What is a Cockatrice?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cockatrice is a legendary creature with the head and feet of a rooster, but the body of a dragon. The fearsome creatures played a popular rule in folk mythology for many centuries, and some people harbored a secret belief that they might actually exist until around the 1700s. Like many mythical creates, a cockatrice is a type of monster, and the animal is certainly not something which anyone would want to encounter.

A snake or toad was said to incubate a rooster's egg to make a cockatrice.
A snake or toad was said to incubate a rooster's egg to make a cockatrice.

According to legend, a cockatrice hatches from an egg laid by a rooster which is incubated by a toad or a snake. These unnatural origins lead to a freak of nature, a nod to the lizard origins of modern birds. It is possible that the cockatrice was identified in the from of the fossilized remains of a precursor to the chicken. It may also, of course, have arisen whole from someone's imagination, like many other mythical beasts.

Cockatrices have the body of a dragon, and some are also depicted with dragon's wings.
Cockatrices have the body of a dragon, and some are also depicted with dragon's wings.

The concept of a cockatrice is closely related to that of a basilisk, another infamous monster with lizard-like characteristics. Both animals are capable of killing with their gaze, and they have the potential to kill or least petrify their enemies with their eyes even after death. In addition, of course, the cockatrice would make a formidable enemy, with the spurred feet and snapping beak of a rooster along with an impressive size. In some cases, the cockatrice is also depicted with a dragon's wings, and some myths suggest that the animal is capable of flight.

The word comes from the Latin calcare, “to tread.” The name may have been chosen to differentiate a cockatrice from a basilisk, since cockatrices have legs, allowing them to walk. Basilisks, on the other hand, slither like snakes, and they have several other distinguishing characteristics as well. Some people mistakenly believe that “cockatrice” is a corruption of “crocodile,” but this is simply not the case. The word “crocodile” is Greek, and it translates as “pebble worm.”

In theory, there are several ways to neutralize the threat of a cockatrice. Allegedly, if one can force the animal to look at its own reflection, the cockatrice will die instantly from its own gaze. In addition, the crowing of a rooster is said to be fatal to a cockatrice, as are weasels. Some of these beliefs also hold true in the case of the basilisk. Avoiding a potential encounter with such a creature is obviously the best course of action, however.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The cockatrice resembles what the velociraptor looked like. Seriously, look up "velociraptor feathers."


a cockatrice is mentioned in "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare.


a cockatrice is talked about in the book of Mormon.

2 nephi 21:8


a cockatrice is talked about in the bible in the book of Isaiah.

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