Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Solid Muldoon-- Colorado


In 1877, an amateur fossil hunter named William Conant was poking around a hill in Beulah, Colorado when he noticed a stone shaped like a foot sticking out of the ground. Digging around the odd find, he discovered an entire man made of stone; a petrified human being over seven feet tall and with a nub of a tail at the base of his spine.  The thing was soon dubbed “The Solid Muldoon”, likely in reference to then-famous wrestler William “The Solid Man” Muldoon, and put on display for curious onlookers. Some speculated that the petrified man was one of the giants of the Bible said to have drowned in Noah’s flood.  Others thought it had never been a living being, but was in fact a statue from a forgotten race.

Eventually the Solid Muldoon was revealed to be a hoax made out of rock flour, plaster, pulverized bones, blood and meat. However this revelation did little to diminish people’s interest in seeing it. Only now they were coming to see the “petrified man” precisely because he WAS a hoax. Fake he may have been, but he still made a good story to tell folks back home.

The Solid Muldoon wasn’t the only “petrified man” dug up in the 1800s. In 1869, his more famous cousin, the Cardiff Giant, was discovered on a farm in Cardiff, New York by two men digging a well. Like the Solid Muldoon, this ten-foot tall figure was believed by many to be the fossil remains of a Biblical giant.
"Cardiff Giant" by Unknown - New York State Historical Association Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cardiff_Giant.png#/media/File:Cardiff_Giant.png

Both the Cardiff Giant and the Solid Muldoon were actually the creations of New York tobacconist George Hull. Hull, an atheist, once got into an argument with an Iowan Methodist revivalist about the literalness of passages in the Bible, particularly stories of giants once having roamed the world. Hull, realizing that some people would believe anything,  got the idea to create his own stone giant and pass it off as a Biblical fossil. He hired a group of Iowa men to quarry a huge block of gypsum, then shipped it to Chicago where a German stonecutter carved it into the shape of a huge, recumbent man. From there Hull had the giant brought to New York (wrapped in tarps to keep it secret, of course), where he buried it on the farm of his relative, William Newell. Several weeks later, the Giant was dug  up “by chance” by a couple of Newell’s men.

The Cardiff Giant quickly attracted enormous crowds, who paid 50 cents apiece to see it. His popularity become so great that eventually P.T. Barnum offered to buy him. When the showman was turned down, he made his own exact replica for display in his Manhattan museum.
As more and more skeptics examined the original Cardiff Giant and declared it to be fake, Hull grew nervous and sold his creation. Later, though, he would try the giant-crafting business again in Colorado with the Solid Muldoon.  To this new creation he added a short tail, perhaps as a reference to Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which was just starting to gain ground at the time.
Petrified men became a bit of a cottage industry in the late 1800s. In 1879 another giant, also eventually proved to be a hoax, was dug up near Taughannock Falls, NY.  In 1892, infamous conman Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith commissioned McGinty, a fossilized mummy, for display at one of his establishments in Creede, Colorado. Many more petrified men were crafted and dug up all over the country. 
The Taughannock Giant, photo from www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com. Original provided by Mrs. Pearl Holman

There are several reasons for Americans’ brief obsession with buried stone men. For many, these giants provided confirmation of the Bible, particularly tales of giants killed in Noah’s flood. This belief in giants’ remains actually has a long history in America. Over a century before the Solid Muldoon and his cousins,  colonists all across the eastern United States were digging up what Cotton Mather and other Puritans believed to be the bones of enormous human beings in their fields. These bones, however, would eventually prove to be those of American mastodons.


Beyond those looking for a confirmation of Biblical passages, there were also plenty of people just curious to see the latest unusual attraction, even if they knew it was a fake. It’s the same curiosity that led folks to seek out carnivals and sideshows and oddities such as the ones Mr. Barnum displayed in his museum.

