Somewhere, a Herpetologist Is Crying
This trope is like Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying, Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying, and Artistic License – Paleontology, except with reptiles and amphibians. In other words, this trope is about getting things wrong with reptiles and amphibians. Since Most Writers Are Human and therefore mammals, people tend to get most of the facts messed up with these two very distinct lineages, whether by making them all snake-like or entirely green. These errors go as far back as Carolus Linnaeus, who tossed reptiles along with amphibians (and a few fish) into Amphibia. Of course, he provided the page quote for Reptiles Are Abhorrent. Of course, reality is often ignored due to Rule of Funny, Rule of Cool, etc. Subtrope of Artistic License – Biology. See also Funny Animal Anatomy and Artistic License. Supertrope of Hollywood Chameleons, Removable Shell, and Reptiles Are Abhorrent.
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Common Errors in Media
- Snakes that can blink. Real snakes have immovable eyelids and therefore cannot blink.
- Conversely, giving other reptiles snake-like eyes. Geckos and skinks may have eyes like this, but most other lizards don't; nor do turtles or crocodylians.
- Portraying all snakes as being both venomous and constricting, though most (with a few exceptions like the Australian brown snake) are strictly one or the other. This is particularly frequent in tabletop RPGs.
- A snake is defeated by tying it in knots, which, if done forcibly, doesn't account for just how insanely rigid a snake can make itself.
- And even if it's not forcible, snakes can't be in knots due to their skeletal structure; the closest a snake can get to curling around in knots is coiling up.
- Showing turtles' carapaces as being removable/a type of clothing/with a little furnished apartment on the inside. In Real Life, a turtle's carapace is as removable as a human's ribcage, if not less so. The carapace is formed from the turtle's ribcage and other skeletal elements fusing together with bony scales. There are animals whose shell is essentially a mobile home, but the turtle is not one of them. Removing a turtle's shell would leave you with a very gory dead turtle.
- Iguanas are frequently used as a stand in for many other types of lizards and given traits they either do not possess or do not possess as strongly in reality for reasons likely related to the Terrifying Pet Store Rat trope, since iguanas are generally easy to come by when filming and, if well socialized, pretty docile and easy to work with.
- Eating insects. Iguanas eat leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables and do not have sticky tongues. They have been known to eat insects and mealworms in the wild, doing so typically indicates a dietary deficiency and is purely opportunistic, and not healthy in large quantities.
- They can actually change color, slightly— they are mostly green in a neutral state, mostly orange when is trying to show off as a sexually mature male, and 'greyed out' when angry or scared.
- They also have a slightly sticky tongue, and when they eat, they will flick the tongue at the food once or twice, and moist vegetables will stick to the tongue long enough for him to get them into the mouth, but a chameleon's tongue it ain't.
- Referring to reptiles, especially snakes, as "poisonous". The proper term is "venomous". There are very few poisonous reptiles anywhere in the world, although there are plenty of poisonous amphibians. Poison causes harm when consumed, whereas venom is a modified digestive enzyme that must be injected directly into the bloodstream to be effective. Some types of venom can even be safely consumed, though we wouldn't recommend putting that to the test.note
- Saying "there are no poisonous snakes" to correct this is, amusingly, not right either. Tiger keelback snakes eat poisonous toads and store their poison in a gland behind their head, making them actual "poisonous snakes." On top of that they are also venomous snakes...
- Portraying reptiles and amphibians as one and the same, or have the two terms as interchangeable. In reality, reptiles and amphibians are only related superficially, considering that the two lineages separated over 300 million years ago. The closest living relatives to reptiles today are the birds: living descendants of dinosaurs, and therefore part of the reptile group themselves. Crocodiles often get this; they are amphibious, meaning they are at home on land and in water, but they are not true amphibians. In fact, crocodiles actually far more closely related to birds than they are to other categories of reptiles, let alone to amphibians.
- Claiming that snakes are deaf. This is a case of Science Marches On since, yes, snakes can hear. They do so by picking vibrations in the air (or on the ground) through their bodies and into their inner ear.
