Feb 24 2009

Revenge of Titanoboa

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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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