The time has come to recycle this Tet Zoo classic, dating to February 2007 (it's actually one of the oldest of Tet Zoo ver 2 articles). I've updated it a bit and have included new pics - enjoy! [image below from Kaiji anatomical drawings.. read on for discussion].
To begin with, let's get things straight and admit up front that Godzilla is not a real animal, nor was it ever. It's an unfeasibly big late-surviving dinosaur (belonging to the hypothetical taxon Godzillasaurus, according to some), mutated by radiation, with a radioactive heart. Godzilla is virtually impervious to other gigantic monsters, and also to robots, artillery, laser blasts, lava and fire. Not real. Sorry about that. But by posing questions about fictional entities we can still learn stuff, and you may be surprised to learn that Godzilla has, on occasion, been discussed semi-seriously by various biologists and palaeontologists. Ok, that won't surprise you if you already know anything about Godzilla, but what the hey.
A little bit of introduction to Godzilla first. To date, Godzilla - and here I mean the real Godzilla, and not the thing that appeared in the 1998 TriStar movie (known variously among Godzilla fans as Fraudzilla, Deanzilla [after writer/producer Dean Devlin], GINO* or Zilla) - has appeared in over 20 movies, dating from 1954 to the present. If you've seen any of the new films, you'll know that they don't follow on chronologically from their predecessors. The films are still being made, with the latest being Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).
* Godzilla In Name Only [shown below].
The obvious and boring stuff about scaling and bone strength and so on
Godzilla is meant to be something like 100 m tall and between 20,000 and 60,000 tons in weight (his size fluctuates in the various films). Of course lots of people who like doing sums and talking about cubes and so on have used the mathematics of scaling to show why - duh - Godzilla couldn't really walk, stand, or even exist. Michael Dexter presents the arguments here, and also brings in thoughts on blood pressure, circulation and physiology to show that a living Godzilla would variously fall to pieces, tear itself apart, have its organs turn to jelly, explode due to a build-up of internal heat... you get the picture.
I know of two palaeontologists who have made comments on various of Godzilla's physical properties. Jim Farlow, a palaeobiologist based at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, speculated in 1998 on the foot size of TriStar's GINO [GINO shown here]. Jim noted that he'd "probably have to log-transform the measurements to get [the data from the toes] onto the same graphs with my other data without scrunching the other points into an indecipherable blur near the origin". He also noted that it might prove difficult to cast even a single Godzilla footprint given grant limitations and the cost of plaster of Paris, silicone or latex rubber. Sadly, Prof Farlow never published his thoughts on this subject and all we have is a message posted to the dinosaur mailing list (here).
Sauropod expert Mike P. Taylor did a bit of science on Godzilla (this time on the original, not on the TriStar creation), but has also - for shame - failed to publish his results. Interested in how much weight can be absorbed by the limb's cartilage pads, and in how big these pads needed to be in sauropods, Mike threw Godzilla into the data set to see what might happen. Godzilla's cartilage disks would not, it seems, hold up under his incredible weight, and we can therefore conclude that a terrestrial biped of Godzilla's size and weight is impossible. Mike included this valuable and surprising [joke] data in his 2005 presentation 'Upper limits on the mass of land animals estimated through the articular area of limb-bone cartilage', and to his annoyance it was the one brief comment on Godzilla that earned a mention of this presentation in a write-up of the respective conference (Jones 2005). An abstract of Mike's presentation exists (Taylor 2005), though it doesn't mention Godzilla, and you can see the presentation for yourself on Mike's website. The relevant slide is shown below. Incidentally, this work pre-dated the recent surge of interest in the biology and mechanics of articular cartilage.
In 2000, a peer-reviewed technical paper on the biology of TriStar's GINO was published in Mathematical Geology by zoologist Per Christiansen. Per is well known for his work on mathematical scaling in dinosaurs, proboscideans, cats and other tetrapods (his homepage is here). Providing a wealth of speculations and inferences about GINO's locomotor abilities, biomechanics and physiology, the article mostly critiques the view that the new Godzilla created for TriStar's 1998 movie is more realistic, from a biological perspective, than the Japanese original (Christiansen 2000). To cut a long story short, Per concluded that TriStar's GINO violated a number of biomechanical rules; in short, the creature is biologically implausible. Not exactly a surprise. His comment that the real Godzilla "is actually much more plausible from a biological perspective" (p. 239) is mostly based on the real Godzilla's massive columnar legs and walking (rather than sprinting) gait.
