Crypsis through disruptive coloration

This is pretty nifty. I’ve found and lost the snake twice already. Trust me though: it’s there, as plain as day, not obscured in any fashion.


Photo by Jimmy Rickard

Via the Cowboy Team Roping Facebook page.


  1. says

    That is amazing camouflage! Explains why my father made sure my sister and I were properly paranoid about them during nature walks growing up.

  2. Beatrice (looking for a happy thought) says

    I think I really did find it reasonably soon, but I’d certainly never see it without knowing it was there.

    Same here

  3. blindrobin says

    Took me < 2 seconds. I am very chromatically challenged and tend to focus on patterns. That and I used to collect these things and their cousins in my back yard when I was a kid.

  4. Rumtopf says

    Possibly luck but my eyes focused in on it almost instantly. Maybe I have a camoflagued venomous snake detecting skill, which is pretty much pointless here in the UK :D

  5. David Marjanović says

    Found it pretty quickly (the triangles are just too regular), but I’m with comment 8.

    I’ve got most of it but I’m not sure where it ends.

    It’s looooong.

    Upper right.

    I was going to say “nope, that’s just two leaves”, but comment 7 is better!

  6. No One says

    See them all the time. They hang out on my concrete porch steps at night. They are curious and will slither over to check out what you are up to, particularly if they think that there might be a meal they can scare you off of. They will “stand their ground”. Poison fangs will do that for you. Unfortunately locals in a pick-up truck trumps their “I’ll move when I’m damn well ready” attitude. I’ve tried to scoot them along with a stick when they are on the asphalt (mmmm warm). They respond by “dry” biting the stick. So I just let them be. The ones on my porch steps I douse with the water hose. A snoot full of water is an experience they are not comfortable with. The interesting thing is what drives their population, water and blackberries. If we get good rain the pond turns into a protein production unit. Five species of frog/toad breed there. I caught and weighed (and released) a five pound bullfrog in a really rainy summer. Depending on what the blackberry patch is doing everything shows up for the fructose; deer, boar, foxes, coyotes, armadillos, possums, birds, tortoise, and rats. And snakes do love their rats. I can hear squeaking in the brush at night. I’ve counted eight species of snake going after ’em. Even the Bullfrogs grab them and pull them into the water like crocodiles.

  7. buddhabuck says

    The body is where I thought it was, but even in the enhanced spoilery version I’m having a problem seeing the head and tail.

  8. Brian says

    Both the head and tail ends are in plain sight. Enhanced spoilery version here.


  9. frog says

    Spotted it reasonably quickly, but like others, if I hadn’t known to look for a snake, I wouldn’t have seen it at all.

    The x-pattern on the left side is the giveaway. But even with Chris’s enhanced spoiler-vision view, I can’t tell which end is the head and which is the tail. I figure just stay away from both ends.

  10. says

    It was fully visible in the png version.

    Seriously, though: Fuck! I can’t even go near a grass snake.

  11. grumpypathdoc says

    18!! PZ, now you’re hallucinating. I found it pretty quickly, but thanks to Chris I was able to confirm I was correct.

    These snakes are all over WV. We used to find them in vegetable gardens in downtown Huntington. They seem to like being around cucumbers. I had a friend who used to collect his cukes carrying a golf putter in one hand and a .22 caliber pistol in the other. He also used to kill at least one everytime he mowed his lawn.

    I’d tell my story about the little boy fishing with his “biting worms” but you probably can guess what he was using to bait his hook with.

  12. says

    Where was this photograph taken? On an airplane?
    Psst: There is a reason I do not go into my backyard…. even in eastern North Dakota.

  13. F [is for fluvial] says

    How did copperheads evolve the ability to use JPEG artifacts as camouflage?

    You can tell from the snake’s own pattern that when the Creator was front-loading DNA for His Holy Evolutionary Scheme, that he expected pixelation of magnified low-res images on teh intarnets.

    In the wild these snakes are seen by true believers with a glowing red caption marker that says “Caution: Satan”.

  14. jd142 says

    I found two fake ones before I found the real one. If you are having problems, this version of the photo from 2005 is a much better quality. No pixelation affects on the leaves and brighter colors too. I found it in less than 5 minutes on the better copy. If you still can’t find it, I confirmed my guess when I found

    Those two sites are going to wonder why their traffic spiked for such old pages. :)

  15. carlie says

    It took me longer than I was comfortable with to find it (not in the picture in the post, but after clicking on it for a slightly larger version). I was able to trace it to the head, but lost the tail.

