Unknown Snake of Japan.
Etymology: Japanese, "son of the straw bat"; tzuchi ("batlike toy made of straw") + noko ("son").
Variant names: Tsuchinoko and as many as forty other names meaning "rolling hammer," "snake bat," or "horizontal bat."
Physical description: Short and stocky. Length, 2-3 feet. Width, 3 inches. Very large body scales. Iridescent dark gray and brown with ten or fewer large, black spots above, bright orange below. Wide, triangular head. Squat horns. Small, round eyes. Eyelids (or protruding scales). Two facial pits between the eyes and nostrils. Red tongue, not forked. Distinct, constricted neck. Wide body. Two crests along the spine. Flat undersurface. No vertebrae in the tail. Short tail, said to be prehensile.
Behavior: Moves both by lateral undulations and rectilinear forward progression. Said to be able to curl into a ball, roll downhill, leap into the air, and change color. Can swim. Whistles, hoots, snores, or moans. Disagreeable odor. Feeds on small mammals. Aggressive and highly venomous. Can spit venom from a distance.
Habitat: Fields, forests, hillside swamps.
Distribution: Interior mountains of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu Islands, Japan. Also reported in Korea, eastern China, and possibly New Guinea.
Significant sightings: The Tzuchinoko has been mentioned in Japanese literature since the thirteenth century.
A farmer named Tokutake ran across a Tzuchinoko in June 1969 in central Honshu. It leaped at him but missed, and he captured it. After keeping it several days, he killed, cooked, and ate it. He claimed to have found three small, half-digested rabbits inside. It was less than 2 feet long.
In 1970, a couple encountered a Tzuchinoko near Tojikimi, southeast of Osaka. It moved swiftly, twisting from left to right. It had large scales, marked with large spots like a boa.
On August 18, 1995, a resident of Aida-machi, Okayama Prefecture, saw a dark-blue, snakelike creature about 20 inches long in the mountains. Its eyes were moving rapidly, and the witness retreated briefly. When he returned, it was gone.
Mitsuko Arima saw a Tzuchinoko on June 15, 2000, swimming along a river. Possible explanations: (1) Misidentified Mamush pit viper (Agkistrodon halys blomhoffi), which has a similar size, coloration, and habitat, or a racial variation of the same snake.
(2) Unknown species of Pit viper (Crotalinae), with some characteristics of African vipers (Viperinae), such as a squat body, rectilinear locomotion, large dorsal scales, and raised scales above the eyes.
Sources: Soseki Yamamoto, Nigero, Tzuchinoko! (Tokyo: Futami, 1973); Soseki Yamamoto, Yamazumi Mandara (Tokyo: Cross Roads, 1985); Bernard Heuvelmans, "Tzuchinoko, a 'Tatzelwurm' from Japan," INFO Journal, no. 49 (June 1986): 7-8; Michel Dethier and Ayako Dethier-Sakamoto, "The Tzuchinoko, an Unidentified Snake from Japan," Cryptozoology 6 (1987): 40-48; Aaron M. Bauer and Anthony P. Russell, "Evidence for the Tzuchinoko Equivocal," Cryptozoology 7 (1988): 110-113; Shin-ichiro Namiki, "Close Encounter with a Tsuchinoko," INFO Journal, no. 75 (Summer 1996): 31; Richard Muirhead, "Some Chinese Cryptids (Part Two)," Cryptozoology Review 4, no. 1 (Summer 2000): 19-20; Karl Shuker, "Loco for a Tzuchinoko," Fortean Times, no. 142 (February 2001): 45.
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