Tetrapod Zoology

A beast in the water


Identify the tetrapod. I think this is easy. You might agree, you might not. But then do something else: state the significance of what you can see. That might not be so easy, but then it might. Incidentally, more mysterious aquatic creatures to come soon (in a somewhat longer post): this time of the Lake Dakataua variety…

UPDATE [added 27-10-2008]: no more guesses please, answer is now below.


  1. #1 PalMD
    October 26, 2008

    OK, i’m an expert in bipeds, not tetrapods, but I’d say it’s an asian water buffalo. Significance? hmm…working on that.

  2. #2 Brian
    October 26, 2008

    I think it is a moose.

  3. #3 mchael cardus
    October 26, 2008

    I believe the significance is that the animal is dead!

  4. #4 robert jaques
    October 26, 2008

    wild boar?

  5. #5 Brett Booth
    October 26, 2008

    I’ll say Rhino… the head looks in profile to me. If it’s a Sumatran Rhino then the significance is that it was thought extinct… or am I thinking of something else?



  6. #6 Ed
    October 26, 2008

    Looks like a monkey hitching a ride on a rhino.

  7. #7 Andreas Johansson
    October 26, 2008

    My first thought was two birds sitting on a log.

    The significance is that it proves that Nessie is a ropen.

  8. #8 Brad McFeeters
    October 26, 2008

    The obvious wrong answer (and I’m guessing why this photo is circulating) is that we’re looking at the head of a Triceratops-like dinosaur. Significance: They’re generally thought to have been extinct for about 65 million years.

  9. #9 Noadi
    October 26, 2008

    I’ve heard that a large number of lake monster sightings that aren’t logs are otters so that’s my guess.

  10. #10 tai haku
    October 26, 2008

    I think the tetrapod is a cormorant or similar bird (sat on a floating log).

    This is like one of those magic eye puzzles though.

  11. #11 tai haku
    October 26, 2008

    I can see moose/european elk now too – I guess the significance is they are present in lots of places that have lake monster sightings.

  12. #12 Tometheus
    October 26, 2008

    It’s clearly a picture of a man and a gnome in a canoe that has a heavy load in the rear. The significance is that gnomes were previously thought to be mythical. This picture was taken later in clearer conditions after they had dropped off their load.

  13. #13 Jonathan Vos Post
    October 26, 2008

    Darwin in the Suburbs: Rat-Battle of Marengo
    Jonathan Vos Post

    Paralyzed rat in a black dog’s jaws
    down from the orange tree to its doom.
    Ears twitch to excited barks, long pause
    beyond the bounds of the living room.

    Regular breath, no visible blood,
    red eyes stare since the violent shake
    severed the spine, California quake
    breaks the back of a garden snake.

    The snake-like tail of the rat is black.
    The black dog enjoys a knotted rope
    instinctively shaken, a broken back
    for a snake or rat means the end of hope.

    Flat on the lawn. No dawn. No plan.
    Casket’s a black plastic garbage can.

    17 June 2007

  14. #14 genghisprawn
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a Tully monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium) with a pipe. Significance: smoking kills.

  15. #15 Adam
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a log. The significance is that recent molecular data nests woody angiosperms within the tetrapod clade.

  16. #16 DDeden
    October 26, 2008

    1st look: a couple of ku klux klansmen (or possibly druids?) (in their cone hats) cruising the river on their way to a meeting.

    2nd look: (Oh this is Tet Zoo!), maybe a back-sculling sea lion clapping while singing kumbaya.

    3rd look: Cryptic sea monster of indeterminate taxonomy (definitely not an aquatic pterosaur).

  17. #17 Dr Vector
    October 26, 2008

    My first thought was the head of a bovid, but I think it’s too far way for that to work out scale-wise. How about a crocodilian that is halfway through the act of rolling over, with both legs on one side sticking up in the air?

  18. #18 Cryptus
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a bear, swimming on its back. Significance is that this is the first time we’ve seen bears using the same behavior used in Disney’s The Jungle Book.

    (or maybe it’s a giant sloth!)

  19. #19 Alan Kellogg
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a black rhino.

    Block rhinos don’t swim. It don’t rain hard enough where black rhinos live to produce bodies of water black rhinos need to swim across. The photographer forgot to get any color film the last time he was in town.

  20. #20 Graham King
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a sea-lion posing on a specially-shaped rock outcrop, so that the assemblage resembles a moribund tetrapod (trapped in this tar-pit covered by a thin layer of water), singing plaintively as if in death-throes to lure the would-be opportunist-predatory California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)to an unsuspecting doom in its jaws with a sudden last-minute death-lunge.

