Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rat Snake Freakout: South Carolina Backyard Edition

Photo Borrowed From Original Article
    Friends, colleagues, and loyal readers of this blog will know that I am enthralled and fascinated by Rat Snake Freakouts. Rat Snakes, of course, are large and common snakes that are found throughout eastern and central North America. Rat Snake Freakouts, on the other hand, occur when people panic upon encountering one of these harmless animals. It seems to happen a lot.

  It is true that Rat Snakes can reach surprising lengths, animals over seven feet long are unusual but not unheard of; I've seen a few myself. But, they are a normal and natural component of our local forests. Sometimes they show up near chicken coops; other times they appear in old barns, hunting for small rodents to eat.

 It seems though, that a large snake can cause otherwise rational people to freak out and just lose it. Rat Snakes meandering through the neighborhood have been mistaken for Boa Constrictors, Burmese Pythons, and even Black Mambas. Local citizenry run for their lives and stress about keeping their children and pets safely indoors.

 You probably know where I'm going with this. Several people have forwarded me a recent news story out of South Carolina (also here). A Rat Snake in a tree was spotted and promptly claimed to be a python over fifteen feet long. In this case, we are fortunate to have pictures of the animal in question (there are so many great pictures that I am completely confident in the identification; you don't have to be Andrew Durso to know what kind of snake this is).

  So, why is this a news story? I do not know. I will give the journalists and/or reporters that were involved in the story some credit because they do contact some local snake experts. These snake experts quickly confirm that the beast is not a python of any kind (it is, after all, clearly a Rat Snake) and it is not fifteen feet long. Yet, the reporters seem to enjoy fanning the fire of panic and fear, entertaining the possibility that the animal is a giant exotic and scary thing, even though they've conclusively and definitively been told otherwise. Oh well. 

  Here's a tip for reporters working on future giant snake stories. When someone says they know how big a snake is because they measured it with their eyes, remember that people are almost universally bad at making these kinds of guesses. And also, no Rat Snake has ever eaten a human, of any size.

 Thanks to everyone that forwarded me this story.

No comments: