing to read articles accurately and thereby causing trouble for persons such as myself who have done nothing wrong.


  1. The Katanga picture has always intrigued me, but looking closer today ... where's the head? most of the pic is in focus, but it definitely becomes fuzzy near the front (presumably head) and almost appears to become the brush, or whatever the vegetation is. Triangular head, green color ... anaconda - yet none live in Africa. Unknown species, which has never been seen or recorded since? Rose up 10 feet? (I know King Cobras can, but a 40-50 foot snake?). And why not more pics? seems a little fishy at this point, but I was enthralled as a kid by the interview.

  2. I've always been fascinated by the van Lierde photograph. Why is it not more accepted as evidence? It was from a reliable source, and there are things in the photograph to provide scale.

  3. A slightly speculative topic like this calls for caution :) ... Somehow, you have forgotten the reports of giant dragons from Scandinavia. The reason I bring this up is that some of these report the dragon getting caught in a mountain pass. This would make sense if a basilosaur-like creature with a torso was venturing either on land or up stream. Perhaps after fish runs. Could this explain some of the reports of giant snakes in the tropics as well? :)

  4. You have to understand that they are reported to have a mode of locomotion involving multiple vertical undulations. If so, then they could get about on land... They would also be very fast at sea (as reported). This would have to be a more elongate sort of basilosaur-like creature than current accepted reconstructions...

  5. As a zoologist, is it absurd to suppose there may exist a basilosaur-like creature with multiple vertical undulations as its mode of locomotion? A whale flexes at neck, back and fluke but couldn't one have evolved to flex at more than one place along the spine? I am aware that the usual explanation is that whatever is seen does not really do this but various other explanations can account for it. I suspect this is sometimes correctly described. It would account for the great speed often described and their elusiveness. To allow for one more spinal flexure would require perhaps a longer slimmer body than the basilosaur is usually supposed to have had.

  6. It seems that the muscles of the spine could pull it together so that two humps form at once and then release so that two humps flatten out. This would conceivably be a very efficient form of locomotion.

  7. Current palaeontological opinion is that basilosaurs had very rigid, inflexible vertebral columns, despite their great length and elongated body form. However, if a lineage had survived to the present day, all those millions of years of continued evolution may conceivably have engineered a much more flexible vertebral column, which may indeed in turn be responsible for vertically undulating elongate or serpentiform aquatic cryptids. All extremely speculative, of course, but certainly not impossible.

  8. From the most serious cryptozoology books one finds many accounts of many humps or many vertical flexures. Some described as many humped may be vertical flexured. Some accounts give more exact and even fascinating details. At least one described the vertical flexures originating just behind the front area and then moving down to the tail in what I would describe as a whip-like motion. Some other accounts approximate to this kind of description. I am not suggesting that we have a Koch-like creature, but only that there may be room for up to three flexures besides the neck and flukes/tail. It is well known that some such accounts may be better accounted for by distant birds flying up and down or numbers of seals or porpoises folowing each other. Many other accounts are difficult to explain in these ways.

  9. the old magazine cruise south. black river Brazil. demonstrates either between 1986 there was a 12 meter anaconda wants inhabited the black and the Orinoco River. fishermen and tourist wants disappeared. afternoons. Only in 1988 she was shot dead. and so demonstrates his great carcass. Green was a rare black snake. and that in 1990 the director if the director luiz losa expired on real legend and did anaconda movie. in Brazil. and in this he placed a robotic anaconda 15 feet. for a scene of tropical terror. anaconda 12. Until 1986 to win reticulated python 9m.

