Scientists In New Jersey Just Spotted A Creature Of Mythical Proportions

From the comfort of your couch, you can see some of the weirdest animals known to man. Pop on a nature documentary and you’ll marvel over the ugly fish loitering in the deep sea, or a bug in a rainforest that makes beautiful music. But did you know some pretty freaky animals exist less just a stone’s throw from your suburb?

A New Jersey-based group of herpetologists wrangled some of the meanest snakes found in the wild, but nothing prepared them for the tiny creature they’d walked into on a routine field visit. When it moved out of the brush and into the open, they knew this thing was too unusual to be left in the wild.

It was August of 2019 when scientists David Schneider and Dave Burkett of Herpetological Associates were on the scene in a New Jersey forest. They expected a routine visit to observe The Pines, the popular hotbed for snake births.

Madison Area Herpetological Society

As herpetologists, they study amphibians and reptiles, which necessitates hoofing it through the wilderness to seek their slimy and leathery friends. Yes, friends, because despite the general shriek of fear that a snake sighting provokes, they’ve done a lot of good for humanity.

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By studying the most deadly snakes, herpetologists have produced numerous medicines that address a slew of medical concerns. From lowering blood pressure to treating pain, snakes aren’t all bad, no matter how much they hiss.

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For the Herpetological Associates team, studying snakes and other reptiles is born out of an effort of conservation. They work in conjunction with private clients to ensure no environmental damage will be done by a business, keeping them in line with governmental regulations.

WHYY PBS

That’s what brought them to The Pines, a hotbed for snake breeding. As Dave Burkett explained, “It’s an area where female snakes hang out, get sun, and let the embryos incubate. They have live young in late August. The young usually stay by the mother.”

Rarely do we associate the menacing sound of a rattler with the Northeastern United States, though two of the most lethal snakes are native to the area. The northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake both are capable of killing with a single bite.

Patch

Both Daves had years of experience interacting with all varieties of wild reptiles, amphibians, but nothing prepared them for the unusual creature that they stumbled across that day on the forest floor.

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They spotted a snake on the ground and promptly snapped photos for documentation. After a few clicks from the camera, the reptile moved, exposing more of its body, making the scientists slightly recoil. This snake didn’t resemble anything the two experts had ever seen before.

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The snake had an obvious deformity, and judging by its movements, it appeared to be relatively stable. Still, Dave and Dave knew that without intervention, given the snake’s condition, it wouldn’t survive much longer.

ABC 6 Philadelphia / YouTube

They recognized as possibly an endangered species, and thankfully they had the proper permission to handle it. “Under the endangered species laws, it’s illegal to handle or harass any endangered reptiles amphibians without that.” David Burkett told The Sandpaper.

Financial Times

They couldn’t stand by and watch a creature slink along with a mutation that would most certainly have cost it its life — so they scooped him up, knowing that some critics might say they snatched him from his home for exploitative reasons.

Bob Zappalorti CEO of Herpetological Associates defended colleague’s choice, saying, “As it was crawling, there’s a chance it could have gotten snagged on something, leaving it open to be eaten by predators.” Plus, there are other instances of humane intervention on the behalf of endangered snakes.

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A three-eyed snake was spotted wriggling across an Australian highway in March of 2019. Pictures of his one-of-a-kind mug circulated to viral status, though he ultimately passed just a few months later.

Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife / Facebook

A closer look at the snake revealed that it was a baby timber rattler. Immediately they knew to proceed with caution. This sucker might be tiny, but that just made it more likely to deliver a lethal bite, for several reasons.

Smithsonian Mag

The snake was young and cantankerous, but it’s biggest defining feature was what was best identified by Burkett in the woods when he turned to his partner and said, “Holy cow. This thing has two heads.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

Marveling at each individual head’s independent flicks of the tongue, they concluded that the snake had two separate working brains. This became more obvious as they visibly battled over which direction they wanted to take their body.

Live Science

New Jersey’s only double-headed snake — well, so far — was named for the two scientists who rescued him from an early death, and for his special mutation. They called him Double Dave.

