Sky Serpents

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 4th, 2009

One day in June of 1873, a farmer in Bonham, Texas, USA, looked up from his work and was astonished at what he saw. There appeared to be an enormous flying snake, banded with brilliant yellow stripes, writhing and twisting in the sky above him. Other people in the Bonham vicinity also witnessed this strange apparition, which was said to be at least as long as a telegraph pole. According to a report in the local newspaper, Enterprise, the bewildered eyewitnesses watched the creature coil itself up, and thrust forward its enormous head as if striking at something.

In my 1985 book Curious Encounters, I wrote of a similiar “Sky Serpent” seen not long afterwards above Fort Scott, Kansas, by members of the U.S. Cavalry stationed there. A hissing serpent in the sky was seen in 1888 over South Carolina, a shining snake wriggled vertically through the skies of Scandinavia in March, 1935, and two separate sightings told of sky snakes over Cruz Alta, Brazil, in December, 1935, and then again in July, 1937.

What are all of these “Sky Serpents”?

Jerome Clark, in a new article in the July 2009 issue of Fortean Times, examines the issue of Sky Serpents in some depth.

See Clark’s great treatment on this interesting phenomenon, online, here.

In an exclusive to Cryptomundo, Jerry Clark responses to those who say that the historical, global sightings of “Sky Serpents” are merely due to “serpent kites”:

The kites look nothing like what are described in the various sky-serpent reports.

If you’re looking for prosaic explanations for at least some sightings, more promising avenues of inquiry are auroral phenomena (e.g., the Texas serpent that circled the sun), meteoritic trails (for the very rare nocturnal cases), and (most productively) good old-fashioned hoaxes.

As for the rest: well, they’re as likely to have been caused by kites or meteors as Sasquatch reports are by guys in gorilla suits. It all depends upon how much you want or need a conventional solution and to what lengths you’ll go to conjure one up.

Me, I suspect that neither reductionist explanations nor literal interpretations — flying snakes in the zoological sense — will do. The simple fact of the matter is that people have strange experiences of all kinds. As long as you don’t confuse experiences with events and you can live with paradox and ambiguity, you need not lose sleep trying to make up propositions, prosaic or extraordinary, for which you can’t provide evidence.

Jerry Clark

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.


18 Responses to “Sky Serpents”

  1. Alton Higgins responds:

    Might some of these folks simply be observing serpent kites (video)?

    Many images of serpent kites are available on the Internet.

  2. Loren Coleman responds:

    See Jerry Clark’s response to the “serpent kite” theory, above, in the body of the posting, an exclusive sent to Cryptomundo.

  3. korollocke responds:

    Could be ribbon snakes, they flatten themselves and glide from one tree to another.

  4. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Hmmm…

    “You better not breathe,
    You better not move,
    You’re better off dead
    I’m telling you dude,
    Quetzalcoatl is coming to town!” 😀

    I’m sure there’s a non-snake explanation for these, and several have already been mentioned here, so I won’t bother listing them.

  5. Kronprinz_adam responds:

    I would say, it looks paranormal to me.
    Dragons and Quetzalcoatl-like beings, huge snakes…they are always mentioned in occultist text (visions due to substances?). A flying serpent, like shown in this picture, violates all physical laws.

  6. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Kronprinz_adam — as in “by the power of Greyskull”?

    If they’re not paranormal, lies, or hallucinations, I’d have to say either something odd caught in the wind (like long streams of cottonwood cotton? or some other seed dispersal mechanism) or some sort of weird, low-level clouds. But I’m inclined to believe this is a tall tale.

  7. cryptidsrus responds:

    I agree with Kronprinz_adam that it looks supernatural.
    Won’t belabor the point here but that’s MY take.

    Could also be a VERY rare type of “flying snake.” 🙂

    I can imagine some people wanting to know if there were any storms or tornadoes near the vicinity of where these people saw this. That would be one of the more “prosaic” explanations for the phenomena seen two centuries ago and beyond.

    The storm/tornadoes “carried” the snakes, so to speak.
    Since there was apparently no bad weather in the vicinity at the time and the skies were calm, I doubt the “Storm” explanation very much.

