Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 9 December 2015


Photograph allegedly depicting a shot mini-rex or 'river lizard' held by an unidentified figure - emailed by 'Derick' to Chad Arment in April 2000 (copyright owner unknown/identity and current location of 'Derick' unknown so could not be contacted; thus reproduced here for educational/review purposes only, on a strictly Fair Use basis)

In January 2000, veteran American cryptozoologist Ron Schaffner was emailed by someone using only a generic, non-specific email and who identified himself simply as 'Derick', but whose information was anything but generic. Derick attracted Ron's interest straight away, thanks to his emailed report containing the following intriguing introductory statement:

I live in Pueblo, Colorado. I moved out here when I was six and since then I've heard stories of the prairie devil, the pig man and the mini-rex; there's even old Indian legends of evil river demons. You get older and you try not to believe in monsters, however not even the high school kids will have a kegger [outdoor keg beer-drinking teenage parties] down by the river without a raging fire and a lot of people [presumably to ensure that 'monsters' keep well away]. It's not like people don't see things, people see them they just don't make a big deal of it. If you live by the river like me you just get used to it.

Following that enticing preamble, Derick duly cut to the chase, describing his encounter with what appears to have been one of this region's mysterious 'mini-rexes'. He claimed that while he and a friend were riding the latter's dirt-bike close to the Fountain River near Pueblo one day in July 1998, they suddenly saw a truly extraordinary bipedal creature run across the clearing in front of them:

It was three to four feet long, greenish with black markings on its back, and a yellowish-orange under belly. It walked on its hind legs, never dragging its tail, its front limbs (I call them limbs because they were more like arms than anything) were smaller in comparison to the back ones and it had four or three claws/fingers. I'm not sure for it was seen at a great distance. It also had some kind of lump or horn over each eye. When it noticed our presence it let out a high pitched screech or some sort of bird chirping, that pierced my ears, and then took off.

Derick and his friend returned at once to Derick's house to fetch a camera, then returned to the location of their encounter and photographed the creature's three-toed, 2-in-diameter tracks (with a Marlboro Red cigarette placed alongside them in some photos for scale purposes). Derick also stated that he subsequently heard of other sightings, and discovered that a friend had actually photographed one such creature. Following some persuasion, the latter friend allowed Derick to send scans of those photos, together with his own track photos and July 1998 sighting account, to Ron, who in turn showed them to fellow American cryptozoologist Chad Arment, who has a particular interest in American mystery reptiles. However, as the photos showed little detail, even when magnified, Ron and Chad agreed that their subjects could easily be dinosaur models.

Nevertheless, Chad remained sufficiently intrigued to email Derick and state that if such beasts were indeed real, better evidence would be needed in order to confirm this. He didn't expect to receive a reply, but in April 2000 he did, in the form of an email enclosing two scans of the truly remarkable photograph opening this present ShukerNature blog article and also reproduced below:

Photograph allegedly depicting a shot mini-rex or 'river lizard' held by an unidentified figure - emailed by 'Derick' to Chad Arment in April 2000 (copyright owner unknown/identity and current location of 'Derick' unknown so could not be contacted; thus reproduced here for educational/review purposes only, on a strictly Fair Use basis)

Referring to the creature in this photo as a 'river lizard' (but which is presumably the same type as the mini-rex that he saw), Derick stated that it had taken him some time to obtain scans of it, and that he didn't know when or specifically where it had been snapped, only "somewhere" in Colorado. As this creature does not resemble any species currently recognised by science, Chad later attempted to email Derick for further details, but received an automated reply that Derick's email address was no longer in operation, and has never heard from him again.

However, Chad has learnt from another source that the term 'river dinosaur' has apparently been used in relation to such creatures, and even that an individual who had previously collected Colorado reptiles for some of Chad's friends working in the pet trade had also offered to capture for them some 'river dinosaurs' (whose description compared closely to the appearance of the 'river lizard' in the above photo supplied by Derick). Unfortunately, Chad's friends had been forced to decline this exciting offer due to lack of funds.