  10. To me it is entirely possible to have individual snakes of various species exceed what science states are the "maximum" sizes, particularly in more ancient times, and also in light of the recent discovery of the Titanoboa fossils.
    Once (a few decades ago when my children were small) had to shoot a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus Oreganus Oreganus) that refused to relocate from my very rural yard where it had denned up for years prior to our purchase of the property . It measured over 6 feet, but at the time I certainly wasn't thinking about scientific matters in regard to its demise, so didn't think at all about recording it for posterity (or science).
    It wasn't until much later that I learned that they are, at least according to herpetologists, only supposed to reach a maximum length of 60 inches (5 feet). I suppose it is possible that its musculature relaxed after it died so as to make it stretch a bit, but at least 12 inches? Although my snake wasn't of gargantuan proportions, I think that there must be many other snake species who, in the right circumstances not only appear outside the boundaries of their scientifically accepted habitats, but grow to exceptional sizes.
    I think my own experience was like that of many people who found themselves in a situation that only later they discover was supposedly "impossible" according to accepted science.
    For the record, I am not a fan of killing any animal, even potentially lethal ones, unless no other recourse is available(i.e. relocation, etc.) and it poses a direct threat to safety.

    People have always behaved like people it seems, so it isn't far-fetched to think that even in the period of the siege of Carthage that some ancient collector might have "transplanted" that snake, collected from a distant area, releasing it when it got too big to keep as a pet any longer. If it had no competition in its "adopted" environment from others of its kind, who knows for sure how large it could have grown? Of course this is merely speculation, but well within the bounds of possibility.
    Another factor is the propensity of people, from ancient times to the present, to want to destroy giant specimens of just about anything they fear or want to immortalize as a "trophy". Over time, of course this would make such specimens diminish in numbers, if not disappear altogether.

  11. I think the one with the truck can be 50% real cause...think about it what do a snake needs...heat-water-and food source and it was never determine how big they can really get. A place like the wet lands is perfect, but if you want prof your dead...who would be dumb to find one that big. If you don't believe that they can get that big i saw a show that talked about anacondas and one swallowed a gator and survived, but like 4 weeks later it died cause the gator skin was too tough to digest. Like the expert said something needs to be in water....so nobody knows.

  12. The one with the truck definitely can be real...

  13. Wonderful post. I am searching awesome news and ideas. What I have found from your site, it is actually highly content.
    But nowadays there aren't snakes as big as the Titanoboa snake

  14. To me it is entirely possible to have individual snakes of various species exceed what science states are the "maximum" sizes, particularly in more ancient times, and also in light of the recent discovery of the Titanoboa fossils.
    Once (a few decades ago when my children were small) had to shoot a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus Oreganus Oreganus) that refused to relocate from my very rural yard where it had denned up for years prior to our purchase of the property . It measured over 6 feet, but at the time I certainly wasn't thinking about scientific matters in regard to its demise, so didn't think at all about recording it for posterity

  15. My dying grand father always told us stories about an encounter with a huge scary "flatened head"snake that tried to attack him 70 years ago.
    According to his story, it was winter, the snake was laying in a big corn field, and he stombled on it by accident. when it felt threatened, and according to him, this snake stood up and it had a flatened top part of her body, and it started hissing. he said that it had some hair on its body and that it was so huge it could eat him entirely.. the thing is at that time this place (near Majerda) was known for big snakes and people hunted them down without any records.
    Anyway, I have always thought that it was one of his fairytails, or that he made up that story, and after reading this, i thought that maybe his story would help solidify your study.

    1. Hi there, Thanks for your interesting report. Is Majerda the same place as Medjerda, in Tunisia? If so, I have some other accounts on file of extra-large mystery snakes reported from Tunisia. All the best, Dr Karl Shuker.

  16. It seems increasingly to common to report someone's work for some misdemeanor or other. "Shocking content" indeed. They should visit my site sometime, lol!
    Giant snakes are a long time favourite subject of mine and yes those "shocking" images are readily available online.
    Fawcett's encounter is one of the best as it seems devoid of exaggeration, with the colonel even being surprised at the narrow girth of the snake despite it's extraordinary length.
    I have a copy of Exporation Fawcett in my book collection and I'm very intrigued by another cryptid encounter related therein: The altercation with the Maricoxis, who are described as hairy primitive hominids.
    Fawcett was declared a liar for both the snake and Maricoxi stories but one wonders why he would make up such a story amid all the genuine adventures he relates in his journals ?

  17. What about the huge anacondas claimed to have been seen by Mr. Up de Graff?