Books on the Loch Ness Monster 2: Gareth Williams’s A Monstrous Commotion

Welcome to the second article in this short series on recently(ish) published books on the Loch Ness Monster (or LNM) (the first article is here).

The most impressive and interesting of the several Nessie paintings produced by Peter Scott - here, depicted on the back of my battered copy of the PG Tips 1987  Unexplained Mysteries of the World , written by Robert J. M. Rickard. Image: Darren Naish.

The most impressive and interesting of the several Nessie paintings produced by Peter Scott - here, depicted on the back of my battered copy of the PG Tips 1987 Unexplained Mysteries of the World, written by Robert J. M. Rickard. Image: Darren Naish.

This time round, we look at the 2015 volume A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness, a dense, thick, attractively designed volume of 365 pages that might be the only LNM-themed book that could be classed as an airport novel (Williams 2015). I confess to being unaware of Gareth Williams prior to hearing about the publication of this book. But maybe that’s understandable, since a brief biography tells us that he’s an internationally recognised expert on diabetes and obesity affiliated with the University of Bristol, has penned over 200 papers on medical topics, and has previously published books on smallpox and polio.

Front cover of   Williams (2015)  .

Front cover of Williams (2015).

The volume begins with a timeline, a few pages providing potted biographies of the many human characters, a list of illustrations and some maps. The book also includes two plate sections and a smattering of black and white drawings.

The primary value of this book – its main selling point to an audience familiar with the LNM – is that it tells the backstory to the 1975 Nature paper by Sir Peter Scott and Robert Rines, a promise made in both the preface and the blurb on the back. This is the infamous paper – I’ll make the point again: published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal – in which Scott and Rines argued not only that Nessie is real and that they had evidence proving it, but that it needed a scientific name. And thus we have Nessiteras rhombopteryx Scott and Rines, 1975 (and: no, it wasn’t a deliberately constructed anagram of ‘Monster Hoax by Sir Peter S’; to state such ignores Scott’s long-running, highly active investment and commitment to belief in the monster and his many published statements on it). The run-up to the publication of this paper, the fallout, and the alliances that were attempted, formed and broken is a fascinating story never told before in such depth, and it’s Williams’s use of Peter Scott’s correspondence that has allowed him to tell the tale. Excellent. This should be good.

Loch Ness is a beautiful and sublime place, monster or not. Image: Darren Naish.

Loch Ness is a beautiful and sublime place, monster or not. Image: Darren Naish.

Alas, I was immediately disappointed on finding that the book starts – as do so many books on the Loch Ness Monster – with that oh so familiar stuff about the Great Glen Fault, St Columba, kelpie legends and the stories and events of the 1930s. Clearly, we aren’t getting the Scott story alone, but the whole shebang, and while Williams writes well, I’m not sure that there’s anything in the early chapters that hasn’t been covered before.

I’ve said before that there are awful lot of books on the Loch Ness Monster… even this is far from a complete selection of what’s out there (I’m still collecting). Image: Darren Naish.

I’ve said before that there are awful lot of books on the Loch Ness Monster… even this is far from a complete selection of what’s out there (I’m still collecting). Image: Darren Naish.

His take on Rupert Gould is admittedly interesting though. Gould – typically portrayed by authors of LNM-themed books as a bold and daring adventurer, a physical and metaphorical ex-military giant of a man who covered great distances on his motorbike and was a wise and indefatigable collector of interviews and facts, and a pioneering investigator of the unknown – is portrayed as a troubled oddball deeply affected by the frightening events of warfare. And yes, Williams does cover Gould’s eventual conclusion (about-turn, if you like) that the Spicers didn’t see a giant scientifically unrecognised (semi)aquatic vertebrate species, but “a huddle of deer crossing the road” (p. 227). Incidentally, Williams states that Gould made this private admonition in the marked proofs of his book The Loch Ness Monster and Others, but that’s not right. The annotation concerned was hand-written in a published copy and not connected at all to the manuscript during its proof stage (Binns 2017, p. 150). This is one of many minor but arguably important errors made throughout the book.

Peter Macnab’s photo of 1955. This is the version lacking the vegetation in the foreground. Regarded by some Nessie proponents as depicting two monsters swimming in close proximity, it is most likely part of a boat wake, as suggested by the lines in the water about parallel to the ‘monster(s)’. This is a scan of the original photo, provided by Dick Raynor (and available  here ). Image: (c) P. A. Macnab.

Peter Macnab’s photo of 1955. This is the version lacking the vegetation in the foreground. Regarded by some Nessie proponents as depicting two monsters swimming in close proximity, it is most likely part of a boat wake, as suggested by the lines in the water about parallel to the ‘monster(s)’. This is a scan of the original photo, provided by Dick Raynor (and available here). Image: (c) P. A. Macnab.

Post-Gould, Williams discusses Constance Whyte’s More Than a Legend and the way LNM news was received at the time before going on to discuss the pop-culture backdrop to the events of the 1960s and 70s, somehow weaving in David Attenborough and Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass. After a brief skip through the adventures of Torquil MacLeod and Peter Macnab (both are among those ‘classic’ eyewitnesses who claimed, respectively, a remarkable sighting and a remarkable photo… of a boat wake), we’re introduced to one of the pivotal and most influential characters in LNMology: Tim Dinsdale, aeronautical engineer, charismatic good-guy and near-professional monster believer. Dinsdale is especially relevant to the story Williams tells because it was he – not Constance Whyte, not the preponderance of evidence, not the rash of 1930s sightings – who roped Peter Scott into the saga. I don’t want to say too much about Dinsdale here since he’ll form the focus of my third LNM-themed book review.

Torquil MacLeod’s Nessie of February 1960, observed through binoculars and estimated to be 13-15 m long, as drawn by Alan Jones for   Witchell (1975)  . Image: Alan Jones/  Witchell (1975)  .

Torquil MacLeod’s Nessie of February 1960, observed through binoculars and estimated to be 13-15 m long, as drawn by Alan Jones for Witchell (1975). Image: Alan Jones/Witchell (1975).

What I will say for now is that Williams is by far too sympathetic to Dinsdale, failing to remark on Dinsdale’s sudden and, frankly, remarkable commitment to belief in the monster, nor is he appropriately critical of Dinsdale’s sightings or claims. Take Williams’s statement (p. 70) that Dinsdale was “catapulted into the limelight and would never escape from it”, or that “he found himself on Panorama, the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme” (p. 70). More accurate segments of text might read that Dinsdale “clamoured for and gained the limelight, and successfully managed to hold it upon himself for years to come”, and that “finally, he received the attention he had sought via a campaign of sending letters and telegrams, and succeeded in winning a spot on Panorama”.

Dinsdale (standing, at right) with Robert Rines (l) and Martin Klein in 1970. Image:   Dinsdale (1976)  .

Dinsdale (standing, at right) with Robert Rines (l) and Martin Klein in 1970. Image: Dinsdale (1976).

Dinsdale arrives. On reaching the part of the book that discusses Dinsdale and his Loch Ness adventures, I was finally feeling that I’d gotten through the preamble and reached the good stuff. To be clear, Williams does deliver the goods, providing a discussion and review novel enough and interesting enough to make the book a worthy addition to the LNM literature.

As noted above, it was Dinsdale who – through writing to Scott in a possibly desperate yet optimistic and bold gamble – brought Scott into the fold, his initial letter (addressed to ‘Mr Peter Scott, Naturalist, c/o BBC Television, London W1’) promising the support of a noted and reputable scientist (almost certainly Maurice Burton, then of the British Museum (Natural History)). Dinsdale’s several later letters discussed his mathematical analysis which basically consisted of calculating averages from the various eyewitness accounts that contained measurements.

Tim Dinsdale and his identikit-style view of what the Loch Ness Monster looked like. He reached this view by bundling all eyewitness accounts together and taking averages. Image: (c) Tim Dinsdale.

Tim Dinsdale and his identikit-style view of what the Loch Ness Monster looked like. He reached this view by bundling all eyewitness accounts together and taking averages. Image: (c) Tim Dinsdale.

Why was Scott prepared to let himself be involved in the Loch Ness story? While Scott certainly stated that his belief in the monster was based on sheer preponderance of evidence (Scott 1976), Williams notes (p. xxxiii) that Scott’s interest in Nessie was quite plausibly motivated by his feeling that it could serve as a flagship species, in the same ballpark as the tiger and giant panda, for the fledgling World Willdlife Fund. Scott’s own drawings support this idea.

Here’s another of the big, spectacular, Nessie-themed works of art produced by Peter Scott (this is only a section of the whole thing). Image: (c) Peter Scott.

Here’s another of the big, spectacular, Nessie-themed works of art produced by Peter Scott (this is only a section of the whole thing). Image: (c) Peter Scott.

Scott and Dinsdale met in person in 1960, but not before Dinsdale explained his plan. He would need Scott as an ally in convincing her majesty Queen Elizabeth II that Nessie was real and in need of protection. Scott knew the Royal Family, moved in the right circles, and was sufficiently impressed by Dinsdale’s argumentation to consider this an appropriate course of action, even making the suggestion that Nessie might be given the scientific name Elizabethia nessiae* (Williams 2015). Alas, Dinsdale had already written to the Royal Family by this time and his impetuousness on this front – he was to write to them several more times – partly derailed efforts to carefully, thoughtfully build a case for the monster’s existence, one that might be sufficiently interesting and carefully stated to keep sceptics, the scientific community, the media and people like the Royal Family on board.

* Incidentally, another proposed binomial – Nessiesaurus o’connori (sic: the specific name should have been written ‘oconnori’) – is also outed in this book. It was proposed by Peter O’Connor, author of the almost certainly hoaxed ‘inverted kayak’ photo of 1960, in his correspondence to Scott (Williams 2015).

By the mid 1970s, Peter Scott was happy to publicly state a belief in the Loch Ness Monster, and there are even photographs of him wearing an ‘I Believe in Nessie’ t-shirt. Here’s the cover of a magazine issue that features a key Scott article on the subject. Image: Darren Naish.

By the mid 1970s, Peter Scott was happy to publicly state a belief in the Loch Ness Monster, and there are even photographs of him wearing an ‘I Believe in Nessie’ t-shirt. Here’s the cover of a magazine issue that features a key Scott article on the subject. Image: Darren Naish.

