Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Tuesday 30 July 2013


The first Nessie book that I ever read was this one, by Tim Dinsdale, purchased for me as a child by my mother

Back in 1986, veteran Loch Ness monster researcher Tim Dinsdale (1924-1987) had corresponded with me in relation to a very different but equally intriguing water monster that formed the basis of my first major cryptozoological investigation – Gambo, the Gambian sea serpent. Consequently, when I attended the International Society of Cryptozoology's two-day symposium held at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on 25-26 July 1987, Day 1 of which was devoted to Nessie and at which Tim was one of the speakers (click here to read my reporting of this symposium), I lost no time in introducing myself to him so that I could thank him directly for his kind interest and encouragement in my own fledgling cryptozoological researches.

Artistic representation of the Gambian sea serpent (William Rebsamen)

In response, Tim gave me a copy of a most interesting Nessie sighting that an eyewitness had recently sent to him. He didn't provide me with the eyewitness's name, because he no doubt intended to publish an exclusive report of it in some future publication. Tragically, however, only a few months after the ISC symposium, on 14 December 1987 Tim suffered a fatal heart attack.

Recently, I came upon the copy of this sighting that Tim had given me all those years ago, and as I am unsure whether it was ever made public, I am now doing so, by including here on ShukerNature the sketches of what the eyewitness claimed to have seen (click image to enlarge it), together with the sparse details concerning it that I have on file, in case this may be of benefit to other Nessie researchers.

The sheet given to me on 25 July 1987 by Tim Dinsdale containing two sketches by a Nessie eyewitness

The eyewitness observed a typical 'periscope' shape projecting up through the water surface, yielding an outline reminiscent of the object in the controversial Surgeon's Photo. He/she also saw a very long hump visible above the water surface, approximately 25-30 ft in length and approximately 1.5 ft high, with what looked like distinct backward-pointing serrations running along the posterior portion of its upper surface.

If anyone has any further knowledge concerning this Nessie sighting, I'd be delighted to receive details here on ShukerNature.

Tim Dinsdale (Tim Dinsdale)


Friday 26 July 2013


Beautiful painting of the nandinia from Robert Wolff's book Animals of Africa (© Robert Dallet)

As many of you know, I've always been interested in the more unusual, enigmatic members of the animal kingdom, those that rarely attract such widespread attention as the giant pandas and great white sharks of this world.

And one creature that certainly embodies 'unusual' and 'enigmatic' is the nandinia Nandinia binotata, which was formally named and described by British zoologist John Edward Gray in 1830 (and originally split into two separate species - one West African and one East African). I first learnt of this cat-sized arboreal creature's existence when, as a child, my mother bought for me a huge lavishly-illustrated book, almost as big as me (or at least it seemed to me to be at the time!), entitled Animals of Africa. Authored by Robert Wolff, it contained dozens of spectacular full-colour paintings by Robert Dallet, including one of the nandinia.

Even its name, 'nandinia', intrigued me, because it sounded so unlike any other animal name I'd ever heard, to the extent that even though I subsequently learnt that this species was also referred to as the African palm civet or two-spotted palm civet, as far as I'm concerned it has been and always will be the nandinia. It is derived, incidentally, from 'nandinie' – a local West African name for this species.

The nandinia depicted upon a Togo postage stamp issued in 1965

Looking at its picture in Animals of Africa, which also opens this present ShukerNature blog post, the nandinia seemed to me to be a curious combination of cat and civet, with an attractive spotted coat and an exceptionally long tail, yet also indefinably different from anything else I'd ever seen. This proved to be quite a prescient assessment on my part, particularly at such a tender age, because although for many years the nandinia has been classed as a viverrid, i.e. a relative of civets and genets, in recent times it has experienced a very dramatic recategorisation.

Genetic studies have suggested that during the evolution of the carnivorans (i.e. those species belonging to the mammalian order Carnivora), the nandinia split off from the lineage leading to cats and viverrids before these latter two taxonomic families split from each other. As a result, it has been assigned to a taxonomic family of its own, Nandiniidae, of which it is the only member. As it is therefore an ex-palm civet now, this renders its alternative name of nandinia taxonomically unambiguous and thus much more desirable for use – another childhood impression of mine that has since proved prophetic.

