WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

This trope is like Somewhere an Ornithologist Is Crying, Somewhere an Entomologist Is Crying, and Somewhere a Paleontologist Is Crying, except with reptiles and amphibians. In other words, this trope is about getting things wrong with reptiles and amphibians.

Since Most Writers Are Human and therefore mammals, people tend to get most of the facts messed up with these two very distinct lineages, whether by making them all snake-like or entirely green. These errors go as far back as Carolus Linnaeus, who ignorantly tossed reptiles along with amphibians (and a few fish) into Amphibia. Of course, he provided the page quote for Reptiles Are Abhorrent.

Common errors include:

  • Snakes that can blink. Real snakes have immovable eyelids and therefore cannot blink.
  • Portraying all snakes as being venomous, including the snakes that squeeze rather than bite their prey. Not all species of snake are venomous. (You may see the inverse as well: a venomous snake, such as a cobra, constricting prey). This is particularly frequent in video games.
  • A snake is defeated by tying it in knots, which, if done forcibly, doesn't account for just how insanely rigid a snake can make itself.
  • Showing turtles' carapaces as being removable/a type of clothing/with a little furnished apartment on the inside. In Real Life, a turtle's carapace is as removable as a human's ribcage, if not less so. The carapace is formed from the turtle's ribcage and other skeletal elements fusing together with bony scales.
  • Iguanas having sticky tongues and eating insects. Iguanas eat leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables and do not have sticky tongues (although they have been known to eat insects in the wild, doing so typically indicates a dietary deficiency and is purely opportunistic, and not healthy in large quantities).
  • Referring to any reptile as "poisonous"; something which will also cause Grammar Nazis to cry. The proper term is "venomous". There are very few poisonous reptiles anywhere in the world, although there are plenty of poisonous amphibians. Poison causes harm when consumed; whereas venom is a modified digestive enzyme that must be injected to be effective. Some types of venom can even be safely consumed.
  • Portraying reptiles and amphibians as one and the same, or have the two terms as interchangeable. In reality, reptiles and amphibians are only related superficially, considering that the two lineages separated over 300 million years ago. The closest living relatives to reptiles today are the birds: living descendants of dinosaurs, and therefore part of the reptile group themselves.

Of course, reality is often ignored due to Rule of Funny, Rule of Cool, etc.

Subtrope of You Fail Biology Forever. See also Funny Animal Anatomy and Artistic License. Supertrope of Hollywood Chameleons, Removable Shell, and Reptiles Are Abhorrent.

Examples of Somewhere a Herpetologist Is Crying include:


Advertising

  • The "Travelers Assurance" commercial featuring a rattlesnake and a few jackrabbits never shows the rattlesnake as being able to blink, averting one trope, and plays it straight by having the rattlesnake rattle at potential prey. The implication of the second may be that the snake was kind of a bully and was only trying to intimidate.
  • The Geico Gecko is obviously not supposed to be entirely realistic, if only because he talks and hawks car insurance, but real life day geckos do not have eyelids. In fact, one of the only types of geckos that does is the leopard gecko. Made worse in one commercial when he talks to a non-cartoon leopard gecko and it licks its eye like the type of gecko the mascot is supposed to be. Leopard geckos can lick their eyes, but usually only if there's something in their eye that's bothering them, so this is a double failure[1]. This is due to the hash made of the family Gekkonidae in popular culture, since only the (appropriately named) eyelid geckos in the Eublepharinae subfamily can blink, but all Eublepharinae lack the sticky toe pads of "true" geckos, and most people expect all geckos to be able to walk up walls and blink, not knowing any better.


Anime

  • The snake seen in Vision of Escaflowne is very obviously a constrictor but Hitomi is told that one bite from it will be fatal. While Escaflowne is set in a fantasy world where anything is possible the disparity is still rather jarring.