    The ‘rock’ is actually a petrified log, which has been gnawed into shape by cooperating successive generations of extinct Pleistocene giant beavers (Castoroides) and/or possibly the fossorial Miocene beaver (Palaeocastor).

    The sea-lion incidentally is a probable hybrid from a cross between the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) and the South American sea lion (Otaria byronia) as reported in a 2002 issue of the Journal of Mammology, according to the French National Center for Scientific Research.

    This airborne tetrapod species has recently been proved to form a staple diet item for such marine tetrapod hybrids, as tasty morsels rapt(o/u)rously relished and savoured post-repast by the sea-lion – likely basking, as oft-pictured, enjoying one of those languid reflective ‘Condor moments’.

    (ha ha, so not top of the food-chain after all, Gymnogyps!)

    The significance of this is that the Gymnogyps was not previously thought to be short-sighted nor tone-deaf enough to make this unlikely-seeming ploy practicable.

  21. #21 Bill Unzen
    October 26, 2008

    Rhinoceros unicornis swimming to the right. The strongly concave forehead and large horn likely rule out Javan Rhino which typically have a flatter head and a small blunter horn.

  22. #22 Sclerophanax
    October 26, 2008

    My first thought was an Indian rhino, but then I noticed its horn is longer and sharper than that any Indian rhino I’ve seen. Not sure if that’s really significant, though. I can’t think of a way a swimming Indian rhino would be out of the ordinary either, as they are fairly aquatic for rhinos. I guess I’ll have to wait for the explanation.

  23. #23 Jaime A. Headden
    October 26, 2008

    Darren’s comment about the significance hits a little further than what the creature is. At this rate, it looks like a dead animal, bloated and in rigor, floating on its side. I’m liable to think it’s crocodilian, since a fun option of being a shark was left off due to not being a tetrapod….

  24. #24 anon
    October 26, 2008

    It’s Jacques Cousteau in his Mokele-Mbembe costume.
    The significance is that this is the first documentary proof that he was actually behind sightings of this cryptid.
    The photo was taken by four youths who our source identified only as “those darned kids”.

  25. #25 Graydon
    October 26, 2008

    It’s a moose.

    The significance is that it’s being photographed swimming ashore in Newfoundland, having crossed the Cabot Straight under its own power. This settles a long-standing controversy over whether or not moose could do that, or whether their introduction by humans was solely responsible for their presence on Newfoundland.

  26. #26 sluggo
    October 26, 2008

    how about a bear on its back …

  27. #27 Cath the Canberra Cook
    October 26, 2008

    My first thought was an otter on its back, front paws in the air. But they do look like horns, so mostly submerged water buffalo works too.

    When do we get the answer?

  28. #28 Darren Naish
    October 26, 2008

    When do we get the answer?

    When there have been at least 50 guesses. Yours was the 27th 🙂

  29. #29 AnJaCo
    October 26, 2008

    Bret Booth beat me to it. However, he was more specific than I was going to be. I was just gonna say one of the Asian rhinos. Significance is just that its a swimmin’ rhino. You don’t see this every day.

  30. #30 ColoradoJim
    October 26, 2008

    It looks very much like some sort of bovine swimming photo. I’d say American Bison since I took a very similar shot with just the horns and part of the face showing although this face is a bit longer almost moose like although no moose has antlers that look like that even submerged. A bison has a large hump which might account for the raised portion behind the horns. It could also be Cape Buffalo but the bony brow between the horns doesn’t seem to be there.

  31. #31 DaveB
    October 27, 2008

    Thanks Darren, another great post.

    Like Graydon and others, initially I thought it was a moose. But unlike Graydon, I don’t think it’s Newfoundland. Having lived there, the background doesn’t match any NF shore I’ve seen.

    So I’m going with: Takin.
    The significance: its a Himalayan mountain animal not normally found in river valleys.

    Moving us towards 50 suggestions and keen to know.

  32. #32 Nathan Myers
    October 27, 2008

    Ddeden: obviously not, they’ve been extinct for over a century.

    Must be a scansorial plesiosaurid, fallen out of a tree and splashed in the water upside-down. Signifcance: Treetops Nessie is clumsy.

  33. #33 Allen Hazen
    October 27, 2008

    I don’t think it’s a rhinoceros: left (in the picture) projection is too big to be an ear and the wrong shape to be any sort of rhinoceros horn.

    I don’t think it’s a moose: seems unlikely that just one vertical spike on each antler would show.

    So I’m betting on some sort of bovid.

    (By leaving spaces between my one-sentence paraqraphs can I get my answer counted three times so we get to 50 faster?)