The 'river lizard' photograph supplied by Derick has been floating around online for many years now, and has attracted much attention and numerous comments on the many websites where it has appeared, with the consensus seeming to be that it is a hoax, although this has never been confirmed. (I have conducted several Google-image searches, concentrating variously upon the whole image, the section featuring the person, the section featuring the creature, etc, but all to no avail.) However, it certainly contains some anomalous features, especially in relation to the creature's appearance, as commented upon by Chad in an account of this and other bipedal 'dinosaur' sightings reported from the U.S.A. (North American Biofortean Review, vol. 2, #2, 2000).

For example: if the 'river lizard' had only recently been shot when this photograph was snapped, and bearing in mind that recently-dead reptiles are normally very limp, and also bearing in mind that it was being held vertically, why is its tail curving inward rather than simply hanging straight down? And why is its mouth gaping open rather than being held closed, or at least nearly so, as one would expect under the above-listed conditions? As Chad also pointed out, very convincing life-like rubber models of dinosaurs can be readily obtained nowadays, so we cannot be sure that the 'river lizard' in the photo was ever a living entity anyway.

And even if it was once alive, thanks to the photo-manipulation software that was already available back in 2000 there is no certainty that this creature's appearance hasn't been profoundly modified digitally from whatever it was originally. Moreover, the entire photograph might conceivably be a cleverly-constructed melange, i.e. an original photo of a person holding a gun into which a second, digitally-manipulated photo of some animal has been deftly incorporated. Certainly, whenever I've looked at it, I've been struck by just how very odd, how very unnatural its image seems to be, and I don't just mean the bizarre appearance of the 'river lizard' itself but the whole image. Even the person's face is so obscured by the shadow of their hat that I'm not exactly certain whether they are male or female. But returning to the 'river lizard': having spent a lifetime observing animals in photos and in the living state, at the risk of being accused of sounding unscientific and overly reliant upon gut instinct it just doesn't look 'right' to me.

In particular, the incongruous hind limbs sported by this creature seem entirely out of place on its body, their curiously flat, disproportionately large, and flared, oddly triangular (rather than oval) haunches looking not only unrealistic but also as if they have been crudely glued (or photo-applied) there rather than being a natural feature of its anatomy. And when viewed in magnified form, the lower portion of each of these hind limbs seems to be segmented, rather like that of an arthropod invertebrate. Very strange indeed. Also worrying is the artificial appearance of the creature's open mouth, almost as if the lower jaw has been manually added...

Thus I consider it plausible that this 'river lizard' photo is indeed a hoax, my line of thought being that its mystifying creature constitutes some form of manufactured composite (either physical or photo-manipulated), perhaps a much-modified dead monitor lizard, sub-adult crocodile, or even dinosaur model, for instance. Moreover, if my reasoning so far is correct, then I further suggest that the creature's bizarre-looking hind limbs as seen in the photo are fake, that they have been seemingly less than skilfully attached to (or superimposed upon) its body, and that they presumably replaced whatever hind limbs it may have originally possessed, this substitution having been done to enhance even further the contrived exotic, unfamiliar appearance of this creature for this photo.

Having said all of that, however, this is nothing more than speculation on my part, and I am well aware that I could be entirely wrong, with the 'river lizard' potentially being a bona fide cryptid carcase after all (if so, I would be only too happy to be wrong!). So I'd be most interested to receive any comments, views, or additional information concerning it from other investigators and readers.

