Thursday, March 26, 2015

Creature of the Month: Reptilicus Anomalous: Strange Tales of Scales by Micah Hanks

Cryptozoology is a strange field for one to become associated with, to say the least. While many perceive it as the pursuit of imaginary beasts that, at best, might only really kiss the face of tangibility within “the goblin universe,” there are also encounters more true to the real world, in which case brushes with the supposed beasts turn up in the unlikeliest places, which often border the everyday.
Amidst the various evolutionary grades of fauna, perhaps the most interesting to extend into the realm of “mystery beasts” are those of the herpetological variety. In other words, we are discussing our kindred fitted with scales: the reptiles.

While we have many tales of incredible encounters with water beasts and saurian monstrosities do exist, we need not look that far beyond the ordinary to find weird tales of mystery beasts. For instance, more than a decade ago, I received the following correspondence from a gentleman in Georgia, who told of a truly strange encounter a group of DOT workers claimed to have by a roadside one hot summer day:

I am very enthralled by cryptozoology, especially the variety dealing with critters which seem to match no others extant, but seem as the denizens of a bad acid trip.
Here in central Georgia several years ago, a retired chiropractor, while driving to a small-town, noticed a group of DOT (highway repair) workers standing in a huddle on the side of the road. Since small town folk tend to know each other, he stopped and inquired about the focus of their attention.
It seems that they had captured what he describes as a rattlesnake with two front legs and claws, from around which course hair hung forth.      
The old guy is not a drunk, liar, or one to see things not there. I plan to try to interview the people of that road crew if they're still around. I haven't had time yet, and with cost of gas and long distances in this region…
The fool who had possession of the critter said he wanted to stuff it. I would imagine that a living entity would provide greater proof of it's being a true cryptid.
Sincerely yours,

What was the beast that Clyde described in his letter? As strange as a “legged” rattlesnake may sound, there are instances on record that describe similar discoveries. In January 2015, a snake with legs was found in the home of a resident of Isabela, Philippines, which experts later determined to be a genetic mutation. An almost identical deformity was noted with the discovery of a snake in China in 2009, when the creature was discovered within a home making its way slowly across an interior wall. The creature was found to have a strange, frog-like leg protruding from its body. The strange incident was reported in The Telegraph:  

Dean Qiongxiu, 66, said she discovered the reptile clinging to the wall of her bedroom with its talons in the middle of the night.
"I woke up and heard a strange scratching sound. I turned on the light and saw this monster working its way along the wall using his claw," said Mrs Duan of Suining, southwest China.
Mrs Duan said she was so scared she grabbed a shoe and beat the snake to death before preserving its body in a bottle of alcohol.
The snake – 16 inches long and the thickness of a little finger – is now being studied at the Life Sciences Department at China's West Normal University in Nanchang.

In addition to genuine snake species bearing such “vestigial” legs as a result of mutations, there are also species of lizards known to science, known generally as “legless lizards”, which have at times blurred the lines between serpents and their legged kindred among the lizard family. In Vientiane, Laos in the summer of 2011, a rare variety of the skink species, Lygosoma haroldyoungi, was found near the Kaisone temple, which attracted interest for being mistaken as another “snake with legs”.

To further complicate matters, here in the United States there are actually varieties of legless lizards which otherwise appear identical to snakes, apart from their lizard-like heads, ear openings, and movable eyelids that contrast starkly with the physical characteristics of any snake species. To the untrained eye, these slithering creatures might appear indistinguishable from the common garter snake, an often colorful North American grass-dwelling snake of the Thamnophis genus.

Among the tall-tales of early American folklore are the stories that common varieties of snakes might take their own tales into their mouths, in the form of the ancient symbol recognized as the ouroboros, or more simply, the snake or dragon that consumes its own tale. In classical symbolism, this form represented the concept of eternity, or the cyclical self-reflexivity of the eternalistic nature of life itself; alchemists of yore had once adopted it for this reason, as well as the theosophists of more modern circles of thought.

Regardless of the deeper existential interpretations of the ouroboros since ancient times, the frontier tales of a snake that would bite its own tail had been far more practical in nature: quite simply, the “hoop snake,” as it was known, involved a snake which would bite its own tail in order to make its escape by rolling quickly down a hillside, rolling along like a single spinning wheel.

The “hoop snake” is not relegated to American frontier folklore, however; regional varieties have appeared in various traditions spanning the globe, from the orient to the outback of Australia. In 1784, Tour magazine featured the following account of one of the strange beasts in its U.S. edition:

“As other serpents crawl upon their bellies, so can this; but he has another method of moving peculiar to his own species, which he always adopts when he is in eager pursuit of his prey; he throws himself into a circle, running rapidly around, advancing like a hoop, with his tail arising and pointed forward in the circle, by which he is always in the ready position of striking.
It is observed that they only make use of this method in attacking; for when they flee from their enemy they go upon their bellies, like other serpents. From the above circumstance, peculiar to themselves, they have also derived the appellation of hoop snakes.

As far as the reasons why a real, living snake might bite its own tail, locomotion for any purpose is hardly of any likelihood. However, some snakes will become disoriented if they become overheated (a common ailment which may beset pet snakes kept under a heating lamp for too long), which can lead to the creatures biting their own tails and attempting to consume themselves. Certain other species of snakes are known for eating other smaller (and often poisonous) snake species; when in captivity, if these species are kept in too small an enclosure, they may be prone to encounter their own tails and, mistaking it for being another, smaller snake, may begin to consume themselves in a similar fashion, which can require surgical intervention in order to remove the snake from itself in more extreme instances.

Though such circumstances may explain the myth behind the symbol of the ouroboros, it seems less likely that a snake biting its own tail would be capable of locomotion while in this contorted condition. And yet, as a child, my own grandmother had claimed that she and a number of schoolchildren had witnessed a snake moving down a hillside in this manner near Weaverville, North Carolina, some time in the early part of the twentieth century. 
Perhaps there is really more to our slithering serpent kindred than most of us would ever realize.

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, lecturer, and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of scientific concepts and unexplained phenomena. Over the last decade, his research has examined a variety of approaches to studying the unexplained, cultural phenomena, human history, and the prospects of our technological future as a species as influenced by science.

He is author of several books, including his 2012 New Page Books release, The UFO Singularity, The Ghost RocketsMagic, Mysticism and the Molecule, and Reynolds Mansion. Hanks produces a weekly podcast, The GralienReport, which follows his research.

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