A wide variety of unidentified animals have been reported in freshwater lakes and rivers around the world. These animals often go under the generic name of lake monsters or river monsters. Most also are known by the name of the lake or river plus the word "monster," as in the "Payette Lake monster."
A comprehensive, country-by-country list is found in the "Lake and River Monster" section on pages 655-690. More specific information can be found under the following names:
Afanc; Ai dakhar; Altam aha- H A; AMHÛLJK; ANFISH; ANGEOA; ANGONT; ARCHIE; Ashuaps; Atûnkai; Baiong Bidai; BigWAlly;
Bozho; Brdnie; Bunyip; Canavar; Carabun-cle; Cecil; Champ; Chan; Chaousardu; Chmstina; Chunucklas; Cressie; Cuerd; DAKWA; Eelpoot; elbst; gauarge; Gjevstrdll; Groot Slang; Grytte; GuXi Wfr; Guirivilu; HAMLET; hapyxldr HlP-pogriff; Hippoturtleox; Horse's Head;
HUILLA; IGOPOGO; ILLIE; INKANYAMBA; ISSIE;
Ka-IsTDWah-Ea; Klato; Kolowisi; Ktchi Pitchkayam; Kuddimudra; Kurrea; Kushii; Lagarflj6tsormurnn; Lau; Lenapi'zha; Lin-dorm ; Lizzie; Llamhigyn y Dwr Lukwata; Maasie; Mam lam bo; Manet^wi Msi'-Pissi'; Manipdgd Memphre; Messie Mi-Ni-WaTU; Mishipizhiw; Misiganebic; Mjossie; Montana Nessie; Morag; Mosqueto; Nahuellto; Naitaka; Nampeshiu; Nessie; Nhang; Ninki NANKA; Nycker nykkjen; OGOPOGO; OGUA; Old Ned; On Niont Onyare; Oogle Boogle; Paddler; Pamba; Patagonian Plesiosaur; Peist Pictish Beast; Pink Eye; Pinky; Piranu; Ponik; Puff; Rassic Rocky; R0MMie; Seileag; SELMA; Sharue; SHUSWAGGI; sint-hold; Skrimsl SlaLi'kum; Sllmy Caspar South Bay Bessie; Stdrsjoodjuret; Tag; TAhoe Tessie; Taniwha; Tcinto-Saktco; Teggie; Threetdes; hiachuk; Tlan^jsi; Trelquehuecuve; Tsin-QUAW; Uktena; ULAR tedong; unktehi; AAsstrdllet; WAkandagi; WAter Bull; WAter Horse; Wee Oichy; WewiwilemitA ManetJ; Whitey; Winnipogo; WiwiliAmecq1; Wur-RUM; Yerd; zemo'hg6-anI
Some of the most common descriptions are of animals that resemble either a telephone pole, a big fish, an overturned boat (especially larger individuals), a head and long neck, a floating log, a serpent, or a string of humps. The shape of the head is most often described as either horselike, cowlike, serpentine, crocodilian, or fishlike. Ridges, spines, or horns are sometimes reported. Appendages include fins, flippers, or feet. The skin is as often smooth as scaly. Whiskers and a mane are frequent adornments.
It is difficult and probably ill advised to place specific Freshwater monsters into distinct categories. Eyewitness descriptions are often imprecise, and in many cases, the animals themselves appear to lack any distinguishing features other than unusual size. Several different descriptions may be given for animals seen in one specific lake. Though this could mean that several unknown species live in the same body of water, it is more likely that (1) descriptions of an unexpected, exotic animal viewed at a distance under unfavorable atmospheric or optical conditions by untrained observers may often be less than accurate, and/or (2) cultural preconceptions of what a Freshwater monster should look like may override an observer's objectivity.
However, in general, at least four categories of unknown animals seem to be involved:
(1) A long-necked animal, perhaps a freshwater equivalent of Bernard Heuvelmans's marine Longneck. Some of the most notable are champ, Nessie, and storsjoodjuret. In general, this type has a small, flat head on a long neck; small eyes; small horns, which may actually be either ears or some form of breathing apparatus; a mane; two or three dorsal humps; little or no tail; and four webbed feet or paddles. The animal is most often seen in warm weather when the water surface is flat calm. It can swim and dive swiftly.
