Basic Information

Alternative names/spellings:

  • Azure Snake
  • Bashe
  • Blue Snake
  • Cyonoeides
  • Pashe

Name analysis: 巴蛇 (Pinyin: bāshé, Wade-Giles: pa-she)
Type: Great Serpent
Origin: Chinese Mythology, Greek Mythology, Indian Mythology

About Pa Snake

Pa Snakes are gigantic serpents or pythons [4] so large they devour deer [9] and make a noise like a wooden clapper or beating drum. [4] Those found in the Ganges River in India are called Cyonoeides for their blue pigmentation; [7] although the Pa Snakes found in modern China are black with a green head. [9]

The legendary Pa Snakes grow to such enormous proportions that they are capable of swallowing an elephant. [4,9] The serpent lies in wait in water and when an elephant comes to drink, it seizes its trunk and forces the enormous beast under the water, drowning it. [7] After three years of digestion, the Pa Snake vomits up the elephant bones. [9,10]

In folk medicine, any part of the Pa Snake can be worn against the skin to prevent lung and heart ailments. [9,10] The most popular imagining of a Pa Snake is of it eating an elephant. [9]

Pa Snake

Pa Snakes. The gigantic snakes of the East that are so large that they feast upon elephants.
© Donna Quinn.

Habitat and Known Locations

Pa Snakes, like pythons, require warm and wet habitats in order to keep warm, so areas along the equator provide the best climate for their survival. Specifically, Pa Snakes inhabit mountainous regions with rivers or marshlands.

Reports of Pa Snakes or similar gigantic serpent species have been made in the following locations:

  • Ta Hien mountains [4]
  • Ganges River, India [7]
  • Mount Vermilion-Roll [9]
  • Siong Jan mountains [4]

At one point, the presence of Pa Snakes rendered the Ta Hien mountains uninhabitable. [4]

Related species have also been sighted as far south as Jiaozhi, or modern Vietnam. [9]

The Name and Etymology

The names of large reptiles often factored into the names of dragon species; for example, the ránshé ('python') likely inspired the Pa Snake. [1] Pythons can grow to lengths of 33 ft. (10 m), and as a constrictor species, they crush and swallow prey.

The Pa Snake is also called 巴蛇 (bāshé), which means 'elephant-eating snake.' [1] In Mandarin, (ba) is used as a suffix, and it can refer to 'Pakistan' or 'Palestine' as well as translate as 'to hope,' 'to wish,' 'anxiously hope,' or 'greatly desire.' [2] The original character for ba was a pictograph of a serpent eating an elephant; [9] however, the current character inspires the idea of reaching for a desire or dreams. [2] The Mandarin (she) translates to snake or serpent. [3]


In Gange Indiae platanistas vocant, rostro delphini et cauda, magnitudine autem XVI cubitorum. in eodem esse Statius Sebosus haut modico miraculo adfert vermes, branchiis binis sex cubitorum, caeruleos, qui nomen a facie traxerunt. his tantas esse vires, ut elephantos ad potus venientes mordicus comprehensa manu eorum abstrahant. [12]

[Translation: Within Ganges, a river of India... Statius Sibosus reporteth as strange a thing besides, namely, that in the said river there be certaine wormes or serpents with two finnes of a side, sixtie cubits long, of colour blew, and of that hew take their name [and be called Cyonoeides.] He saith moreover, that they be so strong, that when the Elephants come into the river for drinke, they catch fast hold with their teeth by their trunkes or muzzles, and maugre their hearts force them downe under the water; of such power and force they are.]

-- Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia IX, xvii (Natural History 9:17)
first century AD [7]

一蛇吞象厥大何如 [11]

[Translation: How does the snake that can swallow an elephant digests its bones?] [6]

-- Qu Yuan, 天問 (Tiānwèn, Heavenly Questions)
楚辭 (Chuci or Songs of the South)
written circa third century BC
translated by David Hawkes [5]


[Translation: Ba snake swallows elephants.]

-- 藝文類聚 (Yiwen Leiju, Collection of Literature...) 96:3.2
Volume 96: 鱗介部上 (Linjiebushang, Squamous Introduction),
Section 3: 蛇 (Shé, Serpent), circa seventh century AD [10]


[Translation: Chan said on the bashe: A solid, monster-snake that can swallow an elephant, (keeping) the bones for a period of three years (before expelling them).]

-- 藝文類聚 (Yiwen Leiju, Collection of Literature...) 96:3.22
Volume 96: 鱗介部上 (Linjiebushang, Squamous Introduction),
Section 3: 蛇 (Shé, Serpent), circa seventh century AD [10]

Physical Description

Pa Snakes are gigantic serpents [4] ranging in length from a few feet to a maximum of sixty cubits (90 ft., 27 m), [7] though legends and rumors claimed lengths of one hundred fathoms (600ft., 183 m). [4] Pa Snakes have two fins on either side [7] and have hairs similar to pig's bristles that appear between their markings. [4]

Pigmentation varies widely. Pa Snakes could be the color of mugwort green, [4] red, yellow, black, [9] or blue. [7] Some specimens are reported to be mostly black with a green head. [9] They have ribbon-like markings that spread across their entire bodies. [4]

The variety of colors seems to be geographic. Along the Ganges River in India, sighted Pa Snakes are blue; [7] whereas the mugwort-green serpents are reported in the Ta Hien mountains. [4] The most variation in color can be found in China, in the areas south of the (Xiang, Siang, or Hsiang), [9] also called 湘水 (Xiang River) and 湘江 (Xiangjiang River), located in the Hunan province of China. They can also be found west of Shanxi province.

Known Pa Snakes

  • One Pa Snake regurgitated the bones of an elephant in a pond next to a place called Elephant-Bones Mountain. [9]
  • At Grotto Lake, Yi the Archer slew a monstrous serpent that was identified as Pa Snake. Its body was buried beneath the city of Baling (meaning, "hill of the Ba-Snake") in Hunan province. [9]

Quick Facts

  • Pa Snakes have been reported in India, [7] China, [4] and Vietnam. [9]
  • Pa Snakes grow from a few feet to sixty cubits (90 ft., 27 m) [7] or even as much as one hundred fathoms (600ft., 183 m). [4]
  • Pa Snakes can be green, [4] blue, [7] or red, yellow, and black. [9]
  • The image of a Pa Snake devouring an elephant was very popular. [9]


  1. Carr 167
  2. Chinese Characters: 巴
  3. Chinese Characters: 蛇
  4. Gould [Dragons] 241
  5. Minford 38
  6. Minford 43
  7. Pliny's Natural History
  8. Strassberg 69
  9. Strassberg 190
  10. 藝文類聚 (Yiwen Leiju) Volume 96: Snakes
  11. 楚辭 (Chuci) Primary Chinese Text
  12. Naturalis Historia Primary Text (Latin)

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.