Sources:

When Giants Roamed the Earth-- Archaeology Magazine

Visit the Solid Muldoon

The Cardiff Giant

McGinty

The Taughannock Giant-- Life in the Finger Lakes


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hopkinsville Goblins-- Kentucky


On August 21, 1955 Billy Ray Taylor was visiting friends, the eleven-member Sutton family, at their rural farmhouse on the outskirts of Kelly and Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  On his way to an outhouse, he reportedly saw several strange lights in the sky which he believed were part of an alien spacecraft. Taylor told the Suttons of his sighting but they dismissed it as just an hallucination. 

Later that night, however, the people in the house heard bizarre noises outside. Billy Ray and Elmer Sutton went out with shotguns and encountered a gremlin-like being emerging from the woods.  Soon more of the “goblins”, as they eventually came to be called, appeared and terrorized the family throughout the night,  scratching at the outside walls and peering in through the windows. One of them even grabbed a victim by the hair when he stepped out onto the porch. At one point the police were called but the goblins quickly disappeared, only to return later to continue terrorizing the family for the rest of the night.

The goblins were described as having wide, large eyes, pointed, swept back ears and slim bodies with atrophied legs. They seemed to float with their feet just barely touching the ground, swaying their hips with arms up in the air as if wading through water. When the Suttons shot at the goblins, the creatures emitted a metallic clang and would flip backwards into the woods. If shot from a tree, they would glide to the ground rather than fall.

The Hopskinville Goblin case has become one of the most famous “alien encounter” stories in American folklore, along with the Mothman and Flatwoods Monster.  It was even the basis for a planned movie by Steven Spielberg called Night Skies that would eventually evolve into the much lighter and softer E.T. Go here to check out some cool pictures of the designs for the Night Skies 


Special effects artist Rick Baker working on a model of an alien from the lost Night Skies film. Source: etonline.com


Although the origin of the goblins was never discovered, they are commonly believed to have been extraterrestrials due to Taylor’s sighting of lights in the sky just prior to their appearance.  Skeptics, however, have postulated that the goblins could, in fact, have been nothing more than a pair of large, territorial horned owls. And indeed, much of the creature’s anatomy is very owl-like.  The back-swept “ears” could easily be the tufts of feathers on the heads of many owls. The way that they moved with arms over their heads and atrophied feet dragging along the ground could be a misinterpretation of an owl flying low to the ground with its wings extended. The metallic sounds the creatures made when apparently shot could merely be the sounds of bullets bouncing off the house or outhouse. Though it might seem ridiculous that so many people would mistake ordinary owls for otherworldly creatures, the fear and adrenaline rush of the encounter combined with Taylor's claims of having seen strange lights could have easily distorted the Suttons' perceptions.

Goblin sketch based off eyewitness description. Source: theironskeptic.com

Great Horned Owl. Source: Wikimedia.org



For my interpretation of the goblins, I’ve incorporated some of the owl explanation into their faces. The loping, wading gait recalled to my mind a gibbon walking, so I based some of the anatomy and pose on these apes. 

Sources:

http://bogleech.com/realaliens.html

http://thenightsky.org/sutton.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_16671_6-famous-unsolved-mysteries-with-really-obvious-solutions.html
(entry #4 talks about the owl explanation for the Goblins)

The Field Guide to North American Monsters by W. Haden Blackman

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Smetty-- Wyoming


Just after the end of the Cretaceous, the area that would become Wyoming was a great basin filled with subtropical swamps and lakes. Over millions of years, the vegetation of the region built up into peat bogs which were periodically buried and compressed under sediment washed down from the nearby mountains, eventually solidifying into coal. As a result, this former swampland-- known today as the Powder River Basin-- is thick with the fossil fuel. 

Of course, all that coal just lying around under the earth would seem to be a huge fire hazard. And it very much is. Coal seam fires- whether natural or manmade-- are a frequent problem in this region.  Natural fires occur due to grass or tree fires, and once they get going they can burn for decades.  After all the coal is burned away, a hollow space is left which can collapse. Such a cave-in formed Lake DeSmet, near Buffalo Wyoming.

