Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Patagonian Peccaries

Peccary distribution
Mapa showing current distribution of the peccary in America and its probable former distribution in Patagonia. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

Peccaries (Tayassuidae) are very similar to the Old World pigs (Suidae). They came to North America from Asia and then spread into South America some 3 Million years ago when north and south America joined.

It is an extremely adaptable animal and the fossil remains of a peccary have been found in the Great Lakes region of North America, the Platygonus compressus, which fed in the grasslands "near the edge of the glacier", that is, in a very cold and harsh climate. It also lived in South American during the Pleistocene. This Platygonus was the largest of all peccaries and had the size of an European wild boar. [1]

Patagonian Peccaries

¿Could it have lived in Patagonia at the end of the Last Ice Age?

Intriguingly, a source,[2] states that "Catagonus is a genera related to the Platygonus [...] which during the sixties has been found alive in Patagonia" . This is surprising since I have not found any records or references about it. Furthermore there are no peccaries in Patagonia nowadays.

Regarding the Catagonus (Catagonus wagneri) it was believed extinct until it was rediscovered in Paraguay in 1972. It is currently restricted to the dry Chaco region in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. [3] It is the largest surviving member of the peccary family and can weigh up to 35 kg (70 lb) and measure over 1 m (3.3 ft.) long. In its curent arid habitat it eats cacti.

No peccaries are found beyond this area. Well to the north of Patagonia. Nevertheless we have some clues that lead us to believe that they did inhabit Patagonia in relatively recent times. Lets see the proof:

  • The northern Tehuelche lived in the area between the rivers Chico and Chubut in the south to the Negro River in the north, and outside of Patagonia they could be found in La Pampa and the province of Buenos Aires, They had a word in their language to name the peccary: Olasiq. This word does not seem to have been taken from any other language and has no equivalent in Spanish or Mapuche it must therefore refer to a native "pig". It could also refer to wild or feral Old World pigs.[4]
  • In 1876, Francisco Moreno mentioned the "pachyderms" in the forests close to Lake Nahuel Huapi which he did not see, but based on the native's description thought they could be "forest pigs" or peccaries.[10]
  • In that same area, in 1862 Chilean explorer Guillermo Cox said he had noticed wild pigs on the shores of Limay River. [11]
  • The native path used by Tehuelches and Mapuches that joined Valcheta with the Negro River at Carmen de Patagones through San Antonio Oeste, was known as the "Pigs Road" ("Camino del Chancho").[6]

This seems to indicate the presence of peccaries, at least in northern Patagoina. I show this in the map (above) where in yellow I mark the current range of all peccary species and in green, only for Argentina, their probable distribution in until the ninetheenth century.

It is possible that they had extended their range into southern Patagonia because we have reports on pigs there:

Captain FitzRoy, commander of the HMS Beagle sailed along this region between 1826 y 1833, and recorded that the natives:

were much frightened by sheep and pigs. They would not land on a small island where some pigs were turned loose, and when talking of them, made signs that they had very big noses which alarmed them. When a pig was killed by the crew and part of it cooked, the natives refused even to taste the meat.[12]

Also at the straits of Magellan, in 1593 Sir Richard Hawkins reported something very similar to the pig-like tapir: “Hogs […] here we saw certaine Hogs, but they were so farre from us, that we could not discerne wether they were of those of the Countrey, or brought by the Spaniards”.[13]

Ned Chace, an american who lived in Patagonia between 18981 and 1930, also wrote about giant pigs in southern Patagonia (beyond 48°S):

A friend of his had followed a track [...] until he caught sight of what he took for a hairy pig as big as a bull. Just a glimpse he had. [14]


According to the jesuit father Strobel, in 1740 there was a taboo among the northern Tehuelches and the Pampas or Puelches:

They do not eat pork and asking one why, he answered that those animals had been at one time bad men that then became pigs. [7]

This is similar to a legend compiled by folklorist Bertha Koessler Ilg, which mentions the creation of pigs as a punishment for some men and additionally that for this reason their meat could not be eaten and that in summer: "your flesh will be harmfull because it is poisoned".[9] The Tehuelche myth in northern Patagonia is evidently of Mapuche origin (due to the Araucanization of the Tehuelche: the Mapuche progressively extended their influence eastwards towards the Pampas, and through war, trade and cattle rustling, absorbed and Araucanized the original Puelche inhabitants of Tehuelche blood during the eighteenth-and nineteenth-centuries).

But, in the deep south of Patagonia, the Aonikenk, towards the end of the nineteenth century, according to explorer Ramón Lista "Do not eat fish, nor pork. These two animals are considered disgusting, and show for them an insurmountable repugnance", which he believed was due to some taboo regarding their god Elal. [8] This aversion is very similar to the one mentioned by FitzRoy.

These myths may indicate a widespread animal similar to a pig within Patagonia.

