David Chaudoir | May 19, 2019
Consider the platypus. Had a live specimen of this semiaquatic mammal not been captured, studied and documented by scientists, could you imagine such a creature exists? Featuring a strange hodgepodge of duck, beaver, otter and baby seal, the platypus is one of only two extant species of monotremes — egg-laying mammals. Their duckbills are equipped with electrosensors that allow them to pinpoint underwater prey, and males of the species have venomous spikes in their hind feet.
So strange is the platypus that the first scientist to describe it thought his specimen was a hoax, sewn together from different animals. Their description alone renders implausible the fact that platypuses swim the rivers of Australia even as humans walk this world.
The platypus appears to fit best in the field of cryptozoology, a term in popular usage that denotes the study of “hidden animals” — those like the jackalope or the squonk whose existence is unsubstantiated and is therefore disputed. Animals is the distinguishing term: Cryptozoology does not refer to the study of hidden beings such as extraterrestrials, zombies, werewolves, vampires or other shapeshifters.
Cryptozoologists take seriously their pursuit of animals not yet scientifically documented. They chase evidence to prove the existence of animals that may have been sighted in the wild or recorded in lore, but for which no specimen has been produced. Take the Loch Ness monster, possibly first sighted in the sixth century by St. Columba, who, according to a chronicler, successfully commanded a “water beast” making hungrily for one of his followers swimming in the River Ness to “go no further.” Columba made an authoritative sign of the cross, and continued, “Do not touch the man. Go back at once.”
Nessie’s legend sparked public imagination in 1933 when a London couple on holiday reported a 25-foot, limbless creature smashing its way toward the water with some unfortunate prey in its mouth. Since then, no fewer than 10 serious attempts have been made to spot, document and identify the possibly plesiosaur-like monster, using binoculars, cameras, sonar, echo-sounder equipment, satellite tracking and even a DNA survey of the deep, dark, 22-square-mile Scottish lake. In 2014, enthusiasts claimed they could see a creature some 100 feet long in an Apple Maps satellite image of Loch Ness. But to date, no proof.
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