Sep 13, 2022 I Nick Redfern

When Does an Animal Become a Monster? When it Grows to Huge Proportions

That question may be a very strange one to some people, but, admittedly, it is an important one. It can be said that the creatures in Loch Ness, Scotland, are only seen as monsters because of their sizes. If they were small (even tiny), most people wouldn't care about them, even their appearance. They would just been seen as small oddities. But, when they grow big - and are unclassified still - they become monsters. As I'll show you now. Let's begin with the theory that the Loch Ness Monsters are giant-sized salamanders. It's definitely a possibility. Steve Plambeck has undertaken a huge amount of great research on the idea that the Nessies are Salamanders, albeit massive in size compared to regular salamanders. As we will find out now. Salamanders are amphibians that are noted for their long tails, blunt heads, and short limbs and which – in the case of the Chinese giant salamander – can reach lengths of six feet. But, is it possible that some salamanders could grow much larger, even to the extent of fifteen to twenty-five feet? Incredible? Yes. Implausible? Maybe not. Steve is a noted authority on the giant salamander theory when it comes to the matter of the Loch Ness Monster. He says: 

“Nessie is a bottom dwelling, water breathing animal that spends very little time on the surface or in mid-water, although just enough to be spotted visually or by sonar on very rare occasions. Its forays up from the depths are most likely made along the sides of the Loch, to feed on the fish which are predominantly found along the sides, in shallower water above the underwater cliffs that precipitously drop off into the 750 foot abyss.  Such behavior is only consistent with a fish, or aquatic amphibian, which can extract all of its needed oxygen directly from the water." And there is this from Steve, too: “Yet as seldom as it happens, and for reasons known only to the animal itself, Nessie also leaves the water for apparently brief stretches, as observed most famously in the Spicer and Grant sightings of 1933 and 1934 respectively.  It may be said that this is nothing new:  it’s a centuries old tradition among the Highlanders that the kelpie or water horse of Loch Ness comes ashore. That’s a key behavioral trait to take into account if we are distinguishing fish from amphibians.” In that sense, Steve makes a persuasive argument when it comes to the matter of the creatures of Loch Ness possibly being huge salamanders, or, at the very least, another kind of large, unknown amphibian. It’s a theory also noted by researcher “Erika.” She says of such a scenario:

 (Nick Redfern) When animals become monsters in a strange way

“This might seem ridiculous at first, but in China there is a species of giant salamander that can grow up to six feet long. Certainly this is an animal which is long enough, and odd enough, that if it surfaced in a lake, onlookers could be forgiven for mistaking it for a monster. “There are other similarities which make this a plausible theory. The Chinese giant salamander lives in very cold fresh water, which describes Loch Ness handily. They are found in the rocky streams and mountain lakes of remote northern China, where they are as elusive as they are endangered. Best of all (for this purpose), the Chinese giant salamander is a very sluggish animal. It rarely surfaces, and spends most of its time lying at the bottom, waiting for prey to swim past. It strikes quickly and then retreats. This is not an active animal, and it’s entirely possible they could live in a lake as big as Loch Ness without ever being seen at the surface.”

Loch Ness Monster authority, Roland Watson, has also waded into this controversy of huge salamanders: “Before long neck stories began to dominate peoples’ thinking, some held to the view that Nessie was some form of outsized amphibian and in particular the salamander. I am a bit partial to a fish-like amphibian or amphibian-like fish theory myself, so we are in agreement to some degree there. An amphibian has its issues just like any other Nessie theory but I am sure it can hold its own in the Nessie pantheon.” Watson has also commented on the theories of Steve Plambeck:

“One major block to a salamander interpretation is the traditional long neck of the creature. Salamanders do not have long necks. Steve however suggests that the long tail of the salamander can account for this apparent problem. I can see merit in that idea and have no problem believing that a long tail can be mistaken for a long neck by eyewitnesses.” Seekers of unknown animals might be disappointed by the possibility that some of our most famous lake-monsters are merely salamanders and nothing else. But, when actually confronted, at close quarters, by such a creature – and one of twenty-to-twenty-five-feet in length - very few would probably quibble with the notion that such a thing should be classed as a monster. And that's my point: unknown animals only become "monsters" when they grow to massive sizes.

Now, onto the matter of giant eels. They are certainly not monsters; but they certainly fall into the field of monsters, just because they are massive in size. One of the most interesting theories for some (but, certainly not all) sightings of lake monsters is that they may actually be giant-sized eels. On a particular September day in 2009, England-based monster-seeker Jonathan Downes, his now-late wife, Corinna, and Center for Fortean Zoology colleague Max Blake headed out to Ireland’s Lough Leane, a small but engaging body of water. It was late afternoon on September 17, 2009 and Tony “Doc” Shiels both a creature-hunter and an Irish wizard - had invited the trio to spend some time with him. It was fortuitous, indeed, that Downes accepted the invite. Notably, Shiels said that the trio should keep their eyes focused on one particular stretch of water. As Corinna Downes notes, something very strange appeared before them: “I saw a trail left by something as it made its way from the island to the shore to the east of it… I was to be pressed for an answer I would probably suggest a large eel.”  Max Blake recorded his thoughts on the encounter, too: “If I had to make a guess, I would say that it was most likely to have been a giant eel.” Monsters? Nope. But, certainly huge animals of a normal type grown to incredible proportions.

