Tetrapod Zoology

It always seemed too good to be true. The story goes that members of a team of Russian geologists from Moscow State University – led by Dr G. Rukosuyev – were, in 1964, surveying Yakutia in Siberia when, at Lake Khaiyr (or Lake Khainyr), they saw a lake monster. But not just any old lake monster: one of the best described lake monsters of all time…

i-683d20e8ad3473c2d0573a2453a71185-Khaiyrsaurus gladkikhi.jpg

‘Lake monsters’ the world over are generally amorphous humps or ‘inverted boat’ shapes, but this one, described in detail by qualified biologist Dr Nikolai Gladkikh, was a huge, long-necked, blackish-blue quadrupedal reptile with a stout tail, a lizard-like head sporting small supra-orbital horns, and a low, triangular fin running the length of its back. The fin was supported by vertical rays, which has always been a nice, plausible-sounding detail (if not a very odd one, given that rayed fins are limited to fish and basal tetrapods like Ichthyostega). Various different accounts of the sighting have been provided: it seems that Gladkikh first saw the creature lying on the shore of the lake, with some accounts stating that it was grazing from grass on the bank. It returned to the water, but was reported by Gladkikh to later emerge from the middle of the lake and to stand there, swishing its tail.

i-78f79ac3d516f9d03dd19c0545d29352-Lake Khaiyr as always shown in the books.jpg

The unprecedented level of detail makes this story suspicious, and other details do too. Nikolai Gladkikh is strangely absent from the literature on Siberian limnology, geomorphology, or biology, for one. Incidentally, while referred to in the literature as Dr Gladkikh, he was referred to as ‘N. F. Gladkikh, a member of the biology group’ in the original article reporting the account (Dinsdale 1966). Secondly, while many books that recount Gladkikh’s story make it sound as if the account was reported in the technical literature (this is what I had always assumed from reading these books anyway), the publication venue for ‘the report’ – Komsomolskaya Pravda – is not a journal, but a newspaper (an article discussing the sightings were later published in the magazine Soviet Life). And it turns out that Lake Khaiyr is not exactly the sort of lake where you might expect to find a large-bodied, hitherto undiscovered tetrapod: it’s a thawed area of permafrost, 500 m by 600 m, and just 7 m deep. Many lakes reported to be the haunt of monsters – particularly those in Ireland – are clearly too small to support the animals that people have reported from them*, so cryptozoologists have often wondered if the animals concerned might be capable of making land crossings, and are hence but transient visitors to the lakes where they’re seen.

* The best example of this sort of thing concerns lochs Achanalt, Garve, Culon, Rosque and Cronn in Scotland where, in his two-volume 1935-6 work The Monsters of Achanalt, R. L. Cassie claimed to see multiple aquatic creatures ranging from 3 to 274 m in length.

i-f6b0e71b7294d11bdebab8839b38f3ef-Megalotaria.jpg

Google will show you that Gladkikh’s monster has been, at best, widely considered as tantalising evidence for the presence of unknown large freshwater tetrapods in Siberian lakes and, at worse, as evidence for surviving plesiosaurs or dinosaurs. Rukosuyev apparently speculated that the creature might be a late-surviving ichthyosaur (Dinsdale 1966, Costello 1975), which is ridiculous given that ichthyosaurs were shark- or cetacean-shaped, and Costello (1975) noted that the creature resembled the animal featured in the famous Wilson Loch Ness photo (on which see here: by the way, I totally disagree with Loren Coleman’s contention on cryptomundo that the object in the Wilson photo is an otter’s tail). Coleman & Huyghe (2003) identified the Lake Khaiyr creature as a waterhorse (a sort of hypothetical long-necked giant pinniped according to them [reconstruction of such shown in adjacent image]), which is also bizarre because the Lake Khaiyr creature was described as reptilian, and not in the least bit pinniped-like. The story of the Lake Khaiyr monster has been widely recounted in the cryptozoological literature (e.g., Dinsdale 1966, Costello 1975, Bord & Bord 1981, Calkins 1982, Shuker 1995, 1997, 2008, Coleman & Huyghe 2003, Freeman 2003, Newton 2005), and Gladkikh’s sketch (shown at the top) has become iconic and much reproduced (e.g., Dinsdale 1966, Costello 1975, Bord & Bord 1981, Calkins 1982, Shuker 1995, 1997, 2008, Freeman 2003, Newton 2005).

