Tuesday, July 21, 2009

About That Giant Dead Rattlesnake E-mail You Got...

If you are here because you received an e-mail about a giant dead rattlesnake, you have come to the right place. You can also follow me on TwitterWant to stay updated on giant rattlesnake e-mails? Subscribe here.

My original column regarding commonly circulated rattlesnake pictures is below the addendums, which I add as I am made aware of additional photographs.  Want to see rattlesnakes in their natural habitat instead of dead in a driveway?  Click here. If you're here because you received the picture on the right with some text about pigs or feral hogs influencing rattling behavior, you need to read this.

Let's make something clear right off the bat.  There are no ten foot rattlesnakes...There are no eleven foot rattlesnakes.  There are no fourteen foot rattlesnakes. They don't exist.  Period. Want to know why I feel confident saying these things? Check out my FAQ. If someone claims to have found an eight foot rattlesnake, there needs to be compelling proof presented because this would make it one of the top two or three biggest rattlesnakes ever found in the history of humans or rattlesnakes. I am afraid I cannot accept snake skins as evidence of giant snakes because it has been established that they stretch when removed from the snake, whether the stretching was purposeful or not. For a great description of this phenomenon, check out this link.

Many of these pictures use the same camera tricks, specifically it's called "forced perspective".  By positioning one object closer to the camera than another object that we can use for size reference, our sense of scale can be limited.  Don't think that's a big deal?  Check out these photographs I found online, or this video.

By reading the whole column below, you can learn relevant natural history information (including maximum known sizes) for various snake species.  If you're sent a picture of a "giant" dead rattlesnake and it's not included here, please bring it to my attention.  

Demonstration photos courtesy of Mark Pyle
Okay, on to the rattlesnakes:

7/9/15 Addendum

    I was sent this picture a few times but there was no information attached. So, what can I say about it? I've written before that when people send me a picture of a snake and ask, "is this real?" what they're really asking me is, "Is this snake as big as I perceive it to be?" And that can be difficult to answer. Even when people know about the camera tricks that people use to make snakes look bigger (like the first letter writer), they can still be duped. Anyway, my point is that there wasn't much for me to include in a blog post.

    Cue KHOU News, the CBS affiliate from Houston Texas, who posted the picture to their Facebook page with the following text:

"An 11-foot rattlesnake was caught just outside of George West, Texas, about 85 miles south of San Antonio on June 26."

    Thank you KHOU News for: 

A) believing that a picture floating around the internet was a valid source of "news".

B) reporting that someone found the world's largest rattlesnake without even a cursory attempt at fact-checking.

C) spreading fear and misinformation instead of facts and news.

   This was really a lazy and irresponsible move by KHOU and they should be ashamed.

    I really don't have anything to add about this snake that I haven't said below a million times. This is a regular sized Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes don't get 11 feet long and when you pick something up with a long pole and hoist it towards the camera, things look bigger than they really are. Don't believe it. Please provide a link to this post wherever you see this picture.

11/5/14 Addendum

Long time no snake pic!

"Supposedly killed in Roma, Tx."

"Fwd: 13.5 foot South Texas rattlesnake - Yikes !!! Next door to Dave Rogers Ranch in Hidalgo County"

"13.5 foot South Texas rattlesnake - Yikes !!! This is not the kind of snake you want to challenge. 13 1/2 feet long."

I received three different e-mails about this rattlesnake back in September but I just never got around to posting about it. Apparently it is now getting a lot of attention on Reddit accompanied by the following information:

"Giant Rattlesnake killed at my grandparents ranch in Mexico".

This picture and the accompanying information have all the trademarks of a Giant Rattlesnake Hoax (should I copyright that?):

1. Multiple versions of the photograph exist claiming the snake is from various locations.

Roma Texas is in Starr County, not Hidalgo County (although both are in south Texas). And obviously Mexico is not in Texas at all.

2. The snake is held on a long pole facing the camera to make it appear longer than it really is, a camera trick I explain above.

3. The snake in the picture is claimed to be larger than any rattlesnake than has ever been measured in the history of the world/rattlesnakes.

For what it's worth, the snake in the picture looks to be a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox. This species does occur in southern Texas and Mexico, but the largest ever found was around seven feet long. That's about half the size of the imaginary number attached to the photo. Don't believe it.

So, in conclusion we can confidently conclude that the information associated with this picture is bogus without even examining whether the photo was altered in any way. 

4/29/14 Addendum

    Perhaps you've seen the latest picture of a dead (and supposedly giant) rattlesnake. I sure have, four different people have sent it to me. The location changed each time I got the picture; this is a pretty good way to know that the picture has gone viral and lost some facts along the way. 

    In any case, let's assume that the picture was taken in Texas (at least all the e-mails I received had that in common). The snake is a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, and they are found throughout much of the state. Western Diamondbacks are not a rare species and they are frequently killed by people. 

   Everything checks out so far. But...

   Why would anyone in the world think that this snake is nine and a half feet long? The snake is being held on a long pole towards the camera. That makes the snake look larger than it really is. Furthermore, that the man is standing on the back of a truck enhances the illusion that this is some kind of big snake, but it's not as if the snake hits the ground, it's just hanging in the air.

   A nine and a half foot Western Diamondback would be much larger than the largest Western Diamondback ever documented. Don't believe the hype-this snake is closer to half that size.

7/6/13 Addendum

GM FB fam...Welcome 2 Bladen Co. N.C. This is not a Python nor a Boa this is a 24ft Rattlesnake...Holy $h*t!!

    There are so many things wrong with this it is hard to know where to start.

   1) Rattlesnakes do not get 24 feet long. No rattlesnake of any species that has ever been measured has been that big. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find reliable evidence of rattlesnakes over eight feet long (although a handful have been recorded). Once you start talking about rattlesnakes over nine feet long you might as well be talking about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

  2) That's not a rattlesnake. Based on the color and body shape and patterning it is definitely a python; I believe it is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus; please correct me below if you disagree). This species can be found in southeast Asia, not southeast North Carolina. You may be reminded of this post from a few years ago in which another python is hoisted up by some construction equipment and claimed to be a 55 foot boa.

  3) This snake is unlikely to be 24 feet long. It is a lot closer to the camera than the back-hoe so our perception of size is skewed. My guess is the snake is 10-12 feet long. Still a big snake.

   4) Bladen County, North Carolina isn't exactly ground-zero for giant rattlesnakes. The world's largest species of rattlesnake (up to about eight feet long), the Eastern Diamond-back Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), is known from North Carolina (see range map); historically they occurred in the coastal regions. But, today they are extremely rare and most (all?) of the snakes that are left in the state are on Camp Lejeune, the Marine base. Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus), however, can be found throughout most of North Carolina, except perhaps the central region. And, this species very rarely exceed six feet in length.

Conclusion: the story about this photograph is very bogus.

1/16/13 Addendum

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." -Michael Corleone

Sometimes I daydream that the myth of the giant dead rattlesnake has finally been put to rest. I imagine that inboxes will no longer be invaded by dead rattlesnakes with lengths and weights exaggerated to scare the bejesus out of people. But then I check my e-mail.

The latest picture to be doing the rounds was brought to my attention by a comment left by by Amy R on this blog. She notes that the snake on the right was allegedly killed in Mississippi. Then, Pat B. sent me an e-mail and told me the story takes place outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both said they heard the snake was eight and a half feet (2.6 meters) long (Amy R. also noted the snake allegedly had 21 rattles).