We have found, besides the word Olasiq [4] mentioned above, another one, which according to Casamiquela, was used by the northern Tehuelche to name the peccary kúcha which he believed was due to the snorting sound it made.[6] I disagree with this interpretation. -It is clearly (see following image) that the word comes from the Mapuche language spoken at Chiloé (and apparently from Quechua too) who called the pig cuchi because it was the word used for dirt:

Cuchi chancho
Cuchi word used for pig in Chiloé. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

According to Casamiquela [5] the Mapuche called the collared peccary "sañwé" (pronounced shañwé). But again I believe he is mistaken as this is not a native word, father Augusta's dictionary [12] has an entry for "swine: sanchu, sañ:we", and the same for pig (in Spanish "chancho") [12] which is without doubt the word from which the Mapuche one comes from (chancho - sanchu), as both have the same sound. The word is of Spanish origin.

Tapir or peccary?

Why would the natives have a taboo against eating pork? (We will not suggest silly ideas such as the Patagonian natives belonged to the lost tribes of Israel -amusing and interesting which I may look into later).[16]

It is a question for which we do not have an answer, but it is likely that Patagonia was home to a big animal (the giant pig seen by Chace's friend), one that provoked fear in the natives (as mentioned by FitzRoy), a monstrous pig or something similar.

It is likely that there were no peccaries in Chile (that is why I did not paint Chile green in my map above), and that they only came into contact with the Spanish pigs after the conquest.

But the northern and southern Tehuelches did know a local native animal resembling a pig. Maybe it was a peccary, or it could have been some other animal such as a tapir.


[1] J. Alan Holman. (1995). Ancient life of the Great Lakes Basin: Precambrian to Pleistocene. University of Michigan Press. pp. 198
[2] Eudald Carbonell, (2005). Hominidos: Las primeras ocupaciones de los continentes. Editorial Ariel pp. 617
[3] Maffei, Leonardo, Cuellar, Rosa L. y Babegas, Jorge. Distribución del solitario (Catagonus wagneri) en Bolivia. Geographic distribution of Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri) in Bolivia. Ecología en Bolivia. [online]. ago. 2008, vol.43, no.2 , p.141-145.
[4] Mariano Martín Fernández El pecarí de collar. Chancho autóctono de La Pampa
[5] Casamiquela, R. (1968). Geonimia: obra mapa de La Pampa. Biblioteca Pampeana, pp. 25
[6] Relaciones de la Sociedad Argentina de Antropología, Volúmenes 8-10 (1974), Sociedad Argentina de Antropología. pp. 114-115.
[7] Furlong Cardiff, Guillermo (1938): Entre los pampas de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos San Pablo. pp. 97
[8] Lista, Ramón, (1998) Los Indios Tehuelches -Una Raza Que Desaparece. Ed. Confluencia. pp. 72
[9] Bertha Kössler-Ilg, Rolf Foerster, (2006). Cuenta el pueblo mapuche: Cuentos y fábulas. vol .iii. MN Editorial. pp 238
[10] Moreno F., (2007b). Exploración de la Patagonia Sur I-Por las cuencas del Chubut y el Santa Cruz: 1876. B. Aires: Continente pp. 73.
[11] Cox, G., (2006). Expedición de la Patagonia Norte: un viajero en el Nahuel Huapi: 1862-1863. B. Aires: Continente-Pax. pp. 194.
[12] FitzRoy, R., (1839). Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836… London: Henry Colburn.
v. ii. pp. 195 - 6.
[13] Purchas, S., [Comp], (1625). Haklvytvs posthumus or, Pvrchas… London: H. Fetherston. v. 4. pp. 1384.
[14] Le Moyne Barrett, R. y Barrett K., (1931). A Yankee in Patagonia, Edward Chace. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 29-30.
[15] Augusta, F., (1916). Diccionario Araucano - Español y Español - Araucano. Santiago. Impr. Univ. pp. 97 y 208.
[16] Bernardo Graiver, (1980). Argentina bíblica y biblónica: historia de la humanidad en la Argentina bíblica y biblónica. Editorial Albatros. Also see Enrique García Barthe (Online).

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

"Glacier Law" approved by Congress


The Argentine Senate approved the "Glacier Law" (Ley de Glaciares) which restricts mining activities in Argentina forcing it to be environmentally friendly.

The law which is more permissive than the original project passed by the Lower Chamber of Congress (Deputies) but still puts restraints on all open-pit mining in high mountain areas by or close to glaciers.

Now we must wait and see if the President vetoes the law or passes it.

Further reading

See Greenpeace Argentina's website page about the Glacier law (in Spanish), or in English, you can see the article posted at BBC's site.

Find out about the environmental problems that Patagonia faces.

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sarasola Cave, The lair of a Giant

My first post done simultaneously in English and Spanish.
Sarasola Cave map
Map of Sarasola Cave, Chubut. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

I stumbled across an excellent blog [1] which mentions a "giant's cave" close to the town of Sarmiento in the Argentine province of Chubut. It intrigued me and I read it expecting to find out about some extant Patagons, but no, it was a cave of something much more interesting:

This Cave or "tunnel" of Sarasola gets its name from the original owner of lot number 103, TomáS Sarasola.

It is a natural cave about 400 m (1,200 ft) long, located on a private property, Estancia Los Manantiales, some 45 km (21 mi.) west of the town of Sarmiento along Provincial Highway No. 20 on the way to Rio Mayo (see the map above).

