Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Revenge of the Honkin' Big Animals!

Dear Constant Readers,

Y'know, it really doesn't seem like there are any books these days with nothing but random, interesting facts. Sure knowing the record for the largest male blue whale (107'1" !?) isn't theoretically of the utmost importance, but as a connoisseur of the random animal fact it still is something I enjoy knowing. It really gives that sense of wonder and nostalgia to my not-so-distant boyhood of reading outdated books. I literally travel to the ends of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to read Gerald Wood's Animal Facts and Feats (part of the Guinness family)...well that and eat falafel pockets. As soon as I get over my miserly nature and cough up the 9 dollars (plus shipping) for the book, expect a grand finale to this trilogy started here.


Perhaps one of the most vaguest classification terms ever, this covers well over a dozen diverse phyla of generally elongated animals. Judging by how people discussing this video were baffled by what they were seeing, it is safe to say that nemerteans are among the least familiar "worms". Nemerteans are typically marine (occasionally freshwater and terrestrial) unsegmented predatory worms characterized by a proboscis. And they're huge, did I mention that? The worm in the video (a previously unknown species?) measured a fairly respectable 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. This very nice website has a picture of a 20 foot (6 m) long specimen, which about the same length as the record African Giant Earthworm (an entirely unrelated Annelid). The author points out that the biology of Nemerteans is virtually unknown, including how such an elongated animal can forage in the wide open without being eaten. I'd like to know why they need to be so outrageously elongated in the first place. It is known that they can reabsorb most of their bodies when resources are scarce and can reproduce asexually from fragments, so maybe that's part of the answer. Still, looking from the previous video and this one the length still seems a little...needless.

I led on that 20 feet was something impressive for this certainly isn't. Dr. Shimek has another photograph of a 40 foot (12 m) worm. And even that isn't too much considering the awe-inspiring (or nausea inspiring?) Lineus longissimus. He relates one story from the prominent E. Ray Lankester who measured a worm while playing golf near a beach that was over 100 feet (30 m) long stretched from hole to hole (not golf holes). A nemertean that washed up in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1864 was collected in a jar measuring 8" by 5", which it half filled. So while the nemertean was incredibly skinny (the norm is 5-10 mm wide!), Professor V. C. McIntosh measured out 30 yards (27.4 m) of it before the worm ruptured. He had measured less than half of it. This is where the occasionally cited figure of 180 feet (54.5 m) comes from...but it should have been at least that. So can this animal break the 200 foot (60 meter is you prefer) barrier, perhaps with the outrageous dinosaur Amphicoelias fragillimus as its primary contender? According to Gerald Wood, nemerteans can "shrink" to about 1/3 of their length, which would put this worm down to a measly 60 feet (18 m). These worms are apparently quite stretchy as well, exaggerating their length. But since Wood's account revealed that this wasn't measured on a beach (which I presumed at first) but post mortem by a scientist, should this length be accepted? Even if it isn't, a worm presumably 5-10 mm by 60 meters stretched (6-12,000 times longer than wide!) is biomechanically insane. How do the nerves work? How can it possibly stay intact? How can it do anything? Should I become a Nemerteanologist (neologism?) to find out?

I've always had a fear of living "spaghetti", and I think becoming a L. longissimus specialist is a bit out of the picture. As disgusting as that concept is (thanks Heuvelmans), I find internal parasites to be far more disturbing. Ugh, just the thought of this thing inside of me, biting some part of me I'm helpless to defend, draining my precious bodily fluids is....revolting to say the least. Tapeworms are not Nemerteans but an even simpler group called Platyhelminthes or flatworms. It includes planarians...but also other parasites like flukes. Wikipedia claims a length of 18 meters (~59 feet) from a dead website, but for once it seems to be under-exaggerating. Wood's book lists a tapeworm an utterly astounding 82 feet (25 m) taken from a human being. The longest tapeworm ever was found in a Sperm Whale: it measured 98'5" (30 m). It is curious to note that while people certainly do not have 80 feet of intestine, Sperm Whales have around 250 feet (~75 m) of tract. Are there even longer tapeworms out there? Who knows...but I am sufficiently disgusted by them to move on. If that amount of intestine is impressive to you, then it's segway time...

Elephant Seals

While Elephant Seals certainly are big and strange looking (and like buckets and not having them stolen), there is just one part of their anatomy which I just can't believe. According to Wood's book, a Southern Elephant Seal bull measuring 15'9" (4.8 m) had an intestinal tract measuring 662 feet or 202 meters long. That is 42 times as long as the seal itself! How does it cram itself into there? This paper (which I can't access) says the seals have intestines 25 times as long as themselves, so apparently that specimen was an exceptional one. Even then, that's a lot and what it is used for apparently isn't known. The abstract said it probably wasn't related to deep diving. Longer digestive systems are typically characteristics of herbivores; but if I recall my Vertebrate Bio textbook correctly, dolphins have long intestines to compensate for the fatty foods it eats. Still, 1/10 of a mile or more of intestine seems a bit...unnecessary for anything really.

