Partial from:

Ithycyphus perineti

Commented by Eloi Razafimandimby

Many Malagasy snakes have spiritual (often ancestral) attributes but the spear-headed fandrefiala is certainly the most feared. “It’s very clever,” Eloi explained, “if you stop under his tree it will drop three leaves, one at a time, onto your head. It does this to check the trajectory. Then it drops out of the tree and springs its body straight like a spear to kill you.” But the ‘clever’ fandrefiala invariably kills itself in the collision. Another guide told me about a fandrefiala that missed its target and broke a metal rice pot. It also died.

This snake is in fact known to modern science as Ithycyphus perineti and it does have V-shaped head-markings that suggest a spear. Experts believe that, on an island where all its kind are harmless to humans, this reptile has been accredited such wilfully violent (and suicidal) behaviour to satisfy the ancient human impulse to fear snakes.

Just as the diabolical fandrefiala has a real-life counterpart the great Roc of Sinbad’s legends was based on Madagascar’s Aepyornis (once the world’s largest bird). The scientific world is still far from completing an inventory of this ‘evolutionary madhouse’ and who can be certain that in the remote wildernesses of the world’s fourth largest island there are not other creatures that could push back the boundaries of western belief.

Anything is possible on an island where the bat-eared, rat-toothed, fox-tailed, long-fingered aye-aye turns out to be, not the fantastic taxidermic hoax that it was first declared, but a product of natural selection.