A photograph of a bizarre, toothy creature supposedly swimming at Lake Springfield is spreading like wildfire on Facebook.
It caused such a ruckus that the Missouri Department of Conservation weighed in on the image — and the agency concluded it’s a complete hoax.
“The people who put up these kinds of photos know they aren’t authentic and just want to play a prank on somebody,” said Francis Skalicky, MDC’s media spokesman in Springfield. “Once they get posted, they spread like a fire.”
Skalicky said someone sent him a copy of the photo to his personal Facebook page, and Skalicky immediately suspected it was a hoax.
“It’s close cropped so there’s nothing that gives you a sense of how big it is, there’s no landscape to give you a sense of place. Those kinds of images have ‘hoax’ written all over them.”
However, since someone asked him to identify the creature, Skalicky sent the image to several MDC wildlife experts. He also wanted to be able to head off the inevitable media calls that would likely follow once reporters saw the image identified online as being from Springfield.
A bit more sleuthing revealed the image likely originated with a cryptozoological website which claimed the animal was photographed in the country of Brunei. Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience that focuses on mythical creatures like Bigfoot or moth men.
There’s also a YouTube link that purports to show a video of the creature swimming, with tall palm trees in the background.
In a Facebook post, Skalicky noted the swimming creature isn’t the first one he’s had to debunk.
“This is the latest example in what appears to be a growing trend — finding weird wildlife photos and trying to pass it off as Missouri wildlife,” he wrote. “Last night, when I was talking to my wife about this, I was able to cite three examples off the top of my head — a few years ago, a newspaper called me about a sequential series of photos that showed a mountain lion taking down a deer. The person said the photos were taken “just north of Springfield.” Well, I e-mailed these photographs to several biologists and found out this same sequence of photographs had shown up on the websites of the Fish and Game agencies of several states, and were probably taken in Texas.
“Then there was the photo I got of the man holding a huge mountain lion that had supposedly been shot in Missouri. Trouble was, that same photo had shown up in several other states and that mountain lion had actually been shot in Idaho.
“Then there was the photo of the group of men standing by the huge wild hog that they had shot near Piedmont… only to find out that photo was actually a photo used to promote game hunts in Europe and the source of that kill was somewhere in Africa. Those are the three I thought of just last night.
“This morning I remembered the time several years ago that i got a call from a Joplin TV station because they had received a photo of someone who had found a huge snake (it appeared be 8 foot-plus in length with a very wide body) in the Spring River near Carthage. Took me a couple of days to track down that photo, but yes, that, too was a fake.”
Skalicky said it takes time and effort to track down those kinds of photos to determine if they truly were from Missouri or not.
“The bottom line is there already are some really neat things in our Missouri outdoors that nobody needs to be making things up,” he said.