The experience of Jon Downes and his team was not a solitary one: taking into the location of the affair above – namely, Ireland – it may well be the case that the following story (which also originates in Ireland) can be explained by the presence of a massive eel. In 2015, I was fortunate to acquire a wealth of original notes and files belonging to the late monster-hunter, F.W. “Ted” Holiday, who spent a great deal of time in the 1960s and 1970s investigating the Loch Ness Monster. Amongst those notes was a summary-report of an interview that Holiday conducted with one Stephen Coyne, in July 1968. Not at Loch Ness, Scotland, however: at Lough Nahooin, Ireland. Holiday’s notes report the following: “At about seven on the evening of 22 February 1968, Stephen Coyne went down to the bog by the lough to bring up some dry peat. With him he took his eldest son, a boy of eight, and the family dog. Although the sun had set it was still quite light. On reaching the peat-bed beside Nahooin he suddenly noticed a black object in the water. Thinking it was the dog he whistled to it; however, the dog came bounding along the shore from behind. On seeing the object it stopped and started barking.

“He then saw that the object was an animal with a pole-like head and neck about nine inches to a foot in diameter. It was swimming around in various directions. From time to time it put its head underwater; two humps then came into view. Occasionally, a flat tail appeared. Once this came out near the head which argued length and a high degree of flexibility. The thing was black, slick, and hairless with a texture resembling an eel. “The dog’s barking seemed to irritate the monster and it began to move in-shore, its mouth open. However, when Coyne strode over to support his dog it turned away and resumed swimming around this little lough. At about this point the little boy ran home to bring his mother to see the strange beast. When Mrs. Coyne and the children returned the Peiste [which is Irish terminology for a lake-monster] was still busily patrolling the tiny lake.

“Both Mr. and Mrs. Coyne agreed that the creature was about twelve feet long and both agreed they saw no eyes. Mrs. Coyne told us that she noticed two horn-like projections on top of the head. Whereas she thought the thing approached as near as four to five yards, her husband felt that the nearest point was about nine yards. Both agreed that the mouth was underslung in relation to the snout and neither of them saw any teeth. Coyne described the mouth-interior as ‘pale.’ “To and fro before the seven members of the Coyne family strutted the Nahooin dragon. As dusk was setting they finally left it and made their way home over the bog.” Whatever the true nature of the Irish beastie of Lough Nahooin, it was never seen again.

If you think about Japanese monster-movies, the chances are that the first creature that will come to mind will be Godzilla. He first appeared in the 1954 movie titled – what else? - Godzilla. The 400-foot-tall creature has an “atomic heat beam” which allows it to raze to the ground city upon city – something which it has done on numerous occasions, and particularly throughout Japan’s landscape. It has a very bad temper, and a huge tail that can flatten skyscrapers; in fiction, of course. There is, however, yet another huge monster that has become famous in the world of Japanese monster-movies. His name is Gamera, a gigantic turtle. Fandom say of Gamera: 

“Unlike any other species of turtles, Gamera has the habit of walking bipedally rather than on all fours, though he occasionally walks quadrupedally in his first three films. Gamera is capable of using his upper limbs in the same manner as Godzilla, as his forelegs have appendages much closer in construction to hands than feet, and is capable of grappling with opponents and manipulating objects. His mouth is filled with teeth, unlike any living modern turtle (several types of extinct prehistoric turtles were toothed, however), with a pair of large tusks protruding upward from his lower jaw. Gamera is also usually seen with very large human-like eyes, adding intelligence to his overall appearance. In the Heisei trilogy, Gamera has retractable bone spikes in each of his elbows.”

It barely needs saying that Gamera (like Godzilla) is just a cinematic creation. It should be noted, though, that there are real-life equivalents of the mighty turtle. Adam Benedict says: “First reported in 1494 by explorer Christopher Columbus near the Dominican Republic, the Father of All Turtles was described as being the size of a whale, while also possessing a long tail with a fin on each side to help with movement through the water. The giant turtle was said to have kept its head out of the water the entire time it swam within close proximity of Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria. Eventually, the Turtle felt it had spent enough time on the surface and dove back below the surface of the Atlantic where it was seen no more by the explorer and his men.” As we have seen, none of the creatures above - giant eels, giant salamanders and giant turtles -  are monsters. They're just large. But, by becoming huge, they take on a "monster" scenario.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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