An engraving of the nandinia from Rev. J.G. Wood's three-volume animal encyclopaedia The Illustrated Natural History (1859-63)

But that was not the only surprise that the fascinating little nandinia had in store for me. While researching gliding vertebrates for a chapter in my book Extraordinary Animals Worldwide (1991), which reappeared in expanded form within its updated edition, Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), I accidentally discovered that the nandinia possessed a truly extraordinary but hitherto scarcely-publicised talent.

Taxiderm specimen of a nandinia in front of a taxiderm binturong at Tring Natural History Museum (Dr Karl Shuker)

Resembling a portly, round-headed genet with very dense, woolly brown fur dappled with small black spots, and an extremely long, barred tail, but without any form of gliding membrane or other device for achieving aeronautical success, the nandinia is the most unexpected and least known of all mammals with gliding prowess. Indeed, I learnt of its surprising capability quite by accident myself. While flipping through some African Wild Life issues from 1958 in search of an account on a totally different subject, serendipity brought to my attention a fascinating letter by G.V. Thorneycroft.

The nandinia depicted upon an Ivory Coast postage stamp issued in 1992

In his letter, Thorneycroft recalled seeing two nandinias high up in a tree one morning on his farm at Zomba, Nyasaland (now Malawi). One became frightened by his dogs, standing at the foot of the tree barking loudly, and as a result it chose to exit the tree in a quite astonishing manner. As noted by Thorneycroft, the nandinia:

"...made a leap from a high branch and volplaned to the ground with legs and tail outstretched. It made a perfect landing on the bare ground, ran to another tree from which it again volplaned and repeated the action."

The mechanism responsible for this highly unexpected capability from as bulky and unlikely a gliding animal as the nandinia was revealed by Thorneycroft as follows:

"What struck me was the graceful way it planed or almost floated to the ground at an angle greater than half a right-angle so that it landed at a considerable distance from the tree it was in. Its tail was extended straight behind, the long hair at the base seeming to be ‘on end’ and its legs stretched out as far as possible. On each occasion it made a perfect four-point landing."

In short, the nandinia provided a surprising but nonetheless wholly corresponding verification of naturalist H.B. Cott’s classic findings with gliding frogs back in 1926 – namely, that a fully outstretched body and limbs (with or without the possession of a gliding membrane) is very important for successful aerial accomplishment.

Taxiderm nandinia at Manchester Museum (subhumanfreak at the English Language Wikipedia)

I have never seen any further reports of parachuting ex-palm civets, but the nandinia has a very wide distribution across tropical Africa and has even been described as probably the most common small species of forest-dwelling carnivoran there. So unless this instance of volplaning was unique behaviour exhibiting only by the single specimen observed by Thorneycroft, other occurrences must surely have been spied. Perhaps one day, therefore, some additional cases will be documented, substantiating the nandinia's claim to be the world's only species of temporarily-airborne carnivoran as opposed to merely being dismissed as a furry flight of fancy, in every sense.

One further nandinian controversy. Four nandinia subspecies are currently recognised (namely: Nandinia binotata arborea, N. b. binotata, N. b. gerrardi, and N. b. intensa), but in earlier days a much more mysterious form, nowadays relegated to a mere synonym of Nandinia binotata, was also recognised. This was Paradoxurus hamiltonii, Hamilton's palm civet, formally named and described by John Edward Gray in 1832. The only image of P. hamiltonii that I have seen is the following one, drawn by the eminent natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1833-4:

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's illustration of Paradoxurus hamiltonii

Although a very elegant image, it does not appear to be a particularly accurate depiction of a nandinia (which is itself surprising for an artist of Hawkins's renown), but there may be good reason for this, inasmuch as the creature so depicted might not actually be a nandinia! Why I am so curious about it is the fact that the book in which Hawkins's painting originally appeared is the second volume of a major work authored by Thomas Hardwicke, entitled Illustrations of Indian Zoology.

Yet whereas all other palm civets are indeed Asian, the nandinia has always been an oddity among such civets zoogeographically, in that it is exclusively African. So if P. hamiltonii and N. binotata are truly nothing more than two different names for one and the same species, how can we explain the presence of an illustration of P. hamiltonii in a book devoted to the mammals of India?

As far as I am aware, the aptly-named Paradoxurus hamiltonii remains a paradox today, but one that has long been forgotten. If anyone out there can shed any light on this anomaly, I'd be very happy to receive details.