Where do we start? I'll start by saying that those lengths are bogus and the locations are...unlikely.

The snake in the picture is an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus. This is apparent because of the black and gold diamond-patterning and, of course, the rattle. This species does not reach eight and a half feet long. That would be the world's largest rattlesnake ever known to science. I don't believe this is the world's largest rattlesnake ever known because it is clearly an animal that is approximately half that size and thrust toward the camera on a long piece of wood. It's a rattlesnake camera trick I explain several times above and below.

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake was once found in eastern Louisiana but is now nearly gone (if not completely). Information available online suggests the species hasn't been found in the state since 1995 but I believe these websites haven't been updated recently because I think one was found a couple years ago. In any case, Baton Rouge is nearly outside even the historic range of the Eastern Diamondback (range map). So, it is very difficult to believe the picture was recently taken in this state. I've noticed that a number of people that reach this blog are Googling "Coyell, Louisiana Rattlesnake" do they actually mean Colyell? Perhaps that is another potential location for this animal.

In Mississippi, the story isn't much better. Eastern Diamondbacks once ranged throughout the southeastern and central portion of the state (range map again). But they are increasingly rare in that area.

The caption for the Facebook photo that has been shared over 5,000 times (visible through Amy R.'s comment) states the snake was killed in "Green County". There is no Green County in either Louisiana or Mississippi. Is it possible that the snake was killed in Greene County? Greene County, Mississippi could possibly contain Eastern Diamondbacks but, as I mention above, they are extremely rare there. Greene County, Alabama is outside the range of the Eastern Diamondback. Update 1/16/13 0851, Melissa M. writes to me and notes she heard the snake was from "Green County, Georgia" Well, there is no Green County in Georgia. Greene County, on the other hand, is well outside the range of the Eastern Diamondback. Update 2/3/13, Cowper C. says the location associated with this snake is now Pangburn, Arkansas. We immediately know this is false because although Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Crotalus atrox, can be found in Arkansas, Eastern Diamondbacks do not occur there, and that is an Eastern in the picture. Cowper also notes that Spanish moss, evident in the back of the picture, is unlikely to be found in Arkansas. Update 2/4/13, Thanks to KARK for trying to set the record straight

Conclusion: The length of this snake is definitely made-up and multiple (and improbable) locations point to a hoax.

Update 3/7/13, so many additional stories and locations about this snake have popped up that I stopped bothering to update the post, but recently many have claimed the snake was from Texas. In any case, it looks like the real story has finally surfaced: the snake is from Levy County, Florida and is claimed as 6'9" and 15 lbsA rattlesnake that big would be very large but Eastern Diamondbacks can reach that length. However, it doesn't look that long in the picture.

Update 5/2/13: OK-one more update, the picture is circulating with this story a lot, so I'm obliged to note that it's not true either: "Pat Long and his son in a blind to hunt hogs near Midway when this guy poked his head in! Pat's son shot the snake... it's 9'6" long... with 22 rattles, the head more than five inches wide, the fangs 2.5" long. Anybody going for a walk in the woods this weekend? Share with your friends and see who has good snake stories!" Bogus.

9/29/12 Addendum

For the full summary of this photo, visit this blog post.

In short, my verdict is that this is a real photo of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake eating a cottontail. It looks large because of standard camera tricks that you should all be familiar with but it's likely about five feet long (1.5 meters), based on my best guess.

8/23/12 Addendum

In the last few days a couple readers have sent me the picture on the right, in which a large and dead rattlesnake is displayed. So far, the text that has accompanied this picture has claimed the rattlesnake was killed in either Poteau Mountain, Arkansas or Olla, Louisiana. Although the location may change, the size of the snake is apparently being consistently reported as 11 feet 4 inches and 59 pounds (with 28 rattles). 

Let's start with what we know. The color and patterning of the snake give it away as a Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus. This species is found throughout the eastern and central United States. Both Poteau Mountain (located within Ouachita National Forest) and Olla, Louisiana are within the natural range of this species (although Olla is borderline). Therefore, we can't rule out either of these potentials as the true location of the snake. However, check out the license plate on the truck. It seems as though there is a blue line at the top, which reminded me of Pennsylvania (or perhaps South Carolina?). Although the license plate looks like it's from Pennsylvania, I don't think that this is where the picture was taken. The pine trees in the background as well as the look of the snake make me think the photograph was taken in the southeastern United States. Timber Rattlesnakes do occur in Pennsylvania, but most specimens that I've seen from the Northeast U.S. are darker or even yellow and not dominated by a tan color like the snake in this picture. Perhaps someone has a copy of this photograph with better resolution and can zoom in on the license plate.

So, we are unsure where the picture was taken. Let's evaluate the stated size of the animal. Eleven-feet long is roughly twice the size of what would be considered a huge Timber Rattlesnake. No Timber Rattlesnake ever recorded has come close to this length (and I'm confident that none ever will). A seven-foot Timber Rattlesnake is nearly unfathomable. An eleven-foot rattlesnake is completely unfathomable. It's not that long. Don't believe it.

Why does it look so big then? Because the snake is hoisted onto a large branch that is shoved towards the camera. Although the snake looks relatively large compared to the man, the man is actually much farther away from the camera than the snake. It's an old trick called forced perspective that I explain above and show many examples of below.

The last bit of "information" about this animal is that it has 28 rattles. A rattlesnakes add a new rattle every time it sheds its skin (not necessarily once every year), and it's likely an adult rattlesnake has shed more than 28 times over the course of its life. So, it's possible that a rattlesnake could have 28 rattles. However, this would be extremely unusual because they break easily and a rattle with 28 segments would be very precarious and fragile. It certainly doesn't have 28 rattles in the picture. The resolution is too poor though, for me to see if the rattle has been hacked off for a souvenir. It doesn't look like it.

My guess as to the real size of the rattlesnake is about four-feet (1.2 m) long and roughly 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms).

11/17/10 Addendum

Thanks to an alert reader for forwarding the following picture (on right). The photo was accompanied by this text:

"Rattlesnake (Raystown Lake) About 80 miles from Lock Haven, PA. This snake was killed on the east side of the Raystown Dam about 7 miles south of Huntingdon.  The land owner is a neighbor of one of my colleagues at work. This is a photo taken by my neighbor.  He shot this rattler - twice with a 20 gauge - under his back porch.  It was coiled up there and got agitated when he found it.  He figured it was after his two Pekineses dogs.
He says it weighed 64 pounds and was 11 1/2 feet long.  It had 10 rattles.
I didn't know they got this big!  And I sure hope I don't find any like this one around my house!!"

OK, we already know this is a bogus e-mail because no rattlesnake known to mankind has ever reached 11 1/2 feet long.  In fact, Timber Rattlesnakes (the species in the picture, identified by the light brown base color and chevron patterning) are unlikely to ever reach half that size.  The surprised exclamation by the author of the e-mail is right on when they note they didn't know that, "they got this big". They don't.

Please tell me you weren't fooled by the ancient trick of holding the subject closer to the camera.  It looks like this dude is holding the snake up by a rake handle (or equivalent).  Timber rattlesnakes do occur in Pennsylvania, so it's possible the location is correct, but I know of no way of verifying this information.  A large prey item for a Timber Rattlesnake would be a grey squirrel, so I don't think dog owners should spend much time worrying about their pets being eaten, but of course they should use caution while in rattlesnake country.