But, alas, here the story must come to an end. As Karl Shuker explains in the newest issue of Fortean Times (I don’t care what anyone says, I like reading it), the entire episode seems to have been a fabrication. As explained in an article published last year in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Gladkikh never was a biologist nor in fact even a scientist; he was instead a ‘migrant worker’ hired to help with the expedition. And while cryptozoologists have often expressed frustration about the lack of subsequent investigation of Lake Khaiyr and its possible monster, it turns out that such investigation actually did take place. Claims that the lake was devoid of fish, that birds wouldn’t land on it, and that the locals had a tradition of sightings, were all false. Even better, Gladkikh admitted that he had fabricated the entire event (either ‘to entertain himself and his friends or as an excuse for shirking his duties at work’, said Pravda).

i-6365281e61ad64c67a3c8f55d8b29b48-Lake Van still 6-1-2008.jpg

Of course, if you really want to believe in Siberian lake monsters, this isn’t necessarily the end of it, as there were supposed to be witnesses on the expedition besides Gladkikh, plus there are other lakes in the region that reportedly house monsters. But, personally, I feel that a case long thought to have had at least a reasonable amount of credibility – indeed, one of the most interesting cases in 20th century lake monster history – can now be dismissed in entirety. Oh well. Thanks to Karl, I’ve learnt that you can see the 2007 Pravda article for yourself here [adjacent image shows a still from the Lake Van footage, taken in 1997 (Lake Van is an alkaline Turkish lake). I think it’s a fake, carved from wood with a hose blowing bubbles at the snout-tip].

And finally, for those who might be confused as to why a technically qualified palaeontologist is apparently paying serious attention to claims about Russian monsters, I remain interested in mystery animals because I think that – sometimes – there really are real animals at the bottom of these accounts. Not necessarily post-Mesozoic plesiosaurs, evolved basilosaurids, waterhorses or super-otters, but something.

Sorry, this article was another distraction. Back to scheduled stuff next.

For previous articles on aquatic cryptids, there’s the Loch Ness one here, and there are ver 1 articles on Gambo and Cadborosaurus. For swan-necked seals see the Acrophoca article.

Refs – –

Bord, J. & Bord, C. 1981. Alien Animals. Book Club Associates, London.

Calkins, C. C. 1982. Mysteries of the Unexplained. Reader’s Digest, Pleasantville (New York).

Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. 2003. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. Tarcher/Penguin, New York.

Costello, P. 1975. In Search of Lake Monsters. Panther Books, St. Albans.

Dinsdale, T. 1966. The Leviathans. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Freeman, R. 2003. Terrors of the taiga: the monsters of Siberia. Part one. In Downes, J. & Freeman, R. (eds) The Centre for Fortean Zoology Yearbook 2003. CFZ Publications, Exeter, pp. 68-92.

Newton, M. 2005. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology. McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N. Carolina) and London.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.

– . 1997. A monster in the lake. The X Factor 29, 799-803.

– . 2008. The truth behind the monster. Fortean Times 232, 58-59.

Comments

  1. #1 Cameron
    January 6, 2008

    I recall the “Four Lakes Village Lake” monster, which turned out to be a report of many humps from a quarry a few miles from my house (when I lived in Illinois). This and reports like Lake Khaiyr are making me more and more cynical about the value of anecdotal evidence. I still find the subject fascinating though, and think that there may occasionally be something remarkable behind a few sightings. Didn’t you once theorize about superweird elongated odontocetes? :)

    Regarding Coleman and Huyghe’s classification system, were you also absolutely baffled at the “giant beaver” category?

    I recognize the “Gambo” illustration you used, probably one of my lazier efforts…

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    January 6, 2008

    Hi Cameron. Yikes, I forgot you read my aquatic cryptid stuff. The giant beaver stuff.. yeah. Let’s not talk about that. I did love the fact that lots of the witnesses seemed to be mormons (‘For years, mormon leaders showed a keen interest in the animal’, p. 197). In fact Brigham Young himself ‘not only believed in the beast but actually went after the Bear Lake Monster’ (p. 197). O-Kay. As for the Gambo pic.. for shame dude, for shame…

    Did I send you my review of Coleman & Huyghe? The latter name, incidentally, is pronounced something like ‘huh-weej’ I think.

  3. #3 shiva goldstein
    January 6, 2008

    I reckon he was thinking of a vertebrally supported “sail” like that of Spinosaurus when he mentioned the “rayed fin”. (Is Spinosaurus still supposed to have had that?)

    A thought i had from seeing a lake monster post next to your previous one: what would a REALLY BIG aquatic caecilian look/move like?