It was discovered by a native named José Payalef circa 1913, its entrance (see the photographs at the website of Municipal Tourism Office of Sarmiento) is nearly oval and measures 3 m (9 ft.) by 2.5 m ( 8 ft.). It is set in the steppe.

The Giant

The Blog [1] quotes a text which I copy below:

"Old Indians say that some of their fathers knew an enormous giant that was four meters [12 ft.] tall and thick as an ox, which they did not know where it lived, but that they saw many times in the fields close to the cave. Today [ca. 1913] they believe without any doubts, that the giant lived in this cave, which they had not yet discovered by chance because the fields where it lies, lacks grass and water and for this reason not even the cattle went there.” / Sourceuente. Bernardo K. (1)

(1) Encuesta Nacional de Folklore. Ministerio de Educación. (1921). The story comes from the province of Entre Ríos. The surname of the informant is not clearly legible but on the story it figures that during the year of the survey, 1921, he was secretary of the School of Arts and Trades in the town of Victoria.

This survey, was the National Folkloric Survey of 1921 and is filed at the Library Juan Alfonso Carrizo of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano (National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought).[2]

It is a collection of handwritten documents which gathered prose, poetry and even music in an attempt to preserve traditional floklore. It was compiled by teachers all over the country. I am programming a visit to the library and museum to read the original text, and will post the outcome of my research.

The description that the local natives made in the early XXth century is not that of a giant person, so we must dismiss the "Patagon". However it seems to me that they are speaking about an extant megafaunal animal, which should have become extinct some ten thousand years ago.

In this blog, I have posed about the possibility that extant megafaunal animals have been the source of several myths (i.e Ellengassen, the glyptodont and the mylodon). In this case, the size of the creature (four meters long and big as an ox) seems to corroborate this hypothesis.

Furthermore it may even be the "lake animal" spotted at the nearby Lake Colhue Huapi.


[1] Martelli, Gastón. Geografía Mítica del Territorio Argentino
[2] Biblioteca Juan Alfonso Carrizo
[3] Turismo Municipio de Sarmiento

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Spanish version of my blog


Spanish version of my blog. Today I began publishing this blog in Spanish. I had noticed that there are several readers from Spanish speaking countries (my own, Chile, Spain and Latin American countries) and frankly speaking, a software translation of my contents ruins it.

So, as Blogger is not versatile to allow two languages in the same blog, I decided to add a second blog Monstruos de la Patagonia which will be linked to this English blog by the footer of each post and, at the top of the left menu bar. This will allow readers to go from one to the other smoothly.

The url of the new blog is:

My first post is in Spanish, and I will not translate it, it is just an introduction to my blog and its purpose, and if you are interested, you can read it here.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chile bicentennial 1810-2010

Chile bicentennial
Chile's Bicentennial Logo. Online Site (in Spanish)

During 2010, Chile also celebrates its bicentennial. My congratulations and best wishes to our Chilean neighbors during this year!

The Junta which had been convened by the senior military leader in Chile, Mateo de Toro y Zambrano (as the Spanish Governor, Francisco Antonio García Carrasco Díaz had resigned earlier), assumed control of the government on September 18, 1810.

This put an end to Spanish rule in Chile, though Royalists would defeat the patriots and regain control in 1814.

Finally, after a brilliant military campaign in early 1817, Chile became an independent nation on February 12, 1818.

You can also read my post on Argentina's bicentennial.

Un abrazo cordial a todo Chile en el año de su bicentenario

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lake Vintter an update

Today I received a comment on my post on Nahuelito which I thank, and copy below:

In Lago Wynter South of Esquel some soldiers were crossing the lake and they just disappeared but their boat was found cut in half by some enormous animal. Here in Australia Rex Gilroy has written a book in which he talks about people disappearing off boats in the Hawkesbury River North of Sydney. He says that the men that paint the bridge have seen plesiosauruses in the river from the bridge. I knew Hilda and Bill Rumboll very well and I lived in Bariloche during 9 years. I never saw Nahuelito but I must say around the Huemul area there were very strange energies.

The comment about lake Vintter is interesting, I have posted about it before, but I have not been able to find any
references about this incident involving soldiers. If anyone has more details (i.e. year it happened or if it was in Argentina or Chile -lake is called Palena over there), I would appreciate it.

Regarding Bariloche, yes, it is a great place and Huemul arm of the Nahuel Huapi Lake is quite impressive: sheer faces on its southern side, deep windy waters and high towering mountains to the north. We go there to fish in summer (not very lucky though) a photograph is shown below (taken in Feb.2008, Paso Coihue, where Nahuelito was seen ca. 1910, can be seen in the middle of the photograph, at the end of the Huemul arm and Huemul Peninsula is on the right side of the image):

Huemul Arm, Nahuel Huapi Lake
Huemul Arm, Lake Nahuel Huapi, Río Negro, Argentina. Copyright © 2008 by Austin Whittall

See the following map of Lake Nahuel Huapi which shows Coihue Pass and Huemul Arm.

Thank you for commenting my posts and giving me new ideas for future research!

If any of my readers has more information on the Vintter incident, please mail me or comment below. Thanks!

