Sunday, December 1, 2013

No, a Drunk Man Was Not Just Eaten By a Python in India (hoax)

    A story that went viral on Thanksgiving stated a python in Kerala, India had just swallowed a drunk man that was lying on the street outside of a liquor store. The story popped up just about everywhere on the internet (here's one example of many). Several people e-mailed me the story and it also showed up a few times in my Twitter feed.

    It wasn't long before Buzzfeed killed the buzz by doing a reverse-image Google search and finding out that the same picture has shown up before with stories saying the snake had eaten someone in China, Indonesia, or South Africa. At this point, we can safely conclude that this is likely a hoax. But, we do not have to rely on reverse-image searches, we could have known this was a hoax by using a little knowledge of snake biology.

Map by Accipiter, Wikipedia
 Reticulated Python range in green.
    The snake in the picture is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus). I identified it based on the looks of the snake's head as well as the markings on its body. This species is from Southeast Asia. Despite what Buzzfeed reports, they are native to India, but only extreme northeastern India. Kerala, India is located on the southwestern coast of India, far from where you will find any Reticulated Pythons.

    Reticulated Pythons have killed people before, both in the wild and in captivity. But I'm not aware of any verified account (i.e., documented with photographs) of a Reticulated Python actually swallowing a person, even though a large individual would probably be capable of doing so (also, see this recent research). If the snake above had swallowed someone, you can bet that the snake would have been killed and cut open (with additional photographs taken). This snake probably ate a large but normal prey item, like a pig or a deer.

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