Have you seen this post? If so, you may be saying, "Wait I thought that was in Nelson.", or, "That was in Louisa." Guess what, this has been posted on countless counties' Facebook pages in the US. It is very safe to say this is a hoax. Let's break it down. While it is not crazy for a snake in dry weather to seek moisture from a potted plant, as this snake is doing (the photo is of a real snake after all), Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) are not found naturally in Virginia. I know what you are thinking though: couldn't it be a released pet or it hitched a ride up on a plant shipment? Well, I can guarantee you this is not the case for this snake; or snakes as I should say... Notice the snake in the hands (because an animal control officer would totally pick up a Rattlesnake in this way and lay it in a tub) and in the bin has thick, black outlines on the inside of the diamonds. This is typical of an Eastern Diamondback. That said, the snake in the flowerpot lacks these outlines... That is because it is actually a Western Diamonback (Crotalus atrox). The overdramatic "Spread the word and save a life.", makes me believe that one person is starting this as a hoax, posting it on several county pages, and encouraging others to spread the post to go "viral". Please stop spreading this misinformation. These photos were likely stolen, and I would love to find the true origin of these photos. If you took any of these photos please email us (address in footer) with your name and the true backstory of these. I want to give the photographers the proper credit, and update us all on the true scoop. But while we are on the subject of Rattlesnake hoaxes in Virginia, this is not the only one I have dealt with this month.
iNaturalist is a treasure trove of good citizen science work, but unfortunately some random individuals taint the records. It takes a true expert to review these and catch "riff-raff". What do I mean? Well, when someone posted the observation linked below, I smelled a rat (no pun intended). I am sorry to make you click back-and-forth, but his photos are "all rights reserved", so I cannot legally use them.
This observation is clearly a Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake, which though found in North Carolina, doesn't range into Virginia. Many amateur herpers believe they could be found in VA, but many older herpers disagree. Some use the climate change card on them moving, but I will remind everyone temperature is not the only factor for if an animal can survive somewhere, and there is no evidence of spreading north. As much as I would love to see this species in Virginia, I wasn't quite convinced of the location. I noticed the soil looked off for the region. White sand with burnt material is more of a sandhills soil-type, and not really found in the Great Dismal Swamp. Though the soil is somewhat sandy in that area, the soil is much richer, as it is a flood-zone. But I am no soil scientist, and the observer doubled-down on his location, so I decided to check out what other observations this guy had. Oh, boy... Red flags were everywhere...
Needless to say, the user has been suspended for submitting falsified data. It makes me sad, because I have lived my life the past five years for citizen science, and "trolls" like this negate all the positives done. Now, when I see even a simple Box Turtle, I am scanning the background to see if the tree species match the area. I wouldn't say I am paranoid, but I definitely waste time being so hyper vigilant. Not even two weeks later, I see this observation below:
This is a fairly close location to the other one, but on the other side of the swamp. This is this observer's only observation. What do we know? Its common for a hoaxer to pretend they know nothing about the subject, because it looks more realistic. When we ask is the location accurate, the observer doubles down on the location again. Notice though that white sand in the background again. So, my theory is this is the same person, on a different account, using a similar soil and location to try to make us look wrong. I hate this. I don't want to discourage iNat users, but this is not an acceptable behavior. State Herpetologist with DWR J.D. Kleopfer backed-up my comment as well saying, "This photo was not taken in Virginia. If it was, it's staged. The background doesn't match the location habitat." I tried to nicely ask are they "sure they really wanted to die on that hill", and they were set on it... But I think we all can draw a conclusion based on this evidence.
So, there you have it. As much as I love playing detective, I hate having to correct the misinformation. Then you always have the person that says, "How do you know they aren't here?", that wants to argue. I am not going to fight that argument today, but I will say: If these snakes are here, these photos do not prove it. We do have the all so variable Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) here in Virginia. These are found mostly in the mountains but also in the southern coastal plain. I have seen these get misidentified as other Rattlesnake species by the public often, so you should brush-up on this species in the link below.
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.