    Thanks to Jerome Clark for his clarification of this. Very thoughtful and “rational.”

  8. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Looks like the snakes didn’t need no planes in the XIX century to be airborne! 😛

    Do I smell a prequel here? 😉

  9. bigfootsdad responds:

    These type of witnesses (U.S. Cavalry and other professionals) seem to me to be very credible. To dismiss them (as sometimes, I believe, some do concerning Indian or frontiersmen encounters of some time ago) seems to be an insult to their integrity.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Some thoughts here.

    In the case of sky serpents, I tend to doubt that we are dealing with any sort of zoological phenomenon here. I just can’t think of what sort of animal could account for the eyewitness reports, and as has been mentioned there are physical laws to take into account. So while I appreciate the speculation along more supernatural lines of thinking, I think it is worthwhile to look for alternative explanations other than the paranormal or zoological.

    Korolloke said these reports may be caused by gliding snakes, but I have a hard time imagining these types of snakes could produce some of the accounts. Gliding snakes first of all need some base from which to spring, like a tree. When they do glide, it is far from flying, but more like a protracted, controlled fall. There is no lift, and the snake has a noticeable downward trajectory. A gliding snake would not likely be described as “wriggling vertically through the skies” as described in one report above. Gliding snakes are also not particularly bulky and heavy, which would be counterproductive to their gliding adaptation. They certainly would not be “as long as a telegraph pole.”

    Cryptidsrus brings up the possibility of storms throwing up snakes into the air, but I also have somewhat of a problem with this explanation. Essentially, it is the same connundrum as “frog falls,” in that if there is a storm capable of hurling or sucking snakes up into the air, then why are there no other animals flying about? Why would it be only snakes? It is pretty far fetched to think that a storm would selectively send snakes airborne.

    I do think that some reports could be caused by some airborne debris tossed about by the wind, which might give the appearance of a flying serpent. Perhaps we could also have some cases of predatory birds carrying large snakes away as prey. Some birds of prey can carry quite a bit of weight and could feasibly be flying with a snake that appears quite large in comparison. Is it not possible that under certain circumstances a person could see something like this, and mistake it for a winged serpent?

    In the end I think that considering the range of sizes and appearances reported in these flying serpent cases, it may not be constructive to focus on any one given explanation. People have long seen wierd things in the sky and there are various possible explanations for these. Strange things in the sky could encompass a good deal of different phenomena, rather than any one culprit. It seems likely to me that a wide range of arial phenomena, misidentifications, optical illusions, and yes even hoaxes or tall tales, could all be at work to some extent or another here with flying serpents as well.

  11. Ceroill responds:

    Interesting. In the direction of possible misidentifications, going out on a bit of a Fortean limb here…how about some of these being ‘angelhair’ being blown on the wind? As I recall from reports of that phenomenon, some have described it as being iridescent (of course my memory is quite fallible so don’t quote me on that), and a long ‘strand’ or ‘bundle’ being windblown could potentially be seen as snake-like.

    Just a wild speculation, of course.

  12. red_pill_junkie responds:

    OK, being serious for a moment:

    It might be that the explanation might be on some sort of temporary hallucinatory event that prompts the appearance of serpent-like shapes seen through the background of the sky.

    Even westerners that experience the ingestion of ayahuasca report seeing hallucinatory imagery filled with snakes and crocodiles, that might be due to the brain interpreting writhing tubular shapes that appear to have a volition of their own as serpents —our old primate emergency systems kicking in when confronted with incomprehensible perceptual input.

    The winged snake is one of the most ancient and ubiquitous symbol in human history. It is a very powerful Jungian archetype, conveying the union of opposites —the slithering snake confined to the Earth, and the wings of the birds that inhabit the heavens.

    Either that, or we might have to resort to UFOlogical explanations, and someone playing optical tricks on the poor witnesses. If a UFO can be said to change shape from a disc to a truck and then to an automobile, then why not a snake?

