Florida man's photo of a raccoon riding an alligator might be fake

Florida man says he saw a raccoon riding an alligator, but as questions about the "stiff"-looking animals in his photo surface he's nowhere to be found.

A surreal wildlife photo sent to multiple news outlets by a man in Florida has skeptics on high alert

Too good to be true? Criticism of Florida man's spectacular wildife photo leads some to believe "this is just a taxidermy raccoon carefully positioned on top of a remote-controlled alligator." (Richard Jones/WFTV)

This week in "animals riding other animals" news, a Florida raccoon is making headlines for using an alligator as its own personal surfboard — though whether or not this actually happened is still up for debate.

Orlando's WFTV was the first of several local news stations to report on the alleged interspecies exchange after receiving an email from a man named Richard Jones Sunday morning.

"Had a wonderful morning with the family in Ocala National forest and took an equally wonderful photo!" wrote Jones to several media outlets in Florida, attaching an image of what appeared to be a raccoon riding standing on an alligator's back in a river. "Definitely the photo of a lifetime." 

According to the email, Jones had been walking along the Oaklawaha River watching gators with his family when a nearby raccoon became startled by their presence.

"It must have been asleep because it stumbled toward the water and hopped on top of the gator we were watching," he wrote. "I snapped a lucky picture right when the gator slipped into the water and before the raccoon jumped off and scurried away."

The photo spread quickly around the web, thanks in large part to an Imgur post that hit the front page of Reddit on Sunday evening.

Twitter users further propelled the image's reach by using it as fodder for jokes about Uber, Guardians of the Galaxy, and, well, Florida.

By Monday, the alligator-riding-raccoon picture had attracted more than 3.5 million views on Imgur, as well as media attention from around the world.

Some of that attention, however, was of the skeptical variety.

Both The Florida-Times Union and Ocala Star Banner published the photo with disclaimers after receiving the same email from Jones that WFTV did.

"Mr. Jones did not leave a phone number in his email so that we could confirm the authenticity of the image," wrote Florida Times-Union. "We did try to contact him via his email address and we also requested he phone us. At the time this story was posted, we still have not received a call or email from Mr. Jones."

The Ocula Star Banner, which initially declined to publish the photo at all, was similarly unable to reach Jones with follow-up questions.

An image of a green woodpecker fighting off an attack by a weasel drew skepticism earlier this year, but the man who took it remained adamant that the photo was real — unlike the raccoon and alligator photographer who has clammed up completely. (Martin Le-May )

"Until now, the Star-Banner has declined to publish the photo because we still have questions about its authenticity," the paper wrote Sunday night, listing out a summary of its concerns.

"The raccoon seems out of proportion — too big — compared with the alligator," reads part of the list. "Even zooming in, you can't tell whether the raccoon has feet... It almost looks like a taxidermy piece."

The Orlando Sentinel echoed this point, as did Fusion and many on Reddit and Imgur who also felt the raccoon looked unnaturally stiff.

It's the alligator, however, that really has critics believing "this is just a taxidermy raccoon carefully positioned on top of a remote-controlled alligator" (as the Sentinel put it.)

"I'm from Florida, used to even spend a lot of time in the Ocala, and I can confirm this is the fakest s*** I've ever seen," wrote Redditor 2A_is_the_best_A. "The most obvious thing is that when a gator swims in the water only its eyes and nostrils are ever above the water. The back is usually completely submerged."

The unusual appearances of both animals, coupled with the fact that Jones hasn't spoken to any news outlets since his original email, has a growing number of people online calling the photo out as fake — but it's hard to say definitively that a raccoon didn't ride an alligator in Florida on Sunday.

The act wouldn't necessarily be out of character for either species, nor would this be the first time a furry critter has used another member of the animal kingdom for transportation.

What are your thoughts? Real or fake? Weigh in below.


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