Over the months and years that followed, Scott worked to build a case, Tim Dinsdale’s film of 1960 being one of several pieces of evidence deemed crucial. The many ups and downs, false-starts, setbacks, and input and involvement of others make for a complex story that I’m not about to summarise. The eventual outcome, which had emerged by 1970, was the involvement of Americans including Chicago’s Roy Mackal and patent lawyer Robert H. Rines, the rise and fall of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau, and a gradual parting of the ways between Scott and Dinsdale.

There’s a definite undercurrent in the book of Scott and Dinsdale working to somewhat different ends. The Dinsdale plan was to announce and promote the monster’s existence and reality as loudly and frequently as possible. The Scott plan was to form a solid portfolio of good evidence, hold formal meetings where this evidence could be presented to and digested by the right parties, and to ultimately gain legal protection for a neglected and remarkable new species honestly thought by Scott to be, most probably, a living plesiosaur (Scott 1976).

Palaeontologists specialising on plesiosaurs have near universally been very hostile to the idea that the Loch Ness Monster might be a living plesiosaur. But it’s also a very familiar idea that plesiosaur experts have sometimes toyed with. This diagram is from  Big Mouths and Long Necks , a short book devoted to plesiosaurs. Image: Taylor & Martin (1990).

Palaeontologists specialising on plesiosaurs have near universally been very hostile to the idea that the Loch Ness Monster might be a living plesiosaur. But it’s also a very familiar idea that plesiosaur experts have sometimes toyed with. This diagram is from Big Mouths and Long Necks, a short book devoted to plesiosaurs. Image: Taylor & Martin (1990).

Scott and Rines 1975, and the ‘flipper’ photos. As anyone familiar with the Loch Ness story knows, the turning point was the use of sonar detection and strobe photography in the loch, the eventual result being the presentation of photos said by Rines and his colleagues to be proof of the monster’s existence and to give insight on its form (Scott & Rines 1975, Rines et al. 1976, Scott 1976, Sitwell 1976, Rines 1982).

My own take on one of the Rines/Egerton ‘flipper photos’, drawn when I was about 14. Like many people in those years (this would’ve been drawn in the late 1980s), I had been led to believe that the photos really show the giant, diamond-shaped flippers of a very big animal. They don’t. Image: Darren Naish.

My own take on one of the Rines/Egerton ‘flipper photos’, drawn when I was about 14. Like many people in those years (this would’ve been drawn in the late 1980s), I had been led to believe that the photos really show the giant, diamond-shaped flippers of a very big animal. They don’t. Image: Darren Naish.

Initial claims that the flipper photos showed a pentadactyl anatomy (thereby confirming a tetrapod identity for the creature), that two diving animals, moving synchronously and close together, had been captured in a single frame and that a close-up view of the animal’s external surface revealed details of skin texture and even its parasites (Witchell 1975, p. 150), all proved embellished or inaccurate, to use the kindest words possible. We think today that the flipper photos were physically modified, that the ‘gargoyle head’ photo (which had been rotated by 90° relative to its original orientation) doesn’t depict an animal’s head but a tree stump on the floor of the loch, and that an alleged shot of the body and neck cannot be of a large animal but a small object close to the camera, most likely a submerged branch (Naish 2017).

The weird and ugly ‘gargoyle head’, interpreted as the snorkelled, horned, short-faced creature depicted at right in this painting by Peter Scott. Read on for another version of that Scott painting. Images: Rines  et al . (1976), Peter Scott.

The weird and ugly ‘gargoyle head’, interpreted as the snorkelled, horned, short-faced creature depicted at right in this painting by Peter Scott. Read on for another version of that Scott painting. Images: Rines et al. (1976), Peter Scott.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious from some of the things written at the time that these developments must have been extraordinarily exciting. I’m always struck by the following breathless words from Nicholas Witchell…

“This paper edition of The Loch Ness Story is being rushed out in the autumn of 1975 at a time when the world is about to witness one of the greatest and most dramatic discoveries of the twentieth century: the discovery and probable identification of a semi-mythical creature known throughout the world as the ‘Monster’ of Scotland’s Loch Ness.

“As the final chapter describes, a set of detailed colour photographs of the head and body of the ‘Monster’ have been taken by a highly respected American scientific team. They have set the zoological world, and will very shortly set the whole scientific and lay world, ablaze with excitement. After nearly fifty years of legend and mystery, the saga of the Loch Ness ‘Monster’ is about to end with the addition of a remarkable new (or possibly very ancient) species to the world’s animal kingdom” (Witchell 1975, unpaginated author’s preface).

Dinsdale, despite the rift that would then have existed between himself and Scott, announced his great confidence in the photos (Dinsdale 1973), and such was their apparent significance that they were reported not just in the Nature paper, but on the journal’s cover too. Here is another of Williams’s gaffs, since he describes the paper as an “anonymous item” (p. 175). In fact, Scott and Rines are clearly noted as authors in the article’s abstract (Scott & Rines 1975).

The first part of the Scott & Rines (1975) article. Image: Nature Publishing Group.

The first part of the Scott & Rines (1975) article. Image: Nature Publishing Group.

The publication of this paper is definitely one of the weirder decisions ever made by Nature and one that attracted immediate and strong criticism. Importantly, it makes a mockery of the notion, beloved of cryptozoologists, that ‘the establishment’ has forever shunned or deliberately ignored such things as Nessie. Bullshit, dudes; you had a freakin’ paper in Nature.

The Peter Scott books I own. Image: Darren Naish.

The Peter Scott books I own. Image: Darren Naish.

On that note, one thing that should strike you while reading this book is the extremely high number of working scientists, academic institutions and official societies that, at some time or another since the 1930s, were embroiled in the Loch Ness saga. In, again, massive and hilarious contrast to the idea that academics shun or ignore cryptozoological subjects like the Loch Ness Monster, such qualified workers as Richard Harrison and Leo Harrison Matthews (both well known for their work on marine mammals), marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy, primatologist Sir Solly Zuckerman, palaeontologist Alan Charig*, ethologist, artist, author and TV personality Desmond Morris and many others were all involved or solicited opinion at some point. Hardy, incidentally, stated his belief in the monster (Wiliams 2015, p. 94).

* I wish I’d known this when writing a biography on Charig (Moody & Naish 2010).

Robert Rines has been a mildly controversial figure, and there have been occasions in which his credentials and qualifications were called into question. Here are two letters from the pages of  New Scientist , both from 1982 (vol 95, issues 1315 and 1320, respectively). Image:  New Scientist .

Robert Rines has been a mildly controversial figure, and there have been occasions in which his credentials and qualifications were called into question. Here are two letters from the pages of New Scientist, both from 1982 (vol 95, issues 1315 and 1320, respectively). Image: New Scientist.

On science and scientists, and anti-scientific statements. All in all, A Monstrous Commotion is useful in providing a great deal of novel discussion pertaining to the Scott correspondence, so far so good. But the book is somewhat ruined by a soft pro-Nessie stance that shines through in some places, the author’s insinuation being that Nessie is real and deserving of study and that those scientists and commentators who have rejected its existence and failed to take it seriously are the ones in error.

In places, he appears to unquestionably accept a few notions that, while beloved of Nessie supporters, have been so effectively countered that they shouldn’t ever be used as ‘supporting’ arguments ever again. Examples? That “the Monster [has] a pedigree that [goes] back … over 1,300 years” (p. 9) (see Magin 2001), or that coelacanths can be used to support the idea that the fossil record may as well be disregarded (p. 61).

The idea that  Latimeria , the extant coelacanth, provides support for the view that Mesozoic-grade vertebrate taxa might persist to the present without leaving a fossil record is very naive. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve now known of Holocene coelacanths for more than 80 years. This model was on display at the Natural History Museum (London, UK) in 2013. Image: Darren Naish.

The idea that Latimeria, the extant coelacanth, provides support for the view that Mesozoic-grade vertebrate taxa might persist to the present without leaving a fossil record is very naive. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve now known of Holocene coelacanths for more than 80 years. This model was on display at the Natural History Museum (London, UK) in 2013. Image: Darren Naish.

Williams notes the sometimes irksome statements made by Nessie supporters about scientists and the scientific process. Constance Whyte, describes Williams, might have seen the scientists of the day as “[a]rrogant and tunnel-visioned”, and that “they could not even be bothered to get out of their armchairs and visit Loch Ness to review the evidence for themselves. Of course, the Monster appeared to flout some basic rules of zoology, and pursuing it could be a waste of time. However, rules were made to be broken, and open-mindedness was supposed to be the hallmark of a good scientist” (p. 63). Williams continues: “All the prejudices and inflexibility of the scientific establishment had been neatly summed up by one of the leading biologists of the 1930s, Sir Arthur Keith FRS” who, Williams tells us, spoke “from the ivory tower of the Royal College of Surgeons” and went on to dismiss the beast “as a problem for psychologists, not zoologists” (p. 63). There are, of course, good reasons for thinking that Keith’s idea of a psychological explanation for monsters is a good one, not the opposite. William’s goes on to refer to the “scientific mafia” when describing the scientific response to Whyte’s 1957 book (p. 63).

The Cryptozoologicon Volume I  sometimes mocks the aggressive tone used by some cryptozoologists. At right, part of John Conway’s scene of a Himalayan yeti group. Image: John Conway/  Conway  et al . (2013)  .

The Cryptozoologicon Volume I sometimes mocks the aggressive tone used by some cryptozoologists. At right, part of John Conway’s scene of a Himalayan yeti group. Image: John Conway/Conway et al. (2013).

This sort of wording will be familiar if you’ve read my 2013 book (co-authored with John Conway and C. M. Kosemen) The Cryptozoologicon. Therein we deliberately mocked the vitriolic, vituperative, frothing-at-the-mouth-with-anger tone aimed at sceptics and working scientists by a certain cadre of cryptozoological believers (Conway et al. 2013). Fact is, the history of research on all the subjects beloved of cryptozoologists – Nessie, bigfoot, the yeti – shows that working scientists never shunned, ignored, dismissed or rejected these things but, on the contrary, spent time considering them, writing about them and even investigating them, only to get their fingers burnt when the subjects proved to mostly be a waste of time (cf Regal 2011). Look again at the list of scientists mentioned above: it’s absolutely farcical to state that scientists haven’t been interested, or haven’t bothered to investigate this stuff. To be clear: Williams isn’t guilty of painting science and scientists in this way, but he’s saying that Whyte was.

Your author (on the right) with Nessie. Image: Darren Naish.

Your author (on the right) with Nessie. Image: Darren Naish.