The nandinia depicted upon a Liberian postage stamp issued in 1918

Friday 19 July 2013


The carcase-desanguinating chupacabra, caught in the act? (William Rebsamen)

The discovery of supposedly blood-drained animal carcases hits the cryptozoology headlines with monotonous frequency (I noticed yet another one being discussed online just a few days ago), accompanied by the usual (and sometimes decidedly unusual) media speculation as to what diabolical entity could have been responsible for such a hideous, unnatural act.

In reality, of course, no such entity – diabolical, vampiric, or otherwise – is responsible, because it is highly unlikely that such carcases really are blood-drained (variously termed desanguinated or exsanguinated). They merely look as if they are, particularly to the pathology-untrained eye, which is a very different matter altogether.

Over the years, many culprits for such unsavoury activity have been proposed – the chupacabra or goatsucker being the favourite identity if said carcases have been discovered in the New World; and various mystery carnivores, such as escapee/released big cats and even the (very) odd absconded far-from-home thylacine, if elsewhere.

Ironically, however, the true nature of these carcases has already been investigated, uncovered, and publicly exposed for all to see and read in a quite recent cryptozoology book that I heartily recommend to everyone – Ben Radford's superb Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2011; ISBN 978-0-8263-5015-2). So why such carcases should continue to perplex other researchers and the media, as indeed they still do, thoroughly baffles me.

Ben's book

Here's the original, unedited version of my review of Ben's book that appeared in Fortean Times (#285, March 2012):

"In modern times, very few cryptids have risen from obscurity to international celebrity with such alacrity as the chupacabra or goatsucker (indeed, I can only think of one other offhand – the Mongolian death worm). Prior to the 1990s, it was a Hispanic oddity, now it is a by-word for mysterious entities of the deliciously dark and sinister kind - emblazoned as a snarling, fiery-eyed anti-hero upon t-shirts sold in every corner of the planet, and gorily eviscerating and exsanguinating its hapless victims in saliva-dripping glee as the toothy vampiric star of countless movie and video flicks viewed worldwide.

"But what, precisely, is the chupacabra, and where did it come from? Indeed, does it even exist? Over the years since it first began hitting the media headlines in Latin America and then steadily onward and outward until its infamy became a global sensation, this monstrous marauder has been described in countless different ways by its supposed eyewitnesses – likened to just about everything, in fact, from a spiky-backed bipedal pseudo-kangaroo with wings and spinning hypnotic eyes to a hairless quadrupedal blue dog with mangy demeanour and long savage jaws. Its origin has attracted equally diverse, dramatic speculation too – a spontaneously-mutated freak of nature, an absconded scientific experiment gone wrong, even a decidedly inimical extraterrestrial visitor.

"It was high time, therefore, that this paranormal Proteus received an in-depth, critical, scientific examination, seeking both its identity and its origin, and thanks to this riveting book, that is exactly what it has received. As in his previous works, Radford has painstakingly stripped away the layers of glamour, hearsay, folklore, and media hype to reveal what he believes to be the truth behind the lurid crypto-legend, the reality at the heart of this unlikeliest of contemporary icons, and I for one consider that he has achieved his goal.

"Along the way, as with all of the most thorough investigations, there have been a number of stark, surprising revelations. Not least of these, following his forensic examination of the case in question, is Radford's comprehensive dismembering of the first major, pivotal eyewitness report (which had almost single-handedly launched the chupacabra phenomenon in fully-formed state upon an unsuspecting world).

"Also well worthy of mention here but without giving away the all-important details is his documentation of the long-awaited explanation for why supposed chupacabra victims' carcases are often described as being entirely drained of blood; as well as how another perplexing entity, the reptilian humanoid of Thetis Lake in British Columbia, Canada, was lately exposed as a hoax – a significant event, yet which had not previously received widespread coverage. Those pesky blue dogs sans hair reported from Texas and elsewhere in recent years and even represented in the flesh by one or two preserved corpses also receive Radford's full attention, revealing their identity to be intriguing but far less outstanding than media reports would suggest.

"Radford's central thesis, however, concerns the remarkable but hitherto uncommented-upon similarities between the chupacabra and the alien star of a certain science-fiction film whose release occurred just prior to the first, crucial eyewitness report of el chupa to attract major media attention. Was the latter shaped by the former? Judging from the evidence presented here by Radford, this would certainly seem to be the case, influencing everything written about and described for the chupacabra since then.

