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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Loch Ness Monster Linnean Binomial

Roy Mackal in The Monsters of  Loch Ness (1976), from the Epilogue, pages 219-220

...The name mentioned by Zug, Nessiteras rhombopteryx, was given to the animal by Robert Rines and Sir Peter Scott in their paper published in the scientific journal NATURE (December 11, 1975 issue). The generic term Nessiteras combines the name of the Loch with the Greek word teras meaning marvel or strange creature [ie, Monster-DD]. The specific name rhombopteryx is a combination of the Greek rhombos, a diamond shape, and pteryx meaning fin or wing.Translated, then, we have the Ness monster with a diamond-shaped fin. The Rines-Scott name wisely avoids the risk of implying any zoological affinities, inasmuch as no actual type specimen is in hand; that is, we are dealing with [presently] unknown animals possibly [probably] new to zoology. However the naming of an animal based on a single feature (photograph of an appendage) is an equally risky business although permitted by the International code of Zoological Nomenclature [Emphasis added-DD]... 
In any case, for better or for worse, we will now be able to refer to the animals in Loch Ness by a scientific binomial designation, which at least in some quarters will lend credence to the belief in the existence of these creatures.
[Footnote] It is possible, of course, that the name Nessiteras rhombopteryx may not finally be accepted as the official lable for the animals. For example, perhaps it could even be preempted by Nessiesaurus o'connori, a name given earlier to the animals...and published in 1961 in Tim Dinsdale's Loch Ness Monster. O'Connor refers to "the water reptile Nessiesaurus o'connori, which is (it is understood) the name the Northern Naturalists Organization gave to the creature shown in the photograph on June 10th, 1960" 
In this case, the name Nessiteras refers to a characteristic part (a flipper) seen in a photo taken in conjunction with a large midwater sonar contact (it was not near the floor of the Loch and the photo cannot actually be of any part of the floor of the Loch, which was very much deeper) and the name Nessiesaurus refers to a different characteristic view of presumably the same creature, looking vaguely turtlelike but with a soft pudgy back and the almost "Muppet-like" face in front. So it is a problem of which aspect the experts will eventually consider to be the best designator for the species. [Maurice Burton tried particularly hard to get the O'Connor photo branded as a hoax but none of the evidence he amassed at Loch Ness has any proveable connection to O'Connor and both Costello and Mackal reject his assertions. The evidence which was gathered by Burton had only an alleged association to Costello (on the say-so of a local guide, who could have been lying) and was not gathered under any strictly controlled conditions: any or all of it could have been planted without O'Connor's knowledge]

BOTH Nessiteras rhombopteryx and Nessiesaurus o'connori are properly proposed and recorded scientific names as suggested by proper scientific authorities and they are scientifically valid.
 So once again it is not a problem that the creatures are actually Cryptids unknown to science, it is a controversy about their acceptability to other scientists. they fall into the borderline category of "disputed" species, which is something else again. And since it is generally accepted that Longnecks around the world are one species, and so they all receive whatever name is approved whenever it is approved, at sea or in any of the other lakes they might inhabit.

The Nessiteras Rhombopteryx Anagram Controversy

Sir Peter Scott of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau participated in the 1972 expedition that produced the flipper photo. Feeling that the photo provided proof that some kind of large creature existed in the loch, he decided to give the animal a scientific name: Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (which meant "the Ness wonder with a diamond fin"). Scottish politician Nicholas Fairbairn pointed out that if you juggled around the letters in this name, you got the phrase "monsster hoax by Sir Peter." This was unquestioningly (but prematurely) taken as evidence that the flipper photo had been a deliberate hoax: Sir Peter Scott denied it. Dr. Rines countered by pointing out that if you juggled the letters around a bit more, you could spell "Yes, both pix arre monsters." Since both supposed anagrams can only be made to fit by including one extra letter each, and neither one is intrinsically any more reasonable than the other, this disqualifies the whole notion of the anagram being valid in the first place [The initial notices did print them just this way, later retellings moved the extra letters to the ends of the messages]. Essentially, the only way the interpretation can be made to fit is by cheating. In other words, even bringing the matter up is dirty pool and the critics should be ashamed of themselves for stooping so low. It is amazing that the whole matter was discredited on the strength of a bad joke made by a politician.

Consider the type of jokes in horribly bad taste a name such as Homo erectus evokes and you will see that any such jokes have no validity against the continued use of the name in scientific literature. As Mackal writes, "But of course, the saner approach typically got buried" (footnote page 219)

The aftermath is that critics almost invariably quote the first anagram story only and imply that it is a valid reason to ignore the proposed name and the recognition of the Loch Ness Monster as a valid species since it was "an obvious hoax". They almost never mention that there was a reply (implying that there was no effort to deny the claim) nor yet that an alternative anagram that was just as valid gave a completely opposite meaning. This is because the critics are not interested in the truth, they are interested in winning an argument, by deceit and innuendo if necessary. Anybody that repeats the claim that the name Nessiteras rhombopteryx  itself "proves the whole thing was a hoax" is being deceptive and underhanded. It proves no such a thing. it means no more than if a bratty schoolchild gets out a picture of you, draws on a black eye and blacked-out teeth, and then says "this is you". Anybody that shows the picture thereafter saying "this is you" is being deliberately malicious on top of being untruthful. It is intellectually dishonest and it is a manifestation of the bullying mentality.

Below, Dale's redrawing of the illustrations, which are more consistent with the proportions stated in the reports. See also the colour version of the illustrations added to this blog earlier, which are also more consistent with the drawings below rather than to the ones in the actual article above.



  1. The O'Connor photograph has been intriguing to me due to its similarities to plesiosaur skeletons, leatherbacks, and the Rines "head and neck" photograph, but it also does look dubious in that it could be interpreted as being a stationary object. The backstory which I have heard sounds dubious as well, but perhaps this was simply due to the light which it was cast in where I read it. I think that your redrawing of the illustrations is excellent, although I do think that these animals probably possess a sort of tail fluke.

  2. "And since it is *generally accepted* that Longnecks around the world are one species, and so they all receive whatever name is approved whenever it is approved, at sea or in any of the other lakes they might inhabit."

    By whom?

    1. By Oudemans, Lee, Sanderson, Heuvelmans, Dinsdale, Costello, Holiday, and later tacitly by Mackal and Eberhart. In short, this is the usual stance as stated by MOST of the commentators, although I shall be the first to admit that the idea has been overly applied in the past.
      To put it another way, do you have any counterexamples you'd like to cite?


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