Film

  • This trope is Averted/Parodied in Over the Hedge. A turtle is a reptile, but often mistaken for an amphibian. The writers knew this and pointed it out multiple times, but a more important error is played straight in that his shell is removable. Also parodied when Verne the turtle hears the exterminator sniffing the air and accurately rattling off a list of of suspected critters before possibly invoking the trope, and then subverting it.
  • Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli in The Jungle Book, justified by Rule of Funny, but Kaa is waaay longer than is at all realistic, and able to move (for instance, rotating a constricted victim to free up a loop of body) and even though he's supposed to be some sort of python and he's so thin! Real pythons are extremely muscular and the larger ones get quite thick around the middle, since they need the strength to suffocate their prey.
  • Snakes on a Plane is a horrendous violator of biology, and even ignores rules which they mention within the film. The film is not meant to be serious, it is simply silly fun, and the day is actually saved because one character knows Mortal Kombat, but the biology does not even deserve an "F;" it gets an "Incomplete" because it did not even show up to enough classes to qualify as a full-time student:
    • The snakes are shown as shockingly aggressive, actively pursuing prey, whereas most snakes (including those shown in the film) are relatively sedentary; the snakes in the film bite repeatedly for no apparent reason, simply killing without eating the people or defending themselves, and then move to attack and kill other people who are neither a threat nor viable prey. The snakes are described as being so aggressive and violent because they are being stimulated by sexual pheromones, except that snakes are not praying mantids or black widows and do not kill their mates while they have sex. If snakes were to be brought into a violent frenzy when in the presence of sexual pheromones they would require separate pheromones for each individual species, and would be just as likely to attack each other as humans, as any other species would be as much of a threat/competition as the people would.
    • The Burmese python practically growls and flashes fang like an aggressive dog. Then it manages to kill the jerkass in moments, when in reality it would take much longer even if the guy had a heart attack almost immediately. Finally, the python has no problem getting human shoulders down its throat. A real python would need a few moments to unhinge and stretch out its jaw, and then would probably need some time to properly position a meal that wide. Assuming a snake that size could get its head over an adult male's shoulders in the first place; even most potentially man-eating snakes will have trouble consuming a large person. Yes, there were time constraints, but still. At least the python seems to still have been working on its meal when the poor thing got sucked out the window.
  • The Yogi Bear movie follows this trope to a T with a turtle that inexplicably sports a long, sticky tongue like a frog or chameleon. Turtles sometimes do have fairly long tongues, but they do not operate like a frog's, and some species actually have the tongue fused to the bottom of their mouth.
  • Pascal from Tangled for some reason is actually drawn with fixed eye sockets. In real life, a chameleon's eye sockets are independent from its skull, and that allows the entire socket to move across its head, giving the chameleon a larger field of vision.


Literature

  • In Harry Potter the snake in the zoo winking at Harry. Snakes don't have eyelids.
    • For that matter, he's talking to a snake, despite the fact snakes can't hear very well. Riddle also says in the Chamber of Secrets movie about the Basilisk being able to hear Harry, though Science Marches On with the hearing (it's now known that snakes can hear, though not in the same way we do) and the Basilisk is a fictional species. In this case, A Wizard Did It.
    • And then there's how the voice in the pipes kept ranting about "blood" and about ripping/tearing its prey. If the basilisk were anything like a real snake, it ought to swallow its prey whole, with little or no blood shed, especially if it kills its food with its deadly gaze.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", the murderer trains a "swamp adder", supposedly the deadliest snake in India, to respond to a whistle and crawl through some ductwork and down a bell pull-cord to bite its victim. There are many problems with this:
    • There is no species of snake called the swamp adder, and at the time the story was published (1892) there were no known adders in India.
    • Snakes are generally hard of hearing, and it is debatable whether one could be taught to respond to a whistle.
    • While snakes can crawl up and down solid objects, there's no way one can crawl up a cord.
    • Holmes deduces that the snake was trained by using a saucer of milk as a reward. No snake will drink milk. This appears to be derived from an Indian myth that pouring milk down a snake hole would placate it and bring good luck.
    • And snakes cannot be "trained" in the sense that dogs, or even lions and elephants, can be.
    • Snakebites are seldom so inconspicuously-placed as the murderer counted upon them being, and an adder's bite would draw further attention to itself by localized swelling, reddish lines beneath the skin, or (in the case of anaphylaxis, the one result that might kill someone this fast) severe inflammation that spreads out from the wound to the face and throat.
  • Invoked in The Reptile Room with the Incredibly Deadly Viper, which was named by Dr. Montgomery with the sole intention of tricking a number of herpetologists. (The viper was actually very friendly and harmless.) Played straight in that the thing cried at the end of the book.
  • In Holes, the Warden's nailpolish includes rattlesnake venom, which she claims is "perfectly harmless ... when it's dry." This is either Blatant Lies, False Reassurance, or simple Did Not Do the Research, because venoms are actually more potent when they're dried. Once all the liquid evaporates, what's left is pure neurotoxin.