Oh yes, their regular bodies are quite big too. The average size for a bull is (or probably, was) 16'6"(4.9 m) and around 5000 lbs (2200 kg) according to Wood. Females are about 1/3 the size of the males, making them impressively sexual dimorphic...for a vertebrate. Dr. Robert C. Murphy observed the flensing of a bull that was estimated to measure over 22 feet long originally (6.85 m) and weighed an incredible 5.5 tons (5 tonnes) the same size class as the seal's namesake. Murphy mentioned another seal that was a mere 18'4" (5.6 m) long, but was outrageously obese. Apparently it was so obese that even after half the blubber was removed, the men still had great difficulty moving it. It was never weighed or apparently even estimated, but judging from the sheer difficulty it very well could have been heaver that 5.5 tons. How something that size can move on its belly on land just seems ludicrous.

Equally absurd is that not only is the Southern Elephant Seal the biggest Carnivore (the Order) with the longest intestines around, Wood claims it has the most flexible spine of any vertebrate. I can't find a picture online, but the book definitely did have a picture with the seal bending over backwards to get a fish on its flippers. The Northern Elephant Seal can't do this, why would this one species need a much more flexible spine? Is it related to the increased mass? Does anyone know of a vertebrate that can contest this claim? Why do I end up asking so many questions?


Back to Invertebrates. Simpler yet than Platyhelminthes is this group containing the familiar jellyfish, corals, Portugeuse men o' war, and the somewhat familiar hydras. I won't get too into them here, but I will mention two that have been touted as the "longest animal". The impressive looking Lion's Mane Jellyfish certainly is far more massive than the worms mentioned so far; a specimen washed up in 1865 (wiki oddly says 1870) apparently had a bell diameter of 7'6" (2.3 m) with tentacles stretching an additional 120 feet (36.5 m)! So I guess you could say that this is the longest length recorded from an animal, but not the implied longest. There are anecdotes of larger specimens but, well, I'm kinda tired of dealing with those anecdotal reports.

It should be noted that there are claims, undoubtedly reliable, that the Siphonophore genus Praya can reach 30-50 meters (100 to 165) in length...apparently judging from sonar hits. This "creature" has two swimming organs at the end and is greatly elongated with numerous tentacles for capturing prey and thousands of stomach. Thousands you say? Siphonophores are made out of numerous different "individuals" acting in a coordinated manner as some sort of super-organism. Since the individuals really can't live on their own, it is quite ambiguous if this is in fact a colony or a single organism. But that really is just an arbitrary human definition now, isn't it?

Since Ernst Haeckel is long departed, I'm sure he won't mind me posting one of his awesome drawings of Siphonophores:


I guess there was no real transition into this topic, oh well. Despite being encased in armor and usually being quite small and numerous, some Arthropods can get considerably big indeed. Well, not the size of the pit bugs on Skull Island, but quite considerable none the less. Here is our first subject....don't ask:

Yes, I steal stuff from 4chan. This thing, occasionally confused for a living trilobyte or apparently some sort of Zerg (or Reaver?), is the giant isopod Bathynomus which can reach 18 inches. An isopod is a Crustacean familiar to most people as roly-polies, woodlice, pillbugs, et cetera. That's right, that enormous sub-Phylum has far more than just those decapods. Before I get ahead of myself, does anybody know of a phosphorescent species of isopod in Maine? They seem to be quite common but I have not currently been able to identify them.

I'll make no secret that centipedes scare the hell out of me. They're far too fast for having all those legs, the dang things are just so eerie looking. The largest centipede is occasionally cited as being Scolopendra galapagoensis, but it appears tales of its size have been greatly exaggerated. The largest species appears to be S. gigantea which can reach over a foot in length. You can read more about these monsters here.

Now on to the really big arthropods.

Over a month ago David made this neat little comparison pic which I intend to steal conceptually and modify somewhat. Oh yes, and Sordes, do you have any more information of that giant shrimp that you saw? I'm tantalized.

The leftmost animal is Arthropleura. The uppermost animal is the trilobite Isoletus and the animal below it is the American Lobster. In the center is me (1.74 meters tall) and the animal next to me is the Japanese Spider Crab. The animal farthest to the right is the Eurypterid Pterygotus.

Pterygotus was a gigantic Eurypterid, a group of large predatory chelicerates (horseshoe crabs, spiders, scorpions, et cetera). The largest known complete specimen measured 1.26 meters long (~4'), but there is evidence for specimens getting up to 2.3 meters (~7.5 feet) long. That is the hypothetical size portrayed in the illustration. There have been some old claims of 3 meter Eurypterids, but it doesn't seem like this is accepted anymore.