    Now if those can also start opening doors…

  16. says

    It took me a while, but the regularness of the pattern gave it away. Still, if I hadn’t been told there was a snake there somewhere I would have been none the wiser.

    I’m definitely glad the indigenous species of snake here are either harmless or of the venomous-but-not-dropping-dead-on-the-spot variety

  17. jnorris says

    I found the rocking chair, the apple pie, and Pope Pious XII, wait, no, that’s the snake.

  18. anuran says

    You’re using the wrong tool for the job.
    Don’t LOOK for them. Walk around barefoot and you’ll find them.

  19. jaredcormier says

    Took me all of two seconds to find it; my undergrad research project was on these guys (and A. piscivorus). Looks like the southern variety or an individual with similar markings. The subspecies pattern morphologies blend together quite a bit depending on local population and I can’t see enough detail to determine if pronounced dorsal spots are present…. Must find better resolution….

  20. Randomfactor says

    Took me < 2 seconds. I am very chromatically challenged

    Same here, although it took more than 2 seconds for me to be sure. Supposedly us handicapped guys have a slight edge on spotting camo.

  21. Francisco Bacopa says

    I’m definitely glad the indigenous species of snake here are either harmless or of the venomous-but-not-dropping-dead-on-the-spot variety

    Copperheads aren’t the dropping dead on the spot variety either. Just an extreme pain and swelling stay a week home from work variety. Usually. Most local hospitals stock an antivenin that takes care of copperhead and cottonmouth venom. I know one person who got such a low dose of venom they just cleaned out the bite and sent her home for a few days.

    Canebrake rattlesnake is a drop dead on the spot variety. It’s a subspecies of C. horridus that packs bonus neurotoxin on top of the normal rattler mix. Only ever saw one once. Heard it too. Scary as hell.

  22. David Wilford says

    Spotted it in four seconds – on a monitor. I hope I can do better than that IRL!

  23. CJO says

    Very nearly stepped on one when I was a kid. Would have if it hadn’t moved right out from under my descending foot. And I spent a lot of time in the woods being quiet and observing wildlife, so I wasn’t oblivious or unaware that they were common in the area. They’re just really, really good at hiding in forest floor habitat.

  24. Rip Steakface says


    They seriously named the snake C. horridus? Horridus? It’s like scientists are also secretly purveyors of abject terror :(

  25. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says


    Those things are, from my experience, the second-scariest hazard of fieldwork in VA.

    The first-scariest is a guy in a pickup truck (with rifle in the cabin) waiting for you at the bottom of the hill trail, parked up next to your van. And when he asks (a) do you take drugs, (b) are you growing drugs, (c) are you a Christian, and (d) would you like me to do two two-hour round trips to take you to my church this Sunday? you say no, no, yes (self-preservation!), and no thank you, there’s a perfectly good church in the liberal arts college town I’m based in, and I shall be there on Sunday instead, thank you very much.


    Spotted it in ~20s, for what it’s worth.

  26. No One says

    Ryan Cunningham @ 21

    No I do not have a blog. I probably should start one. Many of my posts on facebook (that include photographs and video) get buried in my “friends posts” about sports, drinking, pimples and 100 camera phone photo “albums” of their two year olds in ballet class. It’s disheartening. I do have a video in the works that I shot in November. My lovely daughter took me shark diving at “Tiger Beach” Bahamas. Encourage me and I’ll finish editing it. I’m going snorkeling on the Rainbow River tomorrow with my daughter and her newly minted husband. Snaps and vid will ensue.

  27. No One says

    cm’s changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) @ 42

    Yep, when they spit that gob of chewy, look you straight in the eye and accuse; “Yew ain’t kin…”

  28. madscientist says

    That was easy – but then I know what I’m looking for and I have the luxury of being forewarned and being able to look for it without disturbing it. It’s nice to see how well they blend in with things; most of the ones I’d seen have been transiting through areas where they stick out. Who knows – maybe I’d walked past dozens of them in leaf litter and never noticed.

  29. kreativekaos says

    An example of the positive side–a rather scary one–of the penchant of pattern-seeking in we of the genus Homo. Took a couple minutes of searching for me.

  30. kreativekaos says

    Perhaps a dumb question, but was that a photo taken ‘live’ on the spot, or was the snake ‘Photoshoped’ into the backround?

  31. CobaltSky says

    Spotted it pretty quickly. However, I got taught how to spot patterns like this in Scouts so I may have an unfair advantage. I was also the arsehole who bought night vision goggles to a survival/hunted weekend so I might not be representative of the general population in this kind of test.