Speaking of which: one American cryptozoologist who has investigated this and other such cryptids with particular zeal, and success, since 2001 is Nick Sucik, who duly published his very thought-provoking findings in a chapter devoted to this subject in a most interesting compendium edited by Chad Arment and entitled Cryptozoology and the Investigation of Lesser-Known Mystery Animals (2006). As will soon be discovered when reading Nick's chapter, a fair number of roughly consistent cases have been documented from a range of U.S. localities over the years, but with particular frequency across Colorado. The size of such beasts may differ, as may eyewitness recollections of colouration, but by and large the same image of a miniature bipedal dinosaurian creature with sturdy hind legs, much smaller, delicate forelegs, a long study tail, small but very sharp teeth, and bare skin crops up time and again, with eyewitnesses comparing what they have seen to certain fossil theropods (at least in basic outline), including T. rex and Compsognathus (the latter small theropod being very comparable size to most of the mini-rex specimens reported).

Life-sized models of Compsognathus (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Nick's chapter contains far too many cases and far too much information to review comprehensively here, but I found the following cases to be especially interesting. His chapter opens with a detailed account of a mini-rex sighting that occurred one warm July evening in 2000 as three women of successive generations were driving along a country road near the rural community of Yellow Jacket, 15 miles north of Cortez, Colorado. The creature entered their headlights from the side, and the driver braked, thinking that it was a fawn, but when the headlights lit it up, its two astonished eyewitnesses in the front of the vehicle realised that it was something very different indeed. As described by Nick in his account of their description of it:

Its body appeared smooth, devoid of fur or feathers. Its height perhaps was three feet and the small head was bent downward on a slender neck. The creature ran on two skinny legs with its tiny forelimbs held out in front of its body as it ran. Its body tapered down into a lengthy tail that, combined with the head and neck, made it about 5 feet long. The movement of the animal was noted as graceful, the head not bouncing as it ran.

The animal quickly passed in front of them and disappeared into the darkness.

Its eyewitnesses were shocked by what they had seen, but after they had regained their composure one of them joked that it must have escaped from some local Jurassic Park. Although a light-hearted remark, it is nonetheless telling, as it serves well in underlining just how very dinosaurian the creature must have appeared to them – as opposed to rather more mundane alternatives, such as an exotic escapee from captivity (like a wallaby, but which is furry and jumps, not runs; or a rhea or emu, which do run, but are feathered).

Certain lizards as known to adopt a bipedal running gait on occasion. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Australian frilled lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii, up to 2.75 ft long and which has often been likened to a raptor when sprinting bipedally. So have North America's collared lizards (genus Crotaphytus), which measure around 1 ft long. In South America, the basilisks (genus Basiliscus), up to 2.5 ft long, can do the same too, even sprinting bipedally across stretches of water, and these are also commonly kept as pets in the U.S.A., so specimens may escape into the wild here on occasion. Indeed, the description of one bright green, crested, 2-ft-long, lengthy-tailed bipedal "baby dinosaur" allegedly caught then released by an 11-year-old boy in 1981 alongside some railway tracks in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, sounds just like one of these lizards, which by then were becoming quite popular as exotic pets in the States.

Basilisk lizard running bipedally (© Ryan Somma/Wikipedia CC ATT 2.0 GEN licence)

However, there are some notably behavioural and morphological differences between such lizards as these and the more typical, much more mysterious mini-rex. For instance, none of these lizards are habitually bipedal, whereas the mini-rex apparently is. Moreover, their forelimbs are held laterally when they run bipedally, whereas those of the mini-rex are held in front of its body when it runs bipedally. Also, these lizards are smaller than all but the smallest mini-rexes on record, whereas some of the bigger examples of the latter cryptid are at least the height of an adult human. True, certain of the large monitor lizards are popular pets that often escape, can grow several feet long, and can run bipedally, but only for very short periods, not in the habitual and very rapid manner described by eyewitnesses for all mini-rexes, even the biggest ones.