"After spending far too many years in the headlines as a bloodthirsty monster with a rapacious appetite for victims and headlines in equal measure, it looks very much as if the chupacabra has finally met its match – assassinated not with a shotgun, but instead with sterling detective work. Consequently, I feel it only fair to warn you that if you like your newly-slain goatsucker served with a generous dollop of mystery and spiced with all manner of rarefied unsubstantiated rumours, you are not going to enjoy this book. If, conversely, you prefer it plucked raw and served cold, basted only by scientific detachment and common sense, it should be a veritable feast."

The most popular representation of the chupacabra's reputed form (public domain)

So, returning to the subject of desanguinated carcases, what precisely is their true explanation? As Ben revealed in his book's concluding, 35-page chapter, entitled 'The Zoology of Chupacabras and the Science of Vampires' and comprising what I consider to be the most forensic, rigorous examination of this subject ever published within the cryptozoological literature, the answer is not even remotely preternatural, but is in fact remarkably, unexpectedly mundane. Summarising his revelations, here are the most salient points:

1) Some such reports documented by the media are not first-hand but rather second-, third-, or even fourth-hand, and are thereby susceptible to distortion and fabrication of the 'Chinese whispers' and foaflore (friend-of-a-friend lore) nature.

2) Reports that are first-hand originate directly from those who have discovered such carcases, but such persons, e.g. farmers, ranchers, do not generally have medical or forensic expertise, and the carcases themselves are very rarely examined by anyone who has. So their claims that the carcases lack blood are not scientifically substantiated, and are therefore merely unsupported personal opinion, i.e. supposition.

3) If little blood is seen on or around the carcase, a layman discoverer is likely to assume that the carcase has been desanguinated, and even more likely to assume this if he should actually cut the carcase open and find little or no evidence of blood inside it. However, this apparent absence of blood is in reality no such thing. When an animal (or human) dies, rigor mortis is accompanied by livor mortis – a lesser-known process in which the carcase's blood soon begins to settle via gravity in the lower, underneath areas (which thus acquire a dark reddish-purple hue) and coagulates there, both inside vessels and in tissue surrounding vessels from which it has leaked. This only takes a few hours at most, so unless someone finding a carcase turns it over, thereby revealing the dark hue of the tissues underneath where blood has collected and coagulated (and not many people would see any reason to do so, especially with a hefty, smelly carcase like that of a dead cow or horse), the activity of livor mortis will remain hidden from view. All that will be seen is the carcase's much paler upper portion, from which blood has drained out, down into the concealed lower portions underneath.

4) Even if the carcase is turned over, if it has been lying on hard or rough ground the blood vessels in its undersurface tissues will have been compressed by the ground, thus restricting the settling of blood (i.e. livor mortis) there. So this surface will appear paler (and hence more bloodless) than would otherwise have been the case.

5) If the carcase is of an animal with dark and/or very hairy skin, livor mortis-induced discolouration will not be discerned anyway, even if the carcase is turned over, unless painstakingly examined by a medical pathologist or veterinarian via a full autopsy.

6) If a carcase is cut open and little or no blood emerges, this is due merely to the fact that it has had time to become fixed in the tissues and clotted. In short, the blood is still there, but it has simply dried up and its water content evaporated.

7) To determine scientifically the extent of blood loss, or whether there has actually been any blood loss at all, from a carcase, a full-scale formal necropsy would be required, performed by a qualified medical pathologist or veterinarian, which rarely happens with animal carcases found by farmers and ranchers on their lands, if only because of the high fee that the farmer or land-owner would be required to pay in order for such a procedure to be conducted.

8) One important indicator of significant blood loss is noticeable paleness of the internal organs, but again, unless the carcase has been professionally necropsied, this would not be readily perceived.

9) Crucially, in cases where supposedly desanguinated carcases have been examined by medical or forensic experts, they have not observed anything that they have considered to be anomalous – everything present has been in accord with their professional experience of the appearance of corpses, externally and internally. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the work of Dr David Morales, a Puerto Rican veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture. Despite having examined 300 supposedly desanguinated animal carcases that had been blamed upon the chupacabra in Puerto Rico, he found no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim. On the contrary, he found lots of blood inside the carcases, with no sign of vampirism, but plenty of signs of the animals having been attacked and killed by normal, mundane predators, such as dogs, monkeys, and birds.