Arthropleura is another potential candidate for the largest Arthropod of all time. It is a centipede or millipede-like creature known as an Arthropleurid that is definitively known to get a meter in length. Tracks indicate that it could get 2 meters in length, but for some reason Wikipedia claims up to 3 meters. Once again I chose the more modest size...unless there is strong evidence to prove otherwise.

Certainly not the as massive at the other Arthropods, the Japanese Spider Crab (Macrocheira kaempferi) is still dimensionally shocking, especially for an extant animal. I used the same scale as the trilobite from the Pharyngula website (well, actually the paper it cites that I can't access) that is the source for these images. The commonly cited figure is a 3 meter/10 foot leg span, which I suppose the illustrated animal can live up to. Something that long and spindly being able to function encased in armor seems quite ludicrous, and it makes even larger claims (e.g. 8 meters/26 feet) quite hard to believe.

I already sorta mentioned the Trilobite and gave the link. For those of you that didn't look, Isotelus rex reached a pretty incredibly 0.72 meters long...for a trilobite.

I'm also portraying the American Lobster Homarus americanus with the same scale model as the giant trilobite. The portrayed lobster is 0.5 meters long (~20 inches) along the body. The record claim is 1.18 meters (3.9 feet), but it is not clear what that is measuring. Is that including the outstretched antennae, or the claws? So while this illustrative size may be overly modest, it still is quite impressive. The specimen weighed 22 kilograms (48 lbs), which is utterly astounding for an Arthropod. The Japanese Spider Crab nearly equals it with a weight of 20 kilograms (44 lbs).

So it looks like that wraps up this edition of the Revenge of the Honkin' Big Animals. I really wasn't expecting this to be so invertebrate heavy, but these sorts of things can be a tad bit unpredictable. I was expecting to transition from elephant seals to elephants, but it didn't quite work out. Since Anomalocaris evidently got in the same size-class as Arthropleura and Pterygotus I was thinking of sneaking it in here somewhere, but it is unfortunately Arthropod-related and not a member of the group itself* . These posts are mostly meant to cover the size of animals, but I anticipate that if I get sufficiently interested in one of these groups I'll most certainly give them a more detailed coverage.

*[Edit: There are some who claim that Anomalocaris and kin are indeed Arthropods, other who claim they fall outside the group, and other who claim that any similarities are convergent. More on this later]

During the course of writing this blog (yes, it actually is a multiple day affair), I had ordered Gerald Wood's book. You can probably anticipate some changes to this blog in the future, seeing as how I did not consult it for the big Arthropods. I won't write the finale just yet, but I'll let it ferment for a while. I've still also got to write a post covering the future of Cryptozoology, make up some more hypothetical animals, and of course attempt to write fiction. I've still fortunately got a summer left to try and do this all.


Addendum 6/26/07:

I got the 3rd Edition of The Guinness Book of Animal Facts & Feats, which has a photograph that really puts the size of elephants seals in perspective:

No information on this photo was given, but note how the animal doesn't even have a developed trunk yet.

Wikipedia's claim of lobsters weighing up to 22 kilograms and 1.18 meters along the body (48 lbs, 3'10") are exaggerations, but the apparent record is 1.067 meters from (extended?) claw to the tail and 20.13 kilograms (3'8" and 44 lb 6 oz). This is really outrageous in light that a thorough study in 1911 by Dr. Francis Herrick did not turn up a lobster larger than 25 lbs (11.3 kg). Even bigger sizes have been reported of course, there is a lobster grabbing a human in Olaus Magnus' famous 16th Century Carta Marina. The 18th Century Erik Pontoppidan mentioned a report of a lobster with a 6 foot (1.8 meter) claw spread that terrified fishermen. Given the oft-dubious nature of that time, these really are just amusing anecdotes. I'm pretty satisfied with a freakish arthropod as big as a moderately sized dog.

The largest validated lobster caught off Nova Scotia in February 1977. Other information on this photo is lacking. The tape measure isn't in the best of positions, so it is hard to tell if it actually does go up to 42 inches. Was it measured with the claws more stretched out? Regardless, I have seen another photograph of this specimen (or another similarly large one) in an unambiguous position that ridiculously dwarfed an average lobster. As far as outsized growth is concerned, this seems extreme.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Bili Apes and Others

Dear Constant Readers,

I originally started writing a sequel post of sorts to my concept review of bigfoot classification (here), but I found that since the authors only presented one bold viewpoint I'd have to do an incredible amount of research in order to even discuss it. The first three types presented an excellent summary of the stupendously flawed works produced anyways. Since Coleman and Huyghe's book was apparently written more for entertainment value than information, that got me starting to think about the merits of "Classical" Cryptozoology vs. the unrecognized "Cryptozoology" of people like van Roosmalen. I believe that after this one, there will be a post on that subject to wrap up my current tendency to discuss Cryptozoological matters. After that, who knows what will become of my blog for the summer. With now-limited Internet access and more attention on my fiction project things could get very irregular. Time...I need many more hours in the day than what I have!