  13. springheeledjack responds:

    I think the real word for it is Fortean. It’s one of those many stories that fascinates the heck out of me, but it is all but impossible to approach from a cryptozoolgical sense.

    As with all things odd that have been reported over the years by people, we’re looking at things that are either: mis-interpretations, hallucinations, illusions/mirages, natural phenomenon encountered by persons not familiar with them, or the real mccoy. In all of those, the information is so sporadic, and so dated that it’s hard to try to go on the trail of something like that.

    I tend not to dismiss these witness claims that they encounteed something: I think they did see something, but again, it may have been interpretations of real phenomenon/creatures, etc. and they may not have really encountered what they thought they did.

    When you see something out of your realm of experience, you do try to put a rational face on it, dredging through your own background of stored knowledge to try to come up with something. So, the farmer for instance, had an understanding of snakes, and whatever it was he saw, fit the snake motif, so that’s what he called it. Was it a giant flying snake? The practical side of me says, probably not. The Fortean side of me says, “I wasn’t there, who knows.”

    I liked the summation on the article, and I think it sums up my attitude as well. I am not going to go spend a lot of time trying to hunt down flying snakes, because it seems Fortean to me, and not something based in cryptozoology. The only way to experience something of that nature is to be in the proverbial right place at the right time (or maybe the wrong place depending on your perspective here…).

    In the end, I will still put my energies into hunting down “my” best candidates for cryptids, but I still appreciate these Fortean things that pop up from time to time, if for no other reason than to exercise my philosophical/supernatural side:)

  14. norman-uk responds:

    I think we can rule out a snake as we know it but it has to be something looking like a snake. Wouldn’t a good possibility be flocks of birds and maybe one explanation for the yellow banding would be the way the rays of sunshine caught the flock or up and down movement of the flock exposed different views of the birds. The behaviour could have been a response to predators. What did passenger pigeons look like ? The amazing sight of wheeling flocks of birds could look like anything. Then maybe butterflies, what does the monarch look like on migration ?

    Are these sightings seasonal or related to wind direction ? A researcher could maybe come up with some answers from this aspect, like clouds of dust or pollen or some kind of fungal sporing

    Not forgetting chinese kites or strings of lanterns. Not likely I guess. Then last and least some form of pollution like clouds of NO2

  15. JMonkey responds:

    In the World’s history it has rained frogs and fish as well as blood and tissue, so I am not sure why flying snakes seems like such an impossibility. I know many people will claim that the fish and frogs are caused by waterspouts, tornados, or extremely strong winds, but in many cases, none of these have been present during or leading up to the occurences, so I would have to know what in the abscence of wind, rain, and severe weather would cause this. My bet is that the flying snakes chased them out of the sky.

  16. cryptidsrus responds:

    Mystery_Man I think nailed it.

    And thanks to SpringheeledJack for labeling this for what it is—“Fortean.” I also thought about labeling these sightings that but was reluctant because the of term “Fortean”‘s unfortunate “supernatural” associations. Didn’t want to start a possibly thread-derailing argument over it. So thanks again, SpringheeledJack. Fortean this definitely is.

    BTW, Fortean enthusiasts would be familiar with the “Storm carrying the (insert animal/object here) around” Hypothesis. That is why I included it in here. Charles Fort discussed it at length in his books—in relation to “Frog Falls” and other airborne phenomena of his and our time. Like Mystery_Man, he was dead right about the unlikehood of a Storm “selectively” carrying only certain objects/animals but not others. Plus (like I said) there apparently were not storms/tornadoes in the area reported at the time—making this almost certain it was NOT weather-related.

  17. stranger responds:

    One is reminded of the Chinese dragon. They are always depicted with very serpent-like bodies and small appendages. They are also associated with flying ability. Perhaps sightings like these are the genesis of the legendary animal.

    Obviously, if these are physical animals, they would have to be lighter-than-air or possess some anti-gravity property. We seem to be treading into the realm of the supernatural or cross-dimensional.

  18. volmar responds:

    It could be spider balooning (when the spiders let their web fly in the wind and take a ride). I live close to Cruz Alta, Brazil, and I have seen this happening several times over the years.




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