In short: the blood-draining, vampiric activity of the chupacabra and other predators is a fallacy, engendered by a lack of specialised forensic, medical knowledge by those discovering and observing the carcases, as well as by exaggerated, inflamed media accounts.

Another interpretation of the chupacabra, highlighting its ferocious-looking dentition (Tim Morris)

So the next time that you read about a mysteriously desanguinated animal carcase, remember the above checklist, and if the carcase hasn’t been subjected to a thorough autopsy by a qualified pathologist or veterinarian, the chances are that it will be its bloodless state that is non-existent, not its blood.

For full details regarding the alleged desanguination of animal carcases, please do read Ben's fascinating book, Tracking the Chupacabra – a compelling, eye-opening, and indispensable foray into the chupacabra's origin, as well as the myths, and the many fallacies surrounding this modern-day cryptozoological megastar.

Model-maker Andrew Scott's extremely formidable chupacabra (Andrew Scott)

Tuesday 16 July 2013


Richard Svensson's excellent demonstration of how a single lake monster can be interpreted in very different ways, based upon conflicting eyewitness accounts (Richard Svensson)

Today, the classic, pre-eminent image indelibly engrained in everyone’s mind when speaking of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster (LNM), is that of a plesiosaur lookalike, complete with long slender neck and tail, small head, and four large diamond-shaped flippers.

Nessie's most popular, plesiosaurian identity (Richard Svensson)

However, this was not always the case. In the past, a great diversity of alternative ideas concerning the likely appearance and identity of Scotland’s cryptozoological megastar existed. Nevertheless, with the exception of just a few (such as a sturgeon, a hypothetical long-necked seal, or various misidentified familiar animals like otters and swimming deer) that still linger tenaciously in the romantic but decidedly plesiosaurian shadow of the general public’s favourite concept for Nessie, these other options have largely been forgotten or discarded.

Peter Costello's book In Search of Lake Monsters espoused a hypothetical long-necked seal identity for Nessie (Peter Costello)

Yet they included some truly extraordinary notions and fascinating sightings, which richly deserve their belated resurrection here, as we examine just a selection of those most curious of LNM identities - identities that may have been, might still be, and surely could never, ever be...could they?


The most familiar cryptozoological identity proffering a furry or hairy mammalian Nessie as opposed to a sleek scaled or scaleless reptilian counterpart is a giant long-necked seal - of the kind first postulated during the 1960s by pioneering cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans for his ‘longneck’ category of sea serpent, and later adopted for lake monsters too by Peter Costello. This identity still receives some attention today. In contrast, a second mammalian cryptid contender has long been consigned to obscurity – a giant long-necked otter. 

Its principal proponent was British zoologist Dr Maurice Burton. Although dismissing most Nessie reports as floating algal mats or misidentified known animals, in his book The Elusive Monster (1961) he considered it possible that a small number of reports genuinely featured an undiscovered lutrine form. And perhaps his most memorable claim was that if a long-necked giant otter did exist, it should not be looked for in the loch but on land instead: “…in the marshes or on islands (e.g. Cherry Island), up the burns and rivers or along the shores of the loch, although it may also be seen occasionally in the water”. 

An otter impersonating Nessie (Dr Karl Shuker)

How ironic it would be if generations of Nessie seekers have been looking for the LNM in entirely the wrong habitat! Intriguingly, an unknown long-necked giant otter-like beast has long been reported from western Ireland, where it is termed the dobhar-chú or master otter.


What was an exceedindly unusual sighting of Nessie, made as it was underwater, took place one day during the 1880s-1890s, when diver Duncan Macdonald was lowered into Loch Ness at Johnnie's Point, close to the loch’s Fort Augustus entrance to the Caledonian Canal. According to modern-day retellings of this incident (but not according to its original published source, an article in Inverness's Northern Chronicle newspaper for 31 January 1934, as I discovered in May 2016 when fellow cryptozoological researcher Richard Muirhead kindly sent me a copy of it - click here for a detailed ShukerNature account of this), not long afterwards he resurfaced, gesticulating wildly to his colleagues to pull him out, and in such a terror-stricken state that it took several days before he was finally able to explain why he had been so scared. These graphic details seem to be melodramatic embellishments added subsequently to the Northern Chronicle article's very matter-of-fact version by person(s) unknown. 