Timber Rattlesnakes are increasingly rare in the northeastern United States due to habitat loss and killing of the snakes near their dens.  They are still encountered somewhat often in Pennsylvania, but populations are likely declining.  The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recommends contacting them to handle venomous snakes rather than removing (or blasting it away with a shotgun) yourself.

8/12/10 Addendum

A reader in Louisiana provided me with the picture on the right, which was accompanied by the following text:

"If I saw one like this I would still be running! Might want to be careful the next time you are out in the woods. Rattlesnake from Alabama."

There isn't a lot of information to work with on this picture.  The animal in the picture is a timber rattlesnake, you can confidently identify this species by the tan body color covered in dark chevrons.  Timbers do range throughout most of Alabama.  It looks to be a healthy snake and I'd say it's two to three feet long.  Hoisting the snake onto a broom handle and holding it towards the camera makes it appear much larger.  But, this snake is well below the maximum known length for the species, which seldom get larger than five feet.

8/3/10 Addendum

Well, it's been nearly a year since a new picture of a giant dead rattlesnake started doing the rounds...But it looks like Batesville, Arkansas is joining the club...I recently became aware of a number of hits to this blog based on keywords suggesting a new tale was circulating. A quick Google search brought the following picture to my attention.

The snake is claimed to be 14 feet and nine inches long and weigh 100 pounds.  If you spend a few minutes reading the text below, I believe you'll be quickly convinced this is a completely bogus claim.  No rattlesnake has ever and no rattlesnake will ever reach that length or weight.  But, there's another reason we can confidently claim the story is a hoax.  The snake is an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, that's clear from the distinctive patterning (black diamonds surrounded by gold), and this species does not come close to living in Arkansas, you can see a great range map here.  If you're curious how a snake can be made to look larger than it really is, I've explained that technique below.  I've also been made aware of this picture circulating with a version of the story stating Powell, Alabama was the location.  Although eastern diamondbacks can be found in Alabama, they are only in the southern extreme of the state, not anywhere close to Powell (in the northeastern corner of Alabama).

It's now 8/10/10 and I've received several additional e-mails about the above snake and a larger photograph.  One e-mail states:

"Rattle snake killed in Statesboro. Had 19 rattles and a button and  measured 8 feet 4 inches. Has not been officialy measured by the DNR but if the measurements are correct it will be the new United States record for rattle snake!...That son of a gun is huge!!!"

Well, they're right about two things: this snake has not been officially measured by the (GA) Department of Natural Resources and if the snake were 8 feet and 4 inches it would be a record.  Right off the bat we should be skeptical.  Let's examine the claim this snake had 19 rattles.

This snake clearly does not have 19 rattles so I think we can be reasonably confident in dismissing this version of the story.  We have to be open to the possibility the rattle was cut off before the picture was taken, it is common after all, to take them as souvenirs.   But, the claimed size as well as the multiple versions of this e-mail suggest we have yet to learn the real story of this large dead rattlesnake.

I've also been sent this picture with the following text:

"First-season dove hunters might want to watch their step and wear snake boots or chaps! This is not a "doctored" photograph. This rattlesnake was killed right on the edge of our hunting club outside Ridgeland, SC on Wednesday July 28th. 9.7 ft long and over 100 lbs...confirmed."

Now a closer look

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes do occur in South Carolina, but we can easily dismiss this bogus claim based on the outrageous length and weight claimed for this specimen.  Rattlesnakes don't get this big or weigh this much. Period.  I discuss this below.  Who confirmed the size of this animal? Nobody. 

 8/26/10  It looks like the real story with this snake is here.  In short, the snake was killed in Cooperville, Georgia in July 2010 and measured six feet and six inches long.  A huge rattler but within the known range for this species. 

9/8/10 This rattlesnake just made it big and was featured on this TV segment from Charleston, SC.  They used this blog to research the story and you can see it passages of text from right here for about 0.3 seconds

2/23/11 This picture sure has legs; it's cropped up in Ontario, Canada. The text in the e-mail now states, "The farm where this big rattler was killed is outside Wiarton which is located in Ontario". Even if we didn't already know the true story of this rattlesnake (above), we can quickly dismiss this e-mail as false because the snake in the picture is an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which do not range north of North Carolina, let alone anywhere in Canada. Although there are massasaugas (another species or rattlesnake) around Wiarton, these animals are typically rather small (less than two feet) and very rare.  Finding 57 of them (as the e-mail states) is very unlikely. You can read about this threatened species here. If you ever see one, congratulations are in order because they are one of the rarest animals in Ontario. From what I can determine online, only two people have ever died from a massasauga bite, and those both occurred over forty years ago. If you see this rare snake, don't try to catch or kill it and you'll have very little to worry about.
     The e-mail also contains some text from a completely different 'viral e-mail' describing a rumor about how wild pigs may be influencing whether a rattlesnake rattles or not (I tackle this issue here).

9/30/09 Addendum

St. Augustine, Florida: welcome to the discussion. One of my attentive readers from this city sent me this article about a giant dead eastern diamondback rattlesnake that was killed in Tuscany Village Townhomes. I was also provided the below photographs.

This newspaper article, and others like it, are a little different than some of the pictures that circulate online. They do not intend to deceive, they simply fall prey to what is apparently human nature: the tendency to exaggerate the size of snakes. When there is a picture involved it is sometimes difficult to determine the extent that camera tricks play a role in distorting the apparent size of dead snakes. However, in this case the rattlesnake is much closer to the camera than anything else appearing in the picture that it might be compared to for scale.

The resident who called police about the snake stated that it was six feet long. That would be a very big snake but not outside the realm of possibility. But when a spokesman from the police department saw the pictures suddenly it was estimated to be "at least 10 feet", potentially making it the largest rattlesnake in the world...by two feet!

Unfortunately, no measurements were taken (a familiar story) and the trapper that killed the snake disappeared without leaving his contact information. Perhaps we will eventually find out how big this snake was (if someone measures it) but until then it's just another big, old snake that was killed. Ten feet? No. Eight feet? Exceedingly unlikely would be an understatement.

Update 8:29 PM: Apparently the trapper that dispatched the snake was found and updated news articles state the snake was measured to be seven feet and three inches long. This is a huge, huge....huge snake, but not impossible as the species can theoretically reach this length. The trapper also stated that the snake has shrank since he put it in his freezer, so I doubt the length will ever be authenticated. One article also quoted him as saying that rattlesnakes travel in pairs, so it's likely there is another snake in the area. This is an old-wives' tale but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest maybe he was misquoted when explaining that this time of year (i.e. the fall) is their breeding season

Update 3/27/10
It took a few months, but the pictures of the St. Augustine snake have been turned into one of the viral e-mails that we are all familiar with and that include bogus information. The e-mail I received is entitled,
"Florida is full of surprises" and does get the location correct but adds a number of fabricated "facts" about the snake, including that it was 15 feet long, it could swallow a 2 year old child, it weighs 170 lbs, etc. etc. We know this information is false.

9/28/09 Addendum

Here's another giant dead snake that's not a rattlesnake, although it is venomous.

The text associated with this picture suggests this snake is an eight foot long and thirty pound "moccasin" killed on the road to a fish hatchery in Cordele, Georgia. If by moccasin, they mean cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus, then they're correct. But, like so many other dead snake pictures, the size of the snake is grossly exaggerated. Cottonmouths do not reach eight feet long. A six footer would be a massive individual and snakes this large are extremely rare. If a hypothetical cottonmouth were to reach eight feet long it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that it weighed thirty pounds. In that sense the weight isn't as ridiculous as many figures given for dead rattlesnakes (below), but the take-home message is that cottonmouths don't get that big anyway.