One 'not-so-mini' mini-rex was reported by a lady called Myrtle Snow, who seems blessed with an extraordinary ability to encounter these mystery reptiles, judging at least from the fact that she claims to have done so on several occasions throughout her life in and around Pagosa Springs, Colorado, as documented by Nick. Perhaps the most dramatic incident described by her allegedly took place during or around the late 1930s when, following the loss of several lambs to an unknown predator, a Pagosa Springs rancher armed a shepherd and asked him to guard the remaining flock. This he did, very successfully – by shooting dead a large, mysterious creature deemed to be the predator, whose carcase was then placed on a sled and hauled back to the ranch by one of its Apache ranch hands, using a team of mules.

After being deposited inside a barn there, this specimen was viewed by many local farmers, including Snow's grandfather, who took Snow (then still a girl) with him, so that she could see it too. In 1982, following its publishing an article on the subject of whether prehistoric dinosaurs had been cold-blooded, Snow wrote to the Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine (the Sunday supplement of the Denver Post newspaper), describing all of her alleged encounters with supposed modern-day dinosaurs, including her close-up viewing of the deceased mystery beast shot by the shepherd. She described it as:

...about 7 feet tall, gray in color, had a head like a snake, short front legs with claws that resembled chicken feet, large stout back legs and a long tail.

Curiously, when interviewed more recently by Nick, Snow also claimed that its body had been covered in fine grey hairs.

If so, then parsimoniously this tends towards a mammalian rather than a reptilian identity for the creature, though I am aware that certain fossil pterosaurs were hairy (but these 'hairs' were quite different structurally from true mammalian hairs and are called pycnofibers) and that the plumes of certain feathered fossil dinosaurs, e.g. Sinosauropteryx, were filamentous and therefore quite hair-like. Snow stated that the only observer who was apparently familiar with this extraordinary creature was the Apache ranch hand, who claimed that it was what elders on his reservation referred to as a moon cow, and which they said had been seen periodically in the past but were nowadays rare.

Restoration of Sinosauropteryx with hair-like plumes, depicted upon a Kyrgyzstan postage stamp issued in 2001 (public domain)

Worth noting here is that although the name 'moon cow' seems strange, it just so happens that a very similar name, 'moon calf', is a rural term used widely across Europe for an aborted, teratological foetus of a cow (and sometimes that of other farm animals too), deriving from the once-popular folk belief that these malformed creatures resulted from a sinister effect of the moon. It has also been used more generally to refer to anything monstrous or grotesque in form. Could this distinctive term have reached North America with the original Western settlers and subsequently become incorporated into Amerindian parlance too, or might the notion of lunar influence upon the occurrence of malformed creatures have simply arisen independently on both sides of the Atlantic? In view of the creature's alleged hairiness, I cannot help but wonder whether this was its true identity, i.e. a malformed mammal of some kind.

Ironically, there may have been a chance of finding out for sure, because according to Snow the creature's carcase was packed in ice and sent by train to the Denver Museum for examination and identification. When this claim was pursued on Nick's behalf by an archivist at the museum, however, no record of any such specimen ever even being received there could be found. Conversely, what had definitely been sent to this museum and formally examined there, as Nick discovered, was a box containing two alleged 'baby dinosaur' skeletons, one having been found inside a mineshaft and the other in a cave near to it, in Cortez, Colorado. Such creatures were apparently familiar to the local Navajo people, and during the early 1960s one of the skeletons was displayed at Cortez Museum. It was following the museum's eventual closure that the box was sent to Denver Museum, but when the skeletons were examined there they were found to be composites, constructed from the bones of various different species of mammal – in other words, they were hoaxes.

Perhaps the most remarkable mini-rex claims of all, however, are a couple attesting to the alleged capture of living specimens, one of which was even supposedly kept as a pet for a while by its captors. This latter case featured testimony given to one of Nick's correspondents by his aunts. They claimed that some time between the end of the Great Depression in America (late 1930s) and the early 1940s, while following the crop harvests from state to state as they travelled out west, what they called a 'baby dinosaur' and which seemed to them to resemble a tiny T. rex would come to their camp when their mother was cooking outside. One day, they succeeded in catching it, and afterwards kept it inside an old bird cage for a time, feeding it on leftovers, and finding that it would eat both meat and vegetables. According to Nick's account of this fascinating little animal:

It was described as having sharp little hooks on its hands and very sharp teeth, like that of a kitten. Its skin was like a lizard's but felt warm. It never tried to bite or scratch but it did not like being held. The animal behaved "like a tame squirrel." During the time they kept their pet, it grew from the size of a kitten to roughly the size of a cat, by which time it was far too big for the cage.