YouTube / ABC6 Philadelphia

Dave could be either male or female; the scientists are not yet sure. What they are certain of is that their most unusual resident started out as twins. It’s called polycephaly, and it happens when identical twin embryos never entirely separate.

National Geographic

Two-headed serpents are rare, but not unheard of. In fact, about 1 in every 100,000 animals is born with the condition. However interesting these cases are, the survival rate is ultimately low. In a snake’s case, if a predator doesn’t intervene, they turn on each other.

Often the kinder thing for some scientists is to euthanize snakes with the two head mutation. As of recent updates, Double Dave remains alive and cared for. Though they will continue to monitor its digestive system to in case its nourishment begins to decline.

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Meanwhile, snake experts turned their attentions to the New England Aquarium in Downtown Boston. Home to over 20,000 animals and 600 different species, the aquarium also has a snake that recently baffled experts.

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While setting up for an after-hours event, one of the staffers noticed a commotion coming from the female anaconda enclosure. As they approached, they saw one of the snakes – a 10-foot-long, 30-pound, eight-year-old named Ann – was acting strange.

As the other staff members joined to investigate, the group quickly realized what was happening: she was giving birth! Staffers were understandably thrilled at the discovery, but there was just one problem — Ann had never come in contact with a mate before.

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Bred by a certified reptile organization, Ann’s caretakers had taken great care to prevent her from interacting with males before her arrival at the New England Aquarium. Stranger, the aquarium kept the males and females in separate tanks.

The Boston Globe

Yet somehow, Ann had miraculously given birth to a litter of tiny anacondas. Most of the snakes turned out to be stillborn, but after searching through the afterbirth, the staffers discovered three of the babies had survived.

Even with their years of experience, the aquarium staff was positively baffled by the birth. Had one of the males snuck into the enclosure for a late-night rendezvous? Was there a misidentified snake living somewhere in the habitat? Was it divine intervention?

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To answer these burning questions, the staffers sent tissue samples from the babies for genetic analysis. Weeks passed, and when the results finally arrived at the aquarium, the staff couldn’t believe it.

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All of the snakes were Ann. Well, genetically anyway. The analysis showed the three babies were exact clones of their mother, meaning no male had contributed its DNA to their embryos.

The Boston Globe

While this may seem like something out of a sci-fi novel, this phenomenon actually has a pretty straightforward explanation; A female snake replaces sperm with her own polar bodies, thus swapping out male DNA for her own.

CBS News

Without the addition of the male DNA, the end result is offspring that are genetically identical to the mother. So its only fitting that this reproductive process known as parthenogenesis comes from the Greek for “Virgin Birth”.

Most often, a female will undergo parthenogenesis in the wild as a last-ditch effort after failing to come in contact with a mate for an extended period of time. Ann – who had not interacted with a male in her eight years of life – likely viewed this as her only chance to procreate.

However, this is an inherently risky process, as creating clones of oneself leads to limited genetic variation. This is especially problematic for animals in the wild, where a certain degree of genetic variability is essential for populations to survive.

“Genetically, it’s a vulnerable process,” said aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse. “It’s among that tagline, life will find a way. It’s a completely unique and amazing reproductive strategy, but it has a low viability compared to sexual reproduction.”

While only two of the three baby snakes survived infancy, it’s highly likely that these little guys will live well into adulthood. For now, the aquarium staff has chosen to keep them out of the public eye as they continue to adjust to their new home.

Sooner or later, however, eager guests will be flocking back to the Amazon Rainforest exhibit, as this phenomenon has only occurred among captive green anacondas once before. Fortunately, it seems like these little guys will welcome the attention.

Their initial interactions with the aquarium staff have definitely been positive ones. While you’d think a creature as intimidating as an anaconda wouldn’t be a fan of being touched, these babies are basically just slithery little puppies.

The Boston Globe

“The more they’re habituated to handling, the better we’re able to handle them, especially when they’re adults,” explained LaCasse. “They’re currently very popular with our staff because they’re really taking to being handled.”

