2017, September 6: Strange Creature beached by Hurricane

In August and September 2017, the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico was hit by the massive Hurricane Harvey which caused unprecedented flooding and damage for both human and animal populations. After the hurricane had quieted down, Twitter user 'Preeti Desai' discovered something very unusual washed ashore on a beach by Texas City in the hurricane's aftermath. With no clue what she was looking at, Desai took pictures of the carcass and posted them to her Twitter account along with a request for help identifying it. Have a look...

An odd carcass.
A very odd carcass. [Larger version here]

The above picture was widely displayed by internet news service websites (that largely picked up the story around September 14), but there were three other images posted by Desai of the strange critter as well.

Odd carcass.

Odd carcass.

Odd carcass.
[Larger versions here]

        Desai didn't have to wait long fior an answer. An eel specialist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Kenneth Tighe, tenatively identified the carcass as an Aplatophis chauliodus, aka the fangtooth snake-eel or "tusky" eel. I say tenatively because the degree of decomposition in the carcass does make it possible that it's a very similar animal, such as a garden or conger eel, as some of these also have large teeth; but it's most likely a fangtooth snake-eel. Fangtooth snake-eel live between 30 and 90 metres deep and spend most of their time hidden in burrows -- so they are not a commonly seen species -- and they do live off the coast of Texas. Tighe explained the carcass' apparent lack of eyes on the condition it was in; the small eyes would have dried out early on in the decomposition, making them hard to see as the rest of the body began to bloat.

        And so a scientific curiosity was quickly sorted out... except.

Let The Games Begin!

        While news services dutifully reported how the body was found and what Dr. Tighe's identification of it was, by Sepetember 15 it was already beginning to be divorced from both it's origin and explaination. A Facebook post by user 'Pictures in History,' which displayed the first image above, gave only the following by way of a description for the photograph: "The decomposing body of a faceless creature that was found on a Texas beach after Hurricane Harvey. Wow!"

        While it might be too early yet to worry about it, this exact sort of separation is what usually leads to pictures like this living for years as 'unexplained mysteries' in social networking. I guess only time can tell now... but it sure didn't take long to start!

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