Sunday, June 22, 2014

Long-Necked Sea & Lake Monsters – The Turtle Hypothesis

This photograph from Wikimedia Commons shows a leatherback sea turtle swimming in the ocean. Could this turtle possibly be a relative of sea and lake cryptids reported from all around the world?

Over the decades, there have been numerous hypotheses advanced to account for sightings of unidentified creatures in oceans and lakes all around the world. One of the most popular hypotheses is that these animals are living representatives of plesiosaurs that survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event 66 million years ago. I have already discussed this hypothesis in an earlier article, and I have found it to be one of the best hypotheses for the identity of these animals.

However, there is also an alternative to the plesiosaur hypothesis that is almost as good, and that is the turtle hypothesis. According to cryptozoological investigator Chuck Pogan, many reported anatomical and behavioral characteristics of long-necked aquatic cryptids match up remarkably well with a chelonian identity.

According to several lake monster sightings, the length of the animals' necks is sometimes said to be variable. And, indeed, some turtles actually have the ability to retract their necks, making them appear shorter than they actually are.
A common objection against the hypothesis that these creatures are air-breathers is that they would be seen more frequently as they surface for air. This argument has been used against the plesiosaur hypothesis, as well as the long-necked pinniped. However, some turtles have evolved a very unique ability; the ability to breathe underwater via their cloacas. To put it into a layman's terms, they literally breathe through their butts. And this might actually allow them to remain underwater without having to surface for air as frequently as they would otherwise.

And finally, here's the kicker: In 2003, the Fauna Communications Research Institute recorded sounds that appear to be reminiscent of echolocation in Lake Champlain. This has led some people to propose a cetacean (or, more generally, mammalian) identity for these animals. However, this need not be the case. It is relatively little-known that some turtle species also have the ability to use echolocation, much like cetaceans and bats. And echolocation would appear to be especially helpful in navigating through the perpetually dark, peat-stained waters of lakes such as Loch Ness.

As you can see, the turtle hypothesis definitely has quite an impressive case. As I stated above, the most prominent and vocal proponent of this hypothesis so far is a man named Chuck Pogan.

Pogan has even proposed a name for this hypothetical cryptid turtle; he calls it the "Plesio-turtle". It is a turtle that has evolved to resemble a plesiosaur, due to convergent evolution. It has a long neck, four flippers, and a long tail. It also has a greatly-reduced (or possibly even nonexistent) shell. One of the concepts that interests me most within cryptozoology is the possibility that extant taxa have evolved to resemble extinct taxa, via convergent evolution. I have already invoked this paradigm before as an explanation for reports of Troodons that have occurred throughout North and South America.

Therefore, I am partial to the turtle hypothesis. It is currently my second-favorite hypothesis, after the plesiosaur. Anyone seeking further information on it can see Chuck's post about it on his own blog, as well as cryptozoological investigator Jay Cooney's interview with Chuck about the hypothesis.


Since I have now been writing on this blog for over a year, I feel that it is time for some updates.

First, some of my readers might remember an article I wrote in September 2013 called "Sightings of Large, Flightless Dinosaur-Like Birds". In that article, I proposed that the bipedal dinosaur cryptids reported in North and South America could perhaps be giant, flightless birds that have evolved features which resemble those of non-avian dinosaurs.
Now I no longer support this hypothesis. I still think it's possible, but I just don't think it's as likely as I thought before.

Also, I think I need to clarify something about my blog's style. I have always been somewhat interested in speculative biology, and I have a vivid imagination. Therefore, when I formulate a new hypothesis about what a particular cryptid might be, I like to pursue my hypothesis to the fullest extent, as if it were true, and create a picture of the animal in my mind.
For example, in the article about flightless dinosaur-like birds, I said that they are "5 feet tall, 9 feet long, and are omnivores that eat nuts, seeds, and insects, as well as occasionally taking larger prey". I don't have direct evidence of this; I was just speculating.
Like paleontology, cryptozoology is a field that is very often prone to speculation, simply because the reports we have usually cannot tell us very many details about the nature of the unidentified animals that we are pursuing. So whenever I think of a new hypothesis, I don't just put the idea out there; I also create a mental picture of what the animal might look like, and describe it in my article.

