Saturday, June 15, 2013

Announcement: A New Beginning

I am now going to retire this blog, and start a new one in the place of it. I feel that many of my opinions about cryptozoology have changed, so I am starting a new cryptozoology blog. The name of my new blog is Mysterious Zoology - Hidden Animals Around The World.

Here is the URL:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Cryptozoology is Not a Pseudoscience

According to The Skeptic's Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience by Michael Shermer, cryptozoology is literally defined as, "the search for hidden animals". To the majority of scientists, it would be no wonder that cryptozoology is included in an encyclopedia of pseudoscientific topics. However, I completely disagree. You see, cryptozoology is not always pseudoscience. It sometimes can be, but not always. I will now explain why.

Cryptozoology is not, and can not, be considered a pseudoscience. This is due to several reasons, which I will now explain in greater detail. One of Karl Popper's main criteria of what makes something truly scientific or not is whether or not it is falsifiable. And, believe it or not, it turns out that cryptozoological hypotheses actually can be falsified, just like other hypotheses which just happen, for whatever reason, to be much more widely-accepted by more "mainstream" fields of scientific inquiry.

For example, let's say that someone wanted to test the hypothesis that a large, unidentified aquatic animal lives in Loch Ness, Scotland. For the sake of argument, we'll just say that sufficient technology to thoroughly search the entire loch has already been invented by this point. If a complete and thorough search of the entire loch turns up nothing, then that basically falsifies the hypothesis that there are large, unidentified aquatic animals living in Loch Ness.

Now, the technology needed for such an operation might be far beyond anyone's financial and practical reach. However, theoretically, it is certainly possible for this idea to be falsified. Therefore, it would, indeed, be very erroneous to call it "pseudoscientific".

Now, I am very well aware of the fact that many people who are involved in the field of cryptozoology do not use correct scientific methodology. However, as I pointed out in my very first post back on June 13, 2012, it is certainly possible, indeed, to use correct scientific methods of inquiry in the field of cryptozoology.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, many skeptics, even critics of cryptozoology, freely acknowledge the fact that it does not always have to be pseudoscientific, necessarily. Prominent skeptics Michael Shermer and Benjamin Radford are good examples of this. Ben Radford has stated that cryptozoology, unlike topics such as ghosts and creationism, isn't really pseudoscience. And Shermer, in his aforementioned book, stated that cryptozoology ranges from being "pseudoscientific to useful and interesting, depending on how it is practiced". And I could not agree with them any more.

In conclusion, cryptozoology is not always pseudoscience. There is no denying the fact that, a lot of times, it is. However, at other times, it can also be a valid example of solid, well-grounded scientific inquiry. And my goal is for this blog to be an example of the latter.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Living Dinosaurs of Northern Chile - Part 3

I feel that it is time to wrap-up my series of articles about the living dinosaurs seen in northern Chile. After doing some more research, I have modified my hypothesis about what these creatures are, and where they came from.
I no longer feel that it is very likely for any non-avian dinosaurs to have survived to the modern-day. Therefore, I have now modified my theory in order to accommodate this.

I now think that these cryptids probably represent an undiscovered species of large, flightless bird with a long tail, arms with claws, and tooth-like structures in its beak. At first, this idea might appear far-fetched, but a close examination of some extant and recently-extinct bird species shows that it really is not that weird after all.

I will start with the Hoatzin. The juveniles of this strange South American bird have claws on their wings, which they use to climb trees. However, when they grow up, these clawed fingers disappear. This proves that it is, indeed, possible for birds to evolve hands with clawed fingers, just like their non-avian dinosaur ancestors.
Second, a recently-extinct bird from New Caledonia called Sylviornis had a huge number of caudal vertebrae compared to other birds. This caused its tail to be much longer than that of the average bird. In fact, it kind of resembled the tail of an extinct theropod dinosaur.
And third, there is a living species of duck called the Common Merganser. This species of waterfowl is unique because it has evolved a very fascinating feature; it has evolved tooth-like structures in its beak, which it uses to catch its prey (mainly fish).  The Merganser is living proof that birds have the ability to re-evolve tooth-like structures.

I have now established that it is, indeed, possible for an aberrant species of bird to evolve a longer tail, clawed wings, and teeth-like structures. Such a creature would hardly even be distinguishable from a long-gone theropod dinosaur. Therefore, witnesses could easily mistake it as such.