Like most sizable bodies of water, DeSmet hosts its own aquatic monster, Smetty. Descriptions of the creature vary. Some say it looks like a giant eel with a horse-like head. Others say it resembles an enormous alligator. Still other reports claim it's a classic Loch Ness-style plesiosaur. Knowing the prehistory of the lake, it's not hard to imagine Smetty being some relic population of Mesozoic monsters hiding or lying dormant in deep, water-filled caves under the prairie until they escaped into the collapsed coal seam that became Lake DeSmet.

Rather than depict Smetty as the usual snakey-necked plesiosaur, I wanted to go with a more unusual lake monster interpretation.  English journalist and wildlife specialist Frederick William Holiday speculated in his book The Great Orm of Loch Ness that Nessie, and by extension, other lake monsters, might actually be a giant invertebrate, possibly a worm or mollusk. He compares the shape of Nessie-- a long neck, boat-shaped body and paddled limbs-- to the strange fossil worm Tullimonstrum gregarium found in the Mazon Creek fossil beds of Illinois. He explains that Nessie, or rather, Nessies, since there would obviously have to be a whole population of the creatures, being invertebrates would explain several anomalies about the monsters, such as why no bodies have ever been found (the creatures have no bones to wash ashore, and their gelatinous corpses rot quickly), why sonar scans of the loch sometimes pick up a creature and sometimes don’t (if the animal is lying on the bottom like a slug, it wouldn’t show up on the radar), why they aren’t seen more (being gilled invertebrates means they don’t have to come to the surface for air) and why many people who have seen the beasts up close often seem more horrified and revolted than one would expect from merely sighting a giant aquatic reptile. In Holiday's explanation, the “neck” of Nessie is actually the trunk of this invertebrate while the paddled limbs are related to the odd extensions on the side of Tullimonstrum*.

But then if Nessie is a giant Tullimonstrum, or at least a distant relative, what then is Tullimonstrum itself? Although a definitive taxonomic placement hasn’t been made, it does bear similarity to a mollusk.  Specifically Pterotrachea, a group of pelagic sea snails. 

Pterotrachea coronata, from the Tree of Life Web Project. Below is the living animal in action!




If you’re confused at what you’re looking at, the dunce-cap like  structure at the front is a trunk of sorts with a hard “beak” called a buccal mass.  The flappy thing on top is the snail’s foot modified into a fin. The animal is, thus, swimming on its back with the trunk flopping back over its up-turned stomach.  Although Tullimonstrum’s resemblance to Pterotrachea is probably just convergent evolution, the former creature does possess a hardened, pincer-like buccal mass at the end of its trunk, along with a pair of prominent eyes like a predatory mollusk. At the very least, it’s quite possible that Tullimonstrum was another species of marine snail that developed a similar body plan.

Anyway, this mini-lecture was mostly just a roundabout way of saying that I based my Smetty design on Pterotrachea. Like Holiday’s invertebrate Nessie, the DeSmet monsters have long, flexible trunks which frightened onlookers often mistake for plesiosaur-like necks. This trunk actually does parallel the plesioaur’s elongated neck since it creates a smaller profile, allowing the animal to get in close to prey without causing disturbances in the water from its larger body.

As to how these creatures even got into Lake DeSmet in the first place, I still like the idea of them living in aquatic caves beneath the prairie and migrating into the gap created after the pre-lake coal seam burned away and filled with water.

By the way, go here for an awesome blog post about Pterotrachea by Joseph Jameson-Gould of Real Monstrosities 



*The paleontology/biology nerd in me is compelled to point out that while Holiday compares Nessie’s flippers to the projections on the side of Tullimonstrum, said projections are, in fact, eyes on the fossil animal, not locomotory appendages.