Indeed, TriStar's GINO did look far more realistic: its horizontal body posture and flexed hindlimbs make it look like a super-gigantic theropod (this despite the fact that it was meant to be a mutated lizard of some sort). Incidentally, the original plan for the TriStar movie was to have a Godzilla that was very much a re-vamped version of the original one: check out this brilliant concept drawing. The TriStar Godzilla also behaves more like an animal than the real Godzilla: it doesn't seem to have a sense of honour, doesn't talk to other monsters, doesn't use martial arts, and doesn't have atomic breath, for example. But given that it's over 120 m long, 90 m tall and weighs over 24,000 tons, yet is slim-legged and slender, able to run at over 300 mph, and capable of leaping over skyscrapers and such, I somehow sense that Devlin, Emmerich and their colleagues were not striving for biomechanical accuracy in creating the new-look monster. Or, at least, let's hope not. Come to think of it, these are the guys that gave us Independence Day: you can judge that movie by its very first line of dialogue.
Actually, the exact size of the TriStar Godzilla is difficult to pin down given that different sizes have been provided by different people associated with the film and, as Per and others have noted, this is a moot point anyway as the animal changes size throughout the film [in the adjacent scene, GINO's foot is way longer than a New York taxi]. This might explain why Godzilla's exact dimensions are curiously absent from my copy of The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book (Weinberger & Margolis 1998).
Incidentally, the two different godzillas have a battle in Godzilla: Final Wars, set in Sydney of all places. No prizes for guessing who wins. When GINO is destroyed, one of the human characters says "I knew that tuna-eating lizard was useless".
Godzilla's phylogenetic affinities
Based on the conclusions of Japanese palaeontologist Dr Yamane, we 'know' that the original Godzilla from the 1954 movie was a dinosaur, and - according to Carpenter (1998) - it was clearly a theropod. Yes, this is Ken Carpenter, the palaeontologist best known for his work on the armoured ankylosaurs. By inferring certain morphological details, Carpenter concluded that Godzilla must have been a gigantic neoceratosaur related to ceratosaurids and abelisaurs [Carpenter's reconstruction of Godzilla, shown to scale with Tyrannosaurus rex, is shown below; from Carpenter (1998)]. In part this idea comes from the shared derived character of bony scutes growing along the dorsal midline: present in both Godzilla and ceratosaurids, these aren't present in other theropods and were therefore interpreted as a synapomorphy.
And finally.... Godzilla's 'biology'
Little heard of here in the west is the interesting area of Kaiju-biology (Kaiju means monster). To see the sort of thing that kaiju-biologists get up to, visit Kaiju-Biology or "Why Wasn't Bio This Fun in School?" and Kaiji anatomical drawings (please do, you won't regret it). It is said on some Godzilla websites (here for example) that Kenichi Yamane wrote a thesis on Godzilla's biology, focusing in particular on Godzilla's eventual demise (in the 1999 Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) by way of radioactive meltdown. The cutaway pictures used below are - apparently - taken from this thesis. It might not surprise you, however, to find that Yamane is not a real scientist, but one of the main characters of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. In fact, Yamane is the adopted grandson of the Dr Yamane from the original Godzilla movie of 1954.
The anatomical drawing taken from Kaiji anatomical drawings [shown at very top of article] reveal a few of Godzilla's morphological traits (the pictures originally appeared on modern_fred's kaiju eiga set on Flickr). Godzilla's brain is relatively small. In view of Godzilla's apparent intelligence, this might seem surprising - however, one can make an argument that proportional brain size is a poor proxy for 'intelligence' given that some relatively small-brained animals are still capable of reasonable feats of cognition. The diagram also reveals that Godzilla has large lungs; presumably these enable the storage of large quantities of gas, and hence explain Godzilla's long dive times.