But while these little guys are sure to bring joy to those who visit them, there are plenty of snakes out there that are more pest than pet. In fact, further down the East Coast, one community found itself facing an infestation of one of the deadliest serpents in the world: the Burmese Python.

And if you didn’t already know, you do not want to mess with one. The biggest of these beasts can reach a length of 23 feet and weigh over 160 pounds. They will eat anything from mice to adult deer. And as of a couple of decades ago, nobody in Florida even knew about them.

RT

As their name suggests, the reptiles are native to Asia’s tropics, but they were now running wild all over the Everglades. Scientists theorize that following the destruction of Hurricane Andrew, pythons escaped from a zoo and bred like wildfire.

Frank Mazzotti didn’t know quite where the snakes came from, but he was determined to stop them from spreading into densely populated areas, like Miami. The biologist swore to throw everything and the kitchen sink at them. But would that be enough?

NPR

Everglades locals tried all kinds of tricks to root out the serpents. They put snake-sniffing dogs out in the marshes and even set loose radio-equipped “Judas snakes” to hopefully reveal their home base. The pythons only continued to grow.

FL Keys News

Word got around that the reptiles took over an abandoned Nike missile site. While that in and of itself didn’t threaten anyone, Floridians feared that if left unchecked, the pythons would breed at an incredible rate.

The Bohemian Blog

Who knew — it could’ve only been a matter of time until the snakes expanded beyond the missile base and started showing up in places that were more…personal. The stakes were dire, but Frank learned of one group that could help.

Rex Features

Deep in the forests of southern India, the Irula people have mastered snake catching. They see it as an art and take the practice incredibly seriously, even after India has slapped strict regulations on snake trading.

Deccan Chronicle

In recent years, the Irulas have captured poisonous reptiles for the purpose of producing antivenoms. Clearly, there was nobody on Earth more qualified. But how could Floridians convince this tribe to help a community on the other side of the world?

Frank and his herpetologist pals managed to make contact with the Irulas, and to their surprise, the snake-catchers showed interest in helping them. Granted, the Floridians would have to shell out thousands of dollars and agree to some unusual methods.

Miami Herald

Hard as it was to believe, the Irulas didn’t use any state-of-the-art tools for finding and capturing snakes. Instead, their weapon of choice was something found in any garage: a tire iron.

Video Blocks

Contrary to what you might think, they didn’t intend these tire irons for a Simpsons-style Whacking Day. The Irula used them to clear a path through the brush and pick up snakes, but ultimately they tried to capture the reptiles alive when possible.

Simpsons World

So, Frank welcomed the best Irula hunters, Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, to the Everglades. While both men were in their 50s, they were at the top of their game. But the Floridians got nervous when the Irulas said they’d never before hunted snakes so large.

However, Masi and Vadivel smiled when they shared this fact. They were eager for the challenge, the chance to put their skills to the ultimate test. Granted, their brand of animal control was not without its risks.

From the start, the Irula’s tactics puzzled Frank and his friends. They insisted on marching blindly through the thickest part of the swamp. When a snake’s trail ended, Masi and Vadivel made everyone sit down, pray, and smoke a cigarette.

Frank’s hopes began to wane until one of the Irula’s pointed to a shimmer in the mud. Brandishing their trusty tire irons, Masi and Vadivel scooped up a fully-grown python! That was only the beginning.

Mother Nature Network

With a few more captures under their belts, the Irulas fearlessly plunged into an old missile shaft where herpetologists spotted a nest. The sharp-eyed hunters grasped a muscled python tail and spent hours wrestling it out of tree roots.

Miami Herald

In that one afternoon, the hunters pulled out four monstrous pythons from the overgrown missile shaft. They soon brought their total up to 14 over their first two weeks. While the Irulas couldn’t stay in the Everglades forever, they did the next best thing.

Masi and Vadivel shared their wisdom with the local wildlife management team, which never could’ve located these pythons with conventional techniques. The Irula knowledge could stem the invasion, so the Floridians wanted to give them something in return.

Besides paying the Irulas over $4,000 per python, the Floridians wanted to give them the real American experience. In between expeditions, they watched NFL games and ate hot dogs at Arbetter’s, their favorite greasy spoon.