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    January 6, 2008

    Oh no – I feel a post on the minhacao coming on :)

  5. #5 Cameron
    January 6, 2008

    Odd, none of the mormons I know don’t share my interest in lake monsters, must be a Utah thing. I haven’t seen your review of the book, how much of your input did the authors take into consideration? Oh, and have your heard about the other recent sea-serpent classification by Champagne – because the Khaiyr monster resembles the “4B”. That’s another instance of my illustrations cropping up, better ones this time.

    Shiva, imagine this guy scaled up a few time. Weirder and weirder…

  6. #6 Louis B.
    January 6, 2008

    I appreciate your fascination with the subject. It has made me a little less of a cynic about such things.

  7. #7 Heather
    January 6, 2008

    Thank you for including Caddy (the Cadborosaurus)! When I was a kid, growing up in Victoria, we’d go to Cadboro Bay and play on the (concrete) Cadborosaurus. Although I never believed Caddy was real, I always hoped it was…

  8. #8 podblack
    January 7, 2008

    FANTASTIC post, thank you so much! I’ll be able to use this for future references into the subject, your reading list is wonderful. And you’re right about reading Fortean Times – helps keep up with the trends.

  9. #9 Jerzy
    January 7, 2008

    Russia had it’s own share of anomalous phenomena. The best time period was actually 1980s/1990s, when foreign fiction became more widely avialable, population was disoriented by social changes and Party loosened media censorship, which imposed some low level of credibility/filtered biggest hoaxes. UFO sightings abounded, magical healers were TV stars, yetis crowded Asian mountain ranges, usually having paranormal and sci-fi abilities, reports of live mammoths from earlier years were discovered. Fortean Times would never invent so many stuff!

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    January 7, 2008

    The latter name, incidentally, is pronounced something like ‘huh-weej’ I think.

    HOY-geh. No j whatsoever.

    If you shoehorn it into French (-EEG) and then squeeze this into English, with help of the spelling, your version might come out, except that the j still comes from nowhere.

  11. #11 Jerzy
    January 7, 2008

    Hmm, late survival of giant beaver? At least some credibility.

    Megafauna – recent and real ones – did persist longer in small pockets of land e.g. with refugial vegetation, uninhabitable or taboo for native hunters. I recall certain Smilodon which made it to 6,000 BC and some giant deer from 5,000 BC.

    When the last giant beaver went extinct? How widespread was radiocarbon dating – to be certain that small late population was not missed?

  12. #12 Tengu
    January 7, 2008

    But why do you claim the Wilsons photo was NOT a otter tail?

    It was about the right size, wasnt it?

  13. #13 Cunzy1 1
    January 7, 2008

    Yeah, I saw this creature on holiday. It’s real.

  14. #14 Darren Naish
    January 7, 2008

    Thanks to all for comments. David: as a typical English speaker I have little idea how to pronounce things properly in French :) , but Patrick Huyghe is not French (but American) and people who know him tell me he pronounces his name something like ‘huh-weej’.

    Jerzy: I’ve never heard of Smilodon surviving to as recently as 6000 BC (BC? Do we use that term outside of fiction any more?), I thought the youngest records were more like 11,000 years old, as is the case for American Homotherium (Jefferson & Tejada-Flores 1993). In Europe, the youngest sabre-toothed cats (homotheres) were apparently still hanging around 30,000 years ago (Reumer et al. 2003, and see here). The youngest giant deer – as in Megaloceros – have been dated to c. 9000 years ago, and inhabited the Isle of Man (Gonzalez et al. 2000).

    Response to Tengu: why is the object in the Wilson photo not an otter’s tail? Here is what I recently said in an email to Loren Coleman: I am confident that the object in the Wilson photo is not an animal – not a bird, any bit of an otter etc. – because the unusual strong bend that forms the ‘head’, static look, lack of blurring etc. strongly indicate that it can’t be. An otter’s tail simply can’t form that sharp ‘peak’ seen at the ‘head’, nor do otters dive like that anyway.. and nor does anything in fact (well, diving ducks do [tufted ducks, scaup etc.], but they form a very obvious inverted U shape that forms so quickly it always looks blurred in photos, plus the rounded body is very obvious). For this reason and others I do think that the object is a man-made hoax.

    Refs – –

    Gonzalez, S., Kitchener, A. C. & Lister, A. M. 2000. Survival of the Irish elk into the Holocene. Nature 405, 753-754.

    Jefferson, G. T. & Tejada-Flores, A. E. 1993. The Late Pleistocene record of Homotherium (Felidae: Machairodontinae) in the southwestern United States. PaleoBios 15 (3), 37-46.