Indeed, this sort of thing – championed and given the thumbs up by at least some cryptozoologists (and their allies, the paranormalists) – only makes its proponents look naïve and clueless. Caricaturing scientists critical of the Loch Ness Monster as a ‘mafia’ implies that they work together as a band when confronted with a problem. The inner workings and politics of science involve very much the opposite, a fact often destructive and detrimental to those involved. Dear cryptozoologists critical of ‘the scientific establishment’ or of scientific sceptics in general: why do you insist on remaining so clueless with respect to what science is and how it works? There isn’t a gang or club of conspiring scientists who elect to take a given stance on a topic, but a community of competing individuals, all of whom are complex human beings.

The idea that Nessie might have retractable snorkels on its head - an odd idea, to be sure - has long been fairly popular in the LNM literature. The ‘gargoyle head’ photo has to be interpreted within this context. Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

The idea that Nessie might have retractable snorkels on its head - an odd idea, to be sure - has long been fairly popular in the LNM literature. The ‘gargoyle head’ photo has to be interpreted within this context. Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

Finally, a complaint I wish to make about A Monstrous Commotion is that it is, in places, oddly deficient in giving credit. I suppose I shouldn’t expect my own critical comments on various of the LNM photos to warrant mention since (outside of 2016/2017’s Hunting Monsters) they were only ever published here at TetZoo, not in print, but the complete and total absence of Ronald Binns – he isn’t mentioned or even cited once – is odd. Suspiciously so, given that a few sections of the book read much as if they took data or conclusions from Binns (1983). The lack of reference to the many discussions which have occurred within the various ‘parish magazines’ of cryptozoology – Fortean Times, Animals & Men, The Cryptozoology Review, Strange Magazine, Fortean Studies and so on – is also a bit odd.

More evidence for the snorkel-headed Nessie meme: this is the brilliant Kaiyodo toy. Mine was specially shipped from Japan, and oh do I love it. Image: Darren Naish.

More evidence for the snorkel-headed Nessie meme: this is the brilliant Kaiyodo toy. Mine was specially shipped from Japan, and oh do I love it. Image: Darren Naish.

A Monstrous Commotion is an entertaining book that I much enjoyed reading. After a slow start that I would have been happy to go without, it tells a fascinating story and does it well. Those seriously interested in the history of research and ideas on lake monsters should definitely read it, and it might even be said to be one of the best and most professional of books on the Loch Ness Monster yet published. However, it is sometimes appears too sympathetic to those who supported the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, doesn’t appropriately cite all relevant sources, and has enough small, technical errors that it shouldn’t be relied on for factual accuracy.

The only versions of Peter Scott’s renditions of the ‘gargoyle head’ illustration I’ve seen online have been tiny and very low-res, so here’s my best effort at reproducing the best version I have to hand (it’s from the 1981 Reader’s Digest book  Into the Unknown ). Image: Peter Scott/Bradbury (1981).

The only versions of Peter Scott’s renditions of the ‘gargoyle head’ illustration I’ve seen online have been tiny and very low-res, so here’s my best effort at reproducing the best version I have to hand (it’s from the 1981 Reader’s Digest book Into the Unknown). Image: Peter Scott/Bradbury (1981).

Williams, G. 2015. A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness. Orion Books, London. pp. 365. ISBN 978-1-4091-5874-5. Softback, refs. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

Nessie and related issues have been covered on TetZoo a fair bit before, though many of the older images now lack ALL of the many images they originally included…

Refs - -

Bradbury, W. 1981. Into the Unknown. Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York/Montreal.

Binns, R. 1983. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Open Books, London.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2013. Cryptozoologicon Volume I. Irregular Books.

Dinsdale, T. 1973. The Rines/Egerton picture. The Photographic Journal April 1973, 162-165.

Dinsdale, T. 1976. Loch Ness Monster, Revised Edition. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Magin, U. 2001. Waves without wind and a floating island – historical accounts of the Loch Ness monster. In Simmons, I. & Quin, M. (eds) Fortean Studies Volume 7. John Brown Publishing (London), pp. 95-115.

Moody, R. T. J. & Naish, D. 2010. Alan Jack Charig (1927-1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 89-109.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Randall, N. & Keane, G. 1978. Focus on Fact. No. 5 Unsolved Mysteries. W. H. Allen & Co, London.

Regal, B. 2011. Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Rines, R. H. 1982. Summarizing a decade of underwater studies at Loch Ness. Cryptozoology 1, 24-32.

Rines, R. H., Edgerton, H. E., Wyckoff, C. W. & Klein, M. 1976. Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Technology Review March/April 1976, 25-40.

Scott, P. 1976. Why I believe in the Loch Ness Monster. Wildlife 18, 110-111.

Scott, P. & Rines, R. 1975. Naming the Loch Ness monster. Nature 258, 466-468.

Sitwell, N. 1976. The Loch Ness Monster evidence. Wildlife 18, 102-109.

Taylor, M. A. & Martin, J. G. 1990. Big Mouths and Long Necks. Leicestershire Museums, Arts and Records Service, Leicester.

Williams, G. 2015. A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness. Orion Books, London.

Witchell, N. 1975. The Loch Ness Story. Penguins Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

Books on the Loch Ness Monster 1: Ronald Binns’s The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded

Listeners of the Tetrapod Zoology podcast will know that I have – for no specific reason – been going through a bit of a Loch Ness Monster phase recently, my stated aim being to review three recently-ish published books on the subject. Here’s the first of those reviews, devoted to Ronald Binns’s The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. I provided a very brief review of this book at TetZoo ver 3 back in 2017 but always planned to produce a longer version. So here we are.

Nessie, the beast of many forms. It’s almost as if people are describing all manner of different things. Images: Darren Naish.

Nessie, the beast of many forms. It’s almost as if people are describing all manner of different things. Images: Darren Naish.

Is the Loch Ness Monster (LNM) science? Should I be writing about it, and encouraging an interest in it, on a blog ostensibly devoted to the scientific study of the natural world? Here I’ll say what I’ve said several times before about monsters and cryptozoology in general: even if monsters don’t exist (in the zoological sense), there’s still a phenomenon here that’s worthy of study, and there’s still a body of data that we can subject to scientific analysis. And I’ll add that ideas and writings about monsters like Nessie are definitely relevant to those of us intrigued by speculative zoology (Naish 2014), fringe theories, the history of zoology and other subjects included within the TetZoo remit.

Binns (1983)  , hardback (at left) and 1984 softback edition.

Binns (1983), hardback (at left) and 1984 softback edition.

Ronald Binns’s 1983 The Loch Ness Mystery Solved – produced with assistance from Rod Bell (though he doesn’t get an authorship credit) – is a classic work of scholarship and scepticism (Binns 1983). It shows how sightings, photos and film purporting to describe or show the monster are less impressive than typically described, are indeterminate or of more prosaic identity than claimed, have been embellished or modified by enthusiastic or biased writers, and can sometimes be explained as encounters with known animals (seals, waterbirds, deer). A sociocultural setting for the monster, an evaluation of the clutching-at-straws ideas on its biology, appearance, phylogenetic affinities and ecology, and a takedown of the ‘historical Nessie’ endorsed elsewhere also feature within the book (Binns 1983).

It should not be assumed that people - even people who’ve lived their lives in rural places, surrounded by wildlife - can always identify such animals as deer, seals and waterbirds (like grebes and cormorants) when they see them in unusual places, poses or situations. Deer are abundant around Loch Ness. I photographed this male Red deer adjacent to Loch Knockie, which is just a few hundred metres to the east of Loch Ness. Image: Darren Naish.

It should not be assumed that people - even people who’ve lived their lives in rural places, surrounded by wildlife - can always identify such animals as deer, seals and waterbirds (like grebes and cormorants) when they see them in unusual places, poses or situations. Deer are abundant around Loch Ness. I photographed this male Red deer adjacent to Loch Knockie, which is just a few hundred metres to the east of Loch Ness. Image: Darren Naish.

I’m glad to have encountered it at a relatively early phase in my career as a monster researcher, since virtually everything else I read and was exposed to was extremely pro-monster, so much so that I spent time as a teenager thinking that Nessie was a scientific likelihood. Phew: lucky, then, that I never made a fool of myself by proclaiming a belief in Nessie. Oh, wait.

Of course, much has happened since the publication of Solved in 1983. We have new biographic information on the people integral to the LNM story, and new eyewitness accounts, illustrations and photos have been unearthed or have joined the collective pool. Several of the main characters in the LNM story have died since Solved was published, meaning that their role can be more fully and honestly assessed than when they were alive (Binns 2017). On the sociological angle, Nessie has remained a cultural icon and flashpoint for woo, and its story has been retold, embellished, added to and expanded via the publication of many post-1983 books, so many that there’s what looks like a (mostly British) cottage industry on the subject.

Cover of   Binns (2017)  . Buy it if interested in the Loch Ness Monster, lake monster lore, cryptozoology or scepticism.

Cover of Binns (2017). Buy it if interested in the Loch Ness Monster, lake monster lore, cryptozoology or scepticism.

In view of all this, the time is right for an addendum to Solved, and thus we find The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded (Binns 2017). Reloaded is, to quote its author, essentially a long-form appendix to The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, but it isn’t at all dry or tedious. It’s well written, entertaining and absorbing if you’re familiar with any aspects of LNM lore, and in fact is probably the LNM-themed book I’ve enjoyed reading the most. Footnotes and references are provided, though there are only a handful of illustrations.

The book begins with a look back at the making of Solved, the responses to it, and a series of updates on the book’s main (human) characters. Binns then retreads two classic sightings – that of Donaldina Mackay and the Spicers – albeit with new information. The Spicer account of 1933 is the great classic ‘land sighting’, recounted in every Nessie-themed book. George Spicer is generally framed as a lucky everyman who saw a remarkable, inexplicable thing and reported it fairly, without fanfare and without any need to see himself – rather than the animal – as the point of interest.

The Spicer sighting as conventionally portrayed, here by Dinsdale (1976). Image:   Dinsdale (1976)  .

The Spicer sighting as conventionally portrayed, here by Dinsdale (1976). Image: Dinsdale (1976).

