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Lair of the Beasts: Defining Lake Monsters
Creatures of the Water
By Nick Refern
June 08, 2013
Just a few days ago, I was interviewed on a radio show about my new book, Monster Files. During the course of the Q&A, I was asked for my views on the nature of so-called lake-monsters, such as Scotland’s famous Loch Ness Monster.
Well, as I told the host, it all depends on how you define that term: “monster.” Lake monsters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – long-necked, short-necked, humped, dark in color, and light in color; the list goes on, as do the variations.
Clearly, this demonstrates one thing more than any other: namely, that whatever lake-monsters might be, they are not just one category of animal. Indeed, there is good evidence that there are different classes of lake-monster.
On top of that, some of them are not monsters at all; rather, they are known animals that either (a) have grown to huge sizes; or (b) pop up in areas – and even countries – where they have no business being seen. Let’s start with Scotland’s Nessie.
The most popular theory is that the beasts of Loch Ness are plesiosaurs. They were marine reptiles that existed millions of years ago in the Mesozoic era. So the theory goes, against all the odds, a colony of plesiosaurs has survived and thrived in Loch Ness for, well, who knows how long?
But, there’s a problem with this theory: the creatures have occasionally been seen on land. There is no evidence – at all – that plesiosaurs could operate out of the water. Plus, not all sightings of Nessie are of the famous long-necked, humped-back kind. There are eye-witness reports that suggest the creatures might be massive eels, or possibly even giant salamanders.
It’s the same here in Texas, where I live. I have investigated a number of reports of so-called lake monsters in the Lone Star State that – while I couldn’t prove it – I am pretty sure fell into two specific categories: (a) alligator gar; and (b) huge catfish.
Granted, such explanations are not as exciting as a predatory plesiosaur lurking in the murky depths. But, when you’re faced with an alligator gar – an ancient fish that can grow to around 10 to 11 feet in length - and you are not familiar with it, it’s easy to understand why it might be mistaken for a “monster.”
It’s the same with catfish. They too can grow to lengths in excess of 10 feet. There are even anecdotes pertaining to monster catfish of 15 to 20 feet in size! It doesn’t take a genius to realize how repeated, brief sightings of such animals in one, clearly defined location, could soon provoke rumors of lake-monsters on the loose.
Then there’s the matter of exotic pets. Now and again, stories surface in the UK of sightings of strange creatures inhabiting small pools and lakes across the land. Of course, local media outlets love it as it allows them to write sensational stories – with eye-catching headlines – about monsters in their midst.
Usually, however, when I investigate such cases, and listen to the descriptions of the witnesses, it’s clear we’re not dealing with “monsters” at all. Rather, we’re dealing with pets of the unusual kind that have got too big for their owners to handle.
The result: they don’t want to see their pets killed or dumped, so they head out late at night, and stealthily release them into the nearest body of water where they might have a chance of surviving. We’re talking here about the likes of snapping-turtles and even baby alligators. But, glimpsed briefly, while breaking the surface, they soon become the stuff of legend.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do fully believe that some lakes across the planet are home to extraordinary and unknown animals, for which the title “monster” is a very apt one. But, we should never forget that it’s all too easy to cry “monster on the loose!” when faced with something unusual surfacing from the murky deep.
“Monster” is a highly emotive word; but sometimes it’s used to describe what turns out to be nothing stranger than just a big fish.
Nick Redfern’s new book, Monster Files, is available now.