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Sabretooth "Cats" and Patagonian monsters


As promised in my previous post on walruses - Iemisch and sabretooth cats, I did my reading last night and can conclude that: (1) yes, there were sabretooth cats in Patagonia (one of which was not a cat but ia cat-like marsupial) and (2) it is unlikely that they are the Iemisch though they may, if still alive, be some other Patagonian monster (i.e. the water tiger, if and when Iemisch and water tiger are not the same animal, though I believe they are one and the same).

Patagonian sabretooth "cats"

The real felid, the Smilodon populator whose remains seem to have been found among the bones collected at at the “Mylodon Cave” (see my post on Mylodon) as disclosed by recent analysis of old collections (Barnett et al. 2005 and Massone 1996).[1][2]

Then we have the "false" sabretooth cats, the Thylacosmilids. They were predators that became extinct during the Pliocene Epoch, and were large, as big as modern pumas. They had short tails and lived in South America since the Miocene (some 15 Million years ago) and, as most of the marsupials in South America, they were displaced by the later arrivals which were placental (i.e. the smilodons) about 1 Million years ago, becoming extinct.

Thylacosmilids were not "cats" (which are placental mammals), they were marsupials (like the kangaroo, and their young developed after birth in their mother's pouch), fierce carnivores with pouches!

Their name in Greek means "pouch knife" due to their long long upper fangs (15 cm – 6 in.) which rested against their chins, of solid bone, which had flanges thad guided and protected these big yet fragile canines. Unlike felines, Tylacosmilids lacked incisors, their teeth cheek were marsupial.

Smilodons (Greek for “knife teeth”) on the other hand lived well into the Late Pleistocene (about 10,000 years B.P.). They were real cats: the feline ancestry of Smilodon has been confirmed by DNA, and were about 1.2 m (4 ft.) long they had Short tails (bold font mine: this makes them unlikely candidates for our “Walrus” because the image (here) shows a long tailed beast) and enormous upper canines (walrus-like) about 18 cm (7 in.) long (but could reach 25 cm or 10 in).

These big “cats” one marsupial and the other placental were virtually identical to each other despite having different origins. This is a clear example of converging evolution, where a good design is repeated again and again because it is the most suitable one. Similar converging evolutionary examples can be found in: the shark (fish), ichtiosaur (reptile) and dolphin (mammal) as marine animals or, in the pteranodon (reptile), birds and bats (mammals) as flying animals.


Getting back to our Sabre teeth, what made them disappear?

They became extinct with all the megafauna at the end of the Last Ice Age. Perhaps the irruption of humans in America tipped the predator-prey balance and led to their demise, or the climate changes could have also affected them. It is still an unsolved question.

The short tail, has a superficial resemblance to the lynx or bob-cat’s tail, but the similarity ends there. They were stocky, had short limbs and do not seem to have been built to run after them. They must have stalked them and ambushed them. Using their massive bodies to push and pin down their prey, which they would hold down with their big paws and then, as its horrid teeth were quite fragile, they must have just used them to bite and cause a dreadful wound. They hunted statically, not “on the run”. Perhaps this specialized hunting mode led to their extinction. [3]


Both of these cats lived in Patagonia, and there is a faint chance that they may have survived and lived on to frighten the natives and became incorporated into their myths.

As I said at the beginning of this post, they may be reflected in the "Water Tiber" myth or even in the "Iemisch" myth, however I disagree because their short tails are very unlike the long tailed being that the Iemisch is supposed to be or, the long tailed nguruvilu fox-snake.

[1] Barnett, R., Barnes, I., et al. (2005). Evolution of the extinct Sabretooths and the American cheetah-like cat. Current Biology. vol 15. No 15.
[2] Massone, M. (1996). Hombre temprano y paleoambiente en la región de Magallanes: evaluación crítica y perspectivas. Anales del Insituto de la Patagonia 24:81–97. P. Arenas
[3] McHenry et al. (2007). Supermodeled sabercat, predatory behavior in Smilodon fatalis revealed by high-resolution 3D computer simulation . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 16010-16015. 10.1073/pnas.0706086104.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Walrus or Iemisch? or a sabretooth?

In a recent post I suggested that an image by was a Patagonian Walrus, but I thought it over and I believe that it may be a Iemisch (the creature's tail is long and very unlike that of a walrus. Furthermore it seems more like an otter -look at its paws- than a warlus.

Then one of my blog's readers suggested that it may be a sabre-toothed cat. Which is a very interesting and reasonable idea: the long fangs are definitively similar to those of a smilodon sp., and furthermore if, as I have suggested the iemisch is a water tiger, it may even be an extant smilodon.
That is, the smilodon may be a water tiger.

In all honesty, I have not seriously considered the smilodons as potential candidates to explain Patagonian cryptids, and my book just mentions them as part of the region's megafauna.

I will do some reading and look into smilodons (in Patagonia, Chile, Argentina and South America). The outcome of this research will be published here. We may find something new or interesting.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Giants and the Dragon Tail

Pigafetta remarked in his chronicle about Magellan’s cirumnavigation of the globe: “the Captain General, who knew that he must make his passage through a strait much concealed, as was seen in the treasury of the King of Portugal, in a chart made by that most excellent man Martin de Bohemia”. Below is the original Italian text:

Il Capitano Generale che sapeva de dove fara la sua navigazione per uno streto moldo ascoso, como vite ne la thesoraria del re de Portugal in una carta fata per quello excelentissimo huomo Martin de Boemia, &c.

