Friday, October 16, 2015

Make That Viral Animal Video a Teachable Moment

Recently a visitor to Falls Lake State Recreation Area made this amazing video of Northern Water Snake taking a catfish. Jason Dickerson of Rolesville sent the video to Raleigh CBS affiliate WRAL TV, who posted the story on their website, social media and on their local broadcasts.

Not surprisingly, the video went viral on social media and has been featured on several news outlets, even as far as Australia.  However, no stories identify the snake or give any information about its behavior or habitat.

We consulted with herpetologist Jeff Beane to confirm that it is a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon). Northern water snakes are found in all parts of the state except for the southeastern coastal counties. It is amazing to watch it catch the catfish in this video. This is normal behavior and they do often eat catfish, though Jeff notes that this catfish “is a little larger than usual for a snake this size to handle.” Northern water snakes' main diet consists of fish and amphibians, and Jeff tells us they can hunt in fairly deep water and also hunt and scavenge in shallows as well. The Davidson College Herps of North Carolina website explains that their coloration can vary widely. As a result of this, these non-venomous snakes are sometimes mistaken for cottonmouths or copperheads. 

It’s easy for environmental educators to get frustrated when these videos go viral, as they can result in a lot of “NOPES!*" as well as incorrect information about the animal.
 (*Remember the infamous Jennette's Pier lancetfish?)

However, these can be good opportunities for environmental educators to provide the public with good information and outreach about nature, as well as dispel misunderstandings about our state’s amazing wildlife. 

So when one of these viral videos arises, consider doing a little homework, consulting an expert, and then Tweet away...or Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram or Blog or Email...