Live Action TV

  • Partially averted in True Blood, which has a healer describing Komodo dragons as poisonous. This is true but was only discovered recently: previously, researchers thought that Komodo-dragon-bite victims died because of sepsis from bacteria in the lizards' mouths. Unclear whether the TV writers had heard of the brand new research or were just making up something that happened to be right.
    • Only partially averted because the proper description is "venomous", not "poisonous".
  • Acknowledged in an episode of The X-Files, where a former member of a Satanic high school PTA (no, seriously) is swallowed by one of his pythons. Scully voices that it shouldn't be possible because eating such a large kill would take days rather than a few hours. It's also played straight when the snake eats the man feet first rather than start with the head.
  • In an episode of Frasier, Kate Costas's finger is bitten off by an iguana and has to be reattached. Iguanas are herbivores and, while they will bite in defense, their jaws aren't particularly strong (although their teeth are razor-sharp and can cause severe lacerations). More of this trope appears when the iguana runs off at an incredible speed (the film is sped up).
  • Averted in Under the Umbrella Tree. Iggy (an iguana) eats vegetables, and his Trademark Favorite Food is turnips.
  • Even Reality Competition TV shows on Food Network are not safe from this. On Chopped, the contestants were given rattlesnake meat in the appetizer round. On the Confession Cam, one of the contestants outright says "rattlesnakes are poisonous if not cooked well." Surprisingly, the judges don't say much about rattlesnake or about snake anatomy.


Music

  • The Shel Silverstein song "I'm Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor" is an example because boa constrictors kill their prey before eating them and swallow their prey head first. The snake in the poem swallows its prey feet-first. This may just be Artistic License, as the poem would be much shorter the other way, and owners will sometimes tell stories about how their snakes can sometimes get it backwards.


Real Life

  • There is an Urban Legend wherein a woman keeps waking up to discover her husband's pet python is stretching itself out alongside her in bed. She calls a herpetologist to ask about the behavior, and he tells her, "Get out of the house now!": The python, he tells her, was measuring her up in preparation to eat her. In reality no snake (or, for that matter, no predator at all) would ever waste valuable time or the element of surprise in trying to "measure" their prey.
  • Sadly, most wildlife-rehabilitation facilities have had to treat turtles with cracked shells, whom some idiot tried to remove from their "little house" in ignorance of the fact that the shell is part of the animal's skeleton. A case of Television Is Trying To Kill Turtles in action.
  • Horned Lizards are often called "horned toad," "horny toad", "horned frog" etc etc etc due to their similarity to the given amphibians but they are actually lizards. To make things more confusing, their scientific name, Phrynosoma, evidently means "toad-bodied" so...
  • One Not Always Right tidbit had a man in a petshop try to have a staring contest with one of the pythons for ten minutes before the owner had to remind him that snakes can't blink.
  • The idea that snakes somehow possess a hypnotic gaze probably stems from a few things. The first is that snakes lack eyelids, so their unblinking stares can be kind of creepy to humans. The second comes from stories of people who witness small animals sitting very still when snakes are nearby. This is standard prey behavior with just about any possible threat, freezing up so that predators who aren't already aware of them might not notice (if that doesn't work, run). This sort of behavior may be partly responsible for the myth of the Gorgon Medusa. And while we're on the subject, snake charmers don't really charm snakes with music (since snakes don't hear things the same way we do), the snake is just following the motion of the charmer's flute and hands. In effect, the snake charmer is hypnotising the snake.
  • Some aspects of the traits that iguanas express in movies are true, but not to the extent they are usually shown. They can change color, slightly-- they are mostly green in a neutral state, mostly orange when is trying to show off as a sexually mature male, and 'greyed out' when angry or scared. They also have slightly sticky tongue, and when they eat, they will flick the tongue at the food once or twice, and moist vegetables will stick to the tongue long enough for him to get them into the mouth. They can also eat mealworms, and will occasionally eat insects in the wild to supplement a dietary deficiency; but doing so tends to make iguanas extremely sick if eaten in more than trace amounts, and are definitely not part of their normal diet.
  • Chameleons changing colour and pattern to blend into their environments is a common belief, but not a very accurate one. While some species do change colour as a form of camouflage; the primary purpose of chameleon colour changing is social signaling such as aggression/defensiveness and mating displays. A few species also use the ability for thermo regulation.