What the original published version of this incident and later retellings of it do agree upon, however, is that while Macdonald had been seeking at a depth of around 10 m the sunken ship that he had been sent down to investigate, he saw a very large, totally unfamiliar creature lying upon a shelf of rock that had been supporting the ship. According to his description, the creature resembled a huge frog, as big as a goat, and it was staring directly at him, albeit not in an aggressive or threatening manner.

Could Nessie be a gigantic salamander?

The concept of Nessie being a gigantic amphibian was revisited most notably almost a century later. This was when, in 1976, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Roy P. Mackal, a Chicago University biochemist by profession, published what remains the most scientific, rigorously objective study of the LNM in book form. 

Entitled The Monsters of Loch Ness, in it Mackal meticulously examined every reasonable zoological identity, and concluded that the most plausible Nessie candidate was a giant newt- or salamander-like amphibian, which in his view would account for 88% of the LNM characteristics on file (as opposed to 56% for a species of seal, 47% for a sea-cow, 69% for a plesiosaur, 78% for a species of eel, and 59% for a mollusc). Yet despite the convincing and thorough nature of his researches, Mackal’s mega-newt theory failed to break the plesiosaur’s limpet-like grip upon the imagination of Nessie seekers and the media at large.


Two of the fishiest Nessie identities – zoologically – feature a couple of very different contenders of the piscean persuasion. Cryptozoologists Paul and Lena Bottriell are most famous for their king cheetah researches, but in 1988 they turned their attention briefly to Nessie, and in an exclusive High Wycombe Star newspaper interview published on 28 October they offered a new identity for this cryptid. 

Based on personal sightings of a school of rays seen while snorkelling off Queensland, Australia, Paul postulated that the LNM may be a very large ray, sporting a series of dorsal fins along its lengthy slender tail (as species such as the electric ray possess), thereby producing the characteristic Nessie humps if protruding through the water surface. He also proposed that its elongate tail could create the familiar ‘head and neck’ Nessie image if lifted up out of the water (rays do lift their tails in warning displays). Although an ingenious, original idea, the notion of a ray’s tail explaining Nessie’s head and neck clashes with LNM eyewitness reports that have claimed the head and neck to be unquestionably sentient, actively observing while above the water surface. 

An underwater moray eel impersonating Nessie's famous 'periscope' head and neck pose at Sea World in San Diego, California, as witnessed by me during a visit there in 2004 (Dr Karl Shuker)

Equally ingenious is the most recent non-plesiosaur identity of note to be aired for Nessie. Expanding upon the longstanding belief of various investigators that extra-large eels may be responsible for at least some LNM reports, in 2003 Richard Freeman of the CFZ suggested that Nessie may well be a gigantic, sterile or eunuch specimen of the common eel Anguilla anguilla – one that did not swim out to sea and spawn but instead stayed in the loch, grew exceptionally long (8-9 m), lived to a much greater age than normal, and was rendered sterile by some presently undetermined factor present in this and other deep, cold, northern lakes. 

I would not be at all surprised to learn that extra-large eels do exist here (indeed, such fishes have been reported by divers in the loch), and they could certainly explain some Nessie sightings of the ‘humps above the water’ variety. However, I cannot reconcile any kind of eel with the oft-reported vertical head-and-neck category of LNM sightings, nor with the land sightings that have described a clearly visible four-limbed, long-necked animal. 

Also, in response to this ‘eunuch eel’ theory, Dr Scott McNaught, Professor of Lake Biology at Central Michigan University, has stated that even if such eels did arise, they would tend to grow thicker rather than longer. Nevertheless, giant eels remain a distinct possibility in relation to some of the world’s more serpentiform lake monsters on record.


Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels is familiar in the fortean community as a wizard, surrealist artist, showman, and cryptozoological enthusiast, with a particular interest in water monsters, and he claims to have photographed several, including the LNM. Moreover, in relation to this latter cryptid he has proposed a highly original zoological identity – an as-yet-hypothetical, extremely modified species of enormous squid, which in 1984 he dubbed the elephant squid Elephanteuthis nnidnidi (a name that needs no explanation for anyone acquainted with Shiels's experiments with psychic automatism). This was because its most distinctive feature is a long flexible prey-capturing structure resembling an elephant’s trunk, which, held above the water surface, would account for Nessie’s ‘head and long neck’ image. Shiels also postulated the presence of inflatable dorsal airsacs for buoyancy purposes, which would explain the many LNM sightings of humps breaking through the loch’s water surface. 