None of this is correct. Details of Spicer’s account make it likely that he and his (still nameless) wife saw bounding deer (an idea, not original to me, discussed in Hunting Monsters); the details of his sighting changed significantly over the years and demonstrate (I say again: demonstrate) both embellishment and a predilection on Spicer’s part to speculate. Furthermore, Spicer wasn’t a quiet, impartial witness, reluctantly discussing his encounter when door-stepped by thirsty journalists, but extraordinarily enthusiastic, garrulous and boastful about it, his own writings making him sound wide-eyed and credulous. There’s a popular idea among cryptozoologists that one should ignore personality traits and biography and just pay attention to the monster sighting. Alas, no; this is wrong. Those things are absolutely relevant.

Probably the best ever depiction of the Loch Ness Monster in action. Surely this is what Mr Spicer actually saw. A beautiful image by the legendary Gino D’Achille. Image: (c) Gino D’Achille.

Probably the best ever depiction of the Loch Ness Monster in action. Surely this is what Mr Spicer actually saw. A beautiful image by the legendary Gino D’Achille. Image: (c) Gino D’Achille.

Famous photos, reloaded. Chapters are also devoted to the more notable LNM photos and the Dinsdale film. Revised and updated takes on the Surgeon’s photo, and on the Gray, Stuart, Cockrell, Macnab and O’Connor photos – and a bunch of less famous ones – are presented, all of which can sensibly be stated to be hoaxes, indeterminate, waves, sticks and other non-animals. Binns remains non-committal on the very unusual Peter O’Connor photo of 1960 but implies that O’Connor’s career as a taxidermist might mean that we’re looking at a dead animal (maybe a seal?). My competing idea (Naish 2017) – it originates with Dick Raynor – is that it’s an inverted kayak and a head-shaped stick in front. I think this explains what looks like planking and the metal rudder support, visible in uncropped versions of the image.

The O’Connor photo has never made sense as goes lighting. O’Connor’s story is suspiciously odd. And the object he photographed does not appear to be an animal. It looks likely to be an inverted kayak, and looks uncannily similar to the specific kayak that O’Connor owned. The image here - scanned from one of the several LNM books - is a cropped version that doesn’t feature the whole of the object. Image: (c) Peter O’Connor.

The O’Connor photo has never made sense as goes lighting. O’Connor’s story is suspiciously odd. And the object he photographed does not appear to be an animal. It looks likely to be an inverted kayak, and looks uncannily similar to the specific kayak that O’Connor owned. The image here - scanned from one of the several LNM books - is a cropped version that doesn’t feature the whole of the object. Image: (c) Peter O’Connor.

Nor does Binns wholly buy my argument in Hunting Monsters than the Hugh Gray photo depicts a swan. He does think it’s a fake though. I remain pretty confident about the swan hypothesis because a Whooper swan (not a Mute swan as implied by the illustration in Hunting Monsters) matches the shape, hue and likely size of the object, the object has what looks like a swan’s ankle sticking out of its flank in the right position, and also has an otherwise inexplicable pale patch (presumably double-exposed on top of the main image, and coming from a moment in time when the bird had its head above the water surface) that exactly matches a Whooper swan’s bill patch. It also has a swan’s tail. And it’s white.

At top, the Hugh Gray photo of 1933. A ‘mid-sized’ object (look at the ripples), that’s white or near-white, has a sinuous appendage at one end, a short, pointed appendage at the other, and a dark appendage that disappears into the water close to one of its ends. The double-strike areas (featuring pale triangular patches) indicate double-exposure (that is, the film failed to move on and was exposed again). Image:   Naish (2017)  .

At top, the Hugh Gray photo of 1933. A ‘mid-sized’ object (look at the ripples), that’s white or near-white, has a sinuous appendage at one end, a short, pointed appendage at the other, and a dark appendage that disappears into the water close to one of its ends. The double-strike areas (featuring pale triangular patches) indicate double-exposure (that is, the film failed to move on and was exposed again). Image: Naish (2017).

On vocal champions. It’s frequently implied or stated by those endorsing the existence of monsters that vocal champions of the cause are sensible, level-headed, scholarly types who come to the conclusions they do after carefully and scientifically evaluating the data. Maybe this is true for some individuals. But it’s generally the opposite of true. Monster proponents – and I’ve now been bold enough to state or imply this in print (Conway et al. 2013, Naish 2017) – are more frequently tremendously naïve, biased, impressionable and unscientific, and attracted to the subject because of its intrinsic appeal and their own tendency to want the world to be occupied by stuff considered beyond current scientific knowledge.

This is emphasised in Binns’s chapters on F. W. ‘Ted’ Holiday, author of 1968’s The Great Orm of Loch Ness (wherein Nessie is posited to be a giant Tullimonstrum) and 1973’s The Dragon and the Disc (the main thesis of which links lake monsters with the ancient alien movement). Similarly, Binns’s treatment of Tim Dinsdale, the well-meaning and likeable champion of the LNM from 1960 until his death in 1987, discusses Dinsdale’s propensity to be all too impressionable, and with ideas that were not in keeping with his claim that he was always objective and basing everything monster-related on sound science. There’s a lot that could be said about both men (I’m avoiding that here; Dinsdale will be discussed in a future article); anyone interested in their legacy and how it fits into the LNM story must see what Binns says to say.

Ahh, classic Holiday. The object in the Hugh Gray photo interpreted as a modern-day, big  Tullimonstrum . Image:   Holiday (1968)  .

Ahh, classic Holiday. The object in the Hugh Gray photo interpreted as a modern-day, big Tullimonstrum. Image: Holiday (1968).

Both those interested in, and brought to despair by, the literature on the LNM will have noted that there’s a lot of it: an enormous number of published books, booklets and articles, and a vast quantity of correspondence, imagery and art. Yet for all the fame of the LNM, there’s been surprisingly little effort to collate or gather things and several collections are in danger of being lost when their owners are no more and their estates dissolved. Binns terms this the ‘archive problem’, and it’s common to many subject areas that involve ‘paperwork’.

But a fraction of the books that exist on the Loch Ness Monster. Image: Darren Naish.

But a fraction of the books that exist on the Loch Ness Monster. Image: Darren Naish.

As mentioned above, a great many books have been published on the LNM since the early 1980s. Binns provides commentary on the more recent of them (those from the post-Dinsdale era). He's fairly critical of Gareth Williams’s serious and well-drafted A Monstrous Commotion of 2015 (another of the books set to be reviewed here), noting that it fails to credit The Loch Ness Mystery Solved despite drawing substantially upon its contents. Those lines in the acknowledgements of A Monstrous Commotion explaining how eagle-eyed reviewers and editors did a sterling job in preventing numerous mistakes are ironic in view of the fairly enormous number of errors that did make it into print, all of which Binns discusses and corrects (pp. 150-152).

Binns on Hunting Monsters. I am of course especially interested (I hope understandably) in what Binns says about my own Hunting Monsters, a volume he classes as part of the same ‘cultural cryptozoology’ school as Loxton and Prothero’s Abominable Science! (which I had a hand in as technical reviewer and blurb-writer; my review of that book is here at TetZoo ver 3). Hunting Monsters is “fluent, elegant, scholarly”, says Binns (p. 153); he “finds Naish’s approach congenial because he seeks to rescue cryptozoology from the naïve literalists” (p. 154).

In which I tried to develop a sociological or anthropological view of cryptids - Nessie included - as icons embedded within culture. The softback version was preceded by a 2016 digital one (which has a different cover). Image:   Naish (2017)  .

In which I tried to develop a sociological or anthropological view of cryptids - Nessie included - as icons embedded within culture. The softback version was preceded by a 2016 digital one (which has a different cover). Image: Naish (2017).

It isn’t a coincidence that Binns finds my take on monsters concordant with his own position. As has been stated here at TetZoo many times now, I think today that cryptids like Nessie are sociocultural phenomena, that people ‘see’ monsters like Nessie because they fully expect to encounter a thing that’s firmly embedded within their culture (Binns terms this expectant attention), that ideas about the identity, biology, ecology and so on of Nessie are nothing more than speculative house-of-cards-type efforts, and that eyewitness descriptions of Nessie are either so ambiguous as to be useless, are hoaxes, or are explainable or near-explainable by those able to employ critical thinking or sceptical analysis.

You can be an atheist and still love buildings of worship. Likewise, thinking that Nessie is not real does not stop Loch Ness from being a remarkable place or one with a great amount of allure. Image: Darren Naish.

You can be an atheist and still love buildings of worship. Likewise, thinking that Nessie is not real does not stop Loch Ness from being a remarkable place or one with a great amount of allure. Image: Darren Naish.

The Age of the Internet. It’s no secret among those especially interested in the LNM that one of the most visible writers on the subject in the Age of the Internet is not a journalist or scientist but a blogger – Roland Watson – who is unashamed and thoroughly biased in his insistence that Nessie is real and that those questioning the ‘evidence’ are wrong and on ground shakier than the firm footing occupied by himself. Binns notes that Watson has been useful in uncovering new data but more impressive are the substantial number of occasions in which Binns corrects or contests Watson’s interpretations.

Watson’s blog is a fun read if you like being immersed in detailed discussions of LNM-themed sightings, anecdotes, accounts and controversies. I congratulate anyone aiming to put esoteric data like this on the record, and to unearth more information on relevant people and the backgrounds to claimed eyewitness accounts.

But two issues ruin Watson’s entire take on the subject. One is his obvious employment of confirmation bias and insistence that Occam’s Razor has no place in monster hunting: while the record shows that he doesn’t automatically identify any object seen in the waters of Loch Ness as a monster, his primary argument on many occasions is to insist that ‘giant unknown aquatic vertebrate species’ should, as an explanation, be on equal footing with ‘swimming deer’, ‘unidentified fish’ or ‘wave’. No it shouldn’t.

The surface of Loch Ness, photographed in September 2016. Many people’s monster sightings are of a calibre similar to this. These are waves, made by a boat. Image: Darren Naish.

The surface of Loch Ness, photographed in September 2016. Many people’s monster sightings are of a calibre similar to this. These are waves, made by a boat. Image: Darren Naish.

The second issue is Watson’s obsession with sceptics, who he very much regards as The Bad Guys, The Enemy. He bashes sceptics a lot – as if being sceptical about Nessie is a bad thing or represents poor life choice – and has written at length about the motivations that, he thinks, drive sceptics and their scepticism. These arguments are naïve, way off base and just fucking weird. Example: Watson claimed on his blog and in his review of Hunting Monsters that I have been groomed – his word – by Loch Ness expert Dick Raynor, since sceptics require that the chalice of Loch Ness scepticism be passed down across the generations, and, furthermore, that I have been turned to the cult of scepticism via the nefarious chicanery and allure of an older man. Binns noted all of this as it was happening. “Naish’s assertion that Watson inhabits ‘an idiosyncratic intellectual landscape’ was a generous and measured response”, he says (p. 18). Damn straight.