Eventually their family had to move elsewhere in order to follow the crops, so their father told them to leave their pet behind. Of especial interest here is that when the aunts first told their nephew about their most unusual former pet, back in the 1970s, they remembered that when it ran it "flattened out, stretched its head out front, tail out back and was really fast". As pointed out by Nick, whereas this running posture is widely accepted nowadays by palaeontologists for bipedal fossil dinosaurs, it wasn't back in the 1970s. So if the aunts had been making up their story, they were remarkably prescient concerning this particular facet of dinosaur behaviour. Just a coincidence?

The other case of reputed mini-rex capture came to light when a lady wrote to Nick to inform him that her three boys had once caught such a creature in New Mexico. The specimen in question was unusually large but slow-moving, and when they caught it they could see that it was old, with fainter body colouration than other, faster specimens that they had previously seen (but had never succeeded in capturing). Its body alone measured 20-24 in, i.e. not including its lengthy tail, but after admiring this impressive creature for a while, the boys released it. Interestingly, they referred to it as a mountain boomer, a colloquial name normally applied to collared lizards.

A common collared lizard Crotaphytus collaris (© Ejohnsonboulder/Wikipedia CCBY-SA 3.0 licence)

What could the mini-rex be? As with so many cryptids, it may well be a non-existent composite, i.e. it has been 'created' by the erroneous amalgamation of reports featuring various totally different species. The smaller individuals may indeed be nothing more than lizards sprinting bipedally, yet species like the collared lizards are so common and familiar that it seems difficult to believe that people living in locations where they occur would not recognise them for what they were. Perhaps, however, some mini-rex reports involve less familiar lizard species that are currently not known by scientists to be capable of bipedal locomotion. Yet the posture and habitual bipedalism reported for these cryptids do not accord well with lizards anyway, regardless of species.

So is it possible that somewhere in the more rural regions of Colorado and elsewhere in the United States there really are bona fide 21st-Century bipedal dinosaurs (albeit of quite modest dimensions), sprinting along in blissful ignorance of their official demise 66 million years ago? It seems highly unlikely. Yet there is surely little doubt that something that corresponds at least ostensibly with such an identity is indeed out there.

The last word on this most tantalising of topics should go to its foremost investigator, the indefatigable Nick Sucik, whom I have known for many years and greatly admire for his diligent, meticulous, and, above all else, tenacious pursuit of answers to cryptozoological riddles from all around the globe:

...such tales, whether they be true or not, add to the folklore of what our world would be like if dinosaurs lurked in secret and only stepped out into the clearing momentarily to be seen. If there were or are such things, they perhaps would possess the safety of being too unbelievable.

An excellent point – for there can be no doubt that it is this precise quality of unbelievability which serves so many cryptids so effectively in keeping them out of the clutches of scientific recognition. After all, who is going to admit to having seen creatures that sound too unlikely to be real, and who is going to seek them even if their eyewitnesses do admit to having seen them? Thank Heavens, therefore, for the Nick Suciks of this world, who choose dispassion over disbelief. May their zeal be rewarded one day with the discovery of those cryptids that they seek.

Early draft of front cover for my forthcoming book Still in Search of Prehistoric Survivors, to be published in 2016 (©) Dr Karl Shuker/William M. Rebsamen)


  1. Thanks for writing this. All of this reminds me of the 1969 movie "Valley of the Gwangi" (which remains one of my favourites in this genre) and I can't but wonder that this film somehow had an influence on all of this? I can imagine this weird isolated valley these creatures escape from on occasion...