Oh yeah, this post. Well, when scratching my head over the Field Guide, I couldn't help but notice that it sure did a very incomplete job at listing all the mystery primates. Sure they included a 15 foot tall cape-wearing anthropophage and an 8 foot tall lobster-digited bipedal floppy-eared ape...which is entertaining I will admit, but given that both are known from single reports* they're pretty worthless. There was not a peep about the Bili ape, Koola-Kamba, or Ufiti, all of which appear to have a much stronger basis in reality! Or maybe that was why they weren't included...

*The Field Guide claims additional reports for giant lobster-ape, but of course none have the extremely bizarre features.

While not known at the time, the Bili ape is without a doubt a very real creature. In older articles this wasn't necessarily very apparent. The apes allegedly bore a strong resemblance to those from Congo: They were gorilla-like, flat faced and round headed, 6 feet tall when upright, fearsome "lion killers" with no predators, and howled (or hooted) at the moon. This isn't the most convincing sounding creature in the world, and it turns out the situation was more complicated than the press led on In this letter from Karl Ammann and Hans Wasmoeth, they reveal that Dr. Shelly Williams (who gave the press release) gave out some fraudulent and fantastic information about the apes and was hardly involved in the project at all. While there unfortunately had to be some drama to go along with the Bili ape, the actual research on it is quite fascinating.

Before I get too far into the description, I should point out that while there have been claims of the Bili apes being a new species/subspecies or even chimpanzee/gorilla hybrids, they are really no such thing. According to genetic tests the Bili apes are from the known chimpanzee subspecies Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii. While a new species would have been pretty cool, I still think that the Bili ape is exciting and has large implications for other "mystery apes" in Africa.

I should also point out that the Bili apes are currently the 4-year PhD project of one Thurston Cleveland Hicks...who began in mid-2004. While nothing has been published yet to the best of my knowledge in a journal, some information has been put up at Karl Ammann's website. This is where my description derives from, and when and if there is an official publication I'll most certainly post on it.

Despite being genetically identical to chimpanzees, in some ways the Bili apes behave more like gorillas. They build tree-nests considerably lower than average for chimpanzees, but also occasionally nest on the ground. This is most remarkable given that the region is a savannah/forest mosaic that not only has leopards, but lions and hyenas as well! Hicks et al could find no evidence of the males being especially fearsome at all, and were in fact the most skittish around humans. The size of the chimpanzees appears to be normal for the most part, but at least one old female named Caroline is big enough to be confused for a male. The males are rarely seen, so it cannot be ruled out that they reach large sizes. Casts of footprints collected measured between 18 and 28 cm (7.2" to 11"), but previously collected tracks by Ammann and others got much larger. If there were indeed 14 inch (35 cm) tracks, this would apparently make them the largest known ape tracks. I'll have to look up records of outsized gorillas to be certain that it would be the largest. Additionally some very large dung samples were found with hostra rings previously known only from gorillas. Studies in the diet are still quite preliminary, but it is possible that this society has specialized tree dwelling and ground dwelling members. While observations only show the Bili apes eating plants and insects, trackers say that they have been known to have devised methods for gathering honey from bee's nests as well as capturing turtles and fish.

So what is the implication of all this? Are the male Bili apes converging to some degree with male gorillas. If the males are larger and herbivorous and the females are smaller and frugivores, could this provide a glimpse into how sexual dimorphism is evolved? This is all very exciting work, and I am eager to hear whatever exciting developments there are in this case.


Of course, there are implications for Cryptozoology as well. It shows that despite something initially appearing to be a new species, it could end up being more "mundane" but still very interesting.

The Bili ape wasn't just discovered by Ammann et al, there is a history to go along with it. Ammann documents that there were initially reports of a Gorilla gorilla uellensis which some argued was either a new population or a misplaced Gorilla skull. Ammann went to the region and collected some skulls which turned out to be unusual chimpanzee skulls with sagittal and occipital crests normally found in gorillas. Say, perhaps a sagittal crest isn't the most diagnostic feature (Mr. Coleman and Mr. Huyghe).

Then there is the Koolakamba.

The best information I can find comes from an article from the Primate Info Net by Dr. Elaine Struthers. The early worker DuChaillu described a fourth type of ape from the Gabon/Cameroon area (Bili is in Kenya) which he said was called Koolakamba (Koolokamba, Kulu-Kamba, et cetera) by natives. It had a broader and flatter face than usual, a large cranial capacity, a broad pelvis, big ears, high zygomatic ridges and other interesting features. It has been suggested that this represents individual variation rather than a true "type". He did live in the mid 1800's after all. Another later worker (in the 1960's) named Osmand Hill described another "Koolakamba" with a very prognathous face and small gorilla-like ears which he also considered a different "type". At a foundation where Struthers worker, there were also some distinctive looking chimpanzees that met the description, including one with an inclination towards bipedalism.

