Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Giant Patagonian Snakes - a bit of science


My previous post on the snake-like “lampalagua” and “culebrón” (also see my post on the "Flying Snake") led me to wonder if there were any large snakes in Patagonia. I have never seen snakes there, so I checked it out:

Yes, there are snakes, the snub nosed Yarará viper (Bothrops ammodytoides “Víbora-Yarará ñata") which extends from northern Argentina into the Province of Neuquén and the Province of Rio Negro on the northern tip of Patagonia. As well as nearly all of the Province of Chubut and the north eastern tip of the Province of Santa Cruz. This is the snake that lives furthest south in the whole world. It prefers the steppe and does not live in the Andean forests.[1]

From a "pseudo scientific" point of view, there is a very big snake shown on Admiral Piri Reis' 1513 map (see my post on this Here).

Giant snakes of yore

At one time, however there were gigantic snakes in Patagonia. Adriana Albino wrote in 1991 that there was a large snake from the The Eocene epoch ( a part of the Tertiary Period in the Cenozoic Era, that lasted from about 54.8 to 33.7 million years ago [MA]).

It was a young specimen that must have measured between 5 and 7 m (15 – 22 ft.) long. And during adulthood some 10 to 12 m (20 – 36 ft.). The animal was later named Chubutophis in Albino (1993).[2]

Below is another South American "giant" snake, the Titanoboa, its remains were discovered in Colombia and it was really big, roughly the same size or even slightly smaller than the Patagonian giants.


Titanoboa (extinct Colombian snake) comparative size. From: [3]

She also mentioned another snake which had a head roughly 70 cm long (27 in.) and a length of 15 to 20 m (45 – 60 ft.). It is of unknown age. It was known only from an incomplete vertebra. According to Albino :

stratigraphic age and locality are unknown, although I could established that it is from early Tertiary levels in south Chubut province, Patagonia. Because the remain is extremely bad preserved, I cannot determine it as a boid or a madtsoiid snake.[2]

For us the laymen, a boid is a members of the Boidae family, the boas, which kill prey by constriction. The madtsoiids are an extinct group of snakes that lived in the supercontinent of Gondwana (South America, India, Africa, Australia and even soutern Europe) from the early Cenomian period (during the Upper Cretaceous 95 MA) until the Pleistocene period (2.5 MA to 12,000 years ago). They seem to have n been very primitve and, like boas, killed their prey by constriction.

Another article on giant Patagonian snakes (Simpson, G.G. 1933. A new fossil snake from the Notostylops Beds of Patagonia. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 67: 1-22)[4] mentions the Madtsoia bai whose name was created using three Tehuelche words mad and tsoi the name of the place where the remains were found (Cow Valley) and bai (grandmother); i.e. the "grandmother of Cow Valley".

Gaylord Simpson, an American fossil hunter of the 1930’s (was he an Indiana Jones archetype?) estimated its length as 9 m (27 ft.). It was between 49 and 55 MA and is now at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The cryptozoological questions

Did any of these giant snakes manage to survive until human beings arrived in America?

If so, did they manage to survive in the Patagonian steppe? (I doubt it, too dry and it lacks enough food for such a massive body - unless they specialized in eating megafaunal creatures).

Or in the Patagonian forests? (no snakes live there now, why wold these giants do so?)

Having survived, could they be the inpiration for myths referred to giant snakes?

Could the theory of the Mapuche having a non-Chilean origin (some have suggested that they came from the Amazon - see my post on this subject Here) imply that the proto-Mapuche came into contact with giant (i.e. Anaconda) snakes in the Amazon and brought their myths with them from the jungles to their new home in Chile?

Another option is that the snake myths originated in the Amazon, were taken up by the Andean people (Inca and pre-Inca cultures) and as part of their myths and beliefs, introduced into Chile during the Inca conquest (1430-1520). See my post on the possible Inca origin of the Mapuche snake myths.

Questions that, until now, remain unanswered.

Further reading:

Albino, A. M., 1991. Las serpientes del Santacrucense y Friasense de Argentina. Ameghiniana 28 (3-4), 402.
- 1993. Snakes from the Paleocene and Eocene of Patagonia (Argentina): paleoecology and coevolution with mammals. Historical Biology 7, 51-69.
- 2000. New record of snakes from the Cretaceous of Patagonia (Argentina). Geodiversitas 22, 247-253.
- 1991. Serpientes gigantes en la Patagonia. Ciencia Hoy, 3(14): 58-63. Read a fragment (in Spanish) Here.


[1] Sistema de Información de Biodiversidad. Argentine National Parks Administration. Online Here.
[2] Naish, Darren. Tetrapod Zoology. Stupidly large snakes, the story so far. 31.05.2007
[3] Los Angeles Times. Fossil of 43-foot super snake Titanoboa found in Colombia. 05.02.2009.
[4] American Museum of Natural History, online Here.

Sistema de Información de Biodiversidad. Argentine National Parks Administration..
Cool informative website on Argentina's living species, biodiversity and National Parks.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters


  1. Hi Austin,
    this is the first I've seen of your blog and I like your style. The idea that mythic giant serpents refer to the actual fauna of a different, ancestral location makes sense to me, and I've speculated about it for the case of the 'rainbow serpents' in Australian abopriginal stories and art, which have features reminiscent of cobras (e.g. Scanlon & Lee 2001). True cobras are pretty important to people who live with them in Africa and Asia (often involved in creation stories etc.), and it seems likely they wouldn't be forgotten when people expanded beyond cobra range into Australia, Europe and even the New World.

  2. Thank you for your comment. There are several examples within the Mapuche mythology that indicate an "ancestral homeland" in the Amazon. Today, prompted by your comment, I have posted about them here:


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