- Portraying predatory reptiles (particularly crocodilians and snakes) as chasing after their prey for long distances. In reality, most carnivorous reptiles are ambush predators prefering to sneak up on their prey rather than exhaust themselves by running after it. However, crocodiles do follow the migratory patterns of their prey, if the prey migrates.
- Inverted when the species that are capable of chasing prey are depicted as sluggish due to mammalian bias. Komodo dragons often fall victim to this: they use speed, agility, stamina (superior than bears or big cats and similar to wolves, unusually for a lizard) and actual venom, not ambush tactics or bacteria, to kill prey quickly, instead of over days or weeks as most documentaries claim.
- Portraying venomous snakes as having huge fangs. While some of them, such as the Gaboon Viper, do have large fangs (to the point where they have evolved so that said fangs fold against the roof of the mouth just so the snake can close its jaws), many venomous snake species actually have rather small fangs.
- Especially in cartoons, showing a well-fed snake trying to slither away and getting stuck. While this does sometimes happen in Real Life, most of the time, snakes usually have a more effective way of escaping if necessary after it eats a large meal. It simply throws up the meal, allowing it to move more quickly.
- Portraying a predatory reptile like a crocodile as a vicious, bloodthirsty brute, or a slimy backstabber if it's a snake. Snakes and crocodiles are among the smartest of reptiles, and can go weeks or even months without needing to feed if they eat large enough meals. This does not mean you can run up to and play with a wild crocodile or snake, though.
- Showing all snakes as having heat vision; only members of the pit viper (Crotalinae) family and certain constrictor snakes have this trait. Other snakes like garters or true vipers, do not have the pits that give the pit vipers their name.
- Depicting alligators with V-shaped snouts and interlocking teeth, which are traits of crocodiles. Alligators have U-shaped snouts, and the upper teeth overlaps on the bottom jaw when the mouth is closed.
- Describing snakes as slimy. This may be because of the sheen their scales give off, which to the unknowing can look like wetness, and given how most people are afraid of snakes don't bother to check by touch. Snakes are actually dry and usually cool to the touch.
- Portraying all lizards and snakes as egg-layers. In fact, an entire family of snakes, Viperidae, is named for the fact that they have live birth. Though given that all Viperidae are venomous and some are deadly (the deadly one Linnaeus and other early taxonomists would have been familiar with is Vipera ammodytes), it's surprising that they got close enough to figure that out and not surprising that most people aren't willing to and just assume vipers lay eggs.
- Portraying a frog or a toad as capable of turning its head. Their necks are very short and stiff, so they can't turn, lift or lower their heads like humans can.
- The belief that reptiles can survive in extreme heat due to being cold-blooded. In reality they have no real means of releasing heat by themselves as they do not sweat, so their body temperatures can climb to deadly levels if they are unable to reach a cooler spot.
- The "Travelers Assurance" commercial featuring a rattlesnake and a few jackrabbits has the rattlesnake rattle at potential prey. Perhaps the snake was only trying to intimidate.
- The Geico Gecko is obviously not supposed to be entirely realistic, if only because he talks, walks upright and hawks car insurance, but real life day geckos do not have eyelids. In fact, one of the only types of geckos that does is the leopard gecko. Made worse in one commercial when he talks to a non-cartoon leopard gecko and it licks its eye like the type of gecko the mascot is supposed to be. Leopard geckos can lick their eyes, but usually only if there's something in their eye that's bothering them, so this is a double failurenote . This is due to the hash made of the family Gekkonidae in popular culture, since only the (appropriately named) eyelid geckos in the Eublepharinae subfamily can blink, but all eublepharines lack the sticky toe pads of "true" geckos, and most people expect all geckos to be able to walk up walls and blink, not knowing that the two traits are mutually exclusive.
- The snake seen in The Vision of Escaflowne is very obviously a constrictor but Hitomi is told that one bite from it will be fatal. While Escaflowne is set in a fantasy world where anything is possible the disparity is still rather jarring.
- In the third episode of Excel Saga, Tetsuko is poisoned when he's bitten by an anaconda, even though in real life anacondas aren't venomous. Considering the series' nature, this was likely intentional.
- In Batman: Year One, Batman uses darts tipped with anaconda venom. Anacondas are nonvenomous constrictors. Might have worked if he was trying to bluff an enemy, something he is known to do, but the story plays it 100% straight.
