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Snakes on Social Media

While writing Giant Snakes, a natural history, a friend sent me a video that had been posted on Facebook. The accompanying text was written in Thai. The footage showed two Reticulated Pythons engaged in what had to be male combat. Each snake was trying to top the other. While an early 20th-century paper on retics suggested that males engaged in combat behavior, this was photographic documentation. After the book was published, photos and videos of reticulated pythons on the island of Puerto Rico appeared frequently. Posts of snakes crossing roads, crawling in backyards, and road-killed snakes showed various age classes. Thus, suggesting that Puerto Rico has been colonized by the world's largest snake, Malayopython reticulatus.

Social media, particularly Facebook, has become a go-to source for snake identification, and the value of this source is the focus of a new paper by Angarita-Sierra et al. (2022).
The authors explore the utility of various Facebook communities to provide data for research on Colombian snakes. Specifically, they determined the richness, distribution, rarity, and popularity of snake species and compiled information on natural history observations and human–snake interactions. They also explored the spatial structure of posts using a geographically weighted regression model—queries relating to species identifications made up 86.1% of Facebook posts. The portion of the snake community "sampled" by snake-related Facebook posts was not representative of Colombia's total richness of snake species. However, these posts permitted a more significant proportion of snake species to be sampled more rapidly than traditional snake sampling approaches. In addition, Facebook posts provided new distributional records for 9–21% of Colombian snake species. The strongest predictors of snake-related Facebook posts were rainfall, rural population, and internet availability. Although the use of Facebook for compiling information on snakes is not free of bias, the authors' findings demonstrate that Facebook communities provide a potentially powerful source of data that could aid studies of snake biology.

Angarita-Sierra T, Montaño-Londoño FL, Bravo-Vega CA 2022. ID please: Evaluating the utility of Facebook as a source of data for snake research and conservation. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 94(Suppl. 3): 1-25. Available online.
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