On Wednesday morning, media mogul, pop star, and Deadpool cosplayer Taylor Swift posted the third installment in a series of mysterious videos that have fans ravenous for an album release. The 10-second clip confirms the identity of the contentious creature Swift has slowly been teasing out.
In previous interviews with Inverse, a panel of herpetologists raised doubts about whether the creature was indeed a snake, as many fans speculated. (Taylor Swift’s public behavior has earned her a reputation for snakiness.) But now that we’ve seen its fanged, snakey head, many of those herpetologists tell Inverse that it’s undeniable that Swift is remaking the snake in her image.
Still, this thing isn’t a replica of any actual snakes. According to Toby Hibbitts, Ph.D., the curator of amphibians and reptiles at Texas A&M University, it’s most similar to a bristly looking snake known as the Atheris hispida, a venomous viper native to Central Africa.
“Definitely not a real snake, but it’s not my ‘Style’ to be ‘Mean,’ so I will play along,” says Hibbitts. “This looks to be most similar to an African bush viper, from the genus Atheris, but not necessarily a particular species.”
Emily Taylor, Ph.D. the director of the Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Lab at California Polytechnic State University, who previously suspected the clip would reveal a snake, agrees. She told Inverse that the snake that most resemble’s Swift’s is the spiny bush viper — another name for Hibbitts’ African bush viper — but notes that this real-life snake is much cuter than Swift’s.
“Taylor Swift’s snake has large fangs like a viper and visible glottis in the mouth (snakes use these as a ‘snorkel’ to breathe while eating a big meal), but that’s where any ability to compare this to an actual living snake stops,” Taylor said in an email. “Snakes don’t typically have red eyes like hers, and in most species, the scales aren’t so spiky.”
Sam Sweet, Ph.D., a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agrees that Swift’s snake most resembles an African bush viper, but while “the rendering is good,” it doesn’t match the physiology of the real thing.
“Real snakes can’t move in the way the image does — they are muscular, not floppy water balloons,” Sweet told Inverse. “Atheris do have long fangs, but the fang length is exaggerated in the clip.”
Atheris hispida lives in Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it grows to be between 23 and 29 inches long. Known for its bristly-looking dorsal scales, it’s capable of climbing reeds and stalks. This makes it an arboreal snake — one that likes to chill in trees.
“Arboreal vipers tend to have snotty attitudes, so I guess it fits,” says Sweet.
Importantly, the snake is also equipped with neurotoxic venom — the strength of which is influenced by the weather and altitude that the snake lives in. (The University of Adelaide’s clinical toxicologists give it a danger level of “eh.”) It makes sense that Swift would buff up her snake from its real-life counterpart: Taylor “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative” Swift may have claimed to be the victim in her snake drama with Kim Kardashian and Kanye, but we all know that she’s not here to mess around. It’s undeniable that Swift is a tough woman, and her choice to align herself with a venomous snake is telling.