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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.


Prairie: A Natural History by Candace Savage

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