A recent book that is somewhat similar to this is The Cryptozoologicon

As a final note, I have been planning to write an article about unidentified primates all over the world, but I have decided to postpone it until the currently-ongoing consternation within the "Bigfoot Community" dies down. When that happens, I shall be posting the article.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Birthday to Mysterious Zoology!

Incidentally, I just realized that today marks the first anniversary of the creation of this blog. Exactly one year ago today, on June 16, 2013, I created Mysterious Zoology, with my very first post:
Hidden Animals
So today, on June 16, 2014, I would like to wish a very happy birthday to Mysterious Zoology, and all the cryptids of the world!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bipedal Lizard Update

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably remember my posts about bipedal lizards that I wrote last year. Those posts were a combination of fact and speculation. And now, my opinions have changed, and I no longer agree with some of the things I wrote back then.
In my original posts, I said that they were iguanids, and possibly members of the genus Iguana. Now I am no longer so sure about that. I now think it is too early to identify what family or genus they belong to, and we don't have enough information yet to be sure.
As I have stated in other posts since then, we're not even sure if they're lizards. They could also be theropod dinosaurs or birds. Therefore, it should be noted that most of the ideas and hypotheses proposed on this blog regarding the possible identity of these animals is highly speculative. We simply don't know for sure yet what these animals are, and we probably won't know until they are discovered. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reptile Intelligence: A Paradigm Shift?

At first glance, it might appear that I am going on a little sabbatical here by discussing a non-cryptozoological subject. However, it is worth noting that I never meant for this blog to be exclusively cryptozoological in nature. I meant for it to cover any zoological topic that interests me. And the topic of intelligence in reptiles certainly interests me. And in fact, since the name of my blog is "Mysterious Zoology", this post is especially appropriate given that the topic of reptilian intelligence is definitely mysterious among the scientific community.
Indeed, it is only recently that major cognitive experiments have been conducted on reptiles. Numerous other animals, including mammals, birds, and even fish and cephalopods had been tested, but not reptiles.
There are probably many causes of this, but the fact that reptiles do not have good public relations probably plays a major role. Since cognition in animals first began to be studied, reptiles have always been assumed to be primitive and stupid creatures, vastly inferior in intellect to mammals and birds. And for many centuries, humans have hated reptiles. They were widely seen as abhorrent, and they were often associated with evil. In fact, the following quote is attributed to Carl Linnaeus, widely credited as the father of modern taxonomy: "Reptiles are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale color, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terrible venom; wherefore their creator has not exerted his powers to make many of them."

Therefore, studies on reptilian cognition were not really in existence until the late 2000s and early 2010s. And the results of these studies are very different from the stereotypes that most people have about reptiles. Instead, the results paint a very different picture from the slow, dim-witted, unsuccessful reptiles of popular culture.
In one study, anoles were found to perform as well as birds on an experiment which involved hiding food behind a lid, and having the animals find a way to get to it. Anoles usually capture their prey by striking at it from above, but in this situation, the lizards were forced to innovate, and find other ways to gain access to their food. For example, some of them used their snouts as a lever to lift the lid off. This experiment shows that anole lizards are capable of problem-solving.
In other experiments, tortoises were shown to be capable of navigating mazes at least as well as mammals, and monitor lizards have been shown to be capable of counting.
In addition, there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence from pet owners that iguanas are very intelligent, and are capable of being trained, like dogs.

All of this new evidence is startling to most people, who used to underestimate reptiles' intelligence.
And this leads me to ask a question: Are we currently in the midst of a paradigm shift? A paradigm shift is when a major revolution occurs regarding the way the majority of people think about a scientific topic. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection in the 19th century was a paradigm shift, as was Albert Einstein's discovery of quantum mechanics in the 20th century. It appears to me that another paradigm shift is currently underway with regard to reptilian intelligence; in the direction of increased intelligence. Rather than slow, dull, primitive creatures, reptiles are now being transformed into intelligent, successful, and elegant animals. And that's good, because that is what they are.