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Lair of the Beasts: When Size Matters
By Nick Redfern
July 27, 2013
When is a monster not a monster? Well, I’ll tell you: when it’s a monster-sized animal. Within the field of Cryptozoology, when someone uses the term “monster” they are usually referring to a creature of definitively unknown origin and identification. But, sometimes, the word is used to describe something that may be a regular animal, but one of unusually massive proportions.
A classic example is the Loch Ness Monster – or, more correctly, the Loch Ness Monsters, since it’s absurd to think that the lore of the loch is based around just one long-lived animal. For the Scottish tourist board – Visit Scotland, as it’s known – it would be an absolute dream come true if the Nessies were proved to be plesiosaurs, those famous, long-extinct marine reptiles.
Unfortunately, the odds are stacked firmly against the creatures being plesiosaurs. For a start, just like us, plesiosaurs had lungs, not gills like a fish. This means the Loch Ness plesiosaurs would be surfacing regularly for air.
The reality, however, is that despite what many assume, there aren’t many reports of the creatures, per year, at all. A handful or two is literally it. But here’s the big problem: air-breathers should be seen breaking the surface of the loch constantly. That they are seen barely, rather than constantly, is a good pointer that they are not plesiosaurs.
One particularly intriguing theory has been put forward by a good friend of mine, Richard Freeman, a former zoo-keeper who lives in Devon, England. Richard suspects that the Nessies might be eels. But, we’re not talking about regular eels of the type that you can see here, there and everywhere. The European conger eel can reach lengths of around 10 feet; however, since some people report the Nessies as being in excess of 20, or even 30, feet, then these would be eels of truly unprecedented size.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that a giant eel might not provoke as much excitement as a plesiosaur. It’s a fact, however, that if you’re sailing on the waters of Loch Ness and an eel around thirty feet in length, and with a body the width of a large oil drum, comes racing towards you, you probably wouldn’t quibble about calling it a monster.
And that’s what I meant in my opening paragraph. Namely that, as people, we tend to view and class an animal as a monster not just because it’s unknown, mysterious, and unidentified. Sometimes, the title of “monster” is applied when the creature is overly, and abnormally, massive.
Thus, there is very little doubt in my mind – given that I think we should treat Richard Freeman’s theory seriously – that many presumed unknown animals, and particularly lake monsters and so-called sea serpents, aren’t monsters at all. Instead, they are – as I personally see it, at least - astonishingly huge, mutant variants of already known species. But, when the term “monster” is applied to them, they suddenly take on mysterious, near-mythical, and sometimes even supernatural status.
Of course, at the end of the day this doesn’t just tell us a great deal about monsters. It also reveals a great deal about us, the Human Race, and how our love for, and fascination with, the unknown can create a monster out of something that is actually nothing of the sort at all.
And, let’s not forget that the Loch Ness Monster has a far greater appeal – in terms of the wording and description – than does the Loch Ness Giant Eel!
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including Monster Files, Monster Diary, Memoirs of a Monster Hunter, and (with Ken Gerhard) Monsters of Texas.