Video Games

  • This trope pervades the Super Mario Bros.. franchise.
  • The game Pocket Frogs for the iPad for some reason had the title frogs hatch from their eggs as miniaturized adult frogs instead of tadpoles (they hatch by popping open their eggshells as if it were a bubble). That's a bit improbable, since very few frogs do so (notably the coquí of Puerto Rico). Worse, though, are the eggs themselves. The eggs' appearance is correct, with their shells being made from jelly with a little black dot inside representing the developing embryo. The problem is that such eggs have to be laid in water otherwise the egg will dry out and die, and the frog nursery doesn't have water...


Webcomics

  • In Kit N Kay Boodle, most of the biological oddities can be put down to creative license. However, Skamm (the current antagonist) and his male love interest are supposed to be ridgetail monitors. The external genitals and hair are par for the course in a furry comic, but they also have external ears. Combine this with the fact that Skamm's a lawyer and it's impossible to think of him as being anything other than a weasel.


Western Animation

  • In the Franklin movie, Franklin and the Green Knight, Mrs. Turtle was shown pregnant, rather than Harriet hatching from an egg. Forgivable, however, in that the movie is meant to teach small children about dealing with a new sibling, which might have gotten somewhat lost in a more accurate depiction of turtle biology.
    • An insult in Chinese is to call someone "an egg who doesn't know his father" or "a turtle egg". This is biologically accurate in that turtles never see their fathers (nor their mothers either), only dubious in using an animal analogy for a human value judgment.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons of the Eighties and Nineties the Ninja Turtles were often called amphibians (even by themselves). A tagline for one of the movies also called them "America's favorite amphibians." Turtles are reptiles, of course.
    • One episode even used "We're amphibians, so we can breathe underwater," as a plot point, which is double-wrong - most amphibians can breathe underwater through their skin, but not all of them.
  • There seems to be an unwritten rule that in television land, the iguana is used to represent any and all types of lizard, to the point where even when it's specified as an iguana, it may be shown eating insects and small animals, changing color, or with a long, sticky tongue, sporting suction cups on its toes, or the like. Suffice to say, NONE of these traits are found in real iguanas, even though they're all found in relatively common lizards. This isn't even confined to animation.
  • Krypto the Superdog: Lex Luthor's pet Iguana and Harmless Villain Ignatius often gets himself into trouble using the Phlebotinum or technology of the week to catch an elusive bug or make them bigger, or in another episode, using a time machine to go to the past and try to eat a dinosaur egg. In reality iguanas are complete herbivores, as any protein is harmful to their health. Although they may accidentally eat a bug or two in the wild, they never actively hunt for anything other than leafy greens, fruits, or vegetables.
  • Averted in Jackie Chan Adventures in the episode "Snake Hunt" when a cameraman blinds a giant snake by shining the light on his camera in its eyes, commenting on it by saying "Hello! I'm blinding it; snakes don't have eyelids!"
  • Played with in an episode of Animaniacs, where a chameleon is subjected to multiple rapid background changes, changing his own colour and pattern to match. Becomes a Crowning Moment of Funny when the poor lizard is given a plaid background, and loudly refuses to match it.
  • Shouldn't Baby Kermit on Muppet Babies be a tadpole? Oddly enough, his nephew Robin is actually portrayed as (a talking) one.
  1. not to mention a small level of Fridge Horror for leopard gecko owners since it suggests that the makers of the commercial intentionally put something in the gecko's eye to make it lick it
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.