    Reumer, J. W. F., Rook, L., Van Der Borg, K., Post, K., Mol, D. & De Vos, J. 2003. Late Pleistocene survival of the saber-toothed cat Homotherium in northwestern Europe. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23, 260-262.

  15. #15 Jerzy
    January 7, 2008

    Hello,

    Smilodon reference I cannot track now. Seen it on some museum website some time ago.

    Giant deer reference: 7,700 y ago in Urals:
    Stuart AJ, Kosintsev PA, Higham TF, Lister AM. Pleistocene to Holocene extinction dynamics in giant deer and woolly mammoth.
    Nature. 2004 Oct 7;431(7009):684-9.

  16. #16 Warren B.
    January 7, 2008

    “(BC? Do we use that term outside of fiction any more?)”

    For shame, Darren. Beliefs are one thing, but to deny his existence as an historical personality is getting a little over-antagonistic.

    Not to dwell on it: thanks for the post. Every entry on the subject of lake monsters reminds me of the list in Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Mysterious World’ (mostly because of the sketches and blurry photos). It’s always interesting to see more info and updates.

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?
    January 7, 2008

    I didn’t mention the name was Dutch because I thought that was obvious. :-] I mentioned French because a lot of back-and-forth has gone on in Belgium.

  18. #18 Tengu
    January 7, 2008

    Your right about the peak at the tail, its not typical, but otters fur messes up any old how in the wet.

    The Wilson photo is dead; we should stop talking about it (or using it)

    Funny you should mention Megaloceros (and wouldnt it be great to actualy meet one? much more than those dull lake monsters.) I was reading about the fauna on the Isle of Man, but I didnt know they were present that late.

    When did the Isle of Man separate from the mainland anyway? no one is sure

    The Isle of man is recored as a breeding ground of the Great Auk (thats another outmoded term; really it should be Garefowl) in the middle ages, funny that they should like such a busy place.

  19. #19 johannes
    January 7, 2008

    > what would a REALLY BIG aquatic caecilian look/move like?

    shiva,

    they are lissamphibians, and as such they rely on skin breathing to a certain degree. In other words, they need a large skin surface. The larger an animal grows, the smaller becomes the relative size of the surface in relation to the volume of the body. I think caecilians can’t grow much larger than the largest known examples already are.

  20. #20 Darren Naish
    January 7, 2008

    I can now confirm that Huyghe ‘is pronounced “Weeg” with a soft “g” ~ it is French’ (L. Coleman, pers. comm.).

    On otters and the Wilson photo – it seems everyone agrees that, whatever is in that photo, it ain’t a real lake monster. But I know something about otters, and how the hell would one get itself into a position matching that in the image? And, again, there’s no sense of movement or blurriness, nor any splashy water in the image – all of which would occur if this really was an otter rapidly contorting itself somehow with its tail bolt-upright. There is no bird that looks at all like the image either. And what about LeBlond & Collins’ estimate that the object is 1.2 m tall?

    The Isle of Man has a reasonable number of interesting zoological facts associated with it. Wildcats, foxes and wolves are all known there as fossils, foxes later became extinct, but mysteriously reappeared in the 1980s. Manx cats are well known, but the island also had endemic breeds of domestic cattle and apparently an endemic sheepdog (both are now extinct). It also has a really rich folklore of mermaids, black dogs, water bulls, sprites and so on and so forth..

  21. #21 Tengu
    January 7, 2008

    Yep, if you are like me, and have a great interest in folklore, its a very fastinating place (never been, but I hope to go one day; am trying to browbeat my father and wife into booking self catering on their timeshare system; but they are more interested in Canada and Budapest…)

    Daddy likes train journeys so Ill tell him about the marvelously unintergared Manx railway system

    You forgot the longtan sheep, some of which have SIX horns!!!!

    (I bet none of your caecilians can beat that)

  22. #22 DDeden
    January 7, 2008

    The third picture (above the water surface) sure reminds me of the frozen baby mammoth from Siberia making the rounds.

    Hypothetically, global warming caused melting of ice above and around the ice containing both lightweight methane ice deposits and the mammoth corpse to undergo local uplifting so that the trunk and upper body portion were above the water surface while still frozen unitarily, leaving the remaining “mammoth-sickle” firmly emplanted vertically on a shallow part of the lakebed. The hair, rather than brown and woolly, would be soaked and algae-slimed giving a more reptilian look than expected for a mammoth. Dogs, wolves, ivory hunters arrived, demolishing the evidence of course.

