Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Origins of the Patagonian Plesiosaur

Lately at the yahoo group Frontiers-of-Zoology, I have been going over a site on Patagonian Monsters that I discovered recently, in which Austin Whittall is putting together a book to be published on the subject and under the same name. That site is here:


And it holds a wealth of information, most of which is very good and I find no fault in it. He has a lot of useful information on hominids including the Patagon giants (Some of which may have been Bigfoot in my interpretation, not his), and such creatures as Water Bulls that might have been Toxodons and the giant otter Iemisch. However, he completely discounts the creature known as the Patagonian Plesiosaur or Nahuelito. He repeatedly states that the reports of long-necked creatures must have been false, yet he is curiously silent when the same long-necked creatures are seen at sea. For the record and in case nobody was already aware of the fact, Long-necked Sea-serpents are probably the largest category still reported worldwide AND the most regularly represented types of freshwater monsters as well. There is little value in saying that there are no Long-necked Lake Monsters in Patagonia when they are reported in comparable other lakes world-wide.

A commonly repeated description of Nahuelito, the Patagonian Plesiosaur is as follows:

'it is curious that the great majority of tales coincide with the description of an animal of about 10-15 meters long, with two hunches or humps, leathery skin and, occasionally, a swan-like neck. It is striking that this characterization is so similar to the descriptions made by the Mapuches two hundred years before.'

That happens to coincide exactly with my own statistical composite, the composite Tim Dinsdale made of the Loch Ness Monster, and other similar composite drawn from such reports worldwide. I have done statistical analyses of most Long-necked Lake monsters worldwide and they are generally very close together in averages. (Ogopogo and other Canadian Lake monsters do ot turn out to be Long-necked creatures in most cases. Champ is one at times, though)

Whitall objects to this and says that the corresponding Mapuche water-monster is the Cuero (hide, or cowhide) which is not described as being like that at all. From that point he goes on to say that the reported creatures were not originally long-necked and that the Cuero tradition cannot be applied to a Plesiosaur-shaped creature.

The Cuero is supposed to be a flat creature like a spread-out spotted goatskin or cowhide with no discernable head but bugged-out eyes and a sucking mouth underneath. Under the name Trelquelhuecuve it is said to have many poisonous spines or claws but under a different name it is just said to have the one claw or stinger in its tail. Its general shape and especially the placement of the mouth, but most of all the sting in its tail, mark it as a kind of stingray. Oddly, Whittall is somewhat indifferent to this explanation and says there are no freshwater stingrays in Patagonia: on the contrary, Eberhart indicates an unidentified stingray is reported in the Rio Negro (Black River) which is near to lake Nahuel Hapi where Nahuelito is supposed to live.

The problem is - and this almost took my breath away when I realised it - every single writer on the subject before has been misled by the same mistake. They were identifying Nahuelito with the wrong tradition. Nahuelito was not what was called Cuero but was instead something else called (in Spanish) Culebron. Culebron means 'Big Snake' and it is used to cover several different traditions. It is the local-usage equivalent of 'Dragon.'

I found illustrations meaning to show Cuero and Culebron from Spanish-language sites off the internet and I have mutilated them in the name of scientific research. The Spanish-language information on this Culebron says that it is a plumed serpent equivalent to Quetzalcoatl and it is being shown with plumed wings to swim through the water with (as a water monster Culebron) I cut the wings short so that it could be shown that actually the creature they are talking about is built like a plesiosaur, in this case one third of the length apiece is head and neck, body, and tail. The same creature is also described with humps on the back, four limbs, and sometimes a mane.

So THAT is what the native-tradition Patagonian Plesiosaur actually IS, and the tradition does go all the way back to the original discovery of the country in Conquistador days.

Another thing that bothers Whittall is a supposed carved likeness of Nahuelito printed in Suckling and Eggleston's book The Book of Sea Monsters. Whittall rightly says the art style is nothing like the indigenous art of the area, and he is right: the illustration is made up. However, I did discover from the Spanish-language sources that Culebron is depicted in rock art of the area, but it would not look anything like that. If anything, the 'Plumed Serpents' alluded to would look like the objects in the hands of the central god figure in the Sun Gate at Tiahuanaco, for the culture cited in the Spanish sources was using that style.


Tabitca said...

What a coincidence. I just posted a blog about Lake Lacar and the monster early this morning:http://cryptozoo-oscity.blogspot.com/2010/01/lake-lacar-monsters-and-high.html

And I mentioned the same site.
Great minds think alike etc lol.

Retrieverman said...

The one in this depiction (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_XSoRof7RYAM/S1LzDMSYaKI/AAAAAAAAElg/27kyLbU9Vuw/s1600-h/CULEBRON.jpg) reminds me of this Japanese frilled shark:


Austin Whittall said...

I appreciate your review of my blog on Patagonia's mythical creatures and your comments on Nahuelito.
Indeed, I belive that the Cuero may be a freshwater stingray, though I have been unable to find any scientific papers on this subject. Culebron and also the nguruvilu or "snake fox" are indeed a better fit to the "lake monster" profile. Actually, the Mapuche mythology mentions several "lake monsters" which may indicate that they also knew about them. In my opinion, there is something in the Patagonian lakes, but it may not be a "lake serpent". Giant Amazonian otters, tapir or even spectacled bears could account for many sightings (others can be attributed to huemul, red deer and Patagonian otters swimming in the lakes). I have posted on all of these creatures in my blog with the intention of offering referenced sources for each of us to reach his or her own conclusions based on the slim evidence available. Once again. Thanks.

Austin Whittall

Dale Drinnon said...

I finally got back to see A. Whittall's comments (Although the blog is in my name I have no control over comments and I must look at them separately)and I was most pleased to see his reply. I had tried to contact him directly before but I had not been able to until now.

The problem is, as you well know, there were several beasts confused in the "Patagonian Plesiosaur" matter from the onset. YES, I fully endorse the Iemisch as a vagrant giant Otter, and so on. BUT that does not deal with the matter of the long-necked creatures that have been sihted, and my complaint was that it seemed to me that your disallowal of such sightings was dishonest.
There are in fact separate and prior depictions of longnecked creatures in Precolumbian South American artwork, and some of the depictions include specifically Plesiosaurian traits such as the euryapsid skull openings and the bony structures of the flippers: and this includes ceramics of the Andean high cultures.
It was never my intention to say that such Lake creatures are permanent inhabitants of any inland body of water. On the contrary, the evidence heavily favors their travelling along rivers and only intermittently inhabiting any of the lakes in question. Which means that it is not necessary to presume a permanent breeding colony at any location.

The identity of the Cuero as a freshwater stingray is one I have been pushing for quite some time now. Eberhart's Mysterious Creatures does indeed reference an unknown freshwater stingray in the Rio Negro.

Austin Whittall said...

Your post set my mind ticking so I did plenty of research during the last days and I have just posted on Culebron at my blog. It has all the information (sources are given and linked) that I could find on the subject (am still checking other sources) you will find something interesting about a snake shaped stone baton found in Patagonia.

I also posted on freshwater stingrays and the cuero to add plenty of juicy information on the matter (sources too).

I guess open discussion is the best way to test ideas and to give cryptozoology the scientific standing that it deserves.

Gracias y Saludos! Austin