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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Giant Salamander Theory at Loch Ness

This is mostly here as a footnote. At the time that the "Monster" was breaking into news in 1933, local fishermen, boat-workers, dockmen and sailors allowed there had been scuttlebut there was a "Salamander" in the Loch which had been told of from time to time. Rupert T Gould eventually came to the theory that the Loch Ness Monster was a gigantic longnecked newt, which can be related to Charles Gould's earlier theory that the Sea-serpent was a giant salamander, citing the Chinese giant salamander as the model to build the theory on.
The earliest photo of the Loch Ness Monster was taken in 1933, the year the Monster started making headlines, and it was taken by Hugh Grey. The image is owned and copyrighted by the Scottish Daily Record. Several commentatos have said that it is an animal which resembles a Japanese Giant salamander, taking the head end to be to the right and the tail to the left (Reverse of Ted Holliday and other serious Loch Ness Researchers, who believe the left hand side to show the Loch Ness Monster's long thin neck) The current status of the photo is as it is marked on the site where I got this copy of the photo:

Image status: HOAX Photographed by Hugh Grey in 1933 this image might look like a flipper splashing in the water but is actually a blurry picture of a dog swimming along with a stick in its mouth.

-And I am OK with that: Obviously Hugh Grey started out with what he had intended as a harmless, rather foolish and obvious joke and then he got stuck with journalists that wanted to take the photograph as serious eveidence.

In this case however there is more to the story of the salamanders even after we have done with the photo. One part of it is that the same sort of Giant Salamanders as seem to be involved in some Tatzelwurm stories (The bigger, fatter, fourlegged kind as per Ulrich Magin) seem to turn up in Britain and the Baltic region being described as "Lake Monsters" and "Alligators" and they seem to go back into prehistory in some of the local "Dragon" representations carved in stone: they are also represented in Folklore such as Ted Holiday uses to support his theories. They are said to grow up out of little worms or caterpillars and that probably means the tadpoles, and they are said to be slimy with a caustic secretion. That part is what I count as the determining characteristic of the type.

On page 126 of Rupert T. Gould's Loch Ness Monster a discussion of possible identifications mentions the following passage:


The suggestion that X might be some species of giant salamander "indigenous to Loch Ness and its rivers" was made by Lt-Col. W. H. Lane, Glenmoriston, in a letter to the Inverness Courier (10.x.33). While pointing out that the largest living variety is a native of Japan (Although specimens have been obtained in China), he stated that he had shot what he believed to be a creature of the kind in the Chin Hills district of Burma.

"X" is the way Gould refers to the Loch Ness Monster in the book, which he believes to be an individual creature about 40 feet long and he does not think that Grant's sighting is the same because the size is much smaller. Which leaves him in a quandry, actually. Lane also has the references to the Chinese and Japanese Giant salamanders reversed but both were poorly understood at the time. However, more pertinent is the fact that he claimed to have shot one in Burma, which is either a new species or a new and unexpected range extension of the Chinese species. And Richard Freeman had suggested to me back in 2005 that the Assamese Burus might be salamanders of this type. The immediate problem with calling the Burus amphibians or fishes is the fact that they are described as having a flexible neck which can be stretched out and withdrawn, and a forked tongue, and that these are important features of the type. Therefore they are most probably large monitor lizards and reptiles. However I told Richard at the time that I did not think that giant salamanders were necessarily NOT present in the area or even unlikely. So here is a report of something of that same nature in an adjoining region. Going on such limited information it is difficult to say how large a population might be involved r how large the range, but it does seem that Giant salamanders also inhabit parts of highlands South Asia as well as the regions further North (Richard Freeman is also my source of information about Giant salamanders living in Southern Siberia)

Tim Dinsdale also mentions that W.H.Lane had produced a booklet in defense of his theory, in which he assumes that Loch Ness was connected by a large drainage system to the major rivers in Europe at the time when the bed of the North sea was above water, connecting the "Monster" to other creatures in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, which he also thought were giant salamanders, and to the site of the "Homo Diluvi Testis" fossil. Neither Gould nor Dinsdale believed in the theory but Dinsdale allowed it was a pretty piece of writing in The Leviathans (AKA Monster Hunt)