- Foxtrot: Jason's iguana Quincy is initially never seen being fed anything other than insects. Eventually the author seems to have caught on and he's been fed fruits and vegetables in some strips.
- Played for Laughs with the incredibly stupid crocs from Pearls Before Swine. However, the series does have smart crocodiles such as Larry's wife Patty and their son Junior.
- On the other hand, Junior is portrayed as a vegetarian, when crocodiles cannot digest plant matter. But then again, they cannot walk on their hind legs or talk either.
- One Sunday strip describes caimans as "little alligators". The black caiman is even larger than the American alligator and is the largest reptile in the Americas.
- This trope is Averted/Parodied in Over the Hedge. A turtle is a reptile, but often mistaken for an amphibian. The writers knew this and pointed it out multiple times, but a more important error is played straight in that his shell is removable. Also parodied when Verne the turtle hears the exterminator sniffing the air and accurately rattling off a list of of suspected critters before possibly invoking the trope, and then subverting it.
- Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli in The Jungle Book, justified by Rule of Funny, but Kaa is waaay longer than is at all realistic, and able to move (for instance, rotating a constricted victim to free up a loop of body) and even though he's supposed to be some sort of python and he's so thin! Real pythons are extremely muscular and the larger ones get quite thick around the middle, since they need the strength to suffocate their prey.
- Snakes on a Plane is a horrendous violator of biology, and even ignores rules which they mention within the film. The film is not meant to be serious, it is simply silly fun, and the day is actually saved because one character knows Mortal Kombat, but the biology does not even deserve an "F;" it gets an "Incomplete" because it did not even show up to enough classes to qualify as a full-time student:
- The snakes are shown as shockingly aggressive, actively pursuing prey, whereas most snakes (including those shown in the film) are relatively sedentary; the snakes in the film bite repeatedly for no apparent reason, simply killing without eating the people or defending themselves, and then move to attack and kill other people who are neither a threat nor viable prey. The snakes are described as being so aggressive and violent because they are being stimulated by sexual pheromones, except that snakes are not praying mantids or black widows and do not kill their mates while they have sex. If snakes were to be brought into a violent frenzy when in the presence of sexual pheromones they would require separate pheromones for each individual species, and would be just as likely to attack each other as humans, as any other species would be as much of a threat/competition as the people would.
- The Burmese python practically growls and flashes fang like an aggressive dog. Then it manages to kill the jerkass in moments, when in reality it would take much longer even if the guy had a heart attack almost immediately. Finally, the python has no problem getting human shoulders down its throat. Assuming it could swallow something that large, it takes quite some time for a snake to work large prey down its throat. At least the python seems to still have been working on its meal when the poor thing got sucked out the window.
- The Yogi Bear movie follows this trope to a T with a turtle that inexplicably sports a long, sticky tongue like a frog or chameleon. Turtles sometimes do have fairly long tongues, but they do not operate like a frog's, and some species actually have the tongue fused to the bottom of their mouth.
- Pascal from Tangled for some reason is actually drawn with fixed eyeballs. In real life, a chameleon's eyeballs are independent from its skull, and that allows the entire eyeball to move across its head, giving the chameleon a larger field of vision.
- He's also Misplaced Wildlife; chameleons are not common in Europe (despite the chameleon that is native to Europe being named the Common Chameleon,). They're only found in certain regions of a few Southern European countries. Corona doesn't exactly seem like it's in Italy or Spain (despite its name) so why is there a chameleon.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks had a crocodile who wears false teeth. Crocodilians constantly regrow teeth throughout their lives so having a toothless mouth is unlikely.
- The "coral snake" in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is depicted with huge, viper-like fangs - and coral snakes, though indeed front-fanged, are elapids which means these fangs are hollow, fixed, and on the small side (because the snake needs to close its mouth). Aaand the colouration and large size mean it's likely a nonvenomous milk snake. Point moot?