There really is a fish hatchery in Cordele, Georgia and it is likely that cottonmouths, which eat fish, can fatten up in these areas; however, the stated size of this snake is larger than any cottonmouth that ever existed. So, why does it look so huge? The same simple camera trick that we've seen so many times already (described below ad nauseum).

If you look on the bottom right of the photograph, you can see the tail of another cottonmouth, also likely dead. Nothing like an afternoon of killing snakes to pass the time.

I spend a lot of time in wetlands while I'm looking for water snakes or trapping turtles. Of the many cottonmouths I've encountered, all have either depended on their camouflage to avoid a conflict or made me aware of their presence by flashing their namesake white mouth or by thrashing the vegetation as they tried to get away from me as quickly as possible. I have to work right alongside these animals and can't imagine why I would ever need to kill one (or two or three).

8/13/09 Addendum

Well, the "giant rattlesnake" picture from Manor, Texas was so popular that I hesitate to bump it, but we've got another one doing the rounds.

The version I was supplied suggested that this "timber rattlesnake" was killed outside Stuttgart, Arkansas. Perhaps you received the e-mail with the subject: "Stuttgart Arkansas Snake - killed in his front yard". First off, we know that by holding the snake so close to the camera, it appears larger than it really is. Second, it's not a rattlesnake! Notice how the picture conveniently cuts off the snake's tail? This is actually a diamondback water snake, Nerodia rhombifer.
They're often mistaken for cottonmouths, but diamondback water snakes are harmless fish-eaters (but they may give you a bite if you try to catch one). These snakes can be found primarily in the Mississippi River valley but also range into bordering states and Mexico. You can learn more about distinguishing water snakes from venomous snakes here.

7/29/09 Addendum

This picture started circulating today and claims that this snake was just killed in Austin, ShadowGlen, or Manor, Texas. Although there was a snake killed there, it was not seven feet long (8/5 edit, a reader has pointed out that I do not know this for a fact because I was not there--comments section). Other pictures of this snake show it is much smaller. Holding the snake close to the picture makes it look larger (tricks described below). The maximum size of this species is also discussed below; if the snake were indeed seven feet long, it would be one of the largest of the species (western diamondback, Crotalus atrox) ever found. Some skepticism is warranted, especially since other reports indicate that the snake was five feet long (a generous estimate considering how big the snake looks in all other pictures).

Conclusion: This picture is like so many others of supposedly giant rattlesnakes. The size is exaggerated by the snake being closer to the camera than the man holding it (as well as by sensationalistic text). One thing is undeniable though, it's definitely a dead snake.

9/21/09 Addendum: This is the snake rumor that just won't die. To put the issue to rest, I've embedded the video that accompanied the news story. (Edit 7/18/12-this video has since been removed).

Look at the pictures of the snake at 43 seconds, 1:07 minutes, and 1:43 minutes. This snake is clearly and obviously not seven feet long. It's unequivocal. In addition, both reporters note that the snake is five feet long (a much more reasonable suggestion). Let's move on.

7/24/09 Addendum

As expected, additional photos of giant rattlesnakes killed in your town have been brought to my attention. So, I include them here. Feel free to keep sending them.

If you read my blog below, you already know what I'm going to say. The snake on the right is a western diamondback rattlesnake (raccoon tail). Rest assured it wasn't just killed in your backyard, this picture has been circulating for a while. Maybe when you received it the text indicated it was an 89 pound rattlesnake found by dove hunters near Oktaha, outside of Muskogee and just north of Checotah.

This snake is probably about few feet long (definitely not nearly eight feet as the e-mail I received suggested; it looks bigger because it's been impaled by some sort of pole and thrust towards the camera), and still alive; the snake is not at all limp. This is a hefty animal, maybe even a pregnant female. Good job! (Sarcasm).

Recently this picture (on right) has been circulated in e-mails and forum threads claiming it is a diamondback rattlesnake (11 feet long, no less) killed in Odessa, Texas. Where do we start at this one? I can't decide which is more audacious, the claim that this is an 11 foot rattlesnake (we already know they don't get nearly that large) or that this is a rattlesnake at all! I think I'll go with the latter, because this is a python. Although some southeastern states (i.e. Florida) have problems with introduced populations of pythons, this is likely a photo taken in Africa, where they are native. 9/21/09 Edit: This is a misleading sentence, as a reader has pointed out. Although Africa is the snake's native range, the vegetation is consistent with that of West Texas. It's not unreasonable to suggest that the picture was indeed taken there. Side note: if you're afraid of 11 foot rattlesnakes, don't wear sandals like this guy.

8/5/09 Addendum

Well, we've got another one.

This is not a new picture but I only recently became aware of it. Next time it starts running through e-mail you can rest assured that this is old news. By the looks of all the pictures I come across, posing with western diamondback rattlesnakes seems to be a fairly popular hobby. There are so many similar pictures that I'm running out of ways to creatively say that this is an average-sized snake that looks larger than it is because it is closer to the camera than the people holding it aloft. Relevant natural history, including maximum known size of this species, is discussed below.


Recognize any of these pictures?

Since I recently posted a blog about a giant dead rattlesnake picture that was circulating through e-mail, I’ve received dozens, if not hundreds, of visitors that reached my site by googling keyword combinations such as, “giant rattlesnake killed Alabama, 97 pound rattlesnake Georgia, 97 pound dead eastern diamondback” etc. This is clearly a topic that has interested many, many people and this blog may be an opportunity to examine some of the other common dead snake pictures that tend to emerge every other year or so. The locations tend to change each time I receive them (recently, the most common iteration stated the giant snake was from Enterprise, Alabama). Perhaps it will be your town next year. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to refer your horrified neighbors to this site before they descend upon the local zoos and nature centers with pitchforks.

I’ve included only the pictures I’ve received or found on the internet. Please feel free to let me know if I’ve left some out.

In most of these pictures, these snakes are genuinely large. In that sense, they are not a hoax. Many large rattlesnakes still prowl through southeastern forests (although likely not as big or as many as in the past). However, as I note below, the size is always exaggerated and posed to look as big and menacing as possible.

I’ve already discussed this picture here. In short, this is Crotalus atrox, a western diamondback rattlesnake (not an eastern, Crotalus adamanteus) made to look impressively large by holding it much closer to the camera than the man. The tongs holding up the snake are likely three to four feet long. Most often, this snake is suggested to be 97 pounds and span over nine feet. That’s a lot of weight for this Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe to be holding aloft.

Eastern diamondbacks seldom reach seven feet long. Two specimens observed by seemingly reliable sources were reported to be over eight feet long but this length is considered questionable because the snakes weren’t preserved. Rewards offered for eight foot specimens have long gone unclaimed. Of the roughly 150 eastern diamondbacks I’ve seen (most of which were in a relatively protected area), a five foot snake would be considered a monster. None approached ten pounds, let alone 97.

7/23/09 Edit: At the suggestion of Paul Hurtado, I provide a link here to show what an 80 pound snake really looks like, in this case it's a fourteen foot long Burmese python.

Although we’ve all seen some huge snake skins, they can be stretched to some extent after death so their length is not a reliable way to determine how large a snake was in life.

Western diamondback rattlesnakes are typically smaller than easterns. Although at least one specimen over seven feet has been reported, this species typically maxes out at about five feet. (Sentence edited for clarity on 9/21/09) Perhaps this is roughly how large the snake in the picture is. It’s an impressive snake but not one for the record books and certainly not nine feet long.