As to Gould's monstrous dilemna, let us hypothesize along with him that at the time of the initial outbreak of reports, most of the reports really were of one creature about 40 feet long. We shall call her "Mama." Since Grant's creature was 15 to 20 feet long and less than half that, we can cll that one "Junior" (Or "Baby Dumpling" if you want the proper contemporary flavour). Mama is then Gould's "X" and while Junior is "Not-X" is still of the same kind,an immature one. Which is what Oudemans said. At this time either the really big one that Torquil MacLeod saw was not around yet or else he had not yet grown to his full size. So currently, being as frugal as we can about the number of creatures present, I think we have only two or three creatures in the Loch at the same time. In the beginning there were only two and a decade or two later a bigger one came around, for about a decade. One by one they either left again or died off. Dinsdale could have logged Junior's trip out the River Ness during one spate about 1936 and when a "Twenty-foot-long" monster was seen headed out to sea: it was probably longer at full length under water but that is still a good match. There is also a report of a larger monster headed in towards the Loch, a couple of decades later, and that could have been the younger "Big Daddy" making his way into the Loch. And ordinarily each of these creatures was called "Black" in colour, so it is difficult to find out what their true colouration would be. But the main idea would still be, only a few individuals in Loch Ness and each individual only temporarily.

Best Wishes, Dale D.


  1. Not a million miles away from Roy Mackal's conclusions in The Monsters Of Loch Ness as one candidate for the monster's identity as some sort of large unknown amphibian. Certainly this allows for land sightings such as the Spicers and Grant, plus also could explain the existence of some of the creatures reported in Irish lakes, which are too small to support a population of permanent animals of this size but could if they could move from lake to lake over land. Perhaps a hitherto unknown species of indigenous British salamander?

  2. Actually I started wondering along those lines when Ivan Sanderson started his theory about the Great Orms being possible caecilians about the same time as Mackal's book came out. At that point I began selecting certain Lake Monster reports which sounded more like Giant salamanders, basically out of Ted Holiday's reports and at first focusing on Irish and Welsh ones preferentially, but then I tended also to side with the argument that amphibians could not be long-necked as certatain reptiles could be, because the joint at the base of the skull is different.

    However among other useful points which arose from these selected reports were the determinative features that such reports often mentioned costal grooves or annulations, "Snake eyes" (Giant salamanders have no eyelids but instead have a hard transparent spectacle as snakes do) and the fact that the inside of the mouth is pale when the mouth opens. And then there is the matter that as salamanders they could be susceptible to mineral deficiencies which would leave them with entirely cartiliginous skeletons. There was a case of a Lake Monster caught in a culvert while travelling from one lake to another and where the body "Melted entirely away". This was mentioned by Holiday but it is also said to be true of some Lindorms. In large part, I consider the reports of "Lake Monsters" in small lakes in the Connaught to refer to Giant salamander cases, where such creatures could more easily live in smaller lakes and avoid detection and capture. And in fact the reports of creatures in these lakes are not ordinarily said to be long-necked creatures.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  3. Further info on W. H. Lane and his salamander book can be found at these links:


  4. Under the heading of "The Giant Salamander Theory at Loch Ness" Dale wrote: "Dinsdale could have logged Junior's trip out the River Ness during one spate about 1936 and when a "Twenty-foot-long" monster was seen headed out to sea".

    What would happen to a twenty foot long salamander at the mouth of the River Ness?

  5. We were discussing Mackal's theory in The Monsters of Loch Ness. Mackal's theory (rather following Gould's) was that the "Monster" was a long-necked salamander. Mackal thought it was also seen at Loch Linhe and that the creatures could have tolerated brackish waters. Heuvelmans when reviewing Gould's theory (and again when reviewing Mackal's book)mentioned that there actually were large amphibians that apparently went out to sea in the fossil record, but that they would necessarily have bred in freshwater. I suppose that is why I worked the discussion of "Mnm and Junior" in there, I was thinking in terms of how practical would it be for "Monsters" to breed in Loch Ness and then go out to sea. The answer would have to be-not very often or very easily. Even if the creature was able to regularly tolerate salt waters, travelling up and down the river Ness even in spate would have to be difficult and an extremely rare occurance. As far as I know Dinsdale only claimed three separate sightings by other witnesses in the River Ness over thirty years.

    Personally, I consider the problem of saltwater tolerance is at least as big as the problem of giving an amphibian a long neck and either on tends to work against the Amphbian hypothesis. Incidentally, I get the distinct ompression that Gould entertained his long-necked-newt theory simplu on the superficial similarity of a newt's elongated body and tail to the reconstructied Sea-Serpent made by Anton Oudemans. Probably more like an eft than an aquatic newt, at that.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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