Those of us sceptical about lake monsters are so, or have become so, because we aren’t convinced by the evidence, such as it is, and we see obvious problems with the ‘data’ deemed integral to the case by believers. I’ve become a sceptic for these reasons, not because I wish to be part of a special club (note to Nessie fans reading this: I am not employed in academia), not because I somehow earn points or money for being a sceptic (I wish), and not because I’m guilty of sloppy thinking, blindness, unfamiliarity with the evidence or an unwillingness to read or engage with the literature or the cryptozoological community. I was a believer once, I remind you, and I’ve said all sorts of dumb things supporting the existence of monsters that my critics never seem to be aware of. They only see an enemy: a blinkered ivory-tower elite who lives in a solid gold house, has never had a proper job, and dives every evening into a money pit of Science Dollars provided by the government or something.

Here’s a close-up of the Hugh Gray photo again. I say again: the ripples show that this object is ‘mid-sized’ (as in, 1 m long or so). Weird than an object which I say looks like a swan also has what looks like a swan’s leg and what looks like a swan’s pointed tail.

Here’s a close-up of the Hugh Gray photo again. I say again: the ripples show that this object is ‘mid-sized’ (as in, 1 m long or so). Weird than an object which I say looks like a swan also has what looks like a swan’s leg and what looks like a swan’s pointed tail.

You should buy this book. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded is required reading for those interested in the Loch Ness phenomenon, in lake monsters, cryptozoology and/or scepticism, and I really enjoyed it. My one complaint is that the lack of an index is a real pain. We all know that indexes are difficult and time consuming to compile, but lacking one entirely is not really excusable – even a short one consisting of keywords is better than nothing.

Anyway… it would be helpful to read Reloaded right after The Loch Ness Mystery Solved if you haven’t read that book already, but I wouldn’t say that this is a requirement. You should definitely buy it. And you should also consider leaving a positive amazon review given a really appalling bias present there at the time of writing. More Nessie book reviews soon.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press. pp. 222. ISBN 978-1-9997359-0-6. Softback, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk.

Nessie and related issues have been covered on TetZoo a fair bit before, though many of the older images now lack ALL of the many images they originated included…

Refs - -

Binns, R. 1983. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Open Books, London.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2013. Cryptozoologicon Volume I. Irregular Books.

Dinsdale, T. 1976. Loch Ness Monster (Revised Edition). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Holiday, F. W. 1968. The Great Orm of Loch Ness. Faber and Faber, London.

Loxton, D. & Prothero, D. R. 2013. Abominable Science! Columbia University Press, New York.

Naish, D. 2014. Speculative zoology. Fortean Times 316, 52-53.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

New Living Animals We Want to Find

As a regular denizen of the TetZooniverse, you may well remember the July 2017 article ‘Fossils We Want to Find’ in which I discussed a list of hypothetical fossil things that we might one day discover but haven’t yet. Wouldn’t it be fun to do the same sort of thing with extant species; that is, with discoveries pertaining to living, breathing animals? Over at the Zoology for Enthusiasts facebook group (a spinoff of the Tetrapod Zoology facebook group), Jordan Fryer suggested doing exactly this, and consequently people have been coming up with their own suggested living animals that might await discovery. Because this seemed like a lot of fun (and a chance to discuss some really neat and unusual stuff), I thought I’d give it a go.

The 2017 precursor to the article you’re reading here was all about fossil animals. It included this photo, which shows me in the act of discovering a dinosaur bone in the Moroccan Sahara. Image: Richard Hing.

The 2017 precursor to the article you’re reading here was all about fossil animals. It included this photo, which shows me in the act of discovering a dinosaur bone in the Moroccan Sahara. Image: Richard Hing.

Naturally, any list of this sort is horribly subjective, reflecting the interests and biases of the person compiling the list, but so be it. It also seems all too easy to turn any compilation into a ‘list of most discoverable cryptids’: for those of you who don’t know, I have a long-standing interest in cryptozoology and have published on it quite frequently (see Naish (2017) for starters). For the most part, I’ve not done this, though read on.

Many of my thoughts on mystery animals can be found in my   2017 book  Hunting Monsters   . I am not - sorry - much impressed by the case for such supposed animals as the mokele-mbembe, an artistic reconstruction of which is shown at right. Image: David Miller, in   Mackal (1987)  .

Many of my thoughts on mystery animals can be found in my 2017 book Hunting Monsters. I am not - sorry - much impressed by the case for such supposed animals as the mokele-mbembe, an artistic reconstruction of which is shown at right. Image: David Miller, in Mackal (1987).

I’ve also mostly excluded hypothetical discoveries that are inspired by the creatures of cryptozoology but could arguably be considered independent of the cryptozoological literature. In part this is because I don’t think they’re plausible or worth considering, but it’s also because they’re cliched and the opposite of original. So, no ‘living sauropods from the Congo’ or ‘living plesiosaurs in Loch Ness’, for example.

As for what I have selected: well, some of my suggestions are sillier than others, and some are perhaps not that interesting to non-specialists. But, whatever. Feel free to dissect my suggestions in the comments, and perhaps come up with your own.

Among my suggested ‘fossils we want to find’ are protobats (like the hypothetical examples shown at left, from Graham (2002)) and a good skeleton of the giant hominid  Gigantopithecus blacki . This ilustration of a lower jaw is from Simons & Ettel's (1970) magazine article. Images: Graham (2002), Simons & Ettel (1970).

Among my suggested ‘fossils we want to find’ are protobats (like the hypothetical examples shown at left, from Graham (2002)) and a good skeleton of the giant hominid Gigantopithecus blacki. This ilustration of a lower jaw is from Simons & Ettel's (1970) magazine article. Images: Graham (2002), Simons & Ettel (1970).

A habitually bipedal, large, non-human hominid. Whatever you think of all those stories, anecdotes and sightings about bigfoot, yeti, almas, orang-pendek, yowie and so on and on, the fact remains that the discovery of a large, bipedal non-human hominid – whether it be a pongine, hominine, or member of another hominid lineage – would be a huge deal. It would not just be one of the most newsworthy creatures to ever be discovered; it would also have enormous ramifications for our understanding of hominid evolution and potentially the human condition itself.

Are crypto-hominids a cultural phenomenon more than a zoological one? I’ve argued for both possibilities at different times. Whatever… for the purposes of the article you’re reading now, I hope we can agree that the discovery of such an animal would be high on any hypothetical ‘wants’ list. Image: Darren Naish.

Are crypto-hominids a cultural phenomenon more than a zoological one? I’ve argued for both possibilities at different times. Whatever… for the purposes of the article you’re reading now, I hope we can agree that the discovery of such an animal would be high on any hypothetical ‘wants’ list. Image: Darren Naish.

It would also – if relating to North America or northern Eurasia in particular – very likely have a significant impact on economy, land management and land use in those regions… or, you’d hope it would, anyway (who knows, given the current state of environmental protection in the USA). The hypothetical discovery of such an animal would also be regarded by many as one of the biggest ‘wins’ ever scored against ‘establishment science’, and thus could well be a bad thing (viz, “if scientists were wrong about this, what else could they be wrong about?”). And I’ll stop there before we dive into a rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and coverups.

A big, flightless passerine. The majority of living bird species – over 60% of them – are passerines, or perching birds. This is the great group that includes crows, thrushes, warblers, finches, sparrows and so many others. For all their success, wide distribution and diversity, passerines are generally quite samey. There are no big, long-legged wading passerines, or heavy-bodied diving passerines or flightless running passerines, for example. Why this is so remains mysterious: passerines didn’t take to those niches because… well, they just didn’t. Does this mean that they couldn’t? As usual, we can come up with a few reasons as to why they were ‘constrained’ in evolutionary potential, but any one of those reasons could be overturned by some evolutionary deviant that refuses to pay attention to the rules.

Passerine birds are diverse, to a degree… here’s just a sample of their diversity. This is part of a giant montage that’s being built for   my in-prep textbook The Vertebrate Fossil Record  . Image: Darren Naish.

Passerine birds are diverse, to a degree… here’s just a sample of their diversity. This is part of a giant montage that’s being built for my in-prep textbook The Vertebrate Fossil Record. Image: Darren Naish.

And thus I submit that a particularly large, wholly flightless, cursorial passerine should make itself known to the world. It should be a record-holder as goes size, but not necessarily be that much bigger than the largest known passerines (like lyrebirds and ravens): I’m talking about a bird that weighs 3-5 kg and is thus similar in size to a large chicken. It should be a big, long-legged rail-babbler, quail-thrush or similar, and hence be a denizen of Wallacea or nearby.

Eupetes , the Malaysian rail-babbler. A hypothetical big, flightless passerine should be a close relative of this bird. Image: Francesco Verronesi, CC BY-SA 2.0 ( original here ).

Eupetes, the Malaysian rail-babbler. A hypothetical big, flightless passerine should be a close relative of this bird. Image: Francesco Verronesi, CC BY-SA 2.0 (original here).

A few recently extinct, island-dwelling passerines were flightless, so we do know that passerines have the evolutionary potential to follow this pathway. Such species (a bunting and a few New Zealand wrens… and possibly a few others) were all small (less than 40 g).

A western Asian giant salamander. Giant salamanders (cryptobranchids) are restricted today to eastern Asia (where Andrias occurs) and North America (where Cryptobranchus occurs). Hunting, human disturbance, habitat loss and deterioration, climate change and other issues are putting them into perilous decline, right at the same time as we’re discovering that some of them are species complexes. They were more widespread in the past than they are today, since fossils show that Andrias salamanders were widespread across Europe and Asia between about 28 and 2 million years ago.

An Asian giant salamander ( Andrias ) photographed in captivity. Record-holding specimens of  Andrias  can be 1.8 m long and exceed 60 kg, and some extinct species reached even larger sizes. Image: Markus Bühler.

An Asian giant salamander (Andrias) photographed in captivity. Record-holding specimens of Andrias can be 1.8 m long and exceed 60 kg, and some extinct species reached even larger sizes. Image: Markus Bühler.