SOURCES 
The Great Orm of Loch Ness by Frederick William Holiday

http://www.ultimatewyoming.com/sectionpages/sec3/extras/desmetmonster.html

http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com/news/article_6c9c4598-de32-5d4d-a3c4-749e750a7fd1.html


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Block Island Monster-- Rhode Island



In June of 1996, a bizarre carcass was caught in a fisherman's net along the coast of Block Island, a popular tourist retreat off the coast of Rhode Island.  The badly decayed creature was little more than an articulated spinal column and a long, spear-like head with fleshy whiskers. The beast attracted quite a lot of attention, as weird things coming up out of the sea tend to do.

One of the curious onlookers was New York state park biologist Lee Scott.  In order to determine what the monster was, Scott took it back to his cabin and put it in a freezer, intending to send it to the National Marine Fisheries Service on the mainland for examination.

As you can probably already guess, the carcass was stolen and has not been seen since. Eventually some locals called up to say they had kidnapped the monster to prevent it from being taken off island. Despite it's disappearance, the monster continued to generate interest on the island, leading to a few entrepreneurs printing up t-shirts, posters, and other souvenirs.

So what was the Block Island Monster?  Most likely a dead basking shark.
wikimedia commons open use.

These fish have massive mouths that they use to filter plankton from the water using combs on their gills. The bottom jaw of the shark is attached by relatively thin muscles, so when the animal dies this part quickly rot and fall away (the "whiskers" of the Monster are the badly-decayed remains of these muscles).  What is left is a long, narrow skull attached to what appears to be a long "neck" and a finned body.  As you can imagine from that description, basking shark carcasses have frequently been mistaken for the bodies of plesiosaurs and other sea serpents. A particularly famous example is the Zuiyo-maru carcass pulled from waters around New Zealand by a Japanese fishing trawler in 1977.
wikimedia commons fair use.
Though the identity of the Block Island Monster is pretty straightforward, I wanted to have a little fun with the idea.  Instead of being a shark, I imagined the creature as a giant relative of the deep sea fish Ipnops murrayi. Ipnops is notable for its eyes which have been highly modified into bizarre, plate-like structures that may either be used to detect the faintest trace of bioluminescence in the abyss, or may actually be luminescent lures themselves.  In the case of the Block Island Monster, these plate-eyes are indeed used to spot the lights of its prey in the dark.  The creature also possesses a "beard" of long filaments around its mouth for detecting movement.  The monster typically swims head-downward with its whiskers spread out around it, searching for the slightest disturbance in the water.

Sources:
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19960922&slug=2350546

http://www.zmuc.dk/InverWeb/Galathea/Pdf_filer/Volume_03/galathea-vol.03-pp_079-087.pdf

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jersey Devil-- New Jersey



The Devil walking along the ground with folded wings.
Sorry for the long delay, folks.  I've been pretty busy the last few months with family stuff and a writing project.  But now I'm back to the cryptids again with the Garden State's favorite monster.

The Jersey Devil, also called the Leeds Devil, is a winged beast that supposedly inhabits the Pine Barrens along the Jersey coast. It is said to have the head of a horse, wings of a bat, cloven hooves and a forked tail. The beast has been sighted numerous times throughout the twentieth century, starting with a rash of reports around 1909.
   
Before I talk about the beast's origins, though, I think it's worth talking a little bit about the Pine Barrens themselves. The Barrens are part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain-- a flat apron of land along the Atlantic shore of North America formed from minerals eroded out of the Appalachian mountains and washed down towards the sea.  Soils here are sandy and acidic, which made it nearly impossible for early settlers to grow their traditional crops.  Yet, despite the name, the Barrens are ecologically diverse and species-rich.  Natural fires, typically caused by lightning strikes, play a huge role in the Barrens ecosystem. Where fires are frequent (relatively speaking. Fires usually only occur naturally once every three to five years), the land is occupied primarily by pitch, scrub and shortleaf pine (Pinus rigida, P. echinata and P. virginiana, respectively), with wide open spaces between occupied by grassy savanna.  Where fires are more infrequent-  whether due to human intervention or wetter soils-- the forest is a tighter mix of pines and species of oaks.  Dark swamps of Atlantic white cedar form along the water ways and numerous bogs-- complete with carnivorous sundews and Sarracenia pitcher plants-- dot the landscape. The Pine Barrens are a pretty cool region and worth check ing out. Go here to learn more.



