Back in 1984, the Houston Zoo was a much different place than it is now. Back then not all of its exhibits were even real.

A frequent visitor to the zoo asked then-curator John Donaho why the coral snake in the reptile house hadn't moved in nine months.

His answer was priceless, and spawned a Houston Post story for the ages.

The employee admitted to the Post’s Michael Haederle that there was a good reason that coral snake inside the “Poisonous Snakes of Harris County” exhibit was so motionless.

“We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don’t do well — they tend to die,” Donaho said. “Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like.”

The zoo at the time did have very alive coral snakes off-exhibit that were used in educational programs.

John Werler, director of the Houston Zoo since 1963, wouldn’t comment at the time about the four-year ruse. The snake was made from a mold of real dead snake that was then lovingly painted.

“Instead of being ashamed of being found out, he should be proud that he fooled us for four years,” wrote The Houston Post’s Paul Harasim in 1992 on the occasion of Werler's retirement.

Back in 1984, troll-before-his-time Harasim even held a “Name The Houston Zoo’s Fake Coral Snake Contest,” which received hundreds of entries, enough to fill one of his old army duffel bags. In the end, the name “Jean LaCounterfitte” was chosen, a play on the moniker of the villainous pirate that marauded around Galveston.

Texas Monthly, Esquire, National Enquirer and even David Letterman all made sport of Houston’s fake snake.

A herpetologist by trade, Werler passed away in 2004. He is still fondly remembered for bringing acclaim to the zoo, regionally and across the country, even with the fake snake.

Today the Houston Zoo can positively say that all of the animals on display are the real deal. The only fakes are the sculptures and the plush toys in the gift shop that kids beg their parents to buy.

No one is sure whose idea it was back in the early ’80s to fake the snake.

According to zoo lore, just days after the story broke, a box arrived in Houston from another zoo on the East Coast, which wasn’t named. The box contained a brand-new rubber coral snake and “breeding loan” documentation, done by the book.

At least the Houston Zoo wasn’t alone in this practice. A similar thing happened back in 2013 when it was discovered that a zoo in China was passing off a shaved Tibetan mastiff dog as a lion, along with other decidedly domestic beasts masquerading as true leopards and wolves.