This is also a western diamondback. The striped raccoon tail is a dead giveaway. More camera tricks make the snake appear fairly large but I bet it was in the 3-4 foot range. Looks like it was clubbed to death, perhaps with the piece of lumber that is now shoving him towards the camera.

See the striped tail? Now you know this is also a western diamondback. We can’t attribute the tremendous length of this specimen to camera tricks as the man is holding it fairly close to his body. What’s the deal with the snake’s head? It looks like a sock puppet. This must be a mounted (i.e. stuffed) animal; it’s too stiff. Actually, my guess is that it’s two rattlesnakes sewn together. Maybe the man’s left hand is covering where they are joined; I don’t know why else he’d be holding the snake with that hand. We just can’t say for sure what’s going on here since it looks like a long dead and stuffed animal.

8/11/09 Edit: A reader has alerted me to the presence of a couple additional photos of this snake, including what is claimed to be its decapitated head (below). It's hard to say one way or the other whether this snake is legitimate. Nothing jumps out to definitively say it's a fake. If it's real, it's one of the largest western diamondbacks known to science.

Here’s a different species, a timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus. You can identify this snake by the dark chevrons on its back. Timbers are a wide-ranging species, found from Florida north to Vermont and west to Minnesota in the north and Texas to the south. Rather than the bald eagle, perhaps this snake should be our national symbol, as it was displayed prominently on flags during the American Revolution with the proud warning, “Don’t tread on me.”

Although this species is not uncommon in the south, it is virtually extinct in the northeastern portion of its range. In the latter areas, timber rattlesnakes den communally during the winter. Unscrupulous individuals can easily kill off many of these snakes in one outing, eliminating local populations with little effort.

This picture is often circulated with the claim that it was killed on a golf course somewhere on the east coast, typically Georgia. Although timber rattlesnakes are found in Georgia, the giant sizes attributed to this snake make the entire story suspect (note the ubiquitous pose with the snake close to the camera). Timbers rarely reach much more than five feet long and these would be extremely rare and extremely large individuals.

And now we come to the eastern diamondbacks, Crotalus adamanteus. This is a whopper of a snake to be sure but are you tired of the camera tricks yet? This dude looks more likely to be able to lift a 97 pound snake then the other guys we’ve seen, but we already know that rattlesnakes don’t get that big anyway. Update 4/30/12: A reader notes that they've seen this picture before and the caption said the snake was six feet long and 100 lbs. Six feet long could be true (I doubt it) but 100 lbs is definitely a made-up number.

Here’s another eastern diamondback, according to the caption it’s from Florida. Okay, so far so good. Wait, over 11 feet long! Give me a break. Notice how the gentlemen on the right are holding the snake with their fingertips; they must have quite a grip to pull that off. It’s more likely that this is a stiff mounted animal, probably a combination of two individuals.

This final photograph, in which three southeastern youngsters proudly display the snake they killed in their yard, is particularly moving. Although they may have incorrectly identified the species (identified as a "black snake" in the original caption), it’s truly a large animal. It’s actually an eastern indigo snake, Drymarchon corais, a federally threatened species. Reaching nine feet long, these snakes are among the largest in the United States.

Despite their size, they’re harmless to humans. Conversely, we have nearly wiped this species off the face of the planet. Due to over-collection for the pet trade, habitat loss, and gassing of their tortoise burrow refuges, eastern indigos cling on only in isolated patches, largely in coastal Georgia and peninsular Florida. It is considered extirpated (locally extinct) in Alabama and potentially so in the Florida panhandle.

That these individuals, their family, neighbors, and the staff of the local newspaper proudly publicized the trophy snake suggests they had no idea they were boasting about committing a felony and chasing an endangered species down the path to extinction in the process.

Nothing emphasizes to me the critical importance and pressing need of environmental education more than this photograph.


Paul Hurtado said...

Nice piece :)

If you could find one, it would be great to include a picture of a 70-90 pound python for comparison to the photos above.

Timely story: while I was home in Colorado visiting family last week, I spoke to the director of an environmental education center (located up in the foothills in Gambel Oak scrub and Ponderosa Pine forest) who described to me a 6-7 foot "Timber Rattlesnake" that was hit by a car in the mountain park near the center headquarters (he didn't see it personally, just heard about it from staff). After talking to my sister, who was working in the park at the time and actually saw the DOR snake, based on her description and showing her photos of various species, we determined it was of course a Prairie Rattlesnake and I'm pretty sure it was more likely 5-6 feet long - still, a giant for that species.

Unfortunately, it wasn't preserved, but it's yet another example of how good we are at overestimating the size of large, "frightening" snakes.

Mark Bailey said...

Great job, Dave. You need to let Snopes.com know about this. I've long thought there needs to be a "big snake hoax clearinghouse" on the web, and you're becoming just that. I've looked for the cabbage patch diamondback for a long time and never could locate it online; just had recollections of seeing it taped to gas station walls here and there across the South a couple of decades back. I'll try to send you the picture of Jimmy Stiles with a 6+ foot eastern diamondback we got in a trap near the Open Pond fire tower at Conecuh NF. It got sent around a few years ago, and I got it back in an email saying it had been photographed on the Savanna River Site. Odd, I thought, considering I was the photographer!

David Steen said...


That's a great idea about posting a python picture, I'll look for a good one. Good call on correctly identifying the dead snake and giving a good representation of how even authorities such as environmental education center staff can fall prey to misinformation and exaggeration.

Thanks! Let me know if you can't get the cabbage diamondback off the site and I'll e-mail it. Looking forward to your Conecuh pic and I'll include it here. Funny story, I hope you set the e-mailer straight.

swamp4me said...

I had to laugh when I saw your post. I have spent a solid week debunking that first photo. Someone printed it out and posted it in a local store stating that the snake was killed in the next county over. Yeah, right -- we live in northeastern NC. Not a lot of western diamondbacks around here. I have been telling people it was a hoax and now I have your excellent post to back me up! Thanks.

David Steen said...

Northeastern NC? Forget westerns, you don't even have easterns! Good luck with the continued debunking.

Shannon Marie said...

The rattlesnake killed in Manor was indeed 7 ft.
Please view Fox News at http://www.myfoxaustin.com/dpp/news/local/072909_seven_foot_rattlesnake_found_in_manor

David Steen said...

Shannon, thanks for your comment. I provide a link to that video within my blog. The first sentence that the reporter says indicates that the snake was five feet long (even though the title does says seven feet). The pictures in the video show a snake much smaller than seven feet. Check out my blog and links for a demonstration regarding how to make a snake look bigger than it is in pictures.

Anonymous said...

I have caught or killed hundreds of rattlesnakes in Texas. In my entire 60+ years of outdoor activities, I have never encountered a rattler that would largely exceed 6 ft. They just ain't there. A couple of examples I can give are snakes 5 1/2 ft to 6 ft that weigh 6-8 lbs. And the reason I know this is because I sold them live weight by the pound. I think the police chief should be called upon to lay a tape measure and a scale out with that snake.....and then tell us whether it was full of babies or if thats the family pet in its belly.

jim salling
spring branch, tx.

Anonymous said...

