HOPATCONG, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A reptile specialist leading the search for a snake on the loose in Lake Hopatcong now says it is a green anaconda, not a boa constrictor, as officials had maintained.

Gerald Andrejcak told NJ.com that he was told by a local animal control officer to keep quiet about the true species to avoid raising public panic.

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Andrejcak said in the past few weeks of searching, he saw the snake once, estimating it to be up to 16 feet long with a head the size of a human.

Green anacondas can grow to be as large as 29 feet and 550 pounds, according to NationalGeographic.com. So far, the snake has become New Jersey’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, with various sightings but still alluding capture.

There’s even a parody Twitter account.

Officials are advising people to call police if they see it, and to stay away.

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Andrejcak said it was not a lie to describe the snake as a boa constrictor “because it’s a member of the boa family.”

Neighbors have been worried.

“It’s scary because you don’t know where he’s creeping from, so we just want it caught,” Michelle Poli told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco last week.

“What we’re afraid of is the animals, small dogs, cats, raccoons — and I would advise people not to put their baby in the lake,” animal control Officer Dale Sloat told Carrasco. “A snake this size can probably swim about 25 miles an hour.”

Sloat believes the snake was likely someone’s pet, and was released into the water when it became too big to care for.

“We have to catch it,” Sloat said.

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