    On a related note, the Girl Guides have just eliminated the reference to god from their promise. It turns out that >50% of my fellow scouts did not believe in god, but we all mumbled the prayer at the beginning of a meeting. If that kind of discussion had been open to me at that age I would have realised that I was not alone in my disbelief. I guess its just another example of religion poisoning culture, however this example really hits home to me. Probably because I didn’t not experience discrimination in any other area of my life.

  32. No One says

    kreativekaos @48

    Looks like the real thing to me. Keep in mind the photo is in low res so it’s a bit blurry. Links to high res versions are in one of the posts above. Much easier to see there.

  33. nobonobo says

    Based on how long it took me to spot it. and the area in the photo, I reckon it would be safe for me to hike at a rate of one meter per minute. Unfortunately, its accomplices would get me from behind.

    My dad claimed that he could smell copperheads. Not that I doubted him, but is that even possible?

  34. Ichthyic says

    I’m definitely glad the indigenous species of snake here are either harmless or of the venomous-but-not-dropping-dead-on-the-spot variety

    No snakes here in Hobbitton.

    never going to be, either. Not even in the zoos!

  35. Ichthyic says

    My dad claimed that he could smell copperheads. Not that I doubted him, but is that even possible?

    don’t see them on the West coast, but as a comparison, I could easily smell garter snakes from a ways away.

    they can really stink; IIRC, they even have a gland to make themselves stink even more if you bug them.

  36. Ichthyic says

    that was “West coast” as in the US, btw. again, no snakes at all here in Kiwidom. even less snakes than in Ireland (really really), and we didn’t need no stinkin’ Saint to do it, neither!


  37. gravityisjustatheory says

    Rip Steakface
    21 June 2013 at 4:48 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    They seriously named the snake C. horridus? Horridus? It’s like scientists are also secretly purveyors of abject terror :(

    See also:
    Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
    Stone fish (Synanceia horrida)

  38. eveedream says

    Kill ’em. Kill ’em all. We don’t need snakes; we can just let feral cats control the rodent population… Right? Anyone?

    Seriously, when my super-villainy puts me in control of the planet, snakes are the first things to go. (Muahahaha!)

  39. ekwhite says

    I remember hiking in the Nantahalas (North Carolina, US) when I was in my 30’s and seeing one sunning on a rock about 2 feet from my head. Luckily, it was feeling pretty mellow at the time. Darn things are pretty much invisible from a distance.

  40. evodevo says

    THIS is why hunters from Eastern Ky flock to my county in Central Ky to hunt in the Fall – no copperheads or rattlesnakes here.

  41. John Horstman says

    Well disguised, but the regular patterning is discontinuous with the haphazard background of leaves. Took about 5 seconds to spot, but that’s with me expecting it and knowing what to look for. I imagine this might not be as easy IRL, though the higher resolution, 3d relief, and distinct reflective qualities of snake skin versus dead leaves could help. (It’s about 2/5th of the way from the bottom of the image, extending over most of the left half of the image and terminating right near the center, about 1/4th the way from the bottom of the image. Distinctive light/dark triangle pattern.)

  42. microraptor says

    The body is where I thought it was, but even in the enhanced spoilery version I’m having a problem seeing the head and tail.

    The head is on the left side of the body, the tail is on the right side. Even after finding the body it took me several minutes to figure that out.

  43. carolw says

    This is about the dozenth (?) time I’ve seen this photo, and I finally saw that damn snake.
    When I was a wee child, my babysitter came out onto the patio and saw me squatting over a nest of baby copperheads, pointing and saying, “Look at all the little worms!” Nearly gave her a heart attack.

  44. Onamission5 says

    Tail is on the left, head scoops up to the right. I admit, I found the poison ivy first, and am equally leery of both.

    Remind me to wear real boots next time I go collecting firewood at a camp site instead of tromping barefoot like a citifed mouse.

  45. Dr Pepper says

    Dang! I tried unfocussing my eyes to see if a pattern emerged. That didn’t work so i hit enlarge. At 4X i saw it.

    The comments about more experienced people seeing it remind me of Gould’s description of visiting the Leakys (sp?). Their people kept pointing to hominid bone pieces that he couldn’t make out at all. At the same time, he was easily able to see large numbers of snails (his specialty) that they had never known were there.

  46. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Found it! Just to the left of centre. Damn, but that thing is well camoflaged!

    PZ, when you say you found 18… not all in this one photo, surely?