In March 2023, a message spread on social media with the above-displayed image that supposedly showed "the rarest feline species on Earth." After many Snopes readers asked us to investigate the legitimacy of the post, we found there is no evidence the animal is real.
On Facebook, this was the message that users were copying and pasting, and appeared along with the "photo" of the animal:
Serpens catus (snake cat) is the rarest feline species on Earth. These animals live in difficult-to-access regions of the Amazon rainforest, which is why they are relatively little studied. The first images capturing the snake cat appeared in 2020! A mammal that weighs up to 4 kilos and reaches 50 centimeters in length. The animal is virtually untamed, although some Amazonian tribes use snake cats to protect their homes from rodents.
The image also spread on Twitter, TikTok and YouTube.
When searching to verify the image, we only found various social media posts sharing it. There were no credible reports from news publications breaking the news about scientists supposedly discovering the species.
"The cat is indeed not real," Drexel University postdoctoral researcher Lukas J. Musher wrote when we reached out via email. "There are many beautiful South American felines, but none look like this."
The alleged scientific name for the animal also doesn't appear to be real. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System, which is a U.S. federal database of species' scientific names, did not contain an entry for "serpens catus."
We found the image was first uploaded to Facebook on March 8 with a caption in Russian.
On March 14, the same account wrote in Russian that the image was fake and had been made by them six days ago. Translated into English by Facebook, the post said, "The sad conclusion of this story is that future generational models, not without human initiative, will of course, flood the network with a stream of harmless, not so harmless, and not harmless news."
The viral photo aside, cat snakes are a real type of snake, named for the shape of their eyes.
One type is the mangrove snake — which, like the feline at the center of the viral message, is black and yellow. That snake is mainly found in southeast Asia, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
However, other than the similar colors, the two look nothing alike. The mangrove snake is a black snake with yellow bands across its face and body, while the viral image showed a black cat with yellow spots. The mangrove snake's scientific name is boiga dendrophila, also far from the claimed scientific name of "serpens catus."
As far as the claim about the black-and-yellow cat being "the rarest feline species on Earth," the World Wide Fund for Nature has written that the Amur leopard could have that title. Found mostly in Russia and China, there are only about 120 adults in the world.
The copy-and-paste message is an example of what we call "copypasta." We've reported before how viral copypastas spread on Facebook, including how they have helped spread false claims about the Uvalde school shooting, gas prices, and more.