Now, on to the Devil itself. The classic story of the Jersey Devil's origins concern a woman known as "Mother Leeds" who dwelt in the Pine Barrens in the late 1700s.  According to some legends, Leeds already had 12 children and was so frustrated when she discovered that she was pregnant with a 13th that she openly wished that this one would turn out to be the Devil himself.  When the child was born, it was monstrously deformed.  It could walk and  talk fresh out of the womb and, after cursing its mother,  the creature flew up the chimney and out into the night. Since then the Leeds Devil has haunted the Pine Barrens, emitting its piercing shriek and terrorizing the inhabitants.

However, Brian Regal, who teaches the history of science at Kean University, has a less supernatural, though still historically intriguing, explanation for the Devil.  According to Regal, the story can be traced back to Daniel Leeds, a councilor to the early governor of New Jersey.  Leeds, a Quaker, published an almanac which made use of astrological data which did not sit well with other members of the Society of Friends, who found this aspect of his publication a bit too "pagan". Leeds did not take well to being insulted by his fellows, and ended up publishing even more esoteric works that  slowly pushed him farther and farther away from other Quakers. His reputation was further degraded by his outspoken support for royal authority at a time when thoughts of revolution were stirring in the minds of many throughout the colonies. Eventually Leeds soured in the public eye to the point that he was accused of literally working for the Devil. 

When Daniel Leeds retired, he gave his almanac business over to his son Titan, who quickly got into a feud with future Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, wanting to mess with Titan it seems, used astrological signs to predict the date of his rival's death.  When the date came and went with Titan very much alive, Franklin joked that the man was, in fact, dead, but his printing company was being run by his unquiet spirit.

The unpopular reputation of the Leeds family, combined with Franklin's joke about one of them being a spirit from the Other Side slurried together in the local gossip circles until the whole clan became "political and religious monsters" -- (The Jersey Devil: The Real Story, Brian Regal)
Matters weren't helped any by the fact that Leeds' personal coat of arms bore a wyvern on it-- a creature remarkably similar to later descriptions of the Jersey Devil.

So it seems the Jersey Devil is not a hexed child, a bizarre unknown animal or an outright demon.  Rather it is a recollection of a recollection of gossip about a much-maligned Revolutionary-era family.

Go here to read Regal's much more detailed article.

For my depiction of the Jersey Devil, I based the head on the Hammerheaded Bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus), since to me the boxy head of the classic Devil depiction from 1909 somewhat resembles this creature.  The body of the beast is that of a Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nain Rouge-- Michigan


According to legend, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, was plagued throughout his career in North America by hauntings and dream-visions of a small, bestial man in crimson clothing-- the Nain Rouge or "Red Dwarf" (not to be confused with the British sci-fi show). The appearance of the Nain Rouge was said to portent disaster and hard times.  And indeed, Cadillac died penniless.  After his demise, the creature is believed to have taken up residence in the city he founded to haunt the residents of Detroit to the present day.

The Red Dwarf is recorded throughout the Motor City's history.  It was sighted multiple times in the days leading up to the destructive 1805 fire. Another sighting occurred just before the 1967 12th Street riot, one of the most destructive riots in US history. It was also reported just before a massive snowstorm in 1976 by two utility workers who saw it jump from the top of a utility pole.

In 2010, local Detroiters formed the Marche du Nain Rouge, an annual festival/parade celebrating the resilience of the city and its inhabitants and their fight against the problems that plague Detroit as personified by the Red Dwarf. At the conclusion of the festivities, the being is ceremoniously driven out of the city and burned in effigy to usher in a new year of hope.