Just as a qualification, those larger rattlers can be held up by the head/neck for a while before they "set up" and they will stretch nearly a foot sometimes.....that's a bogus measurement. Photography plays a big part as well. The old black and white photo shown on this sequence has been posted on the counter at the Texaco station in Freer, Tx for at least 45 years that I can recollect. That makes an argument for camera buffs.....digital cams were not even dreamed of back then....probably a kodak brownie or box camera.
jim salling
spring branch, tx

David Steen said...


Welcome to my blog and thanks for leaving your insightful comments. It's good to know that someone with so much rattlesnake experience agrees with the above sentiments. Although I like that rattlesnakes get so much interest and attention with the public, I believe much of these giant rattlesnake pictures are just fear-mongering. In this case, I wouldn't say that any publicity is good publicity.


Anonymous said...

Just so everyone knows, that snake was about 6 1/2 feet long....unfortunately everything in Texas is bigger including our snakes. And because of the drought we are under in Central Texas all of the great beasts are coming our and we are seeing more and more larger than life creatures. So for all that do not believe it, this critter was truly large and not exaggerated. Sorry all of you non-believers.

David Steen said...

Anonymous, thank you for visiting my blog. The rattlesnake surely was a large individual, but to make your voice stand out from all the other measurements that are thrown around on the internet, you need to provide evidence for your claim. I hope to hear from you again.


Anonymous said...

17-foot-2-inch python in Florida
Dennis Tampa, Fl

Anonymous said...

Sorry wrong URL
17-foot-2-inch python


David Steen said...

Thanks for visiting the site. South Florida does indeed have some large pythons. The Burmese pythons that are now crawling through the state are thought to be descended from released pets and snakes that escaped during past hurricanes. The pythons have now established themselves and are reproducing, to the detriment of native species (which they eat). It's a good idea for a future column. These pythons dwarf any snakes (rattlesnakes and otherwise) that are native to our country.

Anonymous said...

I believe the first pic to be over 6 feet. You claim that the closer the snake is to the camera causing an optical distortion is correct, but only if its far away from officer holding it. The snake is not far from the officer, so there really isn't much of an illusion. As far as "other pictures", there is only one that you provide, and you are not seeing the entire length of the snake. You keep saying prove it, but how can you say it's not 7 feet? With the weight of a jackrabbit inside the snake, I can easily see this snake stretching the 7' mark. Just because you've never seen a snake this size doesn't mean there aren't any out there.

David Steen said...


Is it possible that this is the largest western diamondback rattlesnake ever found? Yes, it's possible, but as Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". I don't think I need extraordinary evidence in this case though, just a picture of the snake next to a ruler. Internet rumors don't suffice.

How do you know how far away the snake is from the officer? He's holding it with a set of snake tongs, which tend to be between three and four feet long. Since the tongs are barely above the officer's head, they must be angled towards the camera. Check out the link I provide for a shot of the man holding the snake with the tongs, you can clearly see how long the tongs are and how small the snake is. I can see the whole snake in the picture, with the exception of a rattle or two.

I don't know how big the snake really is, neither do you, because nobody measured the snake, just estimated its size. So, there's no compelling reason to even think this is the world's largest western diamondback, especially since it looks to be less than five feet long.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

"Is it possible that this is the largest western diamondback rattlesnake ever found?" Who said this was the largest ever found? If you do a little research you will find the largest ever found was 92.5" in 1997.


David Steen said...

That would be a huge snake indeed, but if you read the bottom of that link, you'll see the statement, "unfortunately there are no known voucher specimens to verify either claim." regarding the two large western diamondbacks discussed.

David Steen said...

The point is, I think it's four feet long, the news reporter says it's five feet long, you say it's over six feet long, the news caption says seven feet long. None of these statements is any more valid than the other, because, again, reliable measurements weren't taken on the snake. Why believe the most outrageous estimate?

Anonymous said...

With that being said, to make comments like "it was not seven feet long" without you even being there makes you look like a fool. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, but you don't know. Therefore you might want to choose less arrogant words.

David Steen said...

Thanks for visiting the blog and for the constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

Call the city of manor police department if you don't think this snake is 7' long. I just spoke with them and they have several photos of this large snake.
(512) 272-8177

Just wondering... With you being from New York and all. How many western diamondbacks have you actually seen?

David Steen said...

Anonymous, I followed your suggestion and contacted the Manor police department. I paste below my e-mail and the response.

My e-mail:
"...It was with great interest that I read about the large rattlesnake recently killed in Manor Texas. I am an Auburn University Ph.D. candidate and I write a blog examining some of the rattlesnake pictures that are commonly circulated on the internet... I've heard several different accounts regarding the size of the rattlesnake recently killed and while I agree it's a large snake, I'm curious if definitive measurements were taken or there are any pictures that exist that can confirm its large size. Several readers of my blog have taken me to task and asked that I confirm this information with your department..."

Their response,

"Good morning David,
The rattlesnake was killed in Manor, Texas on Monday July 27th, 2009. My Chief shot it with a 410 shotgun. It was in the backyard of a resident who had small children so the concern was to handle the situation before anyone was hurt. We did not measure it nor did we weight it. However, my Chief is 6'1'' tall and the snake is clearly by far, longer than that. We did cut it open to find a full grown adult rabbit in its belly.

Robyn Jackson #123
Crime Scene Technician
Manor Police Department"

I did ask and receive permission to post Robyn's response. She was very helpful.

So, we are left without definitive measurements. I'll make it clear that's not the Manor police department's problem as it's not their job to measure snakes. But, it seems that the length of this snake will always be a mystery of sorts. If you believe the snake to be seven feet or longer, so be it. I outline above why I think this is unlikely to be the case.

I've never seen a western diamondback rattlesnake in the wild. For many of the topics I cover in this blog, I rely on other people's research.

Thank you for your interest in rattlesnakes and my blog. I consider this issue settled.

jean wilson said...

There is a gun range in West Austin that has a rattlesnake skin on the wall...I know there was one comment that they can be stretched but I tanned one when I was in high school and it didn't stretch much.
Anyway...the skin at the gun range is a full 8 feet long.

David Steen said...

Sounds like a monster of a snake, I would've loved to see it alive.

Pancho said...

Thanks for your work! I have an old friend who grew up in West Texas [so he should know better] who now lives in Houston. Being non-adept at Internet skills i.e Google, he sends every snake related hoax to me for verification...or not. I've forwarded your website to him.

David Steen said...


Thanks for visiting L.A.W. I'm glad to hear you find it of use. I hope to hear from you if you receive a snake picture that's not included above.


Anonymous said...

Picture #8 ran in our local newspaper. It said this snake was killed at a gas plant outside of Odessa, TX. I agreed that the head looked really strange but have found 2 other pictures and one of them is the head of the snake. It has been cut off. The other picture shows this same man holding the snake and not covering up anything with his hand. Maybe this one is real?

David Steen said...


The second picture in the 7/24/09 addendum is most commonly (and recently) attributed to Odessa. I'm surprised to hear that the 'sock puppet' snake is suggested to be from there as well. In any case, provide links to these additional pictures and we'll check them out.


Anonymous said...




David Steen said...

I was able to find the pics of the snake from the second link but didn't see any of the missing head.

The snake's body wasn't as obscured by the man's hand as the original pic, but the resolution was too low to get a good look at it.

Nothing jumps out that convinces me the snake is a hoax. On the other hand, I wish we could've gotten a good look at the snake or an official measurement. I'll have to leave it as inconclusive.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Anonymous said...

At gunbroker.com go to search and search for big freaking snake. Discussion by shootlow. This shows the head.

Anonymous said...

