AND INACCURACY CAN BE INTERTWINED ON THE INTERNET
November 9, 2008
question the Internet is a boon to researchers, whether they are seeking
information for work, for pleasure, or merely to satisfy idle curiosity.
But it can also be a trap for the unwary. Just because information is
posted on the Net doesn't mean it's true. On the other hand, some seemingly
incredible nature shots are the result of someone being in the right place
at the right time with a camera at the ready.
that has made the email rounds is of an alligator swimming in a lake while
carrying a full-grown deer in its mouth. I have received the picture as
an email attachment several times from people wanting to know whether
the photo is real. Yes, it is.
a fire management officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photographed
the alligator transporting a deer across a lake. I talked with her about
the spectacular sighting. During helicopter flights around Harris Neck
National Wildlife Refuge south of Savannah, Ga., she has seen many deer
and many alligators. This particular time she saw the two animals together,
and she had her camera in hand. She estimated the alligator was more than
12 feet in length, a reasonable assessment. The largest alligators can
be a foot or so longer.
probably eat lots of deer each year. And the idea that a large gator could
swim across a lake with a deer carcass in its mouth is not far-fetched.
But the chances of someone being in a helicopter, camera at the ready,
while an alligator carries its kill across a body of water must be fairly
slim. It's not surprising that many people wonder if the image is genuine.
the text accompanying these photos on the Internet is not always reliable.
If you Google "gator with deer in mouth" or "alligator
carrying deer" (without the quote marks) you can see the photos Terri
took. The exasperating part from an educational perspective is that many
websites have the facts wrong. The first three websites I checked all
gave erroneous locations for the lake. One said the photos were taken
in Ocala, Fla., another at Cross Lake, La., and another at Lake Conroe,
Tex. Such inaccuracies call into question the credibility of everything
else on the website. Several websites (all from Texas) said the alligator
was 23 feet long! This is an absurd assertion. When you are researching
wildlife observations on the Web (or any other topic for that matter),
be sure you are dealing with a credible site.
another email with attached photos from a friend who is an experienced
hunter intrigued with wildlife of any sort. His note said, "Take
a look at these snake pictures. I have seen copperheads do this twice,
both times in September. Are the rattlesnakes fighting or are they preparing
to breed?" I have since received the same images from other people.
are of two large western diamondback rattlesnakes entwined around each
other, much like snakes on a caduceus, the symbol of the U.S. medical
profession. The back half of the snakes' bodies are on the ground with
head and front half held vertically as high as they can reach. This is
not courtship between a male and female; it is a fight akin to an arm
wrestling contest to determine which male is dominant. The winner is the
one who topples the other to the ground. Winning means getting to mate
with the female rattlesnake, which is usually nearby and is the cause
of the male-male combat. Interestingly, male rattlesnakes and copperheads
do not bite each other in these fights, although either could deliver
a lethal bite. The snakes shown were western diamondbacks, but one email
I received with those photos attached said the snakes were from South
Carolina; another said they were from Alabama. Both states are outside
the geographic range of the species.
pictures of the deer-toting alligator, the ones of the battling snakes
are genuine and demonstrate normal behavior for the animal in question.
The Internet is a powerful tool that allows people to access such fascinating
information. But as with any tool, the trick is to wield it properly.
you have an environmental question or comment, email