- A strange example in The Princess and the Frog. Louie the alligator is correctly depicted with overlapping upper teeth, but the other gators have crocodile-like interlocking teeth.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone the snake in the zoo winking at Harry. Snakes don't have eyelids. And he's talking to it although snakes can't hear very well, though that could be Justified since he was doing it magically anyway. The Basilisk, as a fictional species, is probably exempt from this trope, but it also can hear Harry and is described as ripping and tearing its prey in an unsnakelike manner. Nagini had a lot of behaviors most snakes would never actually do - then again, as good as she is, JK Rowling also didn't get many owl behaviors correct either.
- Also, she had the floor of the tunnel approach to the Chamber being covered in skeletons of rats and such. Snakes don't leave skeletons when they eat.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", the murderer trains a "swamp adder", supposedly the deadliest snake in India, to respond to a whistle and crawl through some ductwork and down a bell pull-cord to bite its victim. There are many problems with this:
- There is no species of snake called the swamp adder, and at the time the story was published (1892) there were no known adders in India.
- Snakes are generally hard of hearing, and it is debatable whether one could be taught to respond to a whistle.
- While snakes can crawl up and down solid objects, there's no way one can crawl up a cord.
- Holmes deduces that the snake was trained by using a saucer of milk as a reward. No snake will drink milk. This appears to be derived from an Indian myth that pouring milk down a snake hole would placate it and bring good luck.
- And snakes cannot be "trained" in the sense that dogs, or even lions and elephants, can be.
- Snakebites are seldom so inconspicuously-placed as the murderer counted upon them being, and an adder's bite would draw further attention to itself by localized swelling, reddish lines beneath the skin, or (in the case of anaphylaxis, the one result that might kill someone this fast) severe inflammation that spreads out from the wound to the face and throat.
- Invoked in The Reptile Room with the Incredibly Deadly Viper, which was named by Dr. Montgomery with the sole intention of tricking a number of herpetologists. (The viper was actually very friendly and harmless.) Played straight in that the thing cried at the end of the book.
- In Holes, the Warden's nailpolish includes rattlesnake venom, which she claims is "perfectly harmless ... when it's dry." This is either Blatant Lies, False Reassurance, or simple bad research, because venoms are actually more potent when they're dried. Once all the liquid evaporates, what's left is the cytotoxins (and possibly neurotoxin, depending on the species).
- The Malloreon: Sadi feeds milk and cheese to his pet snake Zith (and, later, her babies). Granted, Zith isn't even close to a real-world species of snake.
- Linda Davies’ novel, Nest of Vipers, has a photograph of a snake on the cover. However, the snake on the cover is a scarlet kingsnake which is not only not a viper, it is also non-venomous.
Live Action TV
- Averted (partially, since they used the inexact term "poisonous" rather than "venomous") in True Blood, which has a healer describing Komodo dragons as poisonous. This is true but was only discovered recently: previously, researchers thought that Komodo-dragon-bite victims died because of sepsis from bacteria in the lizards' mouths. Unclear whether the TV writers had heard of the brand new research or were just making up something that happened to be right.
- Acknowledged in an episode of The X-Files, where a former member of a Satanic high school PTA (no, seriously) is swallowed by one of his pythons. Scully voices that it shouldn't be possible because eating such a large kill would take days rather than a few hours. It's also played straight when the snake eats the man feet first rather than start with the head.
- In an episode of Frasier, Kate Costas's finger is bitten off by an iguana and has to be reattached. Iguanas are herbivores and, while they will bite in defense, their jaws aren't particularly strong (although their teeth are razor-sharp and can cause severe lacerations). More of this trope appears when the iguana runs off at an incredible speed (the film is sped up).
- Averted in Under the Umbrella Tree. Iggy (an iguana) eats vegetables, and his Trademark Favorite Food is turnips.
- Even Reality Competition TV shows on Food Network are not safe from this. On Chopped, the contestants were given rattlesnake meat in the appetizer round. On the Confession Cam, one of the contestants outright says "rattlesnakes are poisonous if not cooked well." Surprisingly, the judges don't say much about rattlesnake or about snake anatomy, or the fact that rattlesnake meat is unlikely to contain venom in the first place outside of the head, and even if there is some left it's not harmful if ingested since venom works by being injected directly into the bloodstream and a person's digestive acids will break it down well before it ever reaches it.
