*Photo by All About Snakes
Forced Perspective, Snakes Measuring Up Their Food, and Other Dubious Internet Sensations
By Eric Roscoe
Just about anyone who uses or is familiar with the Internet, email, social media, and other such platforms has very likely viewed, shared, or downloaded photos, songs, videos and messages, on almost certainly a regular basis. Thousands, if not millions, utilize these features on a daily, and even hourly basis, and the number has risen substantially from 2,712,239,573 to 2,925,249,355 users just between the recent years of 2013-2014, which is nearly an 8% increase between these years alone. The number of worldwide Internet users has risen from about 1% in 1995 to about 40% as of 2015 (*Internet Live Stats, ITU, and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency).
When it comes to reptiles and amphibians (collectively known as herptiles, or herps), there is an undoubtedly tremendous range of attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives surrounding these animals. Unsurprisingly, all of these above factors, in some form or another, permeate and incorporate themselves into our daily usage of technology. Many are fascinated by these animals, and wish to observe and learn more about them in the many various ways that we do, from finding and observing them in the wild to keeping and producing them in captivity. However, a larger percentage still unnecessarily fears or misunderstands them. With the increased developments in such technologies and our growing affinity/reliance on them, a relatively new and easy to use platform for reaching a far more expansive audience is given to the many false beliefs and misnotions associated with reptiles & amphibians (and especially snakes), thereby often obviously giving what may be seen on the Internet a much larger than (real) life perspective.
Perhaps one of the most commonly seen examples of this mentioned above are photos of a snake (most often a venomous snake, such as a rattlesnake, or a large python or boa) reported and depicted an extraordinarily large, record breaking size. Oftentimes, photos of the same snake (or other animal) are incongruently reported from case to case using differing levels of magnitude, as well as species reported, location, size, and other factors. Oftentimes, a photo can be deduced as fraudulent simply by knowing the species reported is not the species shown (or vice versa), that it is not indigenous to the area or continent reported, and other similar inconsistencies in reporting stemming from lack of knowledge & understanding about snakes. But perhaps the key element all of these highly anecdotal accounts have in common are that the animals are typically held much closer to the camera than the individual handling the animal using a snake hook, tongs, or other equipment. Several examples of forced perspective are included in this post to illustrate these points.
Snakes Measuring Up Potential Food
Another myth that continues to persistent heavily on Internet and social media recounts a story (with many variants as usual) of a large, unspecified species of pet snake being taken to a veterinarian where it is often said by the unnamed veterinarian that the reason for the snake’s deliberate reluctance to eat, or anorexia, or was otherwise noted by the owners to have been sizing up them up during the night while they slept either by laying stretched out alongside them or always being found above the owner’s heads in the same location every night. The veterinarian goes on to say that the snake must be euthanized (i.e. killed) as a result of this.
This myth/urban legend is false on a number of levels, as it completely disregards the biology and behavior of large constrictors. These reasons are highlighted below:
1). Snakes, of any size or species (or in any context) simply do not behave in a manner that would suggest an ulterior motive associated with deliberately induced anorexia or other reported behaviors. Large constrictors simply do not possess this sort of elaborate, deliberative thought process when they perceive something to be food.
2). Any premature death or accident involving these animals, just as with anything else, is tragic and unfortunate. However, all such cases can be attributed to feeding related husbandry errors or other cases of extreme negligence associated with pet ownership. Any snake that is found to be escaping repeatedly is not being housed properly and is a case of irresponsible pet ownership not to be seen as a norm.
3). No reputable or reasonably educated veterinarian that is familiar with the biology and husbandry of reptiles would council their clients to euthanize an animal (unless under an extremely minuscule amount of cases where all other options have been exhausted) simply due to it not feeding without exhausting far more comprehensive diagnostic measures. Incorrect temperatures, humidity, diet provided in accordance to their biology and natural history, enclosure/setups (i.e. insufficient hiding opportunities), shed cycles, or other husbandry related shortcomings or other underlying health ailments or disorders are all true reasons as to why a snake may be anorexic, or otherwise refuse to feed.
