Why Your Lake Monster Isn't a Dinosaur
Minor detail: the creatures usually compared to lake monsters weren't dinosaurs, although they did live during the time of the dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs were very modified lizards, but are considered to be lizards.
Lakes are usually very short-lived surface features, especially in the temperate zones where most monsters-infested lakes are found. Most temperate lakes are only a few thousand years old, when these ancient lizards disappeared from the fossils 60 million years ago. They haven't been in those lakes all that time, they would have to have moved in from elsewhere, the way temperate lake fish have.
An ecosystem needs a population of monsters, not just a single individual, unless the individual is essentially immortal. It's much harder to hide a population.
Dead individuals usually float to the surface and/or wash up on the beach. This is especially true of air-breathers, whose digestive systems generate gases after death. Carcasses have been associated with sea monsters (including giant squid) but not lake monsters.
Monsters need food. Deep-water lakes tend to not be very rich ecosystems. Now, how much food a large animal requires very much depends upon the type of animal it is, but large air-breathers should have higher metabolisms.
Large reptiles need to breathe air, which means they need to surface frequently. Even in huge oceans, air-breathing animals like whales or seals are not so hard to find because they're repeatedly coming up for air. Air-breathing lake monsters should be sighted every few minutes rather than every few months.
Top predators in ecosystems don't need to hide. Animal behavior has evolved to suit the animal's circumstances, but there's virtually no reason for an animal that finds prey under the surface to hide itself at the surface. Even whales, after a couple centuries of being preyed on by whalers, have not changed their basic surfacing behavior - why would lake monsters that have never been hunted avoid showing themselves-?
What monsters probably are -
- Soliton waves. These singular large waves can travel for long distances, presenting an undulating black presence on the surface with no companion waves. These can be generated in deep-water lakes, especially long narrow ones (common from glacial scouring) Some history here.
- Floating items. This is pretty obvious, but there are a couple of things to remember: buoyant objects like logs will eventually become waterlogged and sink, but not all at once, so that from a distance a small branch may stick up from a larger submerged object. Also, in windy conditions, waves may forms around these objects that make them appear to be moving under some propulsive power.
- Objects distorted by distance. This is affected both by the visual conditions on a given day and the visual condition of the observer - several floating objects, such as birds, can visually merge into what appears to be a single moving thing.
- Hoaxes / wishful thinking. These are lumped together because they rely on people's expectations.
Copyright 2005, Michael McDarby.
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