The picture features a photography technique known as forced perspective. The photograph was originally posted on Facebook with a caption that said the cottonmouth measured an estimated 44 inches long. It's unclear if this was the exact measurement of the snake, as we weren't able to measure the creature ourselves. The user who posted the picture later shared several other photographs of the cottonmouth in comments to fend off users who falsely claimed that the snake wasn't real and had been added into the picture with Adobe Photoshop.
In early June 2022, readers inquired about a viral Facebook post that showed a picture of a man using a pole to hold out a "44-inch cottonmouth" snake in Lowndes County, Alabama. While we weren't able to measure the creature ourselves to verify its length, we can at the very least squash the rumor that the snake was added into the photograph with Adobe Photoshop. The picture of the cottonmouth is a genuine photograph. We'll go into how we know this after we go over a little background information.
According to Brittanica.com, the formal name for the venomous cottonmouth is moccasin. The online encyclopedia website also published that it's "known as the cottonmouth because it threatens with the mouth open, showing the white interior."
A Facebook user named Chad Payne appeared to have first posted the snake picture in April 2022. Payne said in the comments that he is the man shown in the photograph. He also referred to the pole he used to hold the snake out as a "surveying lathe."
We found what looked to be the original post in the Alabama Reptile and Amphibian ID & Education Facebook group:
Some Facebook commenters pointed out that the picture of the cottonmouth features forced perspective. Forced perspective is a photography technique that, whether done on purpose or by accident, will make two objects appear in focus even if they are situated at different distances from the camera. Forced perspective makes the object that's closer to the lens look much larger than it is in reality, or the object farther from the camera appear smaller, depending on the subjects. (The forced perspective may have been an accident in the picture posted by Payne, as he was anything but deceptive by posting the estimated length of the snake in the caption of the original Facebook post.)
Adobe.com published a page about forced perspective and provided the widely known example of the pictures people take near Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. In these photographs, tourists often pretend to be holding up or otherwise interacting with the attraction:
One commenter under the "44-inch cottonmouth" Facebook post submitted the following thoughts: "There is some forced perspective going on but I'd say that the length is accurate. The perspective is exaggerating its girth and that's what's throwing people off. If the perceived girth were accurate it would be much larger than 44 [inches]. I don't think there's any intended deception here, just someone trying to show the details on a really big damn 3D object on a small 2D plane."
Some Facebook commenters accused Payne of either misrepresenting the length of the snake or using Adobe Photoshop to add the creature to the photograph. In response, Payne shared at least three other pictures of the cottonmouth, holding it closer to his body. In order to provide perspective, he also added that he is 6 foot 3 inches tall:
These additional pictures that were posted by Payne showed that the snake was both real and quite long.
In sum, while we weren't able to measure the snake's exact length ourselves, we can confirm that the photograph of the "44-inch cottonmouth" was a real picture. The fact that it featured forced perspective appeared to be the reason why it went so viral.