This photograph is real, but the centipede isn't as large as it seems.
A photograph supposedly showing an American soldier holding a giant jungle centipede in Vietnam is frequently circulated on social media:
The picture is real, but the centipede isn't as large as it appears. This is an example of forced perspective, a type of optical illusion that makes objects appear larger or smaller due to their proximity to the camera and the other objects in frame.
Here's how the photography website Shotkit explains this technique:
Forced perspective is a technique, in photography and movie making, that creates an optical illusion which makes objects appear larger, smaller, closer, or farther away than they really are. A forced perspective is most often used in changing the apparent size of the objects or to merge two objects.
Ever see a photo of a tourist seeming to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa or touch the top of the Eiffel Tower? How about "touching" the sun with their hand? These images were made using an in-camera technique called "Forced Perspective."
This technique, deceptively putting a smaller object in the foreground to make it appear larger next to objects in the background, appears to be in play in this giant jungle centipede picture.
The above-displayed photograph was originally posted in November 2013 to the r/Pics section of Reddit. The poster, "mayorofcheeseville," said it was the poster's father and the centipede was only about 10 inches long. So why does it look so big in the photo? Apparently the insect was being held closer to the camera via a fishing string:
Not shopped at all. Forced Perspective. It was 10 inches long and my dad and his buddies put it on a string and stood behind it to make it look bigger.
We don't know the exact species of centipede shown in this photograph, but it likely shows the Vietnam Giant Centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes), which can grow to about 8 inches in length. The largest centipede in the world is the Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede (Scolopendra gigantea), which can grow to 10 inches in length but that species is generally found in South America. Here's a more accurate depiction of a giant centipede:
We've covered a number of forced-perspective photographs in the past that supposedly showed abnormally large frogs, squirrels, rats, turtles, crocodiles, and even an image of a seemingly giant-sized U.S. President Joe Biden.