The drawing at top reveals some extreme skeletal weirdness; if accurately depicted, they make Godzilla highly peculiar compared to other tetrapods. He appears to lack connection between the thoracic ribs and the sternum*, possesses a rounded ossification (a sesamoid?) in the elbow region and seems to have fused metacarpals. An elongate, strut-like coracoid (apparently consisting of two, sub-parallel shafts) is weird in being superficially bird-like, and he has a mammal-like patella. Combined with features such as the external pinnae, some of these attributes have at times led workers to wonder if Godzilla might not be a dinosaur or even a reptile at all, but actually "[a] wildly divergent [synapsid] that tried to emulate theropods in [its] own way" (Ramjet 2007). Godzilla's enormous leg muscles are said to be specialised for the support of his gargantuan weight, and a few unique organ systems - the 'uranium sack' and 'nuclear reaction sack' - are visible in the abdominal region. These structures allow the production of radioactive fire-breath, and also energise the body.
* Henry Tsai notes that the artist may simply have not drawn all of the ribcage in order to reveal the viscera. Good point.
It what might be a minor inconsistency in anatomical interpretation, the proposal has also been made that Godzilla generates radioactivity by way of a drastically modified stomach, now termed the plasma gland. Radioactive particles emerge from the gland and are expelled via the mouth during combat: excess radioactivity is passed into the dorsal scutes at the same time "not unlike the overflow guard in your ordinary bathtub", apparently (according to this source: this is where the image used above comes from). Thanks to its plasma gland, Godzilla continually generates new radioactivity as a source of power, discharging the excess via the scutes and a duct leading to the mouth. This also means that Godzilla doesn't need to eat: surely a good thing when you weigh over 24,000 tons. I don't think that Godzilla can possess a 'uranium sack' and 'nuclear reaction sack' and a plasma gland, so these interpretations are indeed inconsistent. This merely highlights the difficultly inherent in understanding and studying the anatomy of such a massive creature. Remember that many details of elephant anatomy remain mysterious!
Other interesting speculations have been made about Godzilla's biology, including on his cell structure, and on the mysterious substance known as Regenerator G-1. This provides him with unparalleled regenerative abilities. Clearly, there is much to learn about the biology and anatomy of this most remarkable of kaiju.
The original article appeared here. For other Tet Zoo articles on speculative zoology, see...
- Oh no, not another giant predatory flightless bat from the future
- How (not) to keep dinosaurs
- Goodbye from the stem-haematotherm, goodbye from me
- Aquatic proto-people and the
theoryhypothesis of initial bipedalism
- How intelligent dinosaurs conquered the world
- Shemhazai and other flightless pterosaurs
- Come back Lank, (nearly) all is forgiven
- Alien para-tetrapods of Snaiad
- Richard Dawkins and the crappy 'humanoid dinosaurs' that just won't die
- The Tet Zoo guide to the creatures of Avatar
- Squamozoic sneak-peek
Refs - -
Carpenter, K. 1998. A dinosaur paleontologist's view of Godzilla. In Lees, J. D. & Cerasini, M. (eds) The Official Godzilla Compendium. Random House (New York), pp. 102-106.
Christiansen, P. (2000). Godzilla from a zoological perspective. Mathematical Geology, 32, 231-245
Jones, D. 2005. Meeting reports: Progressive Palaeontology 2005. The Palaeontological Association Newsletter 59, 77-79.
Ramjet, N. 2007. Comment 337667 on 'The Science of Godzilla'. Tetrapod Zoology.
Taylor, M. P. 2005. Upper limits on the mass of land animals estimated through the articular area of limb-bone cartilage. In Anon. (ed.) Conference programme and abstracts: Progressive Palaeontology 2005, University of Leicester, 15-16 June, p. 18.
Weinberger, K. & Margolis, D. 1998. The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. Puffin Books, London.
Great post, although apart from a reference to "dive times" there's an aspect of Godzilla you've missed: he's a primarily aquatic lifeform*. This of course means that in his natural habitat he has considerably more support for his bulk.
Maybe there's some way that those vulnerable joints can be temporarily strengthened during the rare occasions when he comes onto land. Plenty of other kaiju, such as Gappa and our own dear Gorgo, are also depicted as sea creatures who venture onto land only occasionally.