So what is to be made by this? DuChaillu and Hill do not appear to be describing the same animal, so now there are at least two distinctive "types" of Koolakamba. In a parallel with the Bili ape case these animals are occasionally called chimpanzee/gorilla hybrids, although given the results for the Bili apes I doubt this very much. Since when do relatively distant hybrids create viable populations anyways? While this is certainly not the same phenomenon as the Bili apes, perhaps there are quite a few more parallels. DuChaillu's description seems similar to Williams' early and apparently fraudulent claims, which leaves me confused. Did she know about the Koolakamba and apply its description or (and this is a very remote chance) are there actually some male Bili apes like that? Is this convergent evolution between two different subspecies (Koolakamba is apparently P. t. troglodytes) into a gorilla-like niche? I haven't been able to access any of the journals, but I doubt that would help clear up this matter very much. There is already somebody getting a PhD off of the Bili apes, perhaps somebody could give another look at these other anomalous apes...assuming they haven't been extincted.

And while I could have ended there, here comes Cryptozoology...

Well, not too much. I believe Ivan Sanderson covered the stories of Charles Cordier...but since I do not have that book I'll have to use Mark Hall's "Yeti, Bigfoot, & True Giants" book as a source. There goes any attempt at credibility. The story goes that Cordier collected folklore from the Eastern Belgian Congo about a bipedal, herbivorous, man-size (or bigger) ape which curiously has the same taste for honey as the Bili ape. Assuming the bipedal trait was exaggerated, this vaguely sounds like it could be another ape along the lines of the Bili ape/Koolakamba. An illustration of a footprint collected by Cordier and illustrated in Sanderson and Hall's respective books looks curiously similar to a Bili ape footprint in that it seems long and narrow with a rather far set-back thumb. The blond lady holding the footprint is none other than Shelly Williams by the way. Curiouser and curiouser. Here is the best picture I could find of a human/ape foot comparison at the time, sorry. You get the idea though.

And in another book, Coleman and Jerome Clarke's Cryptozoology A to Z they make a curious entry about Ufiti, a female chimpanzee found in Malawi, about 500 miles away from the next nearest colony. She was apparently close to 6 feet tall and had a silver back, but (if the photograph in the book is indeed of her) clearly appears to be a chimpanzee. Was there a mix-up as to where she was actually discovered? Is this yet another population along the Bili ape/Koolakamba line?

Since there is nothing but a tantalizing preliminary picture on so many of these subjects, it is hard to make any sort of conclusion. If these accounts are to be taken seriously, then the picture of apes in Africa is much more muddled than is commonly portrayed. How many instances of chimpanzees establishing gorilla-like niches have there been? Are these and other reports of African "mystery apes" all due to chimpanzee variation of some sort? With increasing human encroachment, if there were some additional bizarre chimpanzee populations, they could all be gone by now. And what a shame that would be. That seems to be the sad truth about things of this matter; there is a tantalizing hint of something quite interesting and it never becomes anything more than that. It doesn't have to be that way though.

- Cameron

[Addendum 7/15/07: This new article updates Hicks' work. He observed some of the chimpanzees eating a leopard carcass, which is remarkable behavior indeed. There's no proof they ate the animal, but perhaps this is the basis towards the "lion killing" attribute. Hicks hypothesizes that perhaps they occasionally prey on the predators in order not to become prey themselves in their dangerous habitat. He also mentioned a "smashing culture" where blunt tools were used to smash snail and turtle shells, fruits, and termite mounds. They also use "fishing rods" for termite mounds up to 2.5 meters long. The gender wasn't mentioned, but in more rural areas the chimpanzees were not skittish but unafraid of people.

And this is the most remarkable of all: One professor Groves proposes that this is in fact a distinct subspecies after all, bringing the total count up to five. Additionally, the culture is very widespread over an area of 7000 square kilometers (~2700 square miles, Delaware-sized) hinting at a rather large population.]

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Concept Review: A Plethora of Bigfeet

Dear Constant Readers,

It seems perhaps Heuvelmans was right after all and the great days of Zoology are not done. I strongly urge anybody even remotely interested in wildlife to read these Darren Naish posts (Parts I, II, III and IV) and visit Marc van Roosmalen's website.

So why should I mention this before a mystery primate post? First it should be noted that none of these animals has had any Cryptozoological interest whatsoever except for minor mentions of the new big cat. All of these animals also have fairly close living relatives, hinting that perhaps some will turn out to be subspecies/regional variation. Regardless, this really has to be one of the most spectacular things I've ever heard of happening in the world of Zoology. It gives hope for the discovery of new species...but I don't feel it helps support the case of "cryptids" and traditional Cryptozoology.

