We're no strangers to internet fake-outs, so this recent dubious story is just another one to add to the list: a viral photograph of a coyote tangled up with a boa constrictor. While it's quite the sight to behold, experts aren't convinced it's legit.
The image was sent to The Miami Herald by William James, a reader who claimed to have snapped the photo at a rest area near Alligator Alley (which, yes, is a real place in Florida).
James allegedly stumbled upon the unusual scene after hearing some rustling in the bushes nearby. "It’s probably not something that’s uncommon since there’s such a snake problem,” he told the newspaper.
But there are some red flags here. While James is right about the snake problem in Florida, that situation involves a growing population of invasive Burmese pythons, not boa constrictors.
"After reviewing the image, we believe that it may have been altered. While it is possible that boas and pythons eat canines, we do not have an established population of boas in this area," says a spokesperson from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Auburn University herpetologist Dr David Steen, who has been spearheading efforts to eradicate the Burmese python from the region, agrees. "I can only speculate, but it looks fake," he says. "It looks like a stuffed (taxidermied) coyote – with straw covering the platform it is mounted on, as pointed out by a colleague of mine – with a boa constrictor placed on it. The coyote is also a lot larger than you would expect a boa constrictor of that size to try to feed on."
Of course there's another red flag, and it's typical of doctored images: there's only ever one around. (Remember that sausage-eating snake?)
While James claims that his wife made him leave the scene before he could document the aftermath, having only one photo to back up his story doesn't help his case.
“To me, this looks beyond fake. The coyote’s pose is all wrong,” adds skeletal articulation specialist and taxidermist Darien Baysinger. “The feet are on mounds, which are the result of someone covering up the uneven treads from the coyote's original pedestal with the local flora.”
We’re going to have to take the role of sceptic on this one. But what do you think? Legitimate photo or elaborate hoax?
Top header image: Steve Thompson, Flickr