Reddit's Bizarre Viral Fish-Headed Snake, Explained by Herpetologists

We've all been there.


Many of us have made the ill-advised choice of donning a full-head mask on Halloween or other costumed affairs. Sure, it’s convenient to slip on a rubberized helmet to instantly transform into, say, Pennywise the clown or Donald Trump, but the masks inevitably turn wearers into stumbling, suffocating buffoons, staggering blindly around a party. Consider, for example, the embarrassingly clumsy viral snake with a fish mask stuck on its head.

The gif of the snake, posted to the r/WTF subreddit on Tuesday, shows a snake that seems to be stuck in its oversized fish-head mask, thrashing about clumsily in some shallow water. It does not seem to be having a good time at this party.

Exactly how the snake got into this situation is unclear, but snake experts have a few ideas. While it might appear that the snake could be trying to finish the last bite of a fishy meal, herpetologist Emily Taylor, Ph.D., the director of the Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Lab at California Polytechnic State University, tells Inverse that this is impossible.

“I can tell you that the snake definitely did not eat the rest of the fish. First, that fish it too big for the snake,” she said in an e-mail. “Second, snakes don’t take bites — they eat their meals whole.”

It is likely, however, that the snake was indeed hungry. “The most likely scenario is that the snake sensed the dead fish using its ability to ‘smell-taste’ the water or air on the surface, and is investigating to see if it could eat it,” she says. Aquatic snakes often eat fish, and a large fish like this one may have been too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Sometimes fish can’t judge appropriate meal size with their eyes, and will try to eat something way too big before realizing that it just won’t happen,” she says.

Garter snakes often live near water, and some species are good swimmers (when not stuck inside a fish head, at least).

Flickr / Ingrid Taylar

Herpetologist Sam Sweet, Ph.D., a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Santa Barbara, identified the specimen as a garter snake stuck inside the head of a trout. Garter snakes often make their homes near bodies of water, and some species are known to be good swimmers. Fish constitute a major part of their diet.

Sweet concurs with Taylor that the fish was dead to begin with, suggesting human involvement, and agrees the snake was probably just hungry.

“Someone caught the fish and cleaned it, and threw the head back in the creek,” he said in an e-mail to Inverse. “The snake investigated the cut-off head, and may have found some loose bit of tissue (such as a gill) that it tried to eat but can’t separate from the rest of the head.”

You can't blame the snake for wanting in on this.

Flickr / Trout Lore

Fortunately, Sweet doesn’t believe this snake is forever doomed to this sad, ridiculous-looking fate. “It will probably give up and let go soon.”

It’s possible that the snake isn’t deliberately keeping its head inside the fish and actually is stuck.

“That, however, seems rather fishy to me,” says Taylor.

This velvet worm ain’t messing around! Check out this video about one of the fiercest predators on Earth.

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