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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.

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