While there are very good reasons for the decline and extinction of the animals in the areas concerned, some of the regions where they formerly occurred still have what look like suitable habitat today and are sparsely populated by people. Furthermore, extinct giant salamanders weren’t all denizens of fast-flowing, highly oxygenated streams like those inhabited by the modern populations. Some inhabited ponds and lakes. Ergo: I would really, really like there to be a west Asian cryptobranchid that comes from a habitat considered weird for the other living members of the group. And it doesn’t have to be a giant of 2 metres or more. A hellbender-sized species of 70 cm or so will do fine thank you very much.

Some extinct cryptobranchids - this is Zdeněk Burian’s reconstruction of  Andrias scheuchzeri  - inhabited European ponds and lakes. I’ve previously criticised this image for showing the animal as terrestrial. Since then, the proposal has been made that some extinct cryptobranchids (albeit not  A. scheuchzeri ) were significantly more terrestrial than living species. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

Some extinct cryptobranchids - this is Zdeněk Burian’s reconstruction of Andrias scheuchzeri - inhabited European ponds and lakes. I’ve previously criticised this image for showing the animal as terrestrial. Since then, the proposal has been made that some extinct cryptobranchids (albeit not A. scheuchzeri) were significantly more terrestrial than living species. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

Again, this is an area of special interest to cryptozoologists, since there have been occasional suggestions that stories, engravings and such from western Asia might reflect folk knowledge of unusually big salamanders in the region. In reality, the images and stories concerned are super-ambiguous and more likely refer to otters and god knows what else.

At left:  Andrias  skull. Image: Darren Naish. At right: Japanese giant salamander ( A. japonicus ) illustration by Y. de Hoev from 1887. Image: Y. de Hoev, public domain ( original here ).

At left: Andrias skull. Image: Darren Naish. At right: Japanese giant salamander (A. japonicus) illustration by Y. de Hoev from 1887. Image: Y. de Hoev, public domain (original here).

A living albanerpetontid. Everyone knows that there are three main groups of living amphibian: caecilians, salamanders and anurans (frogs and toads). But until (geologically) recently, there was a fourth group: the albanerpetontids, sometimes termed albies by those who work on them. Albanerpetontids were geographically widespread, their range including Eurasia, northern Africa and North America, and they were geologically long-lived too. The oldest are from the Middle Jurassic while the youngest are… well, we’ve known of Miocene fossil albanerpetontids for decades, have known of Pliocene specimens since 2005 (Venczel & Gardner 2005), and now know that at least one species persisted into the Pleistocene (Villa et al. 2018). The fact that their fossil record has been creeping towards the Recent means that the possibility of fossil and even extant Holocene specimens being discovered isn’t ridiculous, especially given the small size of these animals and hence tiny size of their bones.

New salamander species are occasionally discovered in Europe and Asia even now. It would be amazing if an animal suspected to be a ‘new salamander’ one day turned out to be a living albanerpetontid. These reconstructions were published by McGowan & Evans (1995). They might have erred in implying that the scales would be externally visible as shown here; more likely is that they were concealed by epidermis, as in other scaly fossil amphibians. Image: McGowan & Evans (1995).

New salamander species are occasionally discovered in Europe and Asia even now. It would be amazing if an animal suspected to be a ‘new salamander’ one day turned out to be a living albanerpetontid. These reconstructions were published by McGowan & Evans (1995). They might have erred in implying that the scales would be externally visible as shown here; more likely is that they were concealed by epidermis, as in other scaly fossil amphibians. Image: McGowan & Evans (1995).

To be frank, a live albanerpetontid wouldn’t be a particularly spectacular animal: it would be a tiny, slim, salamander-like amphibian less than 10 cm long, and it wouldn’t be much fun to watch since it would spend most of its time hiding and burrowing in leaf litter. But among herp-nerds it would be a huge deal. Live albanerpetontids were scaly-skinned (though the scales were not necessarily visible externally), with eyelids, and with adaptations in the snout, skull-roof, neck and body shape linked to head-first burrowing (McGowan & Evans 1995).

An artistic reconstruction of a live albanerpetontid…   produced for my in-prep The Vertebrate Fossil Record  . Image: Darren Naish.

An artistic reconstruction of a live albanerpetontid… produced for my in-prep The Vertebrate Fossil Record. Image: Darren Naish.

A Eurasian palaeognath. Palaeognaths are the big, flightless ratites (ostriches, emus and so on), the superficially gamebird-like, flight-capable tinamous, and their extinct relatives. A huge amount has been written about the evolutionary history and biogeography of these birds, since their distribution is curious and has resulted in all kinds of different models about how they might have spread around the world. I’ve written about this issue at length on previous occasion (the articles concerned being famous for generating the longest-ever comment threads in the history of TetZoo… though all of this is mostly wasted now, what with SciAm’s paywalling of the site, sigh). Living palaeognaths are absent from Eurasia, despite the former present in the region of ancient, flight-capable Paleogene taxa, extinct ostriches and others.

As this map shows, modern palaeognaths occurred everywhere until recently (except Antarctica) with the exception of northern North America and the cooler parts of Eurasia. Extinctions across Eurasia, Madagascar and New Zealand of course saw the disappearance of various members of the group. Image: Darren Naish.

As this map shows, modern palaeognaths occurred everywhere until recently (except Antarctica) with the exception of northern North America and the cooler parts of Eurasia. Extinctions across Eurasia, Madagascar and New Zealand of course saw the disappearance of various members of the group. Image: Darren Naish.

The fact that Paleogene Europe was home to many bird groups that no longer occur there but are now denizens of tropical regions elsewhere leads me to hope for a living palaeognath – a tinamou- or bustard-sized species – that descends directly from archaic Paleogene taxa and now lives in the Asian tropics. It should be a cryptic generalist with barred plumage and a mid-length bill and a reduced flight ability.

A gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenian. Regular readers of TetZoo might know that I really like amphisbaenians: the mostly limbless, bullet-headed ‘worm lizards’ of the American tropics, Africa, and parts of southern Europe and western Asia. Amphisbaenian evolutionary history and biogeography has become increasingly complex in recent years as we’ve learnt a bunch of new stuff about their fossil history, genetics and anatomy. Among the weirdest of amphisbaenians are the ajolotes (or bipedids), the only extant group to possess limbs. These limbs are not small stumps or flaps (as they are in some other near-limbless, serpentine squamates) but well-developed, clawed forelimbs. According to some phylogenetic models, ajolotes are not the sister-group to limbless amphisbaenians but deeply nested within the limbless clade (Conrad 2008, Videl et al. 2008), in which case their limbedness – if you will – perhaps evolved from limbless ancestors. Add to this the fact that some amphisbaenians are robust-jawed, short-faced predators of vertebrates that ambush prey from beneath the surface and bite chunks from the bodies of surface-dwelling mammals and reptiles.

Bipes , an ajolote of Mexico (they might occur in parts of the USA as well). Three extant species are recognised. Image: Darren Naish.

Bipes, an ajolote of Mexico (they might occur in parts of the USA as well). Three extant species are recognised. Image: Darren Naish.

So then… where oh where are the giant, limbed, robust-skulled, vertebrate-eating amphisbaenians? By ‘giant’, I am not talking about a graboid-sized monster of several metres (though that would be nice), but a more reasonable animal of a mere 1.5 metres or so. Easily the stuff of nightmares. They could inhabit warm regions of any continent.

Carl Gans’s illustration of a burrowing ajolote, showing how the large, well-clawed forelimbs function in propulsion. This is clearly a Five-toed worm lizard  Bipes biporus ; the other extant species have four and three digits, respectively. Image:   Gans (1974)  .

Carl Gans’s illustration of a burrowing ajolote, showing how the large, well-clawed forelimbs function in propulsion. This is clearly a Five-toed worm lizard Bipes biporus; the other extant species have four and three digits, respectively. Image: Gans (1974).

Is there any reason to think that gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenians might actually exist and await discovery? Nope. But I wish it were so. Regular readers might recognise that such creatures are denizens of the alternative-timeline Earth of the Squamozoic, but I’m sure that that’s coincidental.

What would a gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenian look like? Like this, of course. Image: Darren Naish.

What would a gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenian look like? Like this, of course. Image: Darren Naish.

An African or west Eurasian, long-beaked river dolphin. On several occasions within the history of odontocete cetaceans (‘toothed whales’), lineages have moved into brackish and estuarine environments, and eventually made the transition to committed freshwater life. There are the Asian Platanista species, the recently extinct Lipotes of China, and the tropical American Inia species. Once united within Platanistoidea and thought to be close kin, we know today that these animals represent at least three separate transitions to the freshwater environment (the term Platanistoidea is now restricted to the Platanista lineage alone). In addition, members of other groups – I’m thinking of the delphinid Orcaella – occur in rivers within parts of their range. There’s also a fossil beaked whale that might be indicative of freshwater specialisation in yet another odontocete group (Mead 1975).

River dolphins are pretty special looking. This is a Ganges river dolphin ( Platanista gangetica ). Image: Zahangir Alom / Marine Mammal Commission / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, public domain ( original here ).

River dolphins are pretty special looking. This is a Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica). Image: Zahangir Alom / Marine Mammal Commission / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, public domain (original here).

In view of all this, why aren’t there river-dwelling dolphins in Africa, Europe or western Asia? Again, the answer seems to be… there just aren’t. A few fossil taxa suggest that such animals might have evolved if things had gone another way (there are fossil platanistoids from the Caucasus, for example). But I humbly submit that the great river systems of tropical Africa, the Tigris-Euphrates system of western Asia and the Danube, Po, Ebro, Dniester and others of southern Europe would be much improved if only we knew of their endemic riverine dolphins. I’m talking about a true riverine specialist, convergent with Inia and Platanista, with a long beak, spike-like teeth, reduced eyesight, the works. And if you want to play fast and loose with antiquarian literature and anecdote, there are references in the literature to ‘river dolphins’ in the Nile and there are even one or two eyewitness accounts from central Europe that describe long-beaked ‘dolphins’ seen in rivers and lakes.

If there are extant west Eurasian or African river dolphins, they should look like this. This is a hypothetical species, modelled on the American  Inia  and Asian  Platanista . Image: Darren Naish.

If there are extant west Eurasian or African river dolphins, they should look like this. This is a hypothetical species, modelled on the American Inia and Asian Platanista. Image: Darren Naish.

