Return of the 'Montauk Monster' (or 'How freaky is a rotting raccoon?')


A close-up of the rare, terrifying Montauk Monster, otherwise known as a raccoon. From Wikipedia.

Skeletons can be funny things. If you take a familiar animal like a horse, strip it of its flesh, and put the bones on display many people may have some trouble identifying what sort of animal it was. Skeletons can be even more unfamiliar when they are draped in the putrid and tattered remains of the soft parts of the animal, and it is no surprise that rotting carcasses of common animals are often said to be monsters.

Such was the case with the 'Montauk Monster', otherwise known as a raccoon (Procyon lotor), that washed up on a New York beach last year. I will not rehash all the details here, but Darren wrote up an excellent analysis of the carcass and why it did not belong to some hitherto unknown beastie. The problem is that only a very, very small fraction of the folks who use this unwieldy thing we call the internet actually read Darren's post. Therefore it is no surprise that a second 'Montauk Monster' carcass is now making headlines.

Is it another raccoon? It is hard to say. Most of the news services that have picked up the story include a small picture of a pale, decomposed carcass photographed at night with nothing that provides a sense of scale. A blurry video of the carcass is a little more helpful, but not by much;

From what I can tell this carcass looks like another small carnivoran and probably is another raccoon. The person who runs the Montauk Monster website (and who has released the video and images) is all a-twitter about what it might be, but my suggestion to them would be to get a good face mask, take the carcass out into an open area where the smell isn't so bad, pull out a book on skeletal anatomy of North American mammals (like this one), and use science (gasp!) to figure out what it is. Even if I am wrong and it is not a raccoon, I am certain that it is not some swine-flu-carrying mutation or mysterious monster.

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I did see Darren Naish's original post on this topic. As much as decomposition can alter a dead animal's body (the rotting basking shark on a Japanese fishing boat in the 70's was a perfect facsimile of a plesiosaur) it is a shame how people's imaginations run away with them and allow them to believe all manner of far-fetched things in situations like this.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 15 May 2009 #permalink