Under forums/want ads then search then big freaking snake.

David Steen said...

I found the picture of the head and have now included it in the blog, along with text reflecting my uncertainty about this snake. If it was frozen or otherwise preserved we may eventually get a definitive answer.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

no one has suggested the possibility that any of these images have been morphed; Photoshop can do some amazing things and most of the recent pictures are made at an angle where the snake could be expanded and you would never know unless you were aware of the techniques that are used. If you dare, do a web search for bearchive and you will have your imagination..inflated...

David Steen said...

I want to caution everyone that following the above suggestion is for mature audiences only.

Anonymous, you're right in that there is some amazing technology out there to edit photographs. I hesitated to include that in the original column because I wanted to stick to claims I could back up with science. But, I encourage everyone to take a very close look at pictures they receive to make sure they haven't been altered.

Anonymous said...

The snake claimed to be killed in Odessa, Texas probably isn't a rattle snake as you say, but the background vegetation is typical West Texas. You can see the mesquite and grease wood in the background which is what you would expect to see around Midland/Odessa and all of West Texas. On location I would disagree with you. Also, being skeptical is one thing, but you discount every picture without proof that it's bogus...which is pretty much the same thing as those that claim they're real.

David Steen said...

Thanks for the clarification on the West Texas vegetation, I'm unfamiliar with the flora of the area.

Regarding being skeptical, rather than dismiss pictures out of hand, I make efforts to explain why some of the pictures are bogus. When there is no obvious indication that the picture is exaggerated, I indicate so. It's completely appropriate to dismiss pictures that claim to be of rattlesnakes greatly larger than any known to science and posed using standard camera tricks (and often misidentified) This is not the same as saying they're real.

Anonymous said...

I agree, you dismiss ALL photo's as bogus. How many rattlesnakes have you ever seen in the wild... especially in your home state of New York?

Anonymous said...

Can you please post a pic that you don't discredit?

Anonymous said...

Just went to the Fort Worth Zoo where they have an exhibit about Western Diamond Back Rattlesnakes, it says they can grow to be 8 feet.

David Steen said...

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. The largest W. diamondback known to science is roughly 7.5 feet, so it's not unreasonable to suggest that there are some eight footers out there. As I state above though, this is extremely unusual and individuals that are five feet long are considered big.

In reading the following text from my blog:

"Western diamondback rattlesnakes are typically smaller than easterns. Although one seven foot specimen has been reported, this species typically maxes out at about five feet."

I realized that the text is misleading and I have changed to reflect that there is a specimen that was "at least" seven feet long.

I stand by my original analyses of the above photos, which suggest that none approach the length of that record snake.

Thanks again.

Fletcher Scott said...

Ive gotten the coosa county email about 5 times from various folks. At our turn of the century log cabin, I release King snakes,rat snakes and hog noses regularly. We find snake sheds in rooms often. We have dozens of brown recluses in the sinks when we open each year. Anoles crawl all around the window sills searching for bugs.(on the inside) All this has been going on for years and no one had ever been bitten, poisoned or hissed at. Fletcher Scott

David Steen said...

Wow Fletcher, now that sounds like roughing it. I wonder if anyone ever responds to your dinner party invitations.

Anonymous said...

the snake in manor,austin is real and was just over 7ft i am an ac tech and was next door when it was shot. it had just eatin a jack rabbit. i seen it with my own eyes no camera trick. i also seen a 6.5 footer run over in austin in 2005.

Thomas said...

Thanks so much,
You're a breath of fresh air in a room full of stale dead snakes. Keep up the good work.
First off, if I or anyone else saw a snake that big I would know what it was worth: ALIVE. I damn sure wouldn't kill it.
Secondly, my exwife hunts these woods.
Thomas Hanson

David Steen said...

Thomas, your secret is safe with the internet.


Dale Hoyt said...

Very nice post and discussion about "giant" rattlesnakes. I have an anecdote that I'd like to share, but first I'd like to give my credentials: I was a herpetologist (M.S., University of Michigan) before being seduced away by population genetics. Besides the U.S. I've had field experience in Mexico and Central America. I'd like to think I'm immune to overestimating the size of large snakes. Several years ago my wife and I were driving on a state highway in south Georgia when a car some distance ahead of us swerved to avoid what looked to me like a large pot hole. I slowed the car and approached cautiously. It soon became apparent that it was no pothole -- it was a VERY large Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake crossing the road. This snake was crossing nearly perpendicular to the side of the highway and was moving by rectilinear locomotion, head and little of the neck held aloft. I stopped the car and put on the hazard lights. As we watched the snake cross in front of us I noted when the tail crossed the marked midline stripe and then checked its head. The head was beyond the edge of the highway, a short way onto the shoulder of the road. I had no camera nor any measuring tape, but I did check on the highway lane widths in Georgia. The data are given as the no. of miles for each width: 10 feet/8mi.; 11 feet/44mi.; 12 feet/1532 mi.; >12 feet/925mi. I don't know which width applies to the highway we were driving, but it seems likely that this snake was 12 feet in length, possibly a little longer. I don't think there was much error in my estimate -- the snake crossed about a car length in front of us, was moving very slowly due to its mode of locomotion (I could clearly see the ventral skin rippling as it progressed). The parallax was minimal and, at most, would only account for about 1 foot in the total length. It was the longest and heaviest snake I've ever seen in the field. I would agree with you that an Eastern Diamonback longer than 8 feet is so unlikely as to be impossible, but I have a hard time believing that this snake was only 8 feet long. I'd be interested in hearing your opinion.

David Steen said...

Hi Dale,

Thanks for sharing that story. This sounds like a snake I would've liked to see. Although assuredly a giant snake, I'm respectfully skeptical the snake was 12 feet long. I'll give an analogy to explain my line of reasoning. The maximum known length of the Eastern Diamondback is roughly eight feet long (I'm being generous), which is about equal to the maximum known height for a human being. So, a snake 12 feet long is about as plausible to me as a 12 foot tall person (which would make them five feet taller than Shaq).

That said, I wasn't there; you were, and nature surely holds many mysteries. In addition, reptiles, unlike humans, continue growing throughout their lives.

But, the lack of known specimens that are eight feet long, let alone 12 feet long, makes it hard for me to accept.

I'd be interested to hear the date and location of your observation. My e-mail address can be found in the top right.

Anonymous said...

I know where the actual original black and white photo of the black dude stating that it was a cabbage patch in Georgia is located. I was shocked when I saw that picture on your site. There are also more than just that one picture of the same man with that snake. There are two that I know of. I took pictures of them with my phone. There are many others there that are original black and white photos of other very large snakes. There is a place called EZell's Fish camp in Butler Alabama. Call them and check it out. PFC Lawrence Joseph.g.lawrence@us.army.mil

Andy said...

Hi David! For a very long time I have wanted to ask some questions of an expert like yourself. Also, I have a comment you might find interesting. When you talk about pictures of snakes appearing larger when held closer to the camera, this is a technique called "forshortning!" We fishermen are well aware of this technique as we use it to make our catch look larger than it might actually be!
Next, my two questions. Years ago I came across a young cowboy (I live in AZ) and he was holding a rattlesnake and seemed to have control of it. What surprised me was he simply had ahold of it with one hand right in the center of its body, with equal lengths on either side of his hand. Why can you do this without being bitten by the snake?
Second, When I used to live in Texas I remember watching "rattlesnake round-ups" on a television program. They would put the snakes in a cloth sack, much like a simple pillow case. Then they would tie this to their belt and it would rest against their leg if I recall correctly. Why don't the snakes strike the individuals through the cloth bags?