  2. Interesting article. Dale Drinnon wrote extensively about These beasts on his blog. Here is the link (worth reading, quiet alot of material):
    What would be interesting is, how much the pet trader would want for catching one? I am sure it will be cheaper than mounting a whole expedition and in the days of kickstarter and the Internet, getting money for such an undertaking shouldnt be too hard. Heck, I would probably pay myself for that..

    1. Yes, I read the above item when it was originally uploaded, but Nick Sucik's documentation is especially interesting as he investigated these creatures personally in the field, interviewing many eyewitnesses and documenting their hitherto-unrecorded testimonies. I agree that paying someone knowledgeable re local herpetofauna to obtain one of these creatures might well be the way to go. Certainly, if I lived there, I'd be sorely tempted to do so as long as the fee required wasn't extortionate.

  3. Thanks for posting this Karl…

    I remember seeing an old episode of "Mystery Hunters" probably six years ago or so on the river dinos. I always thought it was really interesting but had never found anything else on them… until you posted this. I think the picture is fake… but the other stories are pretty interesting!

  4. Great article! As a side note, here in Oregon we call mountain beavers (Aplodontia rufa) boomers. I have no idea why. Another piece of trivia- they are host to the world's largest species of flea.

    1. Thanks! And yes, they are indeed host to the world's largest flea species - I documented this in my three books on new and rediscovered animals because the flea species in question, Hystrichopsylla schefferi, wasn't scientifically described and named until 1921. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as Super Flea!

    2. Beavers (non-mountain) are also host to a highly-specialised parasitic beetle, Platypsyllus castoris though that is only 3mm long. This unique species of beetle was difficult to classify at first because of its extreme adaptation and looks disturbingly lousy. The beaver beetle is found on beavers from Eurasia and North America and appear to have been with beavers from before their separation, perhaps 5 million years. It is so highly-adapted it is thought it may have evolved with another burrowing creature first then took advantage of beavers. The other species in the subfamily Platypsyllinae are variously less-adapted and include 9 of Leptinus, parasites of all sorts of rodents and occasional moles, Leptinillus on American beavers and mountain beavers and Silphopsyllus on desmans. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1107&context=insectamundi

  5. When photos are shown of alleged cryptids having been shot and killed, I wish the presenters would point out the bullet wound. I've never been able to identify such a wound in any of these photos. (It is, for instance, a good reason for rejecting Loy's ape.)

    1. I'm assuming that the bullet hole is the black hole visible just below the front limb facing the camera...

  6. Agreed about the look of the hind limbs. They look like they follow, for better or worse, the Greg Paul style of dinosaur reconstruction; with straight-contoured, triangular thighs and a large, somewhat discrete (i.e. looking a little segmented) gastrocnemius. Coupled with the misunderstanding of anatomy that still plagues some CGI palaeoart.

    What I wouldn't give to be in a barn in Pagosa Springs in the late '30's. Just to see what that thing looked like, if it was there at all.

  7. For what it's worth, the first thought that occurs to me is an escapee/intentional release from the notorious Dulce base we occasionally hear references to, or "Time slips", resulting in anomalous encounters of this nature. I've experienced a time slip myself, once. It was unnerving, but only lasting for a few moments. These are just conjecture, of course.

  8. In the film "Valley of the Gwangi" there was a scene with a Ornithomimus that looks something like the animal the cowboy is holding in the photo, but I don't recall this scene (of a cowboy holding the animal)from the movie...


  9. Thanks Karl, and the new edition sounds great. I wonder what would be the nearest analogue to a T-Rex today. Perhaps a very small lizard if it survived by dwarfing? Presuming that the earth warmed up again in the distant future as warm as the eras of the dinosaurs, what creature living today may evolve to something like a T-Rex? Perhaps some small lizard?