Feb 24 2009

Revenge of Titanoboa

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Comments: 24

I didn’t plan to do two similar stories in a row, but this just came to my attention. There is a picture going around that purports to show a 100ft. snake swimming through a river in Borneo. The picture was allegedly taken by from a helicopter by a disaster team monitoring flood conditions.

The image is certainly provocative – but as I pointed out yesterday, before we start hypothesizing about what the picture may be we first have to confirm that it is real. Pictures are no longer acceptable as evidence at face-value. The so-called Atlantis picture from yesterday was likely an innocent artifact. This picture is unlikely to be an artifact, but it can easily be fraud.

I’m sure that the marketers at Adobe are thrilled that their brand name photo-manipulation software, Photoshop, has become the generic term for using such software to alter images.  So before we knock ourselves out trying to figure out what physical phenomenon may be in the picture we first have to confirm that it was not “photoshopped.”

I looked at the picture zoomed in, and nothing is obvious to me, but that is a minor point as I don’t think I would be able to detect a good photoshop job. The original digital photo (I am assuming it was originally digital – if on film then better still) would need to be examined. The metadata might indicate if it had been altered.

The press is immediately linking the notion of a giant snake to recent reports of the discovery of Titanoboa – an extinct giant boa from South America 60 million years ago. This beast was about 45 ft long and could snack on alligators. Scientists speculate that the warmer climate allowed for the boa to become larger than extant boas, which max out at about 30 ft. The largest snake on record was a python 33ft long.

This brings up an important point about plausibility. If a warmer climate was necessary to allow for a 45ft snake, then how can a 100ft snake be living today? Perhaps this is a warm-blooded snake, but that would be quite amazing. There is also the problem of a 100ft snake escaping detection for all this time. This is a point that comes up regarding any cryptozoological claim for a large yet undiscovered animal not living in deep ocean trenches or otherwise remote location. An undiscovered fish on the sea floor, or a small lizard in pristine forest – sure. But a large primate living in Pennsylvania – no.

Borneo does have remote dense jungle, and there are likely many undiscovered species there, but a 100 ft snake stretches plausibility a bit too much.

The giant snake of Borneo, dubbed Nabau by locals, is likely to join Nessie and Bigfoot in the halls of unconfirmed crytozoological speculation.

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24 responses so far

24 Responses to “Revenge of Titanoboa”

  1. agentlionon 24 Feb 2009 at 10:48 am

    in my completely unprofessional and uninformed opinion, the “snake” looks exactly like I would draw it if someone said “please draw me a fake snake”. i.e., the sinusoidal curves are too perfect, the shading is too perfect (indicating a completely uniform depth for the whole body), the color is just perfect enough that the whole body is visible from that high up, the wake looks like someone just used a white brush etc.

    Also, I think, Steve, you could be a bit more skeptical about the size. Who says it’s 100ft? The headline? “Local legend”?
    It’s hard to tell from the picture, but whatever that is, I would guess is much more than 100ft.
    1) It’s hard to distinguish the trees, but they look like pretty large jungle trees. And compared to the snake, they look like toothpicks.
    2) If the snake is ~100ft long, then the river would only be maybe 30ft wide at that point. That’s only 10 yards…. not very wide for a major river.
    3) I looked up the Baleh River on Google Maps, and it is a HUGE river. It is very long, and very wide in most spots. I picked several random spots and zoomed in as much as I could, and according to the scale on Google Maps, it’s about 1000ft wide at most points. In a river that size, a 100ft snake would be a blip.

    So, it’s either fake, or they’re dealing with much more than a 100ft snake on their hands!!

  2. Basayevon 24 Feb 2009 at 11:14 am

    Ben Radford wrote a nice piece for Fox News on why this is probably a fake:

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,497685,00.html

  3. Enzoon 24 Feb 2009 at 11:21 am

    This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

    Obviously this creature has been seen before, but no stories exist because it has swallowed everything in its path. Whole. No chewing.

  4. Steven Novellaon 24 Feb 2009 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for the link. Ben’s analysis is spot on – he wrote a book on lake monsters with Joe Nickel so he has some expertise in this area.

    Regarding size, I meant to comment on this but forgot in my rush this morning (I hate when that happens). I agree that the 100ft size estimate seems arbitrary and likely an underestimate. However, we are not really given any objective scale. I don’t know offhand how big the river and trees are.

  5. DarwynJacksonon 24 Feb 2009 at 11:42 am

    Was there already a local legend regarding a massive snake in Borneo? Also, is Borneo so unexplored that snakes of this magnitude would go undiscovered and even their massive tracks unnoticed for centuries?

    Finding arguments against this claim seems far easier than most hoaxes… Google Atlantis was way more plausible, which is really saying a lot.

  6. HHCon 24 Feb 2009 at 12:33 pm

    The photo looks like it has several superimposed images, first , a
    boat with a wake and second, a slithering snake(8-o).

  7. dcardanion 24 Feb 2009 at 3:05 pm

    [quote]I’m sure that the marketers at Adobe are thrilled that their brand name photo-manipulation software, Photoshop, has become the generic term for using such software to alter images.[/quote]

    Actually, no they wouldn’t. I used to write Photoshop plugins for a living, and part of their licensing agreement is that you will never use the term “Photoshop” as a verb, and you will never use it without the identifier “Adobe” in front of it. It’s one of those bizarre legal things that they can’t really control, but apparently it makes them feel better to try. ;)

  8. erdrickon 24 Feb 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I would imagine that if reincarnation were true, and Perry were given a choice (very reasonable, if you buy into the whole “the better your life is, the better you come out next time” thing), he would want to come back as a 100-200 ft snake.