An endoparasitic tetrapod. Tetrapods have become parasites on several occasions. Vampire bats are parasites of birds and mammals, and it’s even been argued that some blood- and milk-eating human populations can be considered parasites of the mammals they rely on (though the mammals concerned are domesticated, so it’s complicated). Elsewhere among vertebrates, everyone knows about the parasitic catfishes that invade the gills of other actinopterygian fishes and even the urethras of mammals; less familiar is the fact that other actinopterygians can, on rare occasion, become trapped inside the bodies of other vertebrates and then make a successful living. Yes, you read that right. I have in mind the case where two Snubnosed or Pugnose eels Simenchelys parasitica were discovered living inside the heart of a mako shark (Caira et al. 1997; see also Eagderi et al. 2016). This eel is not – despite its name* – ordinarily an internal parasite: this was a case of facultative endoparasitism!

At left: a snubnosed eel found living inside the heart of a shark. Eels are not tetrapods, it’s true. But here’s evidence that aquatic vertebrates can become endoparasites. Image: Caira  et al . (1997). At right: an aquatic typhlonectid caecilian. Surely it’s only a matter of time before we discover an endoparasitic one of those as well. Image: Neil Phillips.

At left: a snubnosed eel found living inside the heart of a shark. Eels are not tetrapods, it’s true. But here’s evidence that aquatic vertebrates can become endoparasites. Image: Caira et al. (1997). At right: an aquatic typhlonectid caecilian. Surely it’s only a matter of time before we discover an endoparasitic one of those as well. Image: Neil Phillips.

There are all kinds of reasons why a tetrapod couldn’t become an endoparasite, respiration being high on the list. A hypothetical endoparasitic tetrapod would have to be small, with remarkable tolerance of unusual chemical and thermal conditions, with low oxygen requirements, and most likely with the ability to respire cutaneously or via gills. In other words, it should be the world’s weirdest caecilian. As if caecilians aren’t weird enough, I’d love there to be small, endoparasitic caecilians. Given that some caecilians are already aquatic gill-breathers that will consume the tissues of fish (exhibit A: the sequence from River Monsters where Jeremy Wade discovers swarming typhlonectid caecilians in the carcass of a large fish), I predict these animals to be aquatic, South American species that parasitise actinopterygians and aquatic mammals, like Inia the river dolphin.

* Snubnosed eels were given the name ‘parasitica’ because they opportunistically latch on to the bodies of larger fish and eat away at the flesh. They were not thought to ever be proper internal parasites prior to 1992.

And that’s where I’ll stop for now. I actually came up with a list containing numerous additional ‘wish list’ animals but time is against me. Maybe I’ll cover them in another article. Whatever, this was all a bit of fun and I hope you enjoyed it.

For TetZoo articles relevant to the issues covered here, see…

PS I’m going to stop linking to the SciAm run of TetZoo articles soon, because I cannot access them at all and they’re now all but useless. They all need to be relocated to an open-access site.

Thanks to those supporting this work – and the very blog itself – via pledges at patreon. You can support what I do and see works-in-prep behind the scenes, via pledges as small as $1 per month.

Refs - -

Caira, J. N., Benz, G. W., Borucinska, J. & Kohler, N. E. 1997. Pugnose eels, Simenchelys parasiticus (Synaphobranchidae) from the heart of a shortfin mako, Isurus oxyrinchus (Lamnidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 49, 139-144.

Conrad, J. 2008. Phylogeny and systematics of Squamata (Reptilia) based on morphology. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 310, 1-182.

Eagderi, S., Christiaens, J., Boone, M., Jacobs, P. & Adriaens, D. 2016 Functional morphology of the feeding apparatus in Simenchelys parasitica (Simenchelyinae: Synaphobranchidae), an alleged parasitic eel. Copeia 104, 421-439.

Gans, C. 1974. Biomechanics: An Approach to Vertebrate Biology. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Toronto.

Graham, G. L. 2002. Bats of the World. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Mackal, R. P. 1987. A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

McGowan, G. J. & Evans, S. E. 1995. Albanerpetontid amphibians from the Cretaceous of Spain. Nature 373, 143-145.

Mead, J. G. 1975. A fossil beaked whale (Cetacea: Ziphiidae) from the Miocene of Kenya. Journal of Paleontology 49, 745-751.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Simons, E. L. & Ettel, P. C. 1970. GigantopithecusScientific American 222 (1), 77-84.

Venczel, M. & Gardner, J. D. 2005. The geologically youngest albanerpetontid amphibian, from the Lower Pliocene of Hungary. Palaeontology 48, 1273-1300.

Vidal, N., Azvolinsky, A., Cruaud, C. & Hedges, S. B. 2008. Origin of tropical American burrowing reptiles by transatlantic rafting. Biology Letters 4, 115-118.

Villa, A., Blain, H.-A. & Delfino, M. 2018. The Early Pleistocene herpetofauna of Rivoli Veronese (Northern Italy) as evidence for humid and forested glacial phases in the Gelasian of Southern Alps. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 490, 393-403.

Bigfoot’s Genitals: What Do We Know?

Ok, I will fully admit upfront that the article you’re about to read (or: about to stop reading, depending on your preference) is included here both because it’s linked to something in the news, and because it’s sensational and perhaps amusing.

The offending tweet. What we're all asking is:  how anatomically accurate might this depiction be?  Spoiler: not accurate at all (err.. assuming that Bigfoot even exists, a minor detail). Image: Twitter.

The offending tweet. What we're all asking is: how anatomically accurate might this depiction be? Spoiler: not accurate at all (err.. assuming that Bigfoot even exists, a minor detail). Image: Twitter.

Without going into all the details, US Republican candidate Denver Riggleman (great name) has been outed as an alleged fan of Bigfoot erotic fiction… yeah, this is a thing, come on you knew that don't pretend you didn't… though I do wonder whether this is some sort of ploy to downplay said candidate’s more worrying association with white supremacists [UPDATE: Loren Coleman tells me that Mr Riggleman has a long-term, serious interest in Bigfootery]. Bigfoot erotic fiction? The fact that – like it or not – Bigfoot is regarded as light-relief and harmless hokum means that any link between Bigfoot and sex is immediately treated as a joke. News stories associated with Riggleman’s niche interests have featured an illustration of a male Bigfoot, its seemingly substantial sexual organ safely censored by a long and subtle black box (see if you can spot it in the image above). And this leads us to the ultimate question: what have people honestly, seriously, thought about the genital anatomy of Bigfoot? Inspired by a twitter exchange with Russ Dobler and Kyle Marian, I thought this was as good an opportunity as any to summarise what’s on the record.

First things first: does this mean that I consider Bigfoot a real, genuine, flesh and blood, undiscovered primate? Let’s just say for now that I’m really sceptical of this notion (for reasons discussed here, and in my 2017 book Hunting Monsters). I’m not a knee-jerk sceptic though, and long to have my mind changed…

I've only had one up-close encounter with a Bigfoot myself (it happened in California); I didn't have opportunity at the time to do any checking as goes any details of anatomy, but here's the proof. Image: [safely anonymous source]/Darren Naish.

I've only had one up-close encounter with a Bigfoot myself (it happened in California); I didn't have opportunity at the time to do any checking as goes any details of anatomy, but here's the proof. Image: [safely anonymous source]/Darren Naish.

One of the main aims of my writing is to summarise or convey what others have said before me and, like it or not, a bunch of authors who’ve written about Bigfoot as a real biological entity have indeed considered the subject of its genital anatomy. After all, if you regard Bigfoot as a real animal it’s perfectly valid to consider all kinds of aspects of its biology, behaviour and evolution, even if we’re doing little more than speculating.

If Bigfoot is real, just remember that it's probably the most terrifying animal in existence. Seriously. I tried to modify my drawing ( available on merchandise! ) so that the animal appears to be in the dark. I failed. Image: Darren Naish.

If Bigfoot is real, just remember that it's probably the most terrifying animal in existence. Seriously. I tried to modify my drawing (available on merchandise!) so that the animal appears to be in the dark. I failed. Image: Darren Naish.

So, if you look at the Bigfoot literature you’ll see a fair few mentions of male genital anatomy, these most typically being references to “a small penis and scrotum” (Krantz 1999, p. 155). When a penis is mentioned, it’s virtually always flaccid… though there are exceptions. The infamous ‘Kong’ account (in which the semi-anonymous ‘Jan Klement’ described his long-time association during the 1970s with an animal that regularly visited his property) includes an event whereby ‘Kong’ exhibited a tumid penis and interacted sexually with a cow.

Then there’s the ‘Redwoods’ incident. In 1995, an alleged Bigfoot was filmed (from a vehicle) in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California. And what appears to be a slender, tapering, mobile, sickle-shaped penis flexes upwards during the footage. Some writers have even interpreted this as a possible threat display (Meldrum & Greenwell 1998). This piece of footage is known generally as the ‘Redwoods Footage’, but the fact that it was filmed by a crew working for the Playboy company – and hence is also often called the ‘Playboy Footage’ – hasn’t exactly helped its credibility.

At left, we see a rather grainy still from the 'Redwoods footage'; at right is an interpretation (drawn by Peter Visscher, based on an initial interpretation produced by Jeff Meldrum). The penis isn't visible in this part of the footage. Image: Meldrum & Greenwell (1998)/BBC Wildlife.

At left, we see a rather grainy still from the 'Redwoods footage'; at right is an interpretation (drawn by Peter Visscher, based on an initial interpretation produced by Jeff Meldrum). The penis isn't visible in this part of the footage. Image: Meldrum & Greenwell (1998)/BBC Wildlife.

A reasonably large, erect penis has also been described in an observation of a Central Asian bar-manu, one of several creatures sometimes suggested to be Eurasian relatives or versions of North America’s Bigfoot. And then there’s the whole world of speculation concerning whether ancient depictions of satyrs, wildmen and so on with erect penises are relevant to such sightings and their validity. I discuss this issue further in Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017).

Herpetologist and cryptozoologist Jordi Magraner drew this obviously male bar-manu (a crypto-hominid reported from Pakistan) as described by a witness. The account was published by Michel Raynal (2001). Image: Raynal (2001).

Herpetologist and cryptozoologist Jordi Magraner drew this obviously male bar-manu (a crypto-hominid reported from Pakistan) as described by a witness. The account was published by Michel Raynal (2001). Image: Raynal (2001).

Loren Coleman included a whole chapter on sex and genital anatomy in his 2003 Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America (Coleman 2003). Indeed, he noted at the start of this chapter that the general absence of writings on Bigfoot sexual behaviour and anatomy seems weird given the importance and significance of these things to primates. “Bigfoot are most frequently shown without any male genitalia even though a penis might be part of a witness description”, he wrote (Coleman 2003, p. 185).

