Columbuss Serpent

Mystery crocodilian of the West Indies.

Physical description: Described as a sierpe ("snake"). Length, 5 feet. Habitat: Freshwater lagoon. Distribution: Crooked Island, Bahamas. Significant sighting: On October 21, 1492, Christopher Columbus's men killed a "snake" on the northwest coast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Martin Alonso Pinzón of the Pinta killed another one the next day. He planned to skin one and return it to Spain; however, no such skin has been preserved. Possible explanations:

(1) Long thought to have been an Iguana (Family Iguanidae), although these large lizards rarely enter water and there is no fossil evidence for them on the island.

(2) When remains of a village site visited by Columbus was excavated in 1987, the femur from an American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) was discovered. Its size indicated it belonged to an animal about 4 feet long. Though it may not have been the animal killed by Columbus's men, it shows that crocodiles used to live on the island.

Sources: Bartolomé de las Casas, "Digest of Columbus's Log-book on His First Voyage" [1492], in J. M. Cohen, trans., The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: Penguin, 1969), pp. 70-72; Karl Shuker,

"Close Encounters of the Cryptozoological Kind," Fate 53 (May 2000): 26-29.

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