If a large species of hominid was discovered living in Western North America it would probably be even more spectacular than the amazing work of van Roosmalen. They would be perhaps one of (if not the) largest primates ever to live, would be among the largest animals on the continent (up to brown bear sized), require a significant ghost lineage and range extension for hominids, and given how close it lives to humans...imply them to be one of the smartest and most intentionally cryptic animals ever. Notice how there are no potential local relatives (unless they're H. sapiens derivatives) and there is a great deal of Cryptozoological attention in a flip of the situation with van Roosmalen's. They also hasn't been discovered.

Now, how is one to react to the notion that there is not just one species wandering around, but a plethora of them? Perhaps in the more naive 50's and 60's Sanderson's, Heuvelmans' and others' theorizing about four or so species (Heuvelmans wasn't clear) could be conceivable, but in this modern places like North America? Incredibly, it has been proposed about a decade ago by Cryptozoologists that there are no fewer than nine "classes" of moderately large to outrageously large primates. It should be noted that these artificial "classes" appear to hold multiple species apiece, implying that there could be dozens of separate species. This is an order of magnitude more spectacular than van Roosmalen's work and I personally think most of it is an outright fantasy.

Most. There still is a chance that a few of the more reasonably sized and isolated types could be discovered. Regardless of my opinion on the matter, I still think that the subject matter deserves a fair and critical treatment. I'm not a cynical rejectionist, I'm a skeptic...our language does not differentiate between the two but they are quite distinct. Those masquerading as "skeptics" are often as close-minded and unscientific as those with blind faith. There's always a ray of hope, even if it is increasingly slim.

Oh yes, I should have mentioned by now that the books that I will covering are The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe (Avon Books, New York, 1999) and The Yeti, Bigfoot & True Giants Revised Edition by Mark A. Hall (Mark A. Hall Publications, Minneapolis, 1997). There was another edition of Hall's book in 2005 as well as another book called Living Fossils on the more "human" of the hominids which I could not find due to rarity. Coleman and Huyghe's book covers the same subject regardless, so it shouldn't hinder me reviewing the subject. According to this website, Hall and Coleman will be publishing more books on this subject in the near future, so I'll probably create an addendum (probably a separate post) to this when I can read them.

As I have not even started discussing the nine types yet, this post will certainly become one of the most outrageously long I've ever written. For those of you brave enough here is the alleged classification of unknown anthropoids, this Plethora of Bigfeet:


This is the "sasquatch" of popular conceptualization (Cryptozoological and otherwise): a big hairy biped living in the Pacific Northwest. This "class" also extends down the Andes mountains and the Himalayas of Central Asia, implying one to three closely related species. It appears that most of the description of this "class" is taken from familiar sasquatch. These cryptids range from 6 to 9 feet tall and have pronounced sexual dimorphism although both genders are hugely robust and have a pronounced sagittal crest. They also have prognathous jaws, a heavy brow-ridge, and small round eyes. In other words, these look like big bipedal gorillas. The authors theorize the creatures are nocturnal and lean heavily towards herbivory. The estimated weight for the 6-7 foot tall Patterson-Gimlin film subject at 5-700 pounds implies the big 9-foot males weigh roughly 1500 or more pounds. The footprints are huge human-like tracks apparently averaging 16 inches, but allegedly reach 20 inches long by 9 inches wide. There is a distinctive "split ball" feature and the toes are similarly sized.

Due to the cube law, larger animals tend to need more muscle attachment area, so a sagittal crest on a huge primate is not a surprise (think chimpanzees vs. gorillas). The authors unconvincingly theorize that the animals are from the hominid genus Paranthropus, which are comparatively tiny (up to ~4'7" and 110 lbs) African creatures that did have sagittal crests in both genders. Hall explicitly connects Meganthropus to this creature as he thinks it is a "highly developed primate some 8 feet tall" and a Southeast Asian representation of robust Australopithecines. Coleman/Huyghe explicitly state that Meganthropus is Paranthropus, implying a connection. As Constant Readers may recall, the idea of Meganthropus as Paranthropus is a minority view to say the least, all the recent research implies this to be some sort of "giant" Homo erectus-like creature. I say "giant" because height estimates are not possible without post-cranial fossils and "Meganthropus" could very well just be an outrageously robust erectine of normal height. The cherry-picking of facts (often decades outdated) and selection of dubious morphological traits is typical fare for these books.

Gargantuan though these primates may be, the sasquatch creature's evidence is at least fairly respectable. Even though this discovery is still improbable and would be incredibly spectacular, it appears to be one of the most probable of the mystery primates. As for reports in other locations, their connection to this class appears due to size and the robust physique. I have not heard of the distinctive "double ball" footprint turning up in these locations, and I am not quite convinced that these cryptids belong to this class. Well, I'm not convinced the idea of a "class" is a very good idea at all frankly.