The concept of the Nain Rouge is believed to trace back to Norman French tales of lutins-- variations of the "house elves" found throughout Germanic, Gaelic and Scandinavian cultures.  While traditional lutins are usually fairly harmless-- doing nothing more fiendish than playing the occasional prank on the humans they share their homes with--the Nain Rouge evolved into a vicious, destructive spirit in New France.  A harbinger of destruction for Cadillac's city, much like the Mothman supposedly was for Point Pleasant.

My version of the Nain Rouge wears French soldier's garb from the era of the Nouvelle France colony in North America.   The Dwarf is usually depicted as a goblin, devil or even a crimson Krampus, with horns, curly hair and huge fangs. His moon-head depiction here is my own invention, inspired by a figure from the Warhammer Fantasy table top game.  And, uh, most definitely NOT inspired by a certain late night fast-food mascot.

The LP records on the house behind the Nain Rouge are a reference to the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor exhibit on the city's east side begun by artist Tyree Guyton. Guyton started the Project initially as a political protest against the decay of Detroit's inner city neighborhoods.  Eventually it became a group effort "to inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of their greater community." (mission statement of the Heidelberg Project) 

I thought that the hope and constructive creativity of the Project made a fitting contrast and answer to the chaos and destruction personified by the Nain Rouge.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mothman-- West Virginia


Next to Bigfoot, the Mothman that terrorized Point Pleasant, West Virginia from 1965 to 67 is probably one of the most iconic American cryptids.  Initial sightings followed the typical "boogeyman" mold: a bizarre monster appears in the road suddenly to terrify motorists or chase horny teenagers in a local make-out spot and old munitions dump known as the TNT Area.
 
The Mothman is described as a gray,  sometimes brown, biped with  enormous wings and two red glowing eyes.  Some descriptions said that the beast didn't even have a head, and that its eyes sprouted directly out of its torso. Though the creature did not closely resemble a moth, its name was coined in reference to the Adam West Batman TV series, which was extremely popular at the time.

The numerous sightings gradually attracted more and more media attention, bringing tourists to the town, hoping to catch a glimpse of the monster. Eventually paranormal investigator John Keel arrived to study the being.  The results of his investigation became the book The Mothman Prophecies-- the basis for the 2002 Richard Gere film.  According to Keel's book, the Mothman's hauntings were accompanied by a plague of paranormal phenomena, including disembodied voices, poltergeists, visits from Men in Black (the actual, historical mysterious beings upon whom the movies were based) and encounters with an otherworldly being called Indrid Cold who seemed human, but always bore an enormous, unnerving grin.

Sightings of the Mothman came to an abrupt end near the end of 1967.  In December of that year, the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River near Point Pleasant collapsed, killling 46 people.  As time went on, many began to connect the Mothman to the disaster.  Did the creature somehow cause it?  Or, as Keel and others have speculated, was it perhaps a harbinger of the coming tragedy?  A being drawn to the impending fear and death? Or maybe it was even trying to warn the locals about  what was coming?

So what was the Mothman, exactly?  Some think it was an extraterrestrial, or even extradimensional being.  A creature living outside time and space.   


On the mundane side, it's possible that the creature was just an owl or other bird, which was turned into a "monster" by poor light conditions and mass hysteria.  The hypothesis I like best is that the Mothman was actually a misidentified Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis).  These birds are huge-- nearly as tall as a human being-- with an enormous wingspan.  Seen at night by someone unfamiliar with, or not expectin it,  it isn't difficult to see how one of those birds could be "transformed" into a red-eyed winged monster.

Regardless of what it was, mundane or supernatural,  the Mothman has become a cultural phenomenon, turning up in cartoons, comics, video games, etc.  Point Pleasant itself has erected a statue of  the creature, and even boasts a small museum. 

Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV


references:

http://www.mothmanmuseum.com/

http://www.americanmonsters.com/site/2012/12/mothman-west-virginia-usa/

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sinkhole Sam-- Kansas


Although Kansas is primarily known for its agricultural lands and prairies, a corridor of lakes and wetlands once ran through the state-- all across the Midwest, actually-- providing an important stop-over point for migrating birds.

