Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An 8.5 foot Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake From Mississippi...Or Is it Colyell, Louisiana?

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"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 here.

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 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 3/6/13, 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 lbs. A 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!

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