(2) A serpentine freshwater animal similar to Bernard Heuvelmans's multhumped Sea Monster often perceived only as a string of humps or coils. The Canadian ManiPOGO and Ogopogo could be placed in this category. This type has a serpentine body and a long tail, and it usually swims by vertical undulations.
(3) The European wAter Horse appears to be a freshwater form of Bernard Heuvelmans's Merhorse. Its distinctive, horselike head gives credence to the legend that the animal can pass as a domestic horse.
(4) Different types of large Fishes, especially those that have the distinctive, razorback scutes of a sturgeon along the spine. Possible explanations:
(1) A surviving basilosaurid, a family of archaic Cetaceans that lived 42-33 million years ago in the Middle to Late Eocene, could account for the serpentine type of Freshwater monster. These animals possessed torpedo-shaped bodies with flexible vertebrae, elongated skulls, limber necks, twin flippers derived from forelegs, small dorsal fins, and long, fluked tails. The hind limbs, about 2 feet long in Basilosaurus isis, were reduced but functional. Nostrils were placed at the top of the snout. Unlike modern whales, their teeth were differentiated into incisors, canines, and molars. Basilosaurids came in a wide range of sizes, 6-82 feet long. They are known to have inhabited shallow coastal waters and swamps as well as open oceans. Fossils have been found in Egypt (especially the Zeuglodon Valley), India, and North America.
(2) A surviving plesiosaur matches the morphology of many lake monsters. This group of marine reptiles lived 238-65 million years ago and swam with paddlelike limbs. Some, but not all, species had long necks, and body length varied from 6 to 46 feet. The continuing evolution of a surviving species from the Mesozoic might account for such characteristics as cold-weather adaptation, a freshwater habitat, and the ability to crawl on land.
(3) An unknown, large, long-necked Seal (Suborder Pinnipedia) could account for animals existing in cold, northern lakes. This theory was first advanced for Nessie by the Dutch zoologist Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans in 1935, based on his idea in the 1890s that most Sea Monster sightings involved such an animal. However, the fossil evidence is lacking. A seal would likely be seen at the surface more often than most lake monsters.
(4) Various species of Sturgeon (Family Acipenseridae), large marine fishes with several rows of dorsal plates, swim up rivers into lakes for spawning and are likely candidates for certain lake monsters.
(5) An unknown species of giant Freshwater eel (Family Anguillidae) would account for scarce surface sightings of serpentine animals but is more problematic for the humped variety.
(6) A surviving duck-billed Dinosaur (Family Hadrosauridae), one of the most abundant types in North America in the Late Cretaceous, 80 million years ago, was suggested by Loren Coleman. These browsing vegetarians often had bony head crests that probably served as visual and audible signaling devices. However, because of their stiff tails, short toes, and small hands, it's unlikely they spent much of the time in the water.
(7) Boat wakes, logs, swimming deer, and other misidentifications.
(8) Mats of rotting vegetation.
(9) The Northern river otter (Lontra canadensis) and European otter (Lutra lutra) can appear mysterious to the untrained eye. The otter's streamlined body is almost serpentine, and several animals swimming in a row could simulate a monster from a distance.
(10) Wayward Sharks (Subclass Elasmobranchii) often travel many miles upriver. In 1978, a shark was found in the water intake of Edison's Trenton Channel Power Plant off the Detroit River in Michigan.
(11) Wayward seals also migrate into freshwater environments occasionally.
(12) A surviving Phobosuchus, a 50-foot marine Crocodilian that lived in the Cretaceous, 70 million years ago, has been proposed by Mark A. Hall.
(13) A surviving mosasaur, such as Clidastes propython, a marine reptile that lived 88-74 million years ago, also was suggested by Mark A. Hall. It was about 12 feet long, ate fishes and squid, and swam by horizontal undulations. Fossils have been found in Kansas and Alabama. Plotosaurus was nearly three times as large (33 feet) and was also found in Kansas. The end of its tail extended into a vertical fin. Platecarpus, another Kansas mosasaur, was about 21 feet long and died out at the end of the Cretaceous.
For an overview of Freshwater monsters, see Peter Costello, In Search of Lake Monsters (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1974); Michel Meurger and Claude Gagnon, Lake Monster Traditions: A
Cross-Cultural Analysis (London: Fortean Tomes, 1988); Karl Shuker, In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (London: Blandford, 1995), pp. 78-113; John Kirk, In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (Toronto, Canada: Key Porter, 1998).
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