There's a lot of hearsay, myths and outright lies circulating about the Loch Ness Monster--which is especially galling to paleontologists, who are constantly being told that Nessie is a long-extinct dinosaur or marine reptile. Here are 10 facts you may or may not have known about this mysterious beast.
1. The Loch Ness Monster is the world's most famous "cryptid."
Sure, Sasquatch, the Chupacabra, and Mokele-mbembe all have their devotees. But the Loch Ness Monster is far and away the most famous "cryptid," that is, a creature whose existence has been attested to by various "eyewitnesses" but is still not recognized by establishment science. The pesky thing about cryptids is that it's logically impossible to prove a negative, so no matter how much huffing and puffing the experts do, they can't state with 100 percent certainty that Nessie doesn't exist.
2. The first reported sighting of Nessie was during the Dark Ages...
Way back in the 7th century AD, a Scottish monk wrote a book about St. Columba, who (a century before) had stumbled upon the burial of a man who had been attacked and killed by a "water beast" in the vicinity of Loch Ness. The trouble here is, even the learned monks of the early Dark Ages believed in monsters and demons, and it's not uncommon for lives of the saints to be sprinkled with supernatural encounters (which presumably made for more engaging reading than a long slog through a peat bog).
3. ...but popular interest in this cryptid only exploded during the 1930's.
Let's fast-forward--or slow-forward--13 centuries, to the year 1933. That's when a man named George Spicer claimed to see a huge, long-necked, "most extraordinary form of animal" slowly crossing the road in front of his car, on its way back into Loch Ness. It's unknown if Spicer and his wife had partaken of a wee bit o' the creature that day, but his account was echoed a month later by a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant, who claimed that he narrowly avoided striking the beastie while out on a midnight drive.
4. The most famous Nessie photograph was an out-and-out hoax.
A year after the eyewitness testimony of Spicer and Grant, a doctor named Robert Kenneth Wilson took the most famous photograph of Nessie: a dappled, undulating, black-and-white image showing the long neck and small head of a placid-looking sea monster. Though this photo is often adduced as incontrovertible evidence of Nessie's existence, it was demonstrated to be a fake in 1975, and then once again in 1993. The giveaway is the size of the lake's ripples, which don't match the presumed scale of Nessie's anatomy.
5. It's extremely unlikely that the Loch Ness Monster is a sauropod...
After Wilson's photograph was published, the resemblance of Nessie's head and neck to that of a sauropod dinosaur did not go unnoticed. The problem with this theory, of course, is that sauropods were terrestrial, air-breathing dinosaurs; while she was out swimming, Nessie would have to poke her neck out of the water once every few seconds. (The Nessie-as-sauropod myth may have drawn on the 19th-century theory that Brachiosaurus spent most of its life in the water, which would have helped to support its massive weight.)
6. ...or a marine reptile...
Okay, so the Loch Ness Monster isn't a dinosaur; could it possibly be a type of marine reptile known as a plesiosaur? This isn't very likely. For one thing, Loch Ness is only about 10,000 years old, and plesiosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. For another thing, marine reptiles weren't equipped with gills, so even if Nessie were a plesiosaur, she'd still have to surface for air numerous times every hour. And there simply isn't enough food in Loch Ness to support the metabolic demands of a 10-ton Elasmosaurus descendant!
7. ...or even that it exists at all.
You can see where we're going with this. The main "evidence" we have for the Loch Ness Monster's existence consists of a pre-medieval manuscript, the eyewitness testimony of two Scottish motorists (who may well have been drunk, or lying to divert attention from their own reckless behavior), and a forged photograph. All of the other reported sightings are completely unreliable, and despite the best efforts of modern science, absolutely no physical trace of the Loch Ness Monster has ever been found.
8. There are tons of people who make money off the Loch Ness Monster...
So why does the Nessie myth persist? At this point, the Loch Ness Monster is so intimately tied up with the Scottish tourist industry that it's in no one's best interest to pry into the facts too closely. The hotels, motels and souvenir stores in the vicinity of Loch Ness would go out of business, and well-meaning enthusiasts would have to find another way to spend their time, rather than walking around the rim of the lake with high-powered binoculars and gesticulating at suspicious ripples.
9. ...not to mention a fair number of TV producers.
You can bet that if the Nessie myth were on the brink of extinction, some enterprising TV producer, somewhere, would find a way to whip it up again. Animal Planet, National Geographic and The Discovery Channel all derive a good slice of their ratings from "what if?" documentaries about cryptids like the Loch Ness Monster, though some are more responsible with the facts than others. As a general rule, you shouldn't trust any TV show that touts the Loch Ness Monster's bona fides; remember, it's all about money, not science.
10. No matter the evidence, people will continue to believe in the Loch Ness Monster.
Why, despite all of these facts, do so many people around the world continue to believe in the Loch Ness Monster? Well, as explained above, it's impossible to prove a negative; there will always be the slightest, most evanescent chance that Nessie really exists, and the skeptics will be proved wrong. But it seems to be intrinsic to human nature to believe in supernatural entities, a vast category that encompasses gods, angels, demons, the Easter Bunny, and, yes, our dear friend Nessie.