I now conclude my 3-part series about the living dinosaurs of northern Chile. I have now modified my hypothesis. I now believe that these creatures are probably dinosaur-like flightless birds.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living Sauropods

In several of the world's rainforests, many reports and rumors have emerged of creatures which, at first glance, bear a striking resemblance to the sauropod dinosaurs of prehistory. These reports come from several different areas, including the Congo rainforests of central Africa, the Amazon rainforests of South America, and the rainforests of Southern Asia. The vast majority of the sightings have come from central Africa. The creature living there is called the mokele-mbembe, a native term which means "the one who stops the flow of rivers".
According to conventional wisdom, the last of these great creatures died out around 64 million years ago. However, several cryptozoologists are convinced that at least some of these gigantic dinosaurs survived the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period, and still survive to the present-day. Today, I am going to examine this hypothesis, and evaluate just how likely it is.

Many proponents of the sauropod hypothesis claim that the areas where these creatures are most-frequently sighted, such as the Congo rainforests in Africa, have remained stable for millions of years, without major environmental changes. However, what I have found is that some research will reveal that this claim is simply not true. Several major environment-altering events have happened in Central Africa since the end of the Cretaceous. One example is the creation of the Great Rift Valley. Therefore, this argument can sadly be debunked.

Another claim is that, since there are no other creatures which resemble these cryptids, they therefore must be modern-day sauropod dinosaurs. However, this is also -- sadly -- incorrect for 2 reasons. First of all, the fossil record is far from complete. It is, indeed, very possible that the fossilized remains of another creature which convergently evolved to resemble a sauropod do exist, but they just have not yet been discovered by paleontologists.
And second, there also happens to be another group of extinct animals which I think are great potential candidates for the mokele-mbembe, and are a lot more likely than a surviving sauropod. It is a group of extinct rhinos, known as the indricotheres.

The indricotheres were a group of gigantic rhinoceroses which lived during the Cenozoic Era, but are now believed to be extinct. Unlike modern rhinos, they had long necks, and they did not have any horns. Although their fossils have not yet been discovered in central Africa, I believe it is possible that some of them might have lived there.
My hypothesis is that, if the mokele-mbembe exists, it is most-likely to be an evolved modern-day form of an indricothere. This hypothetical creature would have evolved several new features, including a semi-aquatic lifestyle, a long, powerful tail, and an even longer neck.
As cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has pointed out, if a scientifically untrained observer saw this creature, they would probably think that it was a dinosaur.

In conclusion, I do not think it is very likely that large sauropod dinosaurs have persisted into the present-day. Instead, if these sightings are, indeed, real, I think that they can most probably be explained by a surviving indricothere, which has evolved over time to look like a sauropod dinosaur, through the fascinating process known as convergent evolution.

An Update about Prehistoric Survival

On February 11, I wrote a post about the possibility of certain cryptids being surviving representatives of long-extinct taxa. Well, I have now reversed my opinion on this matter. You see, after much thought and cosideration, I have now concluded that it is unlikely that most cryptids are "Lazarus taxa" (survivors from a past age). As paleontologist Darren Naish has pointed out on his blog, the phenomenon known as convergent evolution can produce creatures which look very similar to certain extinct creatures from the fossil record. Therefore, it is now my opinion that most of the similarities to extinct animals which are observed in a select few cryptids are most-likely the result of convergent evolution, rather than true prehistoric survival.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Living Dinosaurs of Northern Chile - Part 2

About a couple of weeks ago, I discussed the dinosaur-like beasts which are reported by eyewitnesses in northern Chile. I am now going to do an in-depth analysis of these creatures, and what they might possibly be.

Right after the sightings occurred, there was a popular theory reported in the newspapers that the creatures were rheas. The rhea is a large, flightless ratite bird, similar to the African ostrich, which lives in South America. 

I disagree with this theory. First of all, the creatures are described as having leathery skin, without feathers or hair of any kind. Also, size is a problem; the largest male rheas can barely reach 6 feet tall. And the strange beasts which were sighted by eyewitnesses were reported as being more than 6.5 feet tall, in one sighting. And finally, rheas, like most birds, have short, stubby tails. And the creatures which were seen in northern Chile's Atacama desert had long tails. 

If I examine the eyewitness descriptions, the only creature which comes to my mind is a non-avian theropod dinosaur. However, I am very skeptical of the idea that a population of medium-sized theropod dinosaurs could survive undetected in the Atacama desert. You see, the Atacama desert is one of the driest places in the whole world. There is very little water and vegetation. Therefore, there is not a lot of prey available to such a large predator. 
This is why I have come to the conclusion that these cryptids probably live in the canyons and forests of northern Chile and southern Peru. In 2004, a small population of these creatures probably wandered into the Atacama desert, and were seen by several unsuspecting motorists driving across the road from Iquique to Arica. 

This is my modest attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding this very peculiar cryptid. However, there are still many questions which remain unanswered, and until we can prove for sure that these creatures really do exist, this will always remain the case.

In my next post, I will write about the mokele-mbembe, and other alleged living sauropods. Using logic, and the information from eyewitness anecdotes, I will attempt to come up with the most satisfactory explanation, for these intriguing cryptids.