This mysterious map seen by Magellan was mentioned again by Antonio de Galvao, who was governor of the Portuguese colony in the Eastern Indies in the 1530s. In his later years, he wrote a history on the Portuguese voyages of discovery, and in it, included a very strange passage:

in the year of 1428, they said that the Crown Prince dom Pedro […] was in Roma & Venice, [and] brought from there a Map of the World that had the whole of the Earth & the Strait of Magellan was called Dragon Tail…[2]

The Dragon Tail

Apparently this was the map seen by Magellan.

This Cola do dragam as Galvao called it appears in several world maps drawn between 1440 and 1489 (well before Columbus set sail to discover America in 1492). They all display a peninsula on Asia that named the Dragon’s Tail.

Historians Paul Gallez and Dick Edgar Ibarra Grasso analyzed the maps and built a convincing case suggesting that this peninsula is actually America.

The 1448 map of Benedictine monk Andreas Walsperger bears on the southern tip of the Dragon’s Tail (where Patagonia would be), an inscription that reads “Hic sunt gigantes pugnantes cum draconius”—here live giants who fight against dragons. Gallez interpreted this as an allusion to the Patagons hunting enormous sea elephants.[1]

The 1470 Zetiz world map carries a virtually identical legend (“Homines gigantes pugrant cum draconibus”).

The Nova Cosmographia per totum circulum map reconstructed by the scholar Dana Durand from a manuscript compiled by Brother Fredericus ca. 1450, has the legend “dy Risen vechten und streiten wider dy lint wurm”—Giants fighting and quarreling against the lindworm [*] ; once again a reference to giants and ‘dragons’. The image below shows a detail of this map and the text:

Dragon Tail and Giants

[*] Note on the Lindworm: A wingless dragon of Northern Europe, from Swedish ‘lind’ (flexible body) and ‘orm’ (serpent).

The giants and Patagonia

These coincidences confirm that giants were not something made up by the mid-fifteenth-century cartographers; they were considered as a geographical fact and as such were recorded on their maps.

It is quite likely that Magellan may have seen one of these maps or a copy of them, and known that by sailing down the Dragon’s Tail he would reach the land of giants, by the strait. This foreknowledge would have provided a framework into which the Patagons would neatly fit, and be pronounced as ‘giants’ when encountered by Magellan’s expedition.


The question that will remain unanswered: who drew the original map? Who was the navigator who crossing the Atlantic charted Patagonia's wild coast and put it on a map later redrawn by all these cartographers?

I am not inclined to believe that they were the Chinese as Menzies suggests in his book 1421. Maybe a covert Portuguese expedition in the early 1400s? After all, there is some speculation about Brazil's early discovery (before 1492). [3]


[1] Gallez, P., (1981). Walsperger and His Knowledge of the Patagonian Giants, 1448. Imago Mundi 33 (1981): 91-93. And (1980). Los gigantes de Patagonia en la cartografía medieval. Revista de la Universidad Nacional del Centro 10/11, 141-147. Tandil (Argentina).
[2] Galvao, Antonio. (1731) Tratado dos Descubrimientos Antigos E Modernos. Livraria Civilização Editora, 1987. pp. 77.
[3] Time Magazine. Archaeology: Before Columbus or the Vikings. Friday, May. 24, 1968

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Patagonian Walrus

Patagonian walrus
Natives and animals at the Strait of Magellan ca. 1605. From [1]

Above is a series of images from a book by Dutch traveller and explorer Jan Huyghen van Linschoten [1563-1611], which depicts some natives and weird animals found at the Strait of Magellan. In 1598 he piloted the Dutch fleet on its first voyage by the South-West Passage (of Magellan's Straits) to India, so he really saw what is depicted in his book.

It is remarkable because the upper part shows a seal-like animal with a long thin tail and two sharp walrus-like fangs jutting out of its mouth. The caption says "animal of the Strait of Magellan".

The central part shows a man and a woman which are described as "Magellaneis" (native to Magellan's Strait).

The bottom part of the image shows two men kneeling in front of an idol with horns and snakes protruding from its head. The caption is quite illegible, and I am not sure it shows Fuegians or Aonikenk natives because it seems to say "Lapons" (Laps), and Linschoten did sail to Lapland (northern Scandinavia and Russia) in the late 1590s. So maybe they are not Patagonian natives.


Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) are animals that live in the Arctic areas of Asia and America, along its northernmost reaches, in the Arctic Sea and also in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its long tusks and massive body are the two features which distinguish it.


They evolved in the North Pacific some 18 Million years ago and may have extended their range to Northern Mexico and California. Some 5 to 8 Million years ago, they spread into the Atlantic Ocean through the Central American Seaway, which was a channel that linked the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans when North and South America had not yet joined. [2]

Could these primitive odobenids have moved into the Southern Hemisphere colonizing its coasts with the other southern seals? I have not found any references mentioning walruses in the South Atlantic, or outside of its current northern circumpolar habitat.