Loren Coleman's 2003  Bigfoot!   includes a whole chapter on ideas and observations about sexual behaviour and anatomy. If Bigfoot isn't real, maybe this stuff is fatuous. Then again, even if Bigfoot  isn't  real, our attitude to this stuff might still tell us something. And if Bigfoot is real? Well... Image : Simon & Schuster .

Loren Coleman's 2003 Bigfoot! includes a whole chapter on ideas and observations about sexual behaviour and anatomy. If Bigfoot isn't real, maybe this stuff is fatuous. Then again, even if Bigfoot isn't real, our attitude to this stuff might still tell us something. And if Bigfoot is real? Well... Image: Simon & Schuster.

A few other eyewitness encounters have described a penis. Albert Ostman – the Canadian logger and construction worker supposedly kidnapped by a Bigfoot family during the 1920s – described the penis of the large male boss of the group as short (around two inches long) and “hooded with skin”, or – according to researcher John Green following his communication with Ostman – “like an inverted funnel, which sounds horse-like” (Coleman 2003, p. 191). I should add for the record that I don’t believe Ostman’s encounter ever happened, strange as that might seem. And the other accounts of which I’m aware refer to an organ proportionally smaller than that of an average human – there aren’t (so far as I’m aware) reports of giant, swinging structures of impressive length or girth, excuse the mental image.

The general impression we get from this limited information (assuming here that Bigfoot is real, of course) is somewhat contradictory but we can couch what we know within the social systems and breeding strategies of other primates (e.g., Harcourt & Gardiner 1994). Because there’s no indication of giant testes (like those of chimps), we might infer that sperm competition is not an evolutionary driver for Bigfoot, and thus that they presumably have a monogamous or near-monogamous mating system. This is in keeping with the general idea that Bigfoot lives in small bands, perhaps involving a mating pair and their offspring. The apparently proportionally small size of the penis could be seen as being consistent with this, since it might indicate that the genitals are not used in social display and intimidation, as they are in humans and (to a degree) chimps and bonobos. On the other hand, a proportionally small penis could also be inconsistent here, given the hypothesis that large penises in humans are supposedly linked with monogamy/near-monogamy (note: supposedly. I must avoid discussing the argument over human sexual behaviour and mating systems). The contradiction comes from the Redwoods footage, though, since this seemingly reported a relatively large penis used as a display, err, tool.

I will finish this discussion on male genitals by noting that there’s been some serious discussions within Bigfoot research circles as goes such details of anatomy as the presence or otherwise of the baculum. You can read about that discussion, if you wish, in this 2010 article by Loren Coleman.

The creature in the Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967 - now affectionately known as 'Patty' within the Bigfoot research community - seemingly has breasts comparable to those of some humans. Is it coincidental that Roger Patterson was very familiar with William Roe's female Bigfoot of the 1950s (see below)? Or is this consistent with the ostensible biological reality of this animal? Because images of the Patterson-Gimlin film are copyright protected (like virtually all images of Bigfoot), I made this myself and it's available for use. Image: Darren Naish.

The creature in the Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967 - now affectionately known as 'Patty' within the Bigfoot research community - seemingly has breasts comparable to those of some humans. Is it coincidental that Roger Patterson was very familiar with William Roe's female Bigfoot of the 1950s (see below)? Or is this consistent with the ostensible biological reality of this animal? Because images of the Patterson-Gimlin film are copyright protected (like virtually all images of Bigfoot), I made this myself and it's available for use. Image: Darren Naish.

So that’s enough of that. Everything you’ve read so far is focused on males of this ostensible species. What about females? I think it would be fair to assume that very little – perhaps nothing – has been written about female anatomy. Bigfoot is, after all, mostly imagined as a quintessentially male creature linked to masculinity and the manly male humans that pursue it. But female Bigfoots have been reported too, and indeed among the most influential and historically significant of all Bigfoot accounts ever – William Roe’s Canadian story of the mid-1950s and Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin’s famous/infamous encounter of 1967 – describe obvious females.

Late in the 1950s, William Roe reported his encounter (supposedly from earlier in the decade) with another obviously female Bigfoot in Canada. This drawing was produced by Roe's daughter, under his direction. I can't be the only one who thinks the anatomy here is a bit... gravity-defying. This is not the original drawing, but a re-drawing produced by John Conway for our  2013 book  The Cryptozoologicon: Volume One  . Image: John Conway.

Late in the 1950s, William Roe reported his encounter (supposedly from earlier in the decade) with another obviously female Bigfoot in Canada. This drawing was produced by Roe's daughter, under his direction. I can't be the only one who thinks the anatomy here is a bit... gravity-defying. This is not the original drawing, but a re-drawing produced by John Conway for our 2013 book The Cryptozoologicon: Volume One. Image: John Conway.

Breasts have been written about and commented on a great many times in discussions of this creature. A few reports have described elongate or ‘droopy’ breasts but those most often discussed – those of ‘Patty’ and Roe’s creature – were rotund and even engorged in appearance (Bindernagel 1998). Indeed, those working to demonstrate the reality of the Patterson-Gimlin film have gone to some trouble to argue that ‘Patty’s’ breasts can’t be fake because they exhibit movement and flexibility consistent with genuine breasts, and inconsistent with any of the available prosthetic alternatives. William Munns has a whole section on this issue in his book When Roger Met Patty (Munns 2014). Human models were filmed and photographed to show, via comparison, how the ‘Patty’ breasts perform in a consistent and realistic manner.

I could go on – as I’ve said, a lot has been said about Bigfoot breasts in the literature (there’s also been a whole discussion on how realistic the concept of furry breasts might be) – but I think that’ll do. Moving elsewhere as goes females, why do we never hear about female genitalia (I’m here excluding breasts from the definition of ‘genitalia’), in contrast to all those mentions of Bigfoot junk? Maybe it’s true that those who’ve considered Bigfoot as a biological entity have been biased by patriarchy. I don’t doubt that this is true but it should also be noted that observations and recollections concerning the finer details of female genital anatomy are few and far between, as they might be for logical reasons (I mean: all the goddam hair). Anyway, a few mentions are out there. A very few.

In the aforementioned discussion provided by Loren Coleman, Loren refers to the rarity of discussions of female genital anatomy and notes that he (at the time) was only aware of one. In the November of 1968, hunter John Thomas is said to have encountered two Bigfoots sleeping out in the open. They were in the posture that – curiously enough – has been described on several occasions by witnesses; that is, with the limbs partially folded beneath the body and the back facing upwards. Anyway, one of these animals had breasts in addition to a “swelling” in its genital region that it kept rubbing (Coleman 2003, p. 198). Without more information it’s difficult to know the story here. Presumably we’re talking about a modest swelling of the sort seen in various primates (including gibbons and gorillas among hominoids), and not the pronounced and striking structures seen in chimps, bonobos and various monkeys.

Several accounts describe crypto-hominids sleeping in this very unusual posture, or at least in postures like it. This drawing was apparently produced by a Soviet zoologist called Khlakhlov during the early 1900s and depicts an Almas - an Asian crypto-hominid - encounterd in the Dzungarian region. The drawing is reproduced in Myra Shackley's 1983 book. Image: Shackley (1983).

Several accounts describe crypto-hominids sleeping in this very unusual posture, or at least in postures like it. This drawing was apparently produced by a Soviet zoologist called Khlakhlov during the early 1900s and depicts an Almas - an Asian crypto-hominid - encounterd in the Dzungarian region. The drawing is reproduced in Myra Shackley's 1983 book. Image: Shackley (1983).

A second case concerns what’s said to be the imprint of a Bigfoot butt, left in sandy soil in Walla Walla, Washington. The print was cast by Paul Freeman – an individual with a controversial track record in the world of Bigfoot evidence, shall we say – and passed to Jeff Meldrum who described it in his 2006 book. The print reveals well demarcated, muscular buttocks but also what appears to be the suggestion of labia (Meldrum 2006). With a bit of imagination, they look – from the cast of the impression – to be about similar in form and proportion to those of a human.

Needless to say, there isn’t – to my knowledge – any discussion out there as goes any other aspects of female genital anatomy in this alleged creature. Not only is eyewitness data on such details unreported (so far as I know), but any sensible idea we might have on what’s predicted or assumed is dependent on whatever phylogenetic affinity we prefer for the species: Bigfoot has, variously, been suggested to be close to gibbons, orangutans, hominines and even hominins and humans by those who endorse its existence. There's an argument for platyrrhine status out there as well.

Non-human primates of many sorts have diverse and remarkable genitals. Variously platyrrhines - spider monkeys are the most famous - have enormous clitorides. This is a Colombian or Black-headed spider monkey  Ateles fusciceps rufiventris  using a stick as a scratching tool. Image: Darren Naish.

Non-human primates of many sorts have diverse and remarkable genitals. Variously platyrrhines - spider monkeys are the most famous - have enormous clitorides. This is a Colombian or Black-headed spider monkey Ateles fusciceps rufiventris using a stick as a scratching tool. Image: Darren Naish.

That about brings us to a close on this niche yet worthy subject. As usual with arcane topics like this, it’s never true that “nobody ever talks about ---- [insert weird niche subject]”: on the contrary, quite a few writers have. Clearly, if Bigfoot is real, we have scant data to work with, and a conclusion must be that Bigfoot genitalia are not especially noticeable in average encounters with humans. And if Bigfoot isn't real, but is a sociocultural phenomenon of some sort, the fact that so few encounters discuss its genitalia in detail might be consistent with the near-irrelevance of such features to an entity of this sort. This might be inconsistent with erotic fan fiction - sorry, Mr Riggleman - but there it is.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on Bigfoot and other cryptozoological matters, see…

And here's your reminder that the persistence and success of Tetrapod Zoology now depends entirely on funding via patreon. Thanks to those who support me! The more secure my funding, the more time I can and will spend generating content for Tet Zoo.

Refs - -

Bindernagel, J. A. 1998. North America’s Great Ape: the Sasquatch. Beachcomber Books, Courtenay, B.C.

Coleman, L. 2003. Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Paraview, New York.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2013. Cryptozoologicon Volume I. Irregular Books.

Harcourt, A. & Gardiner, J. 1994. Sexual selection and genital anatomy of male primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B 255, 47-53.

Krantz, G. S. 1999. Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence. Hancock House, Surrey, B.C. & Blaine, WA.

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