    I think the same thing happened after the ice age glaciers melted in Tibet (gigantopiths) and Alaska (giant ground sloths) resurfaced from glaciers, and were referred to as sasquatch and yeti, and stories lasted much longer than the carcasses and bones which were turned into dog food or otherwise destroyed.

    And yes I’m serious, and no, not THAT serious.

    ps. Caecillians may have gotten larger during high-Oxygen periods? Today’s atmosphere has less O2 than during some periods.

  23. #23 Atomic Mystery Monster
    January 7, 2008

    According to this, the person who first publicized the Bear Lake Monster admitted it was a hoax.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    January 8, 2008

    in Tibet (gigantopiths)

    No evidence for Gigantopithecus in Tibet, and AFAIK no evidence for any younger than half a million years.

    ps. Caecillians may have gotten larger during high-Oxygen periods?

    Except for one species, they do have lungs and don’t rely on skin-breathing.

  25. #25 llewelly
    January 8, 2008

    Not necessarily post-Mesozoic plesiosaurs, evolved basilosaurids, waterhorses or super-otters, but something.

    Recall what was found at the bottom of the alien abduction stories. Sleep paralysis. Rather than a tetrapod, you might find a bacterium, or a medical condition.

  26. #26 Alan Kellogg
    January 9, 2008

    If you think the Lake Khaiyr monster got a raw deal, consider Hodgee, the Lake Hodges monster. Poor thing spent years restricted to a small river in Southern California, until a massive rain storm filled the lake back up again.

    And we pride ourselves on our environmental sensitivity.

  27. #27 Darren Naish
    January 9, 2008

    Some (all?) of the monster stuff on that Lake Hodges site is bogus. One of the photos – the surface one taken at night – is the fake Peter O’Connor photo, taken at Loch Ness in May 1960. The photo of the big cage was also taken at Loch Ness: it’s a famous image from December 1933. And both Lake Hodges and ‘Hodgee’ are missing from listings of lake monsters (Eberhart 2002, Coleman & Huyghe 2003, Newton 2005). Does the lake really have a tradition of sightings as the website claims?

    Refs – –

    Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. 2003. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. Tarcher/Penguin, New York.

    Eberhart, G. M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (two volumes). ABC Clio, Santa Barbara.

    Newton, M. 2005. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology. McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N. Carolina) and London.

  28. #28 Alan Kellogg
    January 9, 2008

    No, it’s a spoof. Lake Hodges was created by damming the San Diegueto River in San Diego County back around 1905. Then there was the 10 year period between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s when the lake was virtually empty thanks to a drought. It’s a parody site and not to be taken seriously.

  29. #29 Nick
    January 11, 2008

    Yes, BC, dammit!

    Not to sound like some sort of religious wing-nut, but you’ve touched on one of my bugaboos there. BCE/CE is a crap way of covering for the fact that our standard count of years grew out of a religious tradition. Would someone like to explain to me exactly in what way the year 1 is any more “common” than the year before it?

    That’s the major problem with political correctness as I see it: it’s too much trouble to change the way we actually do things, so we’ll just change the way we talk about them instead. If you want to come up with a new dating scheme with a more universally-acceptable start-point, more power to you. But if you’re going to use standard dates, at least be honest about where they came from.

  30. #30 Victor Mispounas
    January 26, 2009

    Of all the books I’ve read on cryptozoology including what I have read in the above pages are from people that have never experianced being on a boat, I on the other hand spent a lot of my young years as a commercial fisherman in many deep large lakes, I experianced twice in my life my boat loaded down with fish and gill nets being lifted right out of the water apparently by some large unknown under water creature, I remember another time on my way back home after delivering a load of fish, on a clear calm day I was just cruising along just relaxing in my boat which was powered by two 20 horse power Johnson outboard motors, all of a sudden my boat tipped on its’ side and I could feel my hair standing up, it must have been just a few seconds and to my relief my boat turned right side up.
    Today when I think about it whatever it was that I ran over could not have been a submerged rock or floating log, because if it had been any of both of these my outboard motors would have been seriously disabled, to this day I never did figure out what it was that I ran over, whatever it was it was no otter, beaver or sturgeon, because I have never heard of anyone catching sturgeon on the Beaver River system in northern Saskatchewan, to those people that think what many people have seen or experianced are hoaxes, I say beware of what you make fun of, because we do not know what is in existance under water, one day those of you that never experianced what many like myself experianced may happen to you, to all you landlubbers go spend some time in water you might get lucky and experiance what people like myself have experianced and then come back and laugh.

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