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Hairy bush viper by kittybark-d3c8jlb.jpg

Algerian Hairy Viper is mystery snake of North Africa. Hairy, like a caterpillar. Length, 22 inches. Brownish-red. Seen only once in January 1852, coiled around a tree near Draria, Algeria.

Karl Shuker said: "No less intriguing, or perplexing, is the following report, which appeared in London's Observer newspaper during January 1852: "In the Algerian paper we read that a hairy viper was seen a few days ago near Drariah, coiled round a tree. It resembled an enormous caterpillar, and was of a brownish-red colour; its length was about twenty-two inches. The moment it saw that it was observed, it glided into the brushwood, and all attempts to discover it were unavailing. The authorities of the Museum of Natural History of Paris have sent off orders to their agents in Algiers to get a specimen of this viper." Orders or no orders, their agents clearly failed in their appointed task, because no-one seems to have heard anything more about Algeria's uniquely hirsute vipers. Interestingly, Central Africa is home to an unusual species known as the hairy bush viper Atheris hispida on account of its extremely keeled scales, whose long spiny projections give it a bristly, almost hairy appearance, but no such snake is known from North Africa. Perhaps, therefore, it really was nothing more than an enormous caterpillar, but, if so, I can only presume that estimates of its size were greatly exaggerated. At least I hope that they were - any butterfly or moth metamorphosing from a 22-in-long caterpillar would be a fearsome sight! Something more akin, in fact, to a Wonderland caterpillar than anything expected from Algeria, or even, indeed, the Isle of Wight. "

Possible explanation[]

  • A large caterpillar of some kind.
  • The Viper Stoat (Ictophis pilosus) is a fairly large member of the weasel family at half a metre long, it is restricted to a scattered distribution through Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Due to its long, luxuriant fur, short legs and long tail, it looks for all the world like a graceful, hairy snake. Like a snake, this creature most often preys upon rodents, using its low slung, tubular body shape to invade narrow burrows and warrens. Jerboas, gundis, gerbils, mice and ground squirrels are its most common prey items, which it kills with a bite to the back of the skull. Being nocturnal, it’s thick fur provides good insulation during the cold desert nights. One or 2 litters are produced each year, but in spite of this the Viper Stoat has become very rare. The reason for this is that its luxuriant pelt has made it a target for the fur trade.