Doc Shiels's sketch of his hypothetical elephant squid (Tony 'Doc' Shiels)

Naturally, however, so dramatically different a species of squid as this would require a very considerable evolutionary deviation from the more generalised squid blueprint, and not just morphologically. Currently, there is not a single scientifically-confirmed species of freshwater squid on record – every squid presently known to exist today is exclusively marine. So for Shiels’s elephant squid to be a reality, it would need to exhibit profound osmoregulatory adaptations to a freshwater lifestyle.


The above words, as sung by circus owner Albert Blossom in the classic 1960s Warner Brothers film musical ‘Doctor Dolittle’ upon first seeing the incredible two-headed pushmi-pullyu, came unbidden, but very aptly, into my head when, after first reading the thoroughly astonishing, one-of-a-kind Nessie sighting claimed by L. McP. Fordyce, I looked at the accompanying artistic reconstruction based upon his own sketch of what he allegedly saw. According to his report (Scots Magazine, June 1990), his extraordinary encounter occurred in 1932 (just a year before Nessie fever filled the headlines worldwide and the term ‘Loch Ness monster’ was coined). 

Driving along a woodland-surrounded stretch of road leading away from the lochside and towards Fort William, he and his fiancée were amazed to see a huge creature come out of the woods on their left and step over the road about 150 m ahead towards the loch. Fordyce described it as having “the gait of an elephant, but looked like a cross between a very large horse and a camel, with a hump on its back and a small head on a long neck…From the rear it looked grey and shaggy. Its long, thin neck gave it the appearance of an elephant with its trunk raised”. He stopped the car, and followed this bizarre animal for a short distance on foot before deciding that it may be safer to abandon his pursuit and go back to his car. 

An artistic representation of Fordyce's extraordinary 'giraffe-camel Nessie' (Scots Magazine, June 1990)

So unlike the typical LNM is this truly weird entity, depicted in Fordyce’s account with long slender legs far removed from the flippers more commonly associated with Nessie, that I swiftly checked that this was not the April issue of the magazine in question, but the article ended with an even stranger note. Fordyce revealed that, as stated in Ronald Binns’s book, The Loch Ness Mystery Solved (1983), in 1771 a Patrick Rose had learnt of a monster seen in Loch Ness that was said to resemble a cross between a horse and a camel. However, this no doubt referred to Nessie’s head and neck (rather than to the entire animal), which have indeed been likened to those of a horse on many occasions. So too have those of water monsters elsewhere, including North America’s Caddy, a sea monster whose head has been compared with that of a camel as well.


One of the most bewildering Nessie sightings was that of Mr and Mrs George Spicer. Driving along the road between Dores and Foyers on 22 July 1933, they spied a very large entity emerging from the bushes onto the road ahead. They described it as “an abomination…a loathsome sight”, with a long neck, but no apparent limbs, later likened to a massive slug or worm-like beast in some accounts, which lurched rapidly across the road and into the bracken separating it from the lochside. 

One Nessie investigator impressed with the prospect of a worm as a suitable explanation was F.W. Holiday. In his book The Great Orm of Loch Ness (1969), he nominated a particularly unusual animal as his favoured Nessie. Namely, a hypothetical giant modern-day descendant of a bizarre prehistoric vermiform creature called Tullimonstrum gregarium, or the Tully monster (after Francis J. Tully, who first brought this fossil species to scientific attention in 1955). 

A representation of Tullimonstrum gregarium (Apokryltaros at en.wikipedia)

What intrigued Holiday about this animal was its unexpectedly Nessie-esque morphology. Unlike more conservative vermiform creatures, Tullimonstrum sported a pair of small anterior flipper-like appendages (though these are now known to have been eye-stalks), a sizeable three-part diamond fin encircling the rear portion of its body, and a very long, slender jaw-containing proboscis superficially resembling an elongate LNM-type neck and head. However, unlike Nessie, which is often claimed to measure around 10 m long, Tullimonstrum was only a few cm long, is known only from Illinois, and became extinct over 300 million years ago – no doubt explaining why this identity never captured the public imagination. Interestingly, in March 2016 a research team featuring Dr Victoria E. McCoy revealed in a Nature paper that Tullimonstrum was actually a vertebrate, possessing a notochord, and was closely related to the lampreys and other agnathans.