Last, you have an absolutely wonderful site, thank you for taking the time to educate us and make us better aware of those critters we share our world with!I really look forward to hearing back from you!
Andy Kappas,

David Steen said...


Thanks for visiting L.A.W. and I'm glad you've enjoyed it.

Forshortning! I'll be sure to remember it.

I would never recommend handling a venomous snake with your bare hands, but it's possible to do so without the snake biting you, just as it's possible to hold a non-venomous snake without getting bitten. But the stakes are high and I would never feel confident enough to try it. They're too unpredictable.

As for why snakes don't bite through the sacks, sometimes they do! It's a very careless way of transporting venomous snakes.

Thanks again for stopping by.


Oscar C. said...

I can provide proof of this snake belonging to a friend of mine
the snake died from a illness so we decided to threw it out on the street as a joke
and this jackass actually picked it up the next day
It already smelled horrible thats why we didnt just skin it
and this retard actually bared the smell to get some popularity over a hoax???

Karyl said...

wow, the death of the indigo snake is just tragic.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm commenting on the picture of the snake killed in Stuttgart, AR. First of all let me clarify some things. My dad is the one who killed this snake and we NEVER claimed it to be a rattlesnake! We aren't stupid. That was from people who obviously saw the picture and just assumed. We didn't "conveniently" cut off the snakes tail. The picture was taking just for fun and we never meant for it to end up on the internet like it did.

Anonymous said...

haha this is great, I just received the pic from Batesville, Ar and I am from Paragould about an hour NW of there and have only seen very few rattlers in the wild... If it were only true my spring turkey hunting would be limited to the tv... I am scared to death of em

Anonymous said...

My husband has cowboyed all over the state of Texas, been a trapper for the state and been involved in several rattlesnake round-ups. He agrees with your statements about the maximum size of grown rattlers and the "bogus" pictures and statements of those who claim "giant" snake capture or killings. Although we have never seen one over 6', we have a very healthy respect for them and their turf. I am personally not afraid of rattlesnakes, but my feet are!

David Steen said...


Thanks for stopping by, it's always nice to hear from someone that respects these awesome creatures and doesn't buy into the hype of all these e-mail forwards. Keep on watching those feet.


brachell39 said...

The snake in you Addendum on Aug. 10th is actually from Oak Island North Carolina, The Man in the picture, is a friend of my fiance's dad. Who is 6'3" tall, and I have been told the snake was over 9ft long, I don't know the weight. But we have personal pictures of this. I am just happy we live in Seattle, WA.

brachell39 said...

Although I am sad that this snake wasn't picked up by wildlife protective or something, considering it has probably lived for years and should have lived out the rest of his life. I also found out they did remove the rattle and as soon, as my fiance talks to his dad again, I will update you..
Thanks Rachell

Bob H said...

David, Mark Bailey has a great single powerpoint slide showing how to make a small kingsnake into a giant 10 ft monster. I have a copy but I am sure Mark has it too.


Anonymous said...

The picture of the snake that you have on here that was claimed to be killed in GA was actually killed in GA and just north of Savannah by a man from Savannah (I can get the info) it was officialy measured but not to the claims here. It is in GA hunting and fishing regulations book. It was six and a half feet long had I believe 12 rattlers and a button. It was believed to be approx. 20 years old which it states as uncommon seeing how when people come accross these snakes they are usually killed as the one in the photo which was shot with a .44

David Steen said...

Thanks for visiting. The true story of the snake you're referring to is provided in my 8/26 update. The individuals that killed the snake claim the measurement is indeed six and a half feet long.

Anonymous said...


Some of your comments are not unlike those made by many young, brash budding PhD candidates. Totally unsupportable! If you are going to become a credible biologist, the first lesson you should have learned is to never say "Never"! Your repeated claims that "...no rattlesnake has ever gotten this large or ever will..." is totally unsupportable. You can legitimately make such a clam only AFTER you have accurately measured EVERY single large specimen of the species that has ever lived, or that will ever live in the future.

Your credibility is your most valuable asset; and you are shooting yourself in the foot with such asinine claims

What are my qualifications to make this statement/ I have been involved with in excess of 80 graduate students, both MS and PhD candidates during my career, and have first hand knowledge of how brash some can be.

Frank G. Schlicht, PhD
Zoology, Ret.

David Steen said...

Dr. Schlicht,

Thanks for your comment. The quote you reference is in regards to an animal that is claimed to be nearly 15 feet long and 100 pounds. I suppose it would be more credible to state no rattlesnake will reach that length and never has, "barring any evolutionary changes in the past or future that will force us change our understanding of what we currently think of as rattlesnakes" to the quote, but I think this clarification unnecessary.


sincerely said...

Well, I just received the email with the giant snake. I nearly pooped my pants!
I live in Wiarton/Lion's Head Ontario and there is NO WAY that snake was ever killed up there.
We have massasauga rattlers. Maybe, MAAAA-AAAYBE, you'd get a 28"er if you incredibly lucky.

16-24 inches is the norm. And their pretty darn scarce and shy.

Poor little buggers, people still kill them.

I'm out in the bush a lot and would love to see more but they're tough to find. Not like in Texas!

Doug Sweet

Anonymous said...

You know, just because you have a Ph.D doesn't mean you know everything. First of all, the photos where people are holding the snake at arms length, are not attempts to make the snake look larger, the person just isn't comfortable with a venomous snake being close to them. Those snakes are no more than three feet from the individual holding them. At that distance a 5 foot snake isn't going to look like a 10 foot snake. I live in Georgia and I have seen a rattle snake that was plenty more than 8 feet. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Somebody please send this man a 10 foot rattle snake so he can be properly educated.

David Steen said...

Thanks for your comment Anonymous. I don't actually have my Ph.D. yet, so maybe I know even less than you think I do.

But in any case, I agree that if anyone has a picture of a ten foot rattlesnake, they should send it to me. I don't expect one soon, however.


Skink in Florida said...

Hi, David! Well, the giant "Cooperville, Ga." rattler appeared on my Facebook page today. A friend named Drew M. linked me to your excellent blog, and I am busy linking to it for the many friends who were interested in the picture and the story. So THANKS for your efforts...Born and raised in Florida, and have only seen ONE rattler over six foot, ever, and I hate to see them killed.

The real reason for my comment is to address the 'Odessa, Tx' giant snake picture. Funny enough, I spent a few months in Odessa/Midland in the eighties, and was struck by how similar the country is to Botswana, in southern Africa (I lived there as a child). The earth is USUALLY redder in southern Africa, but not uniformly so...By which I mean, that photo could very easily have been taken in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, or Zimbabwe.

I have the skin of an 11 foot python that was killed in our yard near Shashe, Botswana, in 1972.

So, I find it more than likely that it IS Africa, because the two places look remarkably similar...My comments on the Permian Basin when I went there were that it looked like Botswana, but with pumpjacks and cold beer.

Hudson, Florida

David Steen said...

Hi Greg,

I'm glad you found the information here useful. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective/experience to shed some light on the snake that was allegedly from Odessa. As you probably noticed in the comment thread, there was some controversy regarding my suggestion that it was probably taken in Africa.


Anonymous said...

dude the snake found in tuscany village in st. augustine was seriously that big my stepdad is the one taking the pictures. i lived in the apartments right beside the place when they found the snake.