Prehistoric Survival?

Throughout the centuries, many startled eyewitnesses have reported seeing animals which strongly resemble extinct creatures from a past age. Of course, most scientists just dismissed these reports as pure fantasy or mythology. In reality, though, the possibility of animals surviving from the past into the present-day is not as far-fetched as it might sound at first.

There are many examples of new species being discovered which were believed to have been long-extinct prior to their discovery. For example, one of these survivors from prehistory is a fish called the Coelocanth (pictured below). Coelocanths are an order of fish which were believed to have died out alongside the non-avian dinosaurs, around 64 million years ago. However, in 1938, a fish was caught off the coast of South Africa that looked very strange, and different from any other fish known to science at that time. After it was shown to a biologist, his eyes nearly popped out of his head! He knew instantly what type of fish it was. He was shocked because he had never expected to see such a fish alive, for here, in front of his own eyes, was a living, breathing coelocanth.

The coelocanth was believed to have been extinct for 64 million years until 1938,
when a living one was discovered off the coast of South Africa. (Robbie Cada/Wikimedia Commons).

Another creature long believed to be extinct but which turned up alive and well is the Laotian Rock Rat. This remarkable rodent belongs to a family called the Diatomyidae. For many years, it had been believed that all diatomyids had been extinct for 11 million years. But in 2004, Jenkins et. al. reported the discovery of a brand-new species of rodent in Asia. They called it Laonastes aenigmamus. Believing it to be basal to all other hystricognaths, they created a whole new family for it: the Laonastidae. However, in 2006, Dawson et. al. studied the available evidence once again, and they came to the conclusion that Laonastes actually belongs to the family Diatomyidae, which, at the time, was believed to have been extinct since the Miocene Epoch. Dawson and colleagues also described this species as being a 'Lazarus taxon'. Lazarus taxa are creatures which appear in the fossil record for a period of time, and then completely disappear for a while before turning up again all of a sudden many millions of years later. 
Since no Coelocanth or diatomyid fossils have been discovered since their supposed extinction dates, both of these amazing animals can therefore be considered Lazarus taxa.

This is a skull of a Laotian Rock Rat. Until 2006, this fascinating rodent was believed to have
been extinct since the Miocene Epoch, about 11 million years ago. (Laurent Marivaux/Wikimedia Commons).

In my opinion, the Coelocanth and the Laotian Rock Rat are the two most important Lazarus taxa discovered within the past 100 years. However, many cryptozoologists, such as Dr. Karl Shuker, have done a lot more research on this topic than me, and you can find many more examples of creatures like this in their books.

The reason why I decided to write about Lazarus taxa is because of something quite strange that I have noticed. One of the main skeptical rebuttals to the idea of living non-avian dinosaurs is that no fossils of them have been found between the end of the Cretaceous period, 64 million years ago, and the present-day. However, as you can clearly see, the Coelocanth & Laotian Rock Rat are living proof that this is not a tenable argument at all. There are no fossils of the Coelocanth after the end of the Cretaceous, yet they are still alive and well, and there are probably many of them swimming around off the coast of Africa right now, as I am typing this. And there have been no fossils found of the Laotian Rock Rat for the past 11 million years, yet it is also still alive and thriving. 

Therefore, I cannot think of any reason why the same logic should not apply to reports of alleged surviving non-avian dinosaurs, as well. Another famous skeptical argument is that if living non-avian dinosaurs truly do exist, we would have already discovered them by now. However, skeptics who use this argument usually assume that we're talking about huge dinosaurs, such as large sauropods or ceratopsians. And I think it is somewhat unlikely that large dinosaurs could have been able to survive the K–T mass extinction event. The only non-avian dinosaurs which I think have a large possibility of still being alive are the smaller ones. And it would obviously be much easier to hide a smaller dinosaur, than a large one the size of an elephant.

Another common rebuttal is that all or most of the wilderness on Earth has already been explored, and that there is no suitable habitat for supposed prehistoric survivors to hide in, anyway. However, as Dr. Karl Shuker has very correctly pointed out, the truth is, indeed, very different. Large areas of the world still remain largely unexplored and uninhabited. The tropical and semi-tropical rainforests of South America are an excellent example. Other good examples include the Congo rain forests of Africa, and the forests of Western New Guinea. These areas are usually impenetrable to all but the hardiest explorers and some native tribes. 

In conclusion, after examining all of the available evidence, I have decided that the idea of living non-avian dinosaurs is not really that far-fetched, after all. After all, if the 2 creatures that I mentioned above managed to remain hidden until 1938 and 2004, respectively, it's not that hard to imagine the possibility that there might still be other hidden survivors from the past, waiting to be discovered and catalogued in the zoology books.