There have been historical records which report sightings of walruses in southern England, Ireland, Germany, Netherland, Spain, Belgium and New England (U.S.).[3] So they could have drifted southwards across the Equator into the South Atlantic.

Patagonian walrus?

There may be proof of this in old accounts about Patagonian "Horned" sea creatures, which I had assumed were descriptions of terrestrial cow or bull-like creatures frolicking in the sea. But they may actually describe a walrus-like sea mammal (if instead of "horns" we take them for "tusks"). These animals were reported in Chiloé in Northern Patagonia and also in Tierra del Fuego (right beside the Strait of Magellan). Perhaps they do refer to the same creature, which nowadays is probably extinct.

Whale Walrus

Yet there was a strange whale or dolphin-like creature that looked like a walrus which lived in the Southern Hemisphere about 4 or 5 Million years ago, the Obenocetops peruvianus. Its remains have been found in Peru (in the Pisco Formation of Early Pliocene age), and the animal's reconstruction is strikingly similar to a walrus:[4]

peruvian walrus
Odobenocetops peruvianus Whale-Walrus. From [4]

Another very similar species was discovered also by Muzion in 1999 [5], in the same area, and the same period but is about 1 Million years younger, the Odobenocetops leptodon (its image can be seen below):

odobenocetops leptodon
Odobenocetops (Museum of Natural History, Washingon, DC). By Mary Parrish From [5]

Its tusks point backwards instead of downwards as in walruses.

Note that none of these animals have the snake-like tail of the "Fuegian Walrus" shown in the first image.


[1] Memoria Chilena, Portal de la Cultura de Chile. Histoires de la navigations. Jean Hugues de Linschot .../ avec annottations de B. Laludanus. 3eme ed. augm. 1689. 522 p., [22] h. with plates.
[2] Annalisa Berta, James L. Sumich, Kit M. Kovacs, (2006). Marine mammals: evolutionary biology. Academic Press. pp. 124.
[3] Ronald M. Nowak, (1999). Walker's mammals of the world. JHU press, vol.1, pp. 862.
[4] Christian de Muizon, (1993). Odobenocetops Peruvianus: Una Remarcable Convergencia De Adaptación Alimentaria Entre Morsa Y Delfín. Bull. Inst. fr. études andines 1993, 22 (3): 671-683
[5] Muizon, C. de, D. P. Domning & M. Parrish, (1999). Dimorphic tusas and adaptive strategies in a new species of walrus-like dolphin (Odobenocetopsidae) from the Pliocene of Peru. Comptes-rendus de l’Academie des Sciences, Paris, Sciences de la Terre et des Planetes 329:449-455.

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comparative sizes different beasts

comparative sizes Patagonian cryptids
Comparative sizes, man, tapir, bison, giant otter, spectacled bear. Adapted from [1]

Relative sizes of some of the creatures mentioned in this blog. In different posts I have mentioned these real animals suggesting that they could be the explanation for or the source of some of Patagonia's mythical beasts. These are, from left to right:

- Mountain Tapir
- American Bison
- Giant River Otter
- Spectacled Bear


[1] I Combined and adapted different sketches from National Geographic site.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

One Year Online!

33600 page loads
Over 33,600 hits in one year. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

One year has gone by since I began posting on Patagonian monsters! and during this period, since September 2009, these pages have been loaded over thirty three thousand times!

Thank you for your support!

By the way, the book which was the reason I made this blog, is finished, and I translated it into Spanish (I wrote it in English), and if all goes as expected, it should be published by the end of the year. I will keep you posted.


Patagonian Monsters Book
The Book. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Chono and their "big woolly dogs"

chono dogs
"Big woolly dogs" and "blond indians". From [1]

Reading, always reading, I found a comment regarding Chono dogs. It was written by a catholic priest, Juan Bautista Ferrufino who visited the area (as a missionary) in 1611 and again in 1613.

He wrote that those who lived on the "Guaiteca Island" knitted coarse clothes from the wool and for this purpose they did not use goats or sheep or llama wool (like the Incas and the Andean cultures did), they used something very unusual; they:

Breed some big woolly dogs, which they shear in time and with that wool they knit their clothing [1]

He added that "they have blond hair", a very strange feature since all American natives have jet black hair. Perhaps it may be due to intermixing with foreign sailors (i.e. English or Dutch). Or could it be due to intercourse with the inhabitants of the mythical City of Caesars?

The fact that their dogs were "big" and "wooly" may indicate some relationship with the Andean wolf or the oop, which according to the natives of Northern Patagonia had a long shaggy coat: "the wool that covers it is like that of a sheep, a span or more in length, very soft and of a bright yellow color".

Now, the neatness of this is upset by another chronicler, Francisco Cortes Ojea, who in 1558 stated that:

they dress in wool of some small woolly dogs they breed [2]

So, big dogs or small dogs?. Maybe both. Did Ferrufino and Ladrillero meet the same natives? A mystery that, alas, will remain unsolved because both Chonos and their dog are extinct.