Godzilla continuity and chronology is a nightmare, made all the more complicated with the introduction of time travel to the films in the 1990s and made even more complicated by the series' propensity for ignoring previous sequels and having numerous branching timelines stemming from the 1954 original. It makes my head spin.
Now - how do you explain Gamera? Is he actually a species of turtle?
*I'm not sure anyone ever explained how he was able to be confined on Monster Island in Destroy All Monsters...
Don't forget the transparent feathers!
I think at least in the case of the digital Godzilla, the size varies to some degrees during the scenes, as it is often the case with many other giant monsters at movies. I think it is also not that easy to get a "realistic" weight for Godzilla, if we donÂ´t really know how long it acutally is. If we take the new Godzilla with 120 m, we can probably use known theropod proportions for a weight calculations. LetÂ´s take a comparably skinny T-rex of 5000 kg at 12 m as base for the calculation, we would get a weight of around 5000 metric tons for a 120 m Godzilla. The old Godzilla is harder to calculate, because we donÂ´t have a length but only a very unphysiologically looking height. But if we look at him, we can probably assume that it would be around two times as long in a physiolocial position (i.e. for a theropod with horizontal body and tail, and not upright like a human). That would be around 200 m. It is also very stocky, with huge leg-muscles. So if we took again a T-rex as a base, but a proportionally much stockier one, we could perhaps take a 12 m / 9 metric tons figure forh calculation. This would result in a weight of about 42.000 metric tons.
he's a primarily aquatic lifeform
Let's keep this scientific, please. Godzilla is a 'secondarily aquatic tetrapod'.
I recommend James Morrow's Shambling Toward Hiroshima, which has nothing to do with zoology, but is a fun book that brings together World War II, secret government war monster-breeding labs, "Gorgantius" (a Godzilla-like monster), and a monster-movie actor.
How about a mecha-Gozilla made out of carbon nano fibre material?
You get it all wrong! Just as the rage-inducing virus in "28 Days Later" is a synthetic virus, so it is obvious that Godzilla did not evolve naturally because of radiation-driven mutations.
It is much more likely that G. is the result of alien bio-engineering, using a Terrestrial mesozoic template coupled to nanotech (presumably it is a discareded biology project by some bored junior AI in a passing spaceship, just as the weirdness in "Stalker"/"Wayside Picnic" is postulated to be debris left an interstellar traveller during a brief stop ).
-An alternative is that it was an aborted attempt to create a suitably challenging local prey for the Predators. As a single prototype, it would not require reproductive capacity, and it would be made more robust than the intended final product, to facilitate realistic "testing" without requiring a new prototype after each test run.
For a similat idea, see Neal Asher's "The Technician" http://www.amazon.com/Technician-Neal-Asher/dp/0230750370/ref=sr_1_1?ie…
Wonderful post! though I'm a bit iffy on the part about ribs not connecting to sternum. on Fig 1 you can see the medial tip of rib 1 on the sternum. It appears that the artist had most of the medial shafts of the ribs removed to better show viscera.
This book (or sequel) has a close relative of Godzilla showing up angry and dead drunk. Since all the protagonists have superpowers, details like structural strength of ordinary, evolution-produced organisms do not apply. http://www.amazon.com/Top-Ten-Book-Alan-Moore/dp/1563896680/ref=sr_1_1?…
-Interesting dilemma: Just how do you clean up after a drunk G. pukes all over the city? The old "crush, kill destroy" routine might be preferable.
Good point, Henry :) (comment 8).
So Godzilla generates it's own plasma... organism evolving internal stable nuclear fusion? Then keeping Godzilla around and teasing it periodically to eg. heat a large body of water would be great way to obtain 100% green energy.
Even more shame that such things are not around... ;)
The plates along the spine should be able to swivel so they are always point towards any predator attacking from the side (this is the assumed function of the plates of Stegosaurus). However, the fractal edges should make the edges of plates brittle... organ for mating display instead of defense? Or are the jagged plates intended to break off and hook into the flesh of any enemy?
Are the ribs hollow???
Does Godzilla need lungs for anything? I thought it lives off nuclear power somehow?
Interesting dilemma: Just how do you clean up after a drunk G. pukes all over the city? The old "crush, kill destroy" routine might be preferable.
When will I stop laughing...