Other Dubious Internet Materials
There are, of course, many other Internet and media materials about reptiles & amphibians that do not necessarily stem out of, or greatly exaggerate an animal’s size or scope in of itself, but instead still do greatly misinterpret and misrepresent other aspects about them, such as their behavior, diet, and natural habits. Another widely seen example of this Internet misinformation are highly speculative (and usually anecdotal) photos and reports of giant snakes (which are limited to very large species of pythons and boas, such as the green anaconda) said to have swallowed, or are capable of ingesting a human. There is certainly little doubt that there is both widespread fear and fascination with large constricting snakes in particular, as well as the fact that these snakes can and do consume prey items that can be quite large (such as deer, capybara, and even crocodilians). However, at the same time, there is also widespread scientific consensus that the width of a typical human’s shoulder blades presents too great of an obstacle for even a large snake to overcome, as evidenced by one of the very few photos and reports of a failed predation attempt by a reticulated python in Malaysia. More often than not, however, these photos are actually either other large animals misidentified as a human or are hoaxes upon much closer examination. Species, location/continent, and sizes are also often erroneously reported as well, as with cases of forced perspective before.
Snakes Going Crazy?
One last example (among many others), and undoubtedly more to come in the future, is a video of a black racer snake (Coluber constrictor) that seemingly makes its rounds on Internet and social media periodically. In the video, the snake seemingly writhes and thrashes about violently with many different reports of the animal somehow “going crazy” or “doing something very unusual/unexpected.” However, upon actual closer examination of this footage and its background, it was reported that the snake had simply been struck by a vehicle prior to filming, and is simply undergoing post mortem convulsions. Snakes simply do not exhibit any sort of deliberate suicidal behaviors.
Chameleon Changes Color with Different Colored Sunglasses!
*Chameleons do not actually change color this rapidly with the switch of different colored sunglasses, but rather do so gradually depending much more on the animal’s current mood/disposition and temperatures than as a form of crypsis as commonly believed. This video was obviously computer edited.
Recent images circulating on Facebook and elsewhere of this diplocaulus replica created by a Japanese sculptor have duped many people into believing this was/is a real specimen. Dipocaulus is a species of extinct amphibian present from the Permian period of at least 250 million years ago or more, and was a real species. However, this replica is not real, and it can be noticed that the animal’s body is always bent to the left (the same bodily position) in each of the photos.
Recent Internet and social media accounts warn of venomous copperheads or cottonmouths being found inside of a pool noodle. In actuality, the snake in this photo is a harmless Banded water snake (not a venomous cottonmouth or copperhead at all) and is clearly not even inside the noodle.
This photo is of an Argentine Boa constrictor (Boa occidentalis) that was accidently baled up in a bale of hay. As usual, this snake somehow gets around (even though it is likely dead in the photo), and is reported from many states. This was a real snake, but the photo was not taken anywhere in the U.S.
Not likely. This photo is of a U.S traveling Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) in a river that has been widely circulated and reported from many different states. This is a real snake, but as with before, the photo was not taken anywhere in the U.S. Sorry.
No, at least not this one. As with other viral photographs, there is no lack of imagination when it comes to this statue of a snake (or in other words, not a real snake).
This photo shows an unusually large congregation of snakes on the aft of a boat, and are of course claimed to be venomous cottonmouths. These snakes are not cottonmouths, but harmless water snakes (Nerodia sp.).
This photo shows a family and their dog leaning in for a family photo shoot, woefully unaware of the imminent danger they are reportedly in by showing a rattlesnake in a vertical mid strike towards the mother. In fact, this photo is photoshopped, and there actually is no snake in the family shoot.
Although there is nothing sensational being depicted or narrated in this one, it nonetheless has been making its rounds quite a bit. This is a Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) displaying the Pied, or Pie-bald genetic color/pattern trait. The original snake and photo was taken and posted by Edward Church and Bob Clark.
There certainly are many, many more examples of Internet and media misinformation in photos and video than what can be covered in at least a first installment. Unfortunately, these aspects will continue to be shared and posted for as long as Internet and media technology remains popular and growing. To an extent, this is misinformation that can be expected and even accepted as an ongoing challenge anyone involved in reptile education & outreach will likely continue to have to combat when it stems from lack of knowledge and education. Information about all aspects of these animals is readily available in a tremendous variety of forms (including books, videos & film, hands on experience, and in person lectures, seminars, and other events centered around education and outreach). Oftentimes, a correct answer or refutation is even provided by someone in any given comment section to wherever such misinformation is posted. All that it really takes is anywhere from 5-10 minutes at most to find and research the truth (or correct information) rather than continuing to perpetuate a larger than life work of fiction.