- In the A.N.T. Farm episode "animal husbANTry", Olive claims that alligators feed exclusively on live prey. Crocodilians can and definitely will scavenge (although, knowing Olive, this may have been intentional malice on her part).
- The Shel Silverstein song "I'm Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor" is an example because boa constrictors kill their prey before eating them and swallow their prey head first. The snake in the poem swallows its prey feet-first. This may just be Artistic License, as the poem would be much shorter the other way, and owners will sometimes tell stories about how their snakes can sometimes get it backwards.
- This trope pervades the Super Mario Bros.. franchise.
- In Super Mario Bros. 2, Koopa shells can be pulled out of the ground and used to topple enemies. However, at no point are actual Koopa Troopas of any kind ever seen as enemies—it's possible that Mario and friends are actually pulling up part of a deceased and buried Koopa Troopa to throw at everyone else.
- In Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island, shell-less Koopas resemble little shirtless humans.
- The game Pocket Frogs for the iPad for some reason had the title frogs hatch from their eggs as miniaturized adult frogs instead of tadpoles (they hatch by popping open their eggshells as if it were a bubble). That's a bit improbable, since very few frogs do so (notably the coquí of Puerto Rico). Worse, though, are the eggs themselves. The eggs' appearance is correct, with their shells being made from jelly with a little black dot inside representing the developing embryo. The problem is that such eggs have to be laid in water otherwise the egg will dry out and die, and the frog nursery doesn't have water...
- EverQuest ended up creating a rather humorous example that reached memetic levels among the player community. Snakes that could kick you. Due to the game mechanics and the class systems, all NPCs in the game are associated with a specific class to simplify their combat abilities. Most NPCs and creatures who just straight up attack you and don't cast spells are the Warrior class, who gain the Kick ability very early on. This lead to funny instances where animals who don't even have legs, like snakes and fish, to kick you every now and then in between their bite attacks. It wasn't long before the kicking issue was fixed, but the developers would bring it back every now and then as a gag. The Shadows of Luclin expansion introduced a completely reworked interface and new player models. As part of the package, every time you zoned over from one area to another, you'd see random messages on the loading screen. One of them was "Teaching snakes to kick."
- The alligators from Where's My Water? not only have crocodile-like mouths but also curling tails similar to those of chameleons.
- In Kit N Kay Boodle, most of the biological oddities can be put down to creative license. However, Skamm (the current antagonist) and his male love interest are supposed to be ridgetail monitors. The external genitals and hair are par for the course in a furry comic, but they also have external ears. Combine this with the fact that Skamm's a lawyer and it's impossible to think of him as being anything other than a weasel.
- In the Franklin movie, Franklin and the Green Knight, Mrs. Turtle was shown pregnant, rather than Harriet hatching from an egg. Forgivable, however, in that the movie is meant to teach small children about dealing with a new sibling, which might have gotten somewhat lost in a more accurate depiction of turtle biology.
- An insult in Chinese is to call someone "an egg who doesn't know his father" or "a turtle egg". This is biologically accurate in that turtles never see their fathers (nor their mothers either), only dubious in using an animal analogy for a human value judgment.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons of the Eighties and Nineties the Ninja Turtles were often called amphibians (even by themselves). A tagline for one of the movies also called them "America's favorite amphibians." Turtles are reptiles, of course.
- One episode even used "We're amphibians, so we can breathe underwater," as a plot point, which is double-wrong - most amphibians can breathe underwater through their skin, but not all of them.
- On the other hand, developing the ability to breathe underwater would one of the milder examples of Artistic License – Biology taken during their Superhero Origin Story.
- Krypto the Superdog: Lex Luthor's pet Iguana and Harmless Villain Ignatius often gets himself into trouble using the Phlebotinum or technology of the week to catch an elusive bug or make them bigger, or in another episode, using a time machine to go to the past and try to eat a dinosaur egg. In reality iguanas are complete herbivores, as any protein is harmful to their health. Although they may accidentally eat a bug or two in the wild, they never actively hunt for anything other than leafy greens, fruits, or vegetables.
- Averted in Jackie Chan Adventures in the episode "Snake Hunt" when a cameraman blinds a giant snake by shining the light on his camera in its eyes, commenting on it by saying "Hello! I'm blinding it; snakes don't have eyelids!"