  34. #34 boesse
    October 27, 2008

    its a manatee! floating on its back, and those are the flippers. I’m not even sure if that orientation is possible in life…

  35. #35 Veltyen
    October 27, 2008

    My first thought was water buffalo – followed by cape buffalo from the shape of the “horns”.

    Then on another look I thought “South American Giant Anteater pretends to be a otter”

  36. #36 Puredragon
    October 27, 2008

    i’m betting on seals on a log

    sig: fresh water lake?

  37. #37 Dr. Nick
    October 27, 2008

    I’ll go along with bear, on its back, forepaws in the air, head foreshortened somehow (looking toward the camera?).

  38. #38 John Scanlon FCD
    October 27, 2008

    I vote for moose (right anterolateral view), though manatee on its back was tempting for old times sake. If moose the antlers seem unusual, probably more caribou-like, without many well-developed points, but if that hump is the nose it must be moose. Or European elk, near enough afaik. Or a log.

  39. #39 Tim Morris
    October 27, 2008

    Indian Rhino crosing a river. Admittedly, indian rhinos tend to like mud etc, so one actually swimming actively is pretty interesting.

    Funny, if you turn it all the way upside down and forget the water, it looks vaguely like a body silouette of Nemo-Ramjets Dinosapien.

  40. #40 Robert
    October 27, 2008

    My instant thought was to say it’s a Rhino, though the rear horn (if that’s what it is)doesn’t look quite right…

  41. #41 Dartian
    October 27, 2008

    My first thought was that it’s two elves crossing a river on a log, and I’m going to stick to that explanation!

    And the significance? Erm, a reminder that it’s Christmas soon?

  42. #42 Darren Naish
    October 27, 2008

    THE ANSWER: well done if you said it was a rhino, and well done in particular to Bill Unzen, Sclerophanax and Tim Morris, as it’s an Indian rhino aka Great one-horned rhino Rhinoceros unicornis. The animal is indeed swimming left to right, its sharp nose horn being the right-hand prominence and its ear and shoulder hump being visible to the left.

    The significance: believe it or don’t, some sources say that rhinos can’t swim. Clearly this is not true. It’s also said that pigs and camels can’t swim, but this is also nonsense. What about giraffes? Hmm, I’ll come back to that subject at another time.

    Another swimming animal coming next…

  43. #43 anon
    October 27, 2008

    “believe it or don’t, some sources say that rhinos can’t swim. Clearly this is not true. It’s also said that pigs and camels can’t swim, but this is also nonsense.”

    Seems to me that pretty much anybody is going to need to be able to swim at some time or another.

    Leaving the giraffes out of it (since you obviously have something planned for them), is there *any* mammal which is documented to really, truly, not be able to swim?

  44. #44 Dartian
    October 27, 2008

    Leaving the giraffes out of it (since you obviously have something planned for them), is there *any* mammal which is documented to really, truly, not be able to swim?

    I guess the short answer to that question would be ‘No’, if by swimming one means the ability to stay afloat on the surface for a while by producing some kind of dog paddle-style movement.

    But of course, there is the ability to swim, and there is the ability to swim well. (I remember a swim school instructor who said something like “If you can’t swim for more than 200 metres, you can’t really swim at all”.) And then there seems to be various ‘psychological’ factors involved. Cats, for example, can swim just fine, they just prefer not to. That would seem to be the case with at least the African species of rhino as well.

    When the Kariba Dam was built in the Zambesi Valley (then Northern Rhodesia & Rhodesia, nowadays Zambia & Zimbabwe), lots of animals were trapped by the rising waters. People who tried to rescue them had unique opportunities to make observations on different mammals’ swimming abilities. It turned out that black rhinos were highly reluctant to swim. In fact, many individuals refused to enter the water, even as a last resort, and the rescuing teams had no option but to tranquilize the rhinos and tie them to rafts in order to get them to safety. (As for giraffes, they – somewhat surprisingly – were not present in the Zambesi Valley, so there were no giraffes to rescue at Kariba.)

  45. #45 Nathan Myers
    October 27, 2008

    Dartian: Somebody was remiss in not importing giraffes for the occasion.

    I feel obliged to mention that Treetops Nessie has never been observed swimming.

  46. #46 ColoradoJim
    October 27, 2008

    On the swimming question, tails may be a factor in whether some animals can swim or not. When my dad was a kid, they threw a tailless armadillo into a lake and got worried when it didn’t appear for a while. It finally appeared after walking across the lake bottom. He did see armadillos with tails swimming just fine so in this case a tail seems to be important.

  47. #47 Anonymous
    November 23, 2008

    There are several ways armadillos can get across water. One is to suck air into their stomachs to give them buoyancy and allow them to swim across. Another is to walk along the bottom. The tail has nothing to do with it. 😉

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