The plates along the spine should be able to swivel so they are always point towards any predator attacking from the side (this is the assumed function of the plates of Stegosaurus).
That kind of thing was proposed by someone long ago, but the plate bases make it flat-out impossible, and this was shown at least 20 years ago. The plates of Stegosaurus are for show.
Godzilla's are also for show (to impress humans) and, well, scroll up to the last picture.
I request a writeup on the Cloverfield monster that was promised so long ago :)
Hmmm... I lost interest in writing about Clover after I learnt of the 'feeding tentacles' and other non-tetrapody weirdness. Similarly, graboids were ruined for me after I learnt that they're meant to be terrestrial cephalopods.
"To date, Godzilla - and here I mean the real Godzilla, and not the thing that appeared in the 1998 TriStar movie (known variously among Godzilla fans as Fraudzilla, Deanzilla [after writer/producer Dean Devlin], GINO* or Zilla"
I once heard an interesting hypothesis that GINO is the mother of the real Godzilla, with Zilla Jr. from Godzilla The Series being the young real Godzilla. Evidence for this includes Zilla Jr. having atomic breath, acting much more like the original Godzilla, and Toho themselves referring to Zilla Jr. as Godzilla Jr. It also explains Godzilla's strangely human-like behavior, and why he acts like a cranky anti-hero on occasion rather than a raging force of nature; he's imprinted on humans and has modeled his behavior after them to some degree.
"This provides him with unparalleled regenerative abilities."
Maybe this explains why the cartilage pads on his feet don't spontaneously rupture. Perhaps there is some mechanism in Godzilla's body that ramps up the durability of his cartilage pads, but he still needs insanely good regenerative powers to heal from damage caused by the day-to-day grind.
"Godzilla must have been a gigantic neoceratosaur related to ceratosaurids and abelisaurs"
Or, maybe he's some sort of gigantic coelophysoid which evolved convergently to the ceratosaurs. *Gets hit upside the head for incredibly bad in-joke* Nice picture of neoceratosaurian Godzilla, by the way.
Hey Doctor Naish
I think you will appreciate this video from AronRa.
Wait 7 minutes et 7 seconds of the present video to see the story about Godzilla. ;-)
Oh, man. I'd forgotten all about this post. It's still a lot of fun. As a massive Godzilla fanboy, I appreciate any and all attempts to explain Big G's physiology and anatomy. I really cherished Ken Carpenter's treatment of the beastie in that Godzilla book that I still own...somewhere.
What makes Godzilla especially tricky is that there are several versions of the creature. The original 1954 Godzilla was killed, and then some kind of timeline split happened. On one end, another Godzilla emerges from the sea and fights (and kills) Anguiras, then goes on to become Japan's protector. In the alternate timeline, a second Godzilla emerges and attacks Tokyo 30 years later, then starts killing retconned versions of his Showa enemies.
My favorite Godzilla has been the Millenium version. It looks very feral and suitably powerful. The "Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" and "Final Wars" versions...not so much.
I would like a discussion on Gamera's anatomy and physiology as well, although perhaps discounting the Showa series AND the newest movie ("Gamera the Brave") which is unbelievably terrible. The Heisei trilogy is ridiculously awesome, though.
Dorsal fins as overflow guard? They might double as thermal heat sink flanges if G. is travelling through vacuum.
Gojira (ã´ã¸ã©?) is a combination of two Japanese words: gorira (ã´ãªã©?, "gorilla"), and kujira (é¯¨ï¼ã¯ã¸ã©ï¼?, "whale")
cue Dr Reidenberg in a radiation suit with a really big flensing knife, for the next ING special...
The bit that surprised me about the Godzilla-cartilage calculation wasn't that Godzilla was too big to work; it was by how (relatively) *little* - only about an order of magnitude - the calculated Godzilla value exceeded the limits.
"Similarly, graboids were ruined for me after I learnt that they're meant to be terrestrial cephalopods."
Hmm, is that actually official? I know that an article hosted on the Sci-Fi Channel site (long ago taken down, but archived here) for the Tremors TV series, which perhaps gives it a sort of semi-official status, said they were cephalopods, but IIRC Tremors 3 calls them reptiles...