- Played with in an episode of Animaniacs, where a chameleon is subjected to multiple rapid background changes, changing his own colour and pattern to match. Becomes a Crowning Moment of Funny when the poor lizard is given a plaid background, and loudly refuses to match it.
- Shouldn't Baby Kermit on Muppet Babies be a tadpole? Oddly enough, his nephew Robin is actually portrayed as (a talking) one.
- One episode of Justice League had The Flash attempt to stop the Heart of Darkness, a purple crystal that enclosed the vengeful spirits of an evil ancient race of snake people called the Ophidians who attempted to destroy humanity by possessing anyone who touched it. Also counts as Dark is Evil as the Ophidians worshiped the moon and preferred the night over the light, which transfers over to the spirits' possession being broken through intense light and main attempt to destroy humanity by destroying the sun. Of course any herpetologist will tell you that since snakes are cold-blooded, they need warm environments to increase their metabolism as they can't regulate their own body heat. Cold environments like the sunless night would make them more sluggish.
- Static Shock once fought several unnamed snake-bangbabies at the beginning of the episode "Junior." They appeared as being cobras with snake arms and rattlesnake tails. One of them tries to attack him from behind, but gives himself away through his rattle. In Real Life, rattlesnakes only use their rattles as a defense mechanism by warding off potential predators. Similar to Roar Before Beating.
- In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Kiwi's Big Adventure", a crocodile gets its jaws tied shut and frees itself... by opening its jaws. There is a reason why crocodilians are rendered helpless when their mouths are tied (or taped) shut: the muscles that open their jaws are much weaker and smaller than the ones that close them.
- In House of Mouse, Mama Turtle and Baby Shelby have the "shell as clothing" variant, being able to remove their shells quite easily. Baby Shelby especially ditches his shell frequently to run away from Donald Duck, which inevitably gets him in trouble with Mama Turtle for letting her baby Shelby run around without his shell on.
- One episode of the 2006 edutainment series I'm An Animal had a crocodile with a bizarre dragon-like diamond shape at the end of its tail.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Gummy, Pinkie Pie's pet alligator, is depicted with a snout more similar to that of a crocodile and a forked tongue akin to monitor lizards. And then there's the fact that he's toothless.
- There is an Urban Legend wherein a woman keeps waking up to discover her husband's pet python is stretching itself out alongside her in bed. She calls a herpetologist to ask about the behavior, and he tells her, "Get out of the house now!": The python, he tells her, was measuring her up in preparation to eat her. In reality no snake (or, for that matter, no predator at all) would ever waste valuable time or the element of surprise in trying to "measure" their prey.
- Sadly, most wildlife-rehabilitation facilities have had to treat turtles with cracked shells, whom some idiot tried to remove from their "little house" in ignorance of the fact that the shell is part of the animal's skeleton. A case of Television Is Trying to Kill Turtles in action.
- One Not Always Right tidbit had a man in a petshop try to have a staring contest with one of the pythons for ten minutes before the owner had to remind him that snakes can't blink.
- The idea that snakes somehow possess a hypnotic gaze probably stems from a few things. The first is that snakes lack eyelids, so their unblinking stares can be kind of creepy to humans. The second comes from stories of people who witness small animals sitting very still when snakes are nearby. This is standard prey behavior with just about any possible threat, freezing up so that predators who aren't already aware of them might not notice (if that doesn't work, run). This sort of behavior may be partly responsible for the myth of the Gorgon Medusa. And while we're on the subject, snake charmers don't really charm snakes with music (since snakes don't hear things the same way we do), the snake is just following the motion of the charmer's flute and hands. In effect, the snake charmer is hypnotising the snake.
- Chameleons changing colour and pattern to blend into their environments is a common belief, but not a very accurate one. While some species do change colour as a form of camouflage; the primary purpose of chameleon colour changing is social signaling such as aggression/defensiveness and mating displays. A few species also use the ability for thermo regulation.
- Non-venomous snakes often have some very nasty bacteria living in their mouths. It is not the same as being venomous, but the infections caused by these bacteria can still potentially be life threatening. On a related note, many functionally non-venomous snakes still retain tiny amounts of toxin from likely venomous ancestors.