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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 00:36, 4 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Snake Facts
Biologically speaking, what we call a 'snake' is actually a human digestive tract which has escaped from its host.
Title text: Biologically speaking, what we call a 'snake' is actually a human digestive tract which has escaped from its host.


The comic lists a few 'factoids' about snakes, ranging from the mildly informative to the strictly tongue-in-cheek. The first factoid references the hypothesis that snake venom was an evolutionary development of saliva that, over time, gradually became more toxic as snakes with saliva that was able to assist in subduing their prey possessed an evolutionary advantage. It then posits that the entire evolutionary branch that developed into venomous snakes began with a snake whose mutation gave him a mouth that was 'slightly more gross than usual'.

The second factoid references the 'longest snake in the world', citing a South American habitat. Given the habitat listed, it is possible the comic is referring to the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), but the Green Anaconda, while an impressive creature and one of the longest snakes in the world, is generally not as long as the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) of Southeast Asia, which is generally recognized as the world's longest snake, though not its largest by mass. The factoid then states that the world's longest snake is 'believed to be over 60 years old'. As Anacondas generally do not live beyond 20 years in captivity, and likely less in the wild, the factoid appears to be in error once again. Its wording seems intended to imply that the snake in question is not a species, but rather a single specimen.

Additionally, the comic illustration accompanying the second factoid colors in a 'habitat range' on a map of South America that is snake-shaped, possibly implying that when it states 'The longest snake is found in Brazil, Chile, and Peru' that this snake is so long that it literally stretches from Brazil into Chile and Peru, and that the 'habitat' shaded on the map is, in fact, this mammoth snake's silhouette.

The final factoid is entirely tongue-in-cheek, beginning with a typical factoid trope in which a collection of related items are laid end-to-end, then the length is compared to something else in a way intended to surprise the reader that the collection of items is indeed, so extensive (literally and figuratively). For example, "If you laid all the veins and arteries in the human body end-to-end, they would stretch 60,000 miles". The third factoid takes the form of that trope and turns it into a joke, "If you laid all the bones in a snake end to end, you would have a snake." Obviously, you would not have an entire snake, literally, but you would have a skeleton that was recognizably that of a snake and could reasonably be referred to as 'a snake', albeit a skeletal one.

The title text continues the progression away from somewhat reasonable factoid toward outlandish claim by stating as fact the patently absurd idea that 'snakes' as we know them are not, in fact, a suborder of reptiles but are instead human digestive tracts that, rather than being a system of organs are parasitic creatures capable of escaping from their 'host' human and living independently. The claim appears to be based on nothing more than a superficial resemblance between snakes and the human digestive tract as long, roughly tubular collections of animal matter.


Snake Facts

  • Snake venom evolved from saliva, which means it all started with a snake whose mouth was slightly more gross than usual.
[Picture of snake, presumably called Frank] 
Frank: Hi guys! 
Off-panel voice: Eww, it's Frank! 
  • The world's longest snake is found in Brazil, Peru and Chile. It is believed to be over 60 years old.
[Map of South America] 
  • If you laid all the bones in a snake end-to-end,
[Picture of a snake skeleton] 
you would have a snake

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