The bit that surprised me about the Godzilla-cartilage calculation wasn't that Godzilla was too big to work; it was by how (relatively) *little* - only about an order of magnitude - the calculated Godzilla value exceeded the limits.
So... a biped of 2 to 6 kilotonnes is possible!?!
No, sorry, by 'the calculated Godzilla value' I meant the value of the stress at the joint, not the mass of the animal -- 18.7 MPa standing stress, so a bit under 40 MPa locomotor stress, so if plastic deformation starts at ~5 MPa, that's roughly an order of magnitude.
Because the area the force is acting on scales up with mass, the mass limit will be much smaller.
(If that cartilage calculation was the only constraint, it should allow freakishly huge bipeds though -- that calculation gets 1.7 MPa for Brachiosaurus locomotion, so a Brachiosaurus sized biped (with twice that) should be well within the possible range.
But the values there are *very* preliminary since the compressive strength of cartilage is poorly known - and apparently variable depending on how the stress is applied, force at the joints doesn't necessarily equal weight / number of legs, etc.)
Shouldn't a cutaway diagram of the Toho Godzilla show a human skeleton inside a guy in a rubber suit?
I'm shocked that nobody has brought up the quite similar species, Barney. Except for size, apparent lack of atomic breath, and cloying cuteness, the two are quite similar. And surely phylogenetic studies of Barney will be a valuable companion to Godzilla studies. See Theriot et al. 1995 for a surprising taxonomic result. I think previous researchers, with no direct access to Godzilla's internal anatomy, may have drawn some unwarranted conclusions.
Godzilla article? Seriously?
Funny thought. Anyway, about the lung size, wouldn't they be insuficient in size providing the overly redicules size of the beast?
I love the paleo-skeletal drawing of Gojira, say I know it's alittle late for Halloween but why do an article of a scientific explanation on tetrapods of the realm of fantasy (such as ghosts, demons, shapeshifters, mermaids, and such) and how they might have played a role in Earth's history and the ecology (I always wondered if ghosts were real, then did dinosaurs "encountered" dino-ghosts as well as after seeing Paranormal Activity 2, btw it killed the first one it's an inferior, of how the ecological role between demons and tetrapods, especially humans and apes). Lol it reminds me of my friend who English class reading about the Inferno, giving a biological explanation for Hell.
Godzilla isn't real? Next you'll be claiming that the Calvinosaurus isn't real!!!
I realize that there are people who feel the need to explain EVERYTHING. I, for one, think that there is a basic human need to sit down, throw away the rational mind, and simply spend 90-110 minutes watching two men in rubber suits tear up a soundstage. It serves a visceral, almost primitive need; a catharsis, if you will. There is a good guy and a bad guy. The world is so full of shades of grey, we need such a simple division.
I have known Jim Morrow for nearly 40 years and I can attest that he is one deranged and intensely creative lunatic.
And yes. Shambling Toward Hiroshima is brilliant.
Kinda on topic: the ankylosaur PDF library (set up by Ken Carpenter) link on the sidebar no longer works. Does anyone know if the library was moved or is it no longer available at all?
I remember reading that Ken Carpenter was inspired to become a paleontologist by watching godzilla as a child, then it's no wonder that he is still so interested in it/him.
Also, Eiji Tsuburaya, who created godzilla, was inspired for the design by the artwork of none other than Charles R Knight, from this he got the tripodal posture, and the skin texture. Not only from theropod paintings, but also possibly from a drawing of iguanodon.
Now that you have explained Godzilla..And he is real !
I watched all the movies twice to make sure he is .
Please Explain how a Type 66 Hyper Maser
Works and why The AMF in Chiba Prefecture continues
to use this vehicle that seems to have no effect on Godzilla
Interesting article. It's definitely well assessed. One thing, though, is that Godzilla's size really depends on the series. Godzilla didn't really get to 100 meters until the second series, (or the "Heisei" Series). In the original series, Godzilla was about 50 meters (164 feet) and in most of the third series, he was about 55-60 meters (180-197 feet tall).
Granted, that's still quite large, but I think it's safe to say that a Godzilla at the original size would definitely have less stress on the joints and such. I'm just wondering how different the stats and information would be when that's taken into consideration.