[1] Martinić Beros, Mateo (2005). De la Trapananda al Áysen: una mirada reflexiva sobre el acontecer de la Región de Aysén desde la prehistoria hasta nuestros días. Pehuén Editores. pp. 38+
[2] Gay, Carlos (1852). Historia física y política de Chile: segun documentos adquiridos en esta republica durante doze años de residencia en ella y publicada bajo los auspicios del Supremo Gobierno, Univ. de Gante. vol.2 pp. 96.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Patagonia Day - October 11 and the Welsh Dragon

Patagonia Day
October 11, Patagonia Day.

Soon, on October 11th we will commemorate the "Día de la Patagonia" (Patagonia Day).

The date was chosen because on that same day, in 1878, the Argentine Congress passed the law N° 954 that created the "Gobernación de la Patagonia", a National Territory that covered all Patagonia, from the Negro and Neuquén rivers to Cape Horn, with the Andes to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

It marked the formal inclusion of this vast territory as part of Argentina.

After the military campaigns against the Mapuche groups in La Pampa (Ranqueles and Neuquén (Pehuenches, Picunches, Manzaneros the northern parts of Patagonia were occupied between 1879 and 1881) and cities sprung up along the coast and further inland. In 1884 another law was approved which split up the Patagonian Territory into its current provinces (in those days they were National Territories as they lacked population and resources to be autonomous provinces): Río Negro, Neuquén, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego.

Welsh in Patagonia

Further south, since 1865, there was a Welsh colony authorized by the Argentine government located at the mouth of the Chubut River, and in Santa Cruz, a small settlement had been established by Luis Piedrabuena at the mouth of the Santa Cruz River.

The Welsh had arrived looking for tolerance and the Argentine authorities granted them the land they needed. They are an estimated 25,000 members in the Welsh-Argentine community in Patagonia of which between 1,500 and 5,000 still speak Welsh.

The flag adopted by the Welsh community in Chubut is shown below, it blends the Welsh red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch)with the Argentine flag. So, here we have a new "Dragon" for our list of Patagonian creatures, one which came from Wales.

So on October 11th, as my fellow countrymen of Welsh origin may say: "Welcome to Patagonia" (in Welsh: croeso i Patagonia).

welsh patagonians flag
Patagonian Welsh Flag.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dwarf at Gualicho Cave?


Gualicho Cave
Rock Art at Gualicho Cave. Dwarfs?. The black and white image is from [1]

Gualicho Cave is located by the shore of Lake Argentino about 10 km (6 mi) east of the town of Calafate in Santa Cruz province, Argentina, (50°17’ S, 72°10’ W) . It was discovered by chance by Francisco Moreno in the 1870s when he explored the area. He named it Gualicho, after the evil spirit of the Mapuche natives. The name is not the one given to it by the local Aonikenk. In it he found the mummified remains of a native which can be seen at the La Plata Science Museum.

It has ancient (about ten thousand years old) rock art. The example shown above is an interesting one.

The colored one (below)shows two figures, with three digits on their feet and three fingers on their hands. Salesian priest Manuel Jesús Molina believed that these were depictions of the fuegian monkey (Yosi), because they were drawn to show movement just like monkeys. He included other images (above in black and white) which are tailed, and one of them has three fingers.

I will quote Molina extensively below:

On a rock wall at Gualichu Point at Lake Argentino are some humanoid paintings of a faded purple color which may depict these fuegopithecus. They are drawings totally different from others of human hunters like the hunting scenes of the upper Pinturas River or in the dancing scenes at Charcamac Gully.

In one of them it is sitting on its legs [...] with its arms open like making signs with its hands. In others it is seen in the ungainly position it adopted while it walked [...] what can not be seen in these figures is the weapon the fuegian monkey used to attack or defend itself.

The small figure in the colored image, on the right has a tail (though it could be a young boy and what hangs between his legs may be his penis not a tail). The three digits may be a stylized way of depicting people. Hard to tell after ten thousand years!

Now, if it is a dwarf, it may be Tachwull, the aonikenk dwarf and not Yosi, the Fuegian monkey.


[1] Molina, M., (1973). El yóshil o mono fueguino. Karukinká. B. Aires. v.1:10-14.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Volcanos and the city of dwarves

volcanoes Southern Patagonia
Volcanoes in Southern Patagonia. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall. [4]

Aonikenk Chief Papon, who died a poor drunkard in 1892, had been in his heyday the supreme Chief of all the native groups that lived between the Santa Cruz River and the Strait of Magellan.[1]

At the end of his life he was so poor that he sold at Punta Arenas a set of boleadoras that he believed were made of brass but were actually pure gold.

When asked about where he found the nuggets, Papon said that he found them by an ancient city that was buried under the recent lava flows of a nearby volcano (some believed that the city was the famous lost City of Caesars, mentioned in the previous chapter). This city, according to Papon was inhabited by dwarfs. [1]

His tribe occupied the area by Dinamarquero River and being nomads could also be found in the “interior zones of Ultima Esperanza” and after Papon’s death, at Valle del Zurdo. [2] I have marked these three areas with “light blue dots” on the map above.