True Giants

By comparison, this "class" makes the Neo-Giants look all but certain. Unlike the last type, reports are sparse and occur over a huge area: most of North America, NW South America, Siberia, Central and SE Asia, Central and NE Africa, Northern Australia (!), and apparently...South Central Greenland (!?!?). It apparently formerly lived in Europe as well. The feet have four toes, are quite symmetrical and measure 21 by 10 inches "or larger". The implied maximum height given by the authors is...20 feet tall. 20 feet tall. 20 feet tall! This is simply outrageous in light that the tallest giraffe was 19.2 feet tall. Hall makes matters worse by discussing a vast three-toed track 22 by 40 inches long which he believed possibly belonged to a 27-footer. Due to a posture change in Brachiosaurids, it appears that Sauroposeidon was "only" around 10 meters/33 feet tall. This is a living King Kong that rivals the tallest dinosaurs for height. Unlike Kong though, these animals are depicted as being apparently "lean" even with a coat of fur and are prone to "wobbly" movements. Thanks to the cube law again, if you're going to get bigger and try and preserve some of your muscular strength, you're going to have to get more robust and not leaner. Even at the apparently more "normal" 12 feet or so for this "class", I'm significantly doubting how well it would be able to function. I have the feeling that most of the apparent size of this class would be due to exaggeration, of course assuming it is based on anything at all. But don't worry, this "class" gets weirder.

The authors all connect this "class" to the fossil primate Gigantopithecus which is classified as a Sivapithecine ape. Though most reconstructions dubiously portray it as a super-Gorilla; judging by its close relation to the orangutan and quite orangutan-like Sivapithecus it should have reasonably looked like a beefed up ground-dwelling orangutan. You can find out more about this spectacular genus here. According to Grover Krantz, who believed that the sasquatch/"neo giant" was Gigantopithecus, the parabolic shape of the jaw indicated a foramen magnum underneath the skull which indicates bipedalism. You can see the jaw isn't that parabolic and I do not find it convincing that the jaw couldn't have acquired that (slight) shape through some other pressure. The Coleman/Huyghe book oddly states that the most recent work by "some scientists" indicates a biped upwards of 10 feet tall. Implying that this isn't an extreme minority viewpoint is deceptive to say the least, and further indication of the rampant fact cherry-picking. Their whole case is based on size, another poor morphological character.

Despite the link with Giganto, the "true giant" is portrayed as an exceedingly human-like creature with a flat face, long head hair, occasional tool use (e.g. clubs, drums?!), occasional clothing use, and perhaps a primitive form of language. Hall theorizes that these may be some sort of human imitators (convergent evolution implied?) that eventually fought with us, became estranged, and then wound up as the degenerate wanderers we have left today. This is a pretty good idea for a science fiction novel and I am considering stealing it. The universal folklore of giants (and little people, dragons, deities et cetera) is indeed an interesting one, but I do not find the giant human imitator hypothesis to be plausible in this reality. There sure as heck isn't any hard evidence for it, but Hall seems convinced that there is a Vast Scientific Conspiracy Against The Noble Lone Researcher keeping him from proving his case...rather than considering that he could be wrong.

Hall states many vague folklore mentions of giants to support his case, and Coleman/Huyghe unfortunately put one of these into the book. Tolkien would surely cringe at the notion that Grendel from Beowulf was a representation of a "true giant"! There isn't much of a physical description given, and the authors use "matted, reed-covered hair" as the "distinguishing characteristic". Why the hell does this need to be presented as a field guide anyways? Given that the poem had a long oral history, using it as "evidence" of any kind for an unknown animal is a joke. Is this the best that they could do? Is this "field guide" worthy? I personally like the idea that Grendel is a berserker (beats the occasional Creationist opinion of a Tyrannosaurus, yeesh), but the authors act as if their answer is the only one. There is very little critical thought in either of these books at all, and it would be folly to try and point out every example.

Coleman and Hall are coming out with a "true giant" book which I hope is a vast improvement on this very preliminary and sketchy research. I am genuinely interested by those bizarre four-toed tracks appearing in Asia and America (the Australian reports curiously mention footprint but not toe count, hmmmm) but I remain much more skeptical to this than the "neo giant" and most of the other types presented...and that's really saying something. I'm convinced that nobody will find a "true giant" fossil or otherwise, but I'd be glad to be proven wrong.

