Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cryptozoology, or "Excuse me, is that a Yeti?"

The other night I was reading Scott Westerfeld's novel LEVIATHAN (fun book, by the way) and I saw the word 'thylacine.'  The word was familiar, but the tiny librarian in my brain isn't always quick to retrieve these things.  Fortunately, the book is illustrated by the skilled Keith Thompson, so when I saw a picture of a dog-like critter with stripes on its flanks, I thought, "Aha, the sadly extinct Tasmanian Wolf."  The last captive thylacine died in the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania in 1936.  (Please see video above.)

Which brings us to cryptozoology, which can be the search for animals thought to be extinct (like the thylacine), or the quest to prove the existence of animals thought to be myths (like the yeti).  Cryptozoology may also include cases of existing animals that live far outside their normal range.

While public attention may delight in accounts of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, I think the real area of growth for cryptozoology lies with insects and the oceans.  Three solid examples of this are the coelacanth, the giant squid and the colossal squid.

For centuries fishermen and sailors have told stories about huge squid, but it wasn't until 2004 that Japanese researchers photographed a giant squid in the ocean.  Giant squid can grow up to 43 feet (or 13 meters) long.  For fun, pace that distance off to get an idea of just how big that is.

Based on the examination of specimens, the colossal squid may grow even longer than the giant squid, plus it has a thicker, heavier body.  It also wields sharp hooks on its arms, and has enormous eyes.  These squid can dive to 2200 meters, and their beaks are often found in the stomachs of adult sperm whales.  These same whales often have scars from the squid's hooks.  Suddenly those old drawings of whales fighting squids have a lot more validity.

The coelacanth is a 6 foot long (2 meter), heavily scaled fish well known to scientists from fossil records.  This fish existed in the time of the dinosaurs and everyone thought it was extinct--until fishermen caught one in 1938 off the coast of Africa.  So the coelacanth is an example of a creature thought to be extinct that still exists, and the giant squid is a creature thought to be a myth that actually does exist.

I believe the ocean still contains many secrets, and cryptozoologists can also find plenty of new discoveries in the insect kingdom.  The thylacine is probably gone, but who knows what else is out there?

(I pasted the links into the story this time, but thanks to National Geographic, YouTube, Wikipedia and Newsweek.)

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