Over the years land development drained these wetlands to the point that today the corridor is just a few small scattered ponds, potholes and playas.  The largest remnant body of water is Lake Inman, in the center of the state. Though the lake is tiny-- only about a quarter mile surface area-- it is said to house its very own monster, Sinkhole Sam.

 Sam is described as a 15 foot long, serpentine creature as round and wide as a car tire. The beast was first sighted by two unknown fisherman who reportedly took shots at it (as people tend to do when sighting a creature potentially new to science, apparently), but failed to kill it. Word of the lake creature spread, bringing in lots of tourist traffic to the small town of Inman. Like other aquatic monsters, of course, Sam failed to make any major appearances, so interest soon dried up.

According to sources, Sinkhole Sam is/was a creature called a "foopengerkle", though exactly what  that is is never explained. As to how Sam got into such a small land-locked lake, some speculate that it was a prehistoric creature that inhabited a cavern at the bottom of the lake and only came to the surface as the wetlands were drained.

For my interpretation of Sinkhole Sam, I imagined it as a gigantic caecilian-- a snake or worm-like amphibian (order Gymnophiona). Caecilians are mostly found in warmer parts of South and Central America, Africa and South Asia. Although most are burrowers, those in the order Typhlonectidae are aquatic. If Sam is one of these animals, or more likely a colony of them, it could survive the winter months in deep hibernation buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake as frogs and salamanders do.

Most caecilians eat small, subterranean prey such as earthworms, springtails and other invertebrates.  But a large aquatic species like the 15 foot long foopengerkle would likely subsist on the huge colonies of birds that stop off at this important watering hole during their migration.  When the lake was part of an extensive wetland system, the foopengerkles may have been abundant-- perhaps playing an important role in the food chain similar to otters or alligators.  As the waters have been drained away, the population must have plummeted until  now when only a tiny remnant colony remains in Lake Inman. If they have not already gone extinct.

Sources:

http://www.americanmonsters.com/site/2010/06/the-legend-of-sink-hole-sam/

http://www.thekansan.com/article/20100612/NEWS/306129943

Prairie: A Natural History by Candace Savage

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Montauk Monster-- New York


In July of 2008, a strange carcass washed ashore in the district of Montauk on the South Shore of Long Island.  The creature was hairless and squat, with a mammalian body, but a beak like a bird.
Lots of speculation ensued.  Some thought that it might be a  genetic experiment from the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Others thought perhaps it was a turtle without it's shell-- a rumor quickly proven false since a turtle's spine is attached to its shells, thus the animal cannot be removed from it. Many concluded that it was simply a raccoon that had lost its fur and part of its face due to long immersion in water.

As often happens with stories of mysterious carcasses washing up on shores, the Montauk Monster was eventually taken by a local resident and soon disappeared before too many people had a chance to examine it.
The original picture of the Monster.  Taken from Wikimedia Commons.


So what was this bizarre creature? The dead raccoon hypothesis seems most likely.  The overall squat body closely resembles a raccoon's, as do the long, fine fingers.  The apparent "beak" is likely the exposed  front part of the skull.  The effects of prolonged exposure to sun and salt water, and the natural processes of decay, can make even the most common animal nearly unrecognizable.

Witness, for example, the Zuiyo-maru carcass, an apparent plesiosaur carcass hauled up by a Japanese fishing trawler in 1977:
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Though this carcass was thrown overboard before it could be examined by scientists, it was most likely the badly-decayed remains of a basking shark rather than a prehistoric reptile.  The lower jaw and gills of these sharks often fall away soon after death, leaving behind a smaller head (actually just the brain case) and apparent "neck" created by the spinal column.

For my rendition of the Montauk Monster, I tried to imagine how it would live if it had been a genuine unknown animal.  I like the idea of it using its beak to pry up the tough bark of pine trees like a porcupine using its incisors or an extinct "shovel-tusker" elephant like Amebelodon.