A Reminder about Nessie
As we travel around visiting schools, play groups and the like we get bombarded with questions about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals from all the young dinosaur fans in the room. When we ask them what they would like to be when they grow up we get a resounding cry of palaeontologist! If they all maintain their enthusiasm for the subject I think we are going to have a lot more palaeontologists in the future.
Loch Ness Monster
One question we do get asked a lot is about the Loch Ness Monster. The question usually goes something like this:
“Is the Loch Ness Monster real and if it exists what sort of dinosaur is it”?
As you can probably imagine, this sort of question takes a bit of tackling, as for all we know; out there in the vast depths of the ocean there may well be some large unknown sea creatures that have yet to reveal themselves to modern science.
Answering the Question
We tackle this question in two parts. Firstly, we point out that dinosaurs were terrestrial creatures, (land lubbers). Their advanced ankle joints and backbone/hip structures such as the sacrum made them extremely good at walking around on land, so to the best of our knowledge no dinosaurs ever adopted a fully marine existence.
We do know they could swim, check out our recent article on swimming dinosaurs for further details:
Swimming Dinosaurs here: Article on Swimming Dinosaurs here.
Secondly, we explain a little about the story of the Loch Ness Monster. It is alleged to be a plesiosaur, a long-necked marine lizard. The plesiosaurs first evolved in the Late Triassic, this group lasted right through the remainder of the Mesozoic and went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. During this time, the group evolved into two distinct forms the pliosaurs, which included such huge carnivores as Liopleurodon and Kronosaurus and the true plesiosaurs with the long necks and small heads.
We use a model of an Elasmosaurus (one of the last plesiosaurs to evolve) to demonstrate what many people think Nessie looks like:
Sea Monster models and such like: Sea Monster Models and Toys.
There have been lots of sightings and photographs of strange things in the loch. Even video images have been produced, supposedly showing something strange moving on the surface of the dark, deep waters. Certainly, Loch Ness can be an awesome place to visit, once the weather closes in and the wind gets up you could easily imagine that this big, deep body of water was home to a colony of large marine reptiles.
Is Nessie a Plesiosaur?
If Nessie is a plesiosaur, we should be rather relieved, all long-necked plesiosaurs as far as we know were specialist hunters of small prey such as fish and squid. They could not tackle a person, their small heads are not suited to eating something as large as us. Still if a 1metre-long reptile reared its head out of the water in front of you, I suspect you would still be frightened.
We have looked at a number of studies of the ecosystems in the loch, personally I doubt there is enough fish to sustain a group of large animals. Still there may be some extremely large eels or the occasional sturgeon and these might be mistaken for Nessie.
Loch Ness is not the only part of the world with reports of lake monsters. There is a sort of northern latitude “belt” of lake monsters covering Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, China, Canada and the USA. Hence the likes of the monsters “Champ” and Ogopogo.
Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows there may be something in it. However, I am reminded of the comment made by the great Arthur C. Clarke casting doubts over the authenticity of lake monster sightings when he said he could well believe in a strange animal lurking in the darkest depths of the Amazon but would have difficulty believing in the existence of a large, unknown animal in Kew Gardens.
Like many enthusiasts we would love for someone to find a real living plesiosaur or another marine reptile which was believed to be extinct. These living fossils do emerge from time to time, the Coelacanth being perhaps the best example.