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After a month, the Irulas returned to India feeling invigorated by the hunt of their lives. The Floridians knew they were quite fortunate to find experts to turn back the snake invasion, but of course, it wasn’t always possible to have heroes on hand.

Sometimes, everyday people have to use their wits to survive a deadly animal encounter. In the spring of 2017, a mother of four named Bianca Dickinson drove her youngest child, Molly, to the end of the long driveway cutting through her ranch in Victoria, Australia.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

To pass the time while waiting for the school bus to drop off her older kids, Bianca had two-year-old Molly pose for a few photographs. For 15 minutes, the duo played and snapped silly pictures—until the fun came to an abrupt halt.

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

With the school bus in view down the road, Molly posed for one last photo beside a wire fence. She wore a huge grin and pointed behind herself, towards the grass blowing in the wind. It was the perfect photo… or was it?

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“I was looking through my camera lens and was looking at my daughter,” Bianca told ABC Australia. “I saw something move in the corner of my eye and actually thought it was bark coming off the tree.” But it wasn’t bark.

Doug Hyland / Purdue

What Bianca first assumed to be tree bark was actually an eastern brown snake, aka the second-most venomous snake in the entire world. And it was slithering right behind her little girl!

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

Venom from the eastern brown snake can paralyze victims and make their blood so thin that it seeps through their pores. Without immediate treatment, a single bite from this critter can send you to an early grave—and it has enough venom to kill 20 adults.

Sky News

So it was no surprise Bianca’s insides twisted into a cold heap when she saw one of these snakes just inches away from her baby girl. “I think [the snake] was touching her boots,” Bianca said. “It was that close.” But what could she do?

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“All my instincts wanted to run and pick her up and scream and run away,” Bianca said. However, that move, she knew, could’ve had deadly repercussions. If she did that, there was a chance the snake would feel threatened—and strike.

The Sydney Morning Herald / YouTube

Complicating the situation, Bianca had to convey to her daughter that there was a big, deadly snake behind her and not to make any sudden movements or take any violent steps backward…

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

So what did the mother do? She just froze. In doing so, she communicated non-verbally to Molly that she should do the same. “Luckily,” Bianca said, “she copied me.” And the snake?

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

Much to Bianca’s relief, the eastern brown snake slithered away, leaving Molly unharmed. As it disappeared into the tall grass, the school bus dropped off her three older children. But Bianca’s panic hadn’t subsided yet…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

“I just started yelling at my other three kids to get in the car,” she said. “I got in the car and I was shaking.” And who could blame her? Her kids immediately noticed she wasn’t quite right.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

While on the drive back up the driveway, her 13-year-old daughter, Imogen (far left), asked, “What happened? Did you see a snake, mum?” Bianca nodded. “Yes,” she told the kids, and “it was at least two meters.” Her kids didn’t buy it.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

“Oh mum, it wasn’t that big!” Imogen said. But naturally, mother knew best. Back at home, she pulled out her camera and showed her kids the venomous reptile that’d come within inches of their little sister. And it shook them all.

Bianca Dickinson / Facebook

After seeing just how close Molly had come to the wrong end of a snake, Bianca’s older three kids didn’t want to go outside anymore. Worse, in showing the kids the photos, Bianca uncovered another nasty shock…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

She’d been taking pictures of Molly for a while before the school bus showed up, and when she reviewed those photos, she learned just how long the snake had been in striking distance. The eastern brown snake posed beside Molly in three photos!

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

In the aftermath, Bianca couldn’t look at those now-infamous photos and didn’t sleep well for weeks. “Every time I shut my eyes I see that big snake and what could have happened,” she said. “I see Molly being taken away in an ambulance.”

But how did the two-year-old react to her brush with death? Well, when Bianca showed her daughter the photo, the toddler considered it for a moment. And then she said the funniest thing…

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

“That’s me!” Molly said gleefully, pointing at herself, blissfully unaware of the snake in the photo. Bianca couldn’t help but laugh. At least one of her kids wouldn’t end up scarred by the moment!

Bianca Dickinson / Daily Mail

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