    Please incorporate this thought into your analysis. Thank you.

  9. Big Kon 24 Feb 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I say giant sperm.

    I’d really hate to see what that swam out of.

  10. Tullyon 24 Feb 2009 at 4:23 pm

    As an artist who uses photoshop on a daily basis for work, I can tell you this one stinks to death of it. Different reasons occured to me than apparently occured to the Foxnews fellow (though after reading, I think his reasons are good too).

    First, the “wake” in the water around the sake is horribly out of perspective. It looks as though a nearly top-down view of it had been plunked on top of the river. As is the snake itself (see link at bottom).

    The wake is also faaaar too big to have been caused by a presumably slow-ish moving snake. Even moving pretty fast, at that scale, there’s no way in heck a snake could produce that kind of thing. Also, the wake would actually be emanating from the snake rather than poofing off the sides like jets of mist. Maybe it’s pneumatic.

    Here ( http://ldaustinart.com/laurel/fakesnake.jpg ) is my try at doing it better.

    Ok, still crap, but surely not any worse :) Crappy compression can do wonders for the photographic-lookingness of an image.

  11. petrucioon 24 Feb 2009 at 5:03 pm

    The original picture is just too small. Any crappy digital camera today has many megapixels of resolution, why would an important picture such as this be published in such a small size?

    If you photoshop something, you can then resize the image down a lot, then back up a bit, and ‘shazamm’, any photoshopping artifacts you might have missed that would have been picked up by someone have disappeared! How convenient…

  12. wertyson 24 Feb 2009 at 6:01 pm

    What about the psychological aspect of this coming out just about as long after the announcement of titanoboa as it would take a couple of photoshop-literate pranksters to source and modify a picture, then set up a fake story ?

  13. daedalus2uon 24 Feb 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Also, if you had such an obvious target you would take a zillion pictures. A zillion pictures of the same thing from different perspectives would be much harder to fake.

  14. Bevanson 24 Feb 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Jeez, what would that thing possibly eat if it were real? It looks like it could be about half the height of those trees. If I remember correctly, snakes tend to eat things that are almost as big as THEY are and then digest them for days rather than nibble on small things (hence the unhinging jaws and ability to constrict prey to death).

    So the real question: where’s this gigantic prey animal? Beware: TITANORAT!

    Seriously though, why would a snake that big be swimming down the river? What’s in the river that would interest it?

    Also, where are the thousands of other giant snakes that would be required for there to be a viable breeding population? Unless this just happens to be the last of its kind, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and…

  15. HHCon 24 Feb 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I have swam over 1,700 miles in alot of different places including a pool which served as a fire department resevoir, but I never got up close and personal with a 100 foot snake. Does Yale have a field trip scheduled to go to Borneo?

  16. taustinon 25 Feb 2009 at 2:27 am

    “It’s one of those bizarre legal things that they can’t really control, but apparently it makes them feel better to try.”

    Trademark law requires that the holder defend their mark against infringement. They don’t necessarily have to succeed, but they must try, or they lose the mark.

  17. Lenardon 25 Feb 2009 at 5:29 am

    What I think is really surprising about this is that there is a 30ft wide river which has banks completely covered in Broccoli (which the green stuff must be if the snake is 100ft long as it sure as heck ain’t trees)

  18. Mueroon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Here’s the official word from Adobe’s website:

    Trademarks are not verbs.
    CORRECT: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
    INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.

  19. Melbojudokaon 26 Feb 2009 at 11:46 am

    This looks to me like a small islet in the channel with a von Karman vortex street in its wake. This is not an uncommon phenomenon – Google it and see many examples in aerodynamics, fluid dynamics and meteorology.

  20. Eric Thomsonon 26 Feb 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Better to believe in the snake and be fearful so as to avoid it, than to not believe and get eaten because you were lackadaisical.

    Therefore, I believe. All hail the giant snake!

  21. HHCon 28 Feb 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Melbojudoka, I did google von Karman vortices. I see your point especially when I review the dynamic animation by Caesaro de La Rosa Siqueria. But the real photos show more abstraction of form than the one on this blog. The vortices look like intertwining links on a gold chain which is quite different from the 100 ft. snake.:-D

  22. luisbrudnaon 02 Mar 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Mistery solved
    http://www.ceticismoaberto.com/news/?p=1668

    Im from Brazil. :-)

  23. khepion 07 Mar 2009 at 8:12 am

    The picture is a fake. The wakes, which are impossible, give it away.

  24. benr96on 20 Apr 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I know im like 2 years late but whatever
    Its fake go to this link:
    http://www.tineye.com/search/891039d2a550ca921e6dbbd9af76a2c0d34d2d14/?page=1&sort=score&order=desc
    its a search on tineye and it shows all similar images in its index, if you go through it you find a few images near identical taken from same angle and everything without the snake,

    btw the results expire in 72 hours so if you miss it just search the image yourself using this link:
    http://www.theness.com/images/blogimages/borneosnake.jpg

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