As revealed here, several Nessie identities contain more than an element of surprise, but none more so than when the element is an elephant. After all, whatever Nessie may be, she is certainly no pachyderm...is she? Remarkably, in a New Scientist article of 2 August 1979, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History director Dr Dennis Power and Illinois University geography research associate Dr Donald Johnson cited similarities between the controversial Surgeon’s head-and-neck Nessie photograph of 1934 and a frame from a film taken on 15 July 1960 by Admiral R. Kadirgamar of an elephant and her calf swimming from Ostenburg Ridge to Sober Island in Trincomalee Harbour, Sri Lanka, and speculated that perhaps travelling circuses have occasionally released their elephants into Loch Ness to bathe, which might then explain the Surgeon’s photo (an image, incidentally, that in years to come would be famously condemned – but never confirmed!! – as a hoax).

The above-documented frame from Admiral R. Kadirgamar's film of an elephant and her calf swimming off the coast of Sri Lanka in July 1960, yielding a surprisingly Nessie-like outline (Admiral R. Kadirgamar)

And as proof that history, even of the strangest variety, does repeat itself, in 2006 the startling elephant-Nessie scenario unexpectedly returned to the headlines when the very same notion was offered up by palaeontological curator Dr Neil Clark from Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum. An elephant in the loch’s waters, or a camel in its woods? Bring back Tullimonstrum – all is forgiven!


Unlike Nessie’s many investigators, Robert Lawson Cassie was one seeker of Scottish Highland water monsters who never had problems finding them. On the contrary, ever since he began his observations, in June 1934, everywhere he looked near his home village of Achanalt he saw monsters! As revealed in this 77-year-old author’s mesmerising, self-published 2-volume book, The Monsters of Achanalt (1935-36), the local rivers and lochs were - at least as far as he could see – quite literally bursting at the seams with monstrous reptiles, and of gargantuan dimensions. 

Indeed, one such denizen of Loch Achanalt that he dubbed Gabriel was estimated by him to measure approximately 300 m long, which meant it was only 50 m shorter than the loch itself! Moreover, it was, he claimed, just one of countless other, smaller monsters inhabiting this modestly-sized expanse of freshwater, with plenty more in Lochs Cronn, Culon, Garve, and Rosque - even though most of these are no deeper than 10 m. 

Loch Achanalt (Dave Conner/Flickr/Wikipedia)

Nor were Cassie’s sightings confined to the aquatic domain. As soon as he started looking for monsters on land, where he was convinced that they must breed, he was equally successful - even reporting a sighting of two giant reptilian necks outlined against the snowy face close to the summit of Morusig! Not surprisingly, Cassie’s absurd observations and books rarely rate a mention in other cryptozoological publications, and are generally dismissed either as the outpourings of an extreme eccentric or as a tongue-in-cheek hoax.

Why, with such a range of other candidates to consider, does the plesiosaur identity steadfastly remain so popular? It is true that, on the one hand, some of the land sightings of Nessie have described an undeniably plesiosaurianesque entity. On the other hand, however, all manner of scientific objections to the likelihood of a modern-day representative of this officially long-demised lineage of prehistoric aquatic reptile persisting in Loch Ness have been aired over the years. My own belief is that there is no single answer to the mystery of Nessie – instead, I consider it most likely that what we refer to as the LNM is in reality a composite of several different phenomena. 

Be that as it may, what seems to raise the plesiosaur’s profile far above that of any would-be pretender to the Nessie throne is that the notion of some lingering race of antediluvian monster - an erstwhile contemporary of the mighty dinosaurs, no less - lurking reclusively beneath the loch’s dark, mysterious waters conjures forth an incomparably romantic and, equally, chilling scenario that no over-sized newt, emasculated eel, trunk-erecting squid, vermiform wannabe, or even the (very) odd giraffe-necked water camel could ever hope to compete with!

A truly wonderful Nessie-inspired cartoon by Keith Waite that originally appeared in London's Sunday Mirror newspaper on 2 April 1972 but which surely cried out for inclusion in any article dealing with the many different faces of Nessie! (Keith Waite/Sunday Mirror)