Marked Hominids

This is the smallest of the "bigfeet" which stands 6.5 to 7 feet tall. Mark A. Hall reached into the realm of hyper obscure archeology to select the Gardarene skull, daringly named Homo gardarensis, as the candidate for this type. It was found in a 12th century Viking graveyard in Greenland; and while the reconstruction is low vaulted, that lower jaw looks suspiciously similar to our own as opposed to the H. heidelbergensis shape. Hall's illustration only compared it to the Mauer mandible, not the most convincing method. It was examined by four studies later on which found it to be acromegalic H. sapiens, but since there was a trend at the time to dismiss some non H. sapiens hominids as pathological perhaps the fragments should at least be re-examined. I'm not suggesting that it is anything but our species, but it should at least be interesting to look at. The authors claim that this species is in fact a survivor of the "giant European man Homo heidelbergensis" (apparently = H. gardarensis) which while tall at 1.8 meters ~ 6 feet average is only as tall as a normal Dutch person whom I personally would not regard as "giants".

Tales of the Tornit by the Inuit are attributed to this "class", and while they are described as long limbed (from an Inuit perspective) and very strong. The burden of evidence is on the authors to try and convince me that this is not a member of our species, but a near-human. Hall equates tales of the Tornit with Dorset culture (which may be right) and essentially claims that what archaeologists assumed was a pre-Inuit culture was in fact a separate species! It is quite possible that the Dorset culture survived until as recently as 1902, in which case I find it quite hard to believe that they were "trolls" and not real people. He also claimed that they wore high collars in order to enhance hearing like giant amplifiers. Hmm.

While Hall' mostly covers this "class" in the past, the field guide gives us a view of the modern reports. These are the most human looking of the bigfeet according to the field guide's description, but the illustrations confusingly portray them as having an ape-like head and massive upper body with super-long (~4 feet) arms. An eyewitness-based drawing (not in the book) of the Mecheny sighting does seem to show a rather ape-ish hominid as well, so this isn't artistic licence. Everything derived from H. ergaster/erectus (including us) essentially seemed to have basic body plan. The authors also attribute strange narrow, long, curved footprints to this "class" despite the fact that Homo heidelbergensis footprints are known and they look nothing like them. So basically it looks like once again the identity has once again been chosen from a few not-too-diagnostic traits.

That aside, this type is supposed to be seen from the high Arctic of Baffin Island, coastal Greenland, Novaya Zemlya, Iceland (?!?!), and Northern Europe down until the temperate and near-subtropics of Asia and North America. Perhaps due to the generic appearance the authors are not certain if it exists globally or not. And that is just the problem with the "class", it is so instinctive looking! The field guide differentiates it due to its (alleged) frequent lighter patches of hair coloration, which is also not a very convincing trait. This just seems to be another tall hairy person which either resembles the other types or humans whose primitive living conditions have been exaggerated. Well there's the MoMo which strongly resembles a person in a ghillie suit.

An Early Conclusion

This really demonstrates the problems with classification systems. Reading through reports there just isn't that much diagnostic said about these creatures other than they are big, man-like, and hairy. I get the impression that the authors have chosen a few unusally detailed sightings and have made a classification system around them, much as Heuvelmans appears to have done in his sea-serpent classification. I have the feeling that this classification system is not splitting, but is in fact lumping together potentially different phenomenon under the same unnatural "class" label. The "field guide" classification system in conjunction with the "class" system just causes confusion. Are the three North American "Marked Hominids" variation, separate species, or something else? It just isn't very well explained or really necessary.

So what should be done? I feel bad criticizing without trying to be constructive. If the authors are to tackle this subject again, they need to stop comparing these sightings to fossils. Seriously, the connections are extremely tenuous and the "facts" stated are poorly researched and look very unprofessional. Perhaps instead of relying so much on the "class" system, the different phenomenon can be looked at in their respective hot-spots. After then attempts to connect the classes could be made, but they'd have to be tenous. The field guide format would have to be dropped and many more interesting and synergetic sample sightings can be used other than rambling samplings. Not showing one's work is not exactly the most convincing method. At the end of the field guide, the authors give their "best bets" for which ones are real, and they are logical selections. Why not focus on these probabilities and treat the anomalous reports of 20-foot tall pointy eared monsters as what they are...curiousities.

Perhaps if there really is something out there and Cryptozoologists use more professional methods like van Roosmalen's, something may actually get accomplished.

If I were to guess now, I'd say its all a load of bullocks...but there is still that nagging single photon of hope.



Yes, this post did get a bit too long and I did indeed conclude a little early. That's the problem with these posts, the stream-of-conciousness format can be a bit unpredictable. If there is some interest in the other types, I'd be glad to write on them too even after the conclusion. Well, even if there isn't I may do it anyways.


Due to my hatred of Old Man Copyright and my love of illustrations, I have decided to quickly sketch out my own versions of the above three types. Well actually not that quickly, hair is a real pain in the butt to draw. I can draw better (so he says...) but if anybody wants to use this image consider it in the public domain. I felt oddly compelled to write "Merry Christmas" on this for some reason, but I'm not sure why. All the beards, myself half included?