EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
The one seem’d Woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold.
—Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II
I list every cross that’s reported, not because I think every reported hybrid is real, but because I use the name of a cross as a heading for a page that serves as a repository for all evidence I’ve collected about that cross.
A report of what, if real, would be a pair of extremely odd hybrids, recalls Milton’s Hell and tales of the Egyptian gods. It appeared on the front page, column 1, of the August 30, 1864, issue of the Cleveland Morning Leader, a newspaper published in Cleveland, Ohio (source):
Wonders never cease! and the greatest ever heard of in these modern times has just come to our knowledge from entirely reliable authority. It fully disproves the wisdom of Solomon when he proclaimed that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The facts related to us are:
About two weeks ago the wife of a market gardener, residing at Eagle Point, in this city, gave birth to twins which, instead of being provided with the head and features of the “human form divine” had each the head and neck of a snake! Besides the head and shoulders the children were of natural and comely form—from the shoulders up they presented the horrible shape and characteristics of the serpent! Immediately after the birth a consultation of physicians was held, at which it was very properly decided to bleed the monsters to death, which was, accordingly done. What disposition was made of the bodies we have not yet learned.
The cause assigned for the lusus naturae is that several months ago, shortly after the woman became enciente, her husband playfully threw a snake’s head into her face, which so frightened her that the foetus assumed the horrible shape into which they were brought into the world.
In another account we find a troubled physician tussling with a vicious serpentine delivery. The report appeared on page 3, column 2, of the June 19, 1868, issue of The Pulaski Citizen, a newspaper published in Pulaski, Tennessee (source):
A separate account of an alleged snake child appeared on the front page, columns 3 and 4, of the July 11, 1871, issue of the Public Ledger, a newspaper published in St. John’s, Newfoundland (source). The creature described was reportedly born on Cape Cod. So the story originally appeared in the Boston Herald, undersigned by a physician, Dr. J. H. Hanford of Reading Massachusetts, who wrote the following description.
During a recent visit to Cape Cod, the writer was made acquainted with a remarkable freak of nature, one illustrating the results of certain influences exerted before birth, in the person of a male child, known as the “snake child.” This is the son of Mr.___, of Harwick, a little more than three months old, and regarded as “more snake than human.” During the term of pregnancy, which was attended with various peculiar sensations, the mother was in an unusual frame of mind, and gratified a kind of monomania for killing snakes, never allowing an opportunity for an encounter with them to pass unimproved. On one occasion she fought two and a half hours with three adders in an arbor, at last conquering and killing them. On another occasion she came suddenly upon a large black snake, the ‘size of her wrist,’ which raised his head very high and ‘showed fight.’ True to her strange impulse, she commenced the attack and was the conqueror, instead of screaming, like most females, and leaving the spot in haste, though his snakeship presented a formidable, if not a frightful, appearance. This monstrosity, which weighed 13 lbs. at birth has the more general appearance of a human being in the outlines of the body, than in the head and limbs, though the shoulder blade is wanting, or very unlike the natural one. The head is very large having, at birth, the appearance, with the general expression of the face, especially the upper part, of a child at the age of two years. It rises high, the line of the front and back being nearly parallel, though inclining upward and forward with an arched appearance. The forehead is high, and projects considerably over the eyes. The ears, which are large, are located very far forward, and about one inch lower than usual, or about on a direct line with the chin. The eyes are large, snakish, elongated, protruding, and much in motion. The lower jaw has an unusual appearance, appearing as if double, while the roof of the mouth is narrow and deep. The mouth is open, save when nursing the bottle. The tongue as thick as some two or three ordinary ones, and is very smooth. The lips remain in one position, about a half inch in a straight line, above and below, with a gradual curve toward the angles. The nose is rounded at the tip, much depressed at the base, and the nostrils much distended, the whole looking snakish. Instead of the usual soft place in the top of the skull, there are two, one in the forehead, and the other far back, the skull between these more nearly resembling the back of a turtle than a child’s head. There are two bony projections in the forehead, over the eyes, like prospective horns, while between these and the eyes are deep cavities. The face, which is long and large, with the exception of the mouth and chin.—is proportionately small—has a mature expression, rather snakish, the chin being usually pointed. The feet and hands are the most remarkable, evidently presenting the deformity in its worst aspects. Both are unusually arched, and in other respects peculiar. The large toe is short, like a thumb, inclining downward and toward the hollow of the foot, with the small one also. The remaining ones, which are destitute of the usual joints, are enclosed in a kind of sheath, a thick skin and some flesh, all terminating at the ends in one broad and large n ail, inclining downward like a half tube. This nail, and indeed those of both the hands and feet, have a decidedly snakish look. The hands are still more peculiar, rather more arched than the feet. The bones of the hand are more distant, relatively, than those of the feet, with a deep cavity between, rather irregular. One of the toe bones is disconnected with those of the foot, passing instead, downward toward the hollow of the foot, there floating with no attachment. Others seem to be deficient in the usual connection in this respect. The palm is very deep, corresponding with the unusual arch both of the hand and finger sheath. The thumb and the small finger incline toward the palm, and are rather short, resembling the general construction of the corresponding members of the foot, though the small finger is more connected with the others by an arrangement resembling that of the web foot. The remaining three are almost in a form of a triangle, joining at the ends in one general broad and large nail. Extending down the sides of the fingers, almost enclosing them. I could detect no joints in these fingers, only the one joining them to the hand. The little fellow seemed unwilling to have his hand held long enough to have them carefully examined, making one feel that he was handling a snake. The general appearance of the hand, the form of enclosed fingers, the form of the nails, etc., are wonderfully suggestive of the snake. Indeed, one can scarcely look at this unique creature, observe the almost constant motion of the hands, feet, tongue, the turning of the head from side to side, and see the snakish aspect, without feeling a kind of shuddering, a wish to withdraw from his presence, so snakish is he in his appearance and movements.
J. H. Hanford, M. D., Reading Mass.
Another case of reported snake-baby appeared on page 2, column 3, of the May 8, 1867, issue of the Public Ledger, a newspaper published in Memphis, Tennessee (source):
Another snake-human hybrid slithered onto the front page, column 7, of the July 19, 1893, issue of the Alpena Argus, a newspaper published in Alpena, Michigan (source). This report ran in many U.S. papers that summer.
The next report is copied from page 2, column 3, of the May 2, 1885, issue of The Comet, a newspaper published in Johnson City, Tennessee (source). The original source of the story was the Knoxville, Tennessee Journal.
Another such report appeared on page 4, column 1, of the August 25, 1900, issue of The Democratic Advocate, a newspaper published in Westminster, Maryland (source).
The next report appeared on page 2 of the October 20, 1887, issue of the Rock Island Daily Argus, a newspaper published in Rock Island, Illinois (source).
Lathrop is a town in northwestern Missouri.
The following news story, about the death of a woman with snakelike traits, is taken from the front page, column 4, of the February 20, 1890, issue of the Dodge City Times, a newspaper published in Dodge City, Kansas (source).
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Human Origins: Are we hybrids?
On the Origins of New Forms of Life
Cat-rabbit Hybrids: Fact or fiction?
Georges Cuvier: A Biography
Prothero: A Rebuttal
Branches of Biology