Facts (Not Myths) About the Loch Ness Monster

Artistic cartoon of the Loch Ness Monster

RTPUPPY / Getty Images 

There are plenty of exaggerations, myths and outright lies circulating about the so-called Loch Ness Monster—which is especially galling to paleontologists, who are constantly being told by people who should know better (and by overeager reality-TV producers) that Nessie is a long-extinct dinosaur or marine reptile. 

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The Loch Ness Monster Is the World's Most Famous Cryptid


John Lund / Getty Images 

Sure, Sasquatch, the Chupacabra, and Mokele-mbembe all have their devotees. But the Loch Ness Monster is far and away the most famous "cryptid," that is, a creature whose existence has been attested to by various "eyewitnesses" (and which is widely believed in by the general public) but is still not recognized by establishment science. The pesky thing about cryptids is that it's logically impossible to prove a negative, so no matter how much huffing and puffing the experts do, they can't state with 100 percent certainty that the Loch Ness Monster doesn't exist.

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The First Reported Sighting of Nessie Was During the Dark Ages

A medieval dragon

 Wikimedia Commons

Way back in the 7th century AD, a Scottish monk wrote a book about St. Columba, who (a century before) had supposedly stumbled upon the burial of a man who had been attacked and killed by a "water beast" in the vicinity of Loch Ness. The trouble here is, even the learned monks of the early Dark Ages believed in monsters and demons, and it's not uncommon for lives of the saints to be sprinkled with supernatural encounters. 

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Popular Interest in the Loch Ness Monster Exploded in the 1930s

Urquhart Castle beside Loch Ness in Scotland, UK.
Urquhart Castle beside Loch Ness in Scotland, UK.

bukki88 / Getty Images

Let's fast-forward—or slow-forward—13 centuries, to the year 1933. That's when a man named George Spicer claimed to have seen a huge, long-necked, "most extraordinary form of animal" slowly crossing the road in front of his car, on its way back into Loch Ness. It's unknown if Spicer and his wife had partaken of a wee bit o' the creature that day, but his account was echoed a month later by a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant, who claimed that he narrowly avoided striking the beastie while out on a midnight drive. 

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The Most Famous Nessie Photograph Was an Out-and-Out Hoax

Famous Loch Ness monster photo

Matt84 / Gertty Images

A year after the eyewitness testimony of Spicer and Grant, a doctor named Robert Kenneth Wilson took the most famous "photograph" of the Loch Ness Monster: a dappled, undulating, black-and-white image showing the long neck and small head of a placid-looking sea monster. Though this photo is often adduced as incontrovertible evidence of Nessie's existence, it was proven to be a fake in 1975, and then once again in 1993. The giveaway is the size of the lake's surface ripples, which don't match the presumed scale of Nessie's anatomy.

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It's Extremely Unlikely That the Loch Ness Monster Is a Sauropod

swimming sauropods
A pair of submerged sauropods (Vladimir Nikolov).

After Robert Kenneth Wilson's famous photograph was published, the resemblance of Nessie's head and neck to that of a sauropod dinosaur did not go unnoticed. The problem with this identification is that sauropods were terrestrial, air-breathing dinosaurs; while swimming, Nessie would have to poke her head out of the water once every few seconds. (The Nessie-as-sauropod myth may have drawn on the 19th-century theory that Brachiosaurus spent most of its time in the water, which would help to support its massive weight.) 

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It's Also Unlikely That Nessie Is a Marine Reptile

An early depiction of Elasmosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Okay, so the Loch Ness Monster isn't a dinosaur; could it possibly be a type of marine reptile known as a plesiosaur? This isn't very likely, either. For one thing, Loch Ness is only about 10,000 years old, and plesiosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. For another thing, marine reptiles weren't equipped with gills, so even if Nessie were a plesiosaur, she'd still have to surface for air numerous times every hour. And there simply isn't enough food in Loch Ness to support the metabolic demands of a 10-ton descendant of elasmosaurus!

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The Loch Ness Monster Simply Doesn't Exist

Loch Ness without any monsters
Loch Ness without any monsters.

Ivan / Getty Images

You can see where we're going with this. The primary "evidence" we have for the Loch Ness Monster's existence consists of a pre-medieval manuscript, the eyewitness testimony of two Scottish motorists (who may well have been drunk at the time, or lying to divert attention from their own reckless behavior), and a forged photograph. All of the other reported sightings are completely unreliable, and despite the best efforts of modern science, absolutely no physical trace of the Loch Ness Monster has ever been found.

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Plenty of People Make Money Off the Loch Ness Myth

A Loch Ness tourist boat

 Adventures in Edinburgh

Why does the Nessie myth persist? At this point, the Loch Ness Monster is so intimately tied up with the Scottish tourist industry that it's in no one's best interest to pry into the facts too closely. The hotels, motels and souvenir stores in the vicinity of Loch Ness would go out of business, and well-meaning enthusiasts would have to find another way to spend their time and money, rather than walking around the rim of the lake with high-powered binoculars and gesticulating at suspicious ripples.

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TV Producers Love the Loch Ness Monster

The truth behind the loch ness monster

National Geographic

You can bet that if the Nessie myth were on the brink of extinction, some enterprising TV producer, somewhere, would find a way to whip it up again. Animal Planet, National Geographic and The Discovery Channel all derive a good slice of their ratings from "what if?" documentaries about cryptids like the Loch Ness Monster, though some are more responsible with the facts than others (remember Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives?). As a general rule, you shouldn't trust any TV show that touts the Loch Ness Monster's bona fides; remember, it's all about money, not science.

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People Will Continue to Believe in the Loch Ness Monster

Cartoon of Nessie

clipartdotcom Getty Images

Why, despite all the indisputable facts detailed above, do so many people around the world continue to believe in the Loch Ness Monster? It's impossible to prove a negative; there will always be the slightest, most evanescent chance that Nessie really exists, and the skeptics will be proved wrong. But it seems to be intrinsic to human nature to believe in supernatural entities, a vast category that encompasses gods, angels, demons, the Easter Bunny, and, yes, our dear friend Nessie.