Yesterday I received an e-mail from a colleague with images of a five headed cobra supposedly found in “Kukke Subramanya, Near Mangalore, Karnataka, India”. The colleague in question seemed to believe that this is a real snake. Being of Indian descent she has been exposed to the idea of the five headed snake god Nagaraja, and she happily accepted that the snake in the e-mail is an earthly representation of the myth. Here are the pictures;
What’s that you say? Obviously Photoshopped? Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. But, some people might argue, if you can get two headed snakes, why not five headed snakes? Luckily that question is very easy to answer. Animals born with more than one head have a condition called polycephaly (literally “many heads”) and polycephalic animals only come in two kinds; bicephalic (having two heads) or tricephalic (having three heads). Animals with more than three heads have not been found in the real world.
Searching for images of polycephalic snakes on my favorite search engine yields many images of two headed snakes, and if you look closely you will see that truly polycephalic snakes have morphology which supports the extra head/s. I think that a few images will clearly illustrate my point;
And here is another one;
Both of these images clearly show that the snakes have two distinct heads. There is no blurring or smudging of the scales where the heads split. Now lets take a close look at the middle image from the e-mail sent to me, it is particularly egregious. The only clear thing in this image is the fact that it is obviously fake!
Other images available on the internet which claim to show a snake with five heads are just as blatantly false, the following image is a particularly good fake, perhaps too good (pity about the thin strip of background just visible beneath each chin);
And this image looks more like a child’s toy than anything else!
The Verdict? Five headed snake e-mails are rubbish, press delete!