The city that he mentions must have been located in that area, and the volcano that erupted near it, must be one of the active volcanoes shown within the “green triangle” on my map.

The volcanoes are marked with black triangles and the lava fields are shaded blue.

Some active Patagonian volcanoes
In Argentina:

Viedma Volcano (49°21.5', 73°17'). Argentina, Santa Cruz. 1500 m .
Erupted in 1988 and is located under the ice sheet of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields Northwest of Lake Viedma. It has four large craters or calderas.[3] I doubt that this volcano could be the one mentioned by Papon.

Pali Aike Basalt Field (52°0', 70°0'). Argentina, Santa Cruz and also in Chile. 282 m.
It covers 3,000 km2 (1,170 sq.mi.) of basalt fields of “modern origin” (that is in a geological sense, as they date to Pleistocene or Holocene times). The youngest flows are in the Southeastern tip of the field.[3]

The name in Aonikenk language means "country of the devil" and shows that they feared this area. It is protected by a Chilean National Park.

Regarding this field, Musters during his trip through Pali Aike in 1869, remarked that they had probably been formed not too long ago and was told by chief Casimiro (of the Aonikenk) about an active volcano belonging to that range whose eruption shook the ground and knocked down the natives’ tents and poisoned the water of some stream close to it. This may be Diablo volcano which has had “recent activity”.[5]

Another report by the Chilean authorities based in Punta Arenas, dated 1847, stated that these same Indians (among which was Casimiro) reported an active volcano which has been identified as Mount Burney. Which “made the earth shake continuously”.[5]

This seems to be a likely candidate for Papon's volcano.

Some recently recorded eruptions of Chilean volcanoes (there is a blank before the 1870s though as there were no settlements in the area): [5]

- Lautaro (49°01’S, 73°33’W) Chile, 1878-79, 1934-35, 1959-60, 1995, 1998.
- Burney (52°29’S, 73°24’W) Chile, 1910, 1970. ca. 3970 and 1500 BP
- Diablo (52°07’S, 73°24’W) not older than 15000 BP.
- Aguilera (50°20’S, 73°45’W) Chile, ca. 6300, 3345 BP
- Reclus (50°57’S, 73°35’W) Chile, ca. 14990 and 3345 BP

Any of these or even the Cerro del Fraile basalt field could have erupted in historic times and be remembered by Papon. However I am inclined to believe that we can reduce our search to Diablo volcano or to some small flows in the Basalt Fields close to Papon's tribal range.

I will keep researching on this matter and also look into lost cities in that area.

The original quote on Papon's city (23. Sept. 2010)

Below I copy the translated text regarding Papon's city.

the Aonikenk chief had told, with signs and words, about the existence of a city squashed by the volcanic lavas of very old eruptions. Besides, rcent eruptions completely covered the remains that until shortly before, marked the evident signs of the buried city. At the site indicted as the city's layout, chief Papon had picked up the piece of gold used to make his boleadora [...] there in the area that Papon had pointed out, was a site where fruit trees had been planted, and many have gathered petrified fruits [1]

Comments and possible "cities"

As you can see, the text states that the city was buried not once but twice (once long ago, the other burial recent). The petrified fruits and the fruit trees are interesting and may indicate a failed European colony.

But there were only two settlements in the area, both by Sarmiento de Gamboa, the failed Port Famine -actually its name was "Rey Felipe" close to current Punta Arenas, and "Nombre de Jesús" at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan, at Cape Virgenes.

There was another failed attempt to settle the Straits, and it was attempted by Captain de Gennes, under the auspices of the French crown in 1696. His fleet of six vessels however returned from the Straits without establishing a settlement.

It is noteworthy that the Spanish towns (1584) did plant some crops and also "vines and quince and other plants brought from Rio de Janeiro". Later, in 1699, Gouin de Beauchesne, a Frenchman, "sowed some seeds [...] which grew into healthy and vigorous plants" (we do not know if they were fruit trees or just garden vegetables. [6] Could these be the origin of the fruit trees mentioned by Papon?

What is a city?

We should consider what Papon would consider as a city. He had seen Punta Arenas (then a very small town - actually a village) but he had also been to Buenos Aires which at the time was a very big city with over one million inhabitants. The natives lived in mobile camps, with tents (toldos) made from sown guanaco skins. The mere notion of a town implies that its inhabitants were not Indians.

So, setting aside the absurd notion of Templar knights in Patagonia, or survivors of Atlantis, then the inhabitants of this city must have been Europeans perhaps shipwrecked survivors of some of the expeditions that explored the region and never returned home (i.e. Bishop of Plasencia).

In fact, this was believed true by the Spanish conquistadors, who believed that there was a mysterious city of Caesars in Patagonia. I will post on this enigmatic legend soon.

Last but not least, the "city" may have been some camp of rival natives that lived in the region maybe in caves and were destroyed by the eruption of a volcano (this is reflected in the Tachwull myth, dwarves who died in a cataclysm or the Chelep cave men.


There seems to be a lot of quotes based on articles published by Mateo Martinic Beros. Well I guess it is due to the fact that he has written many papers about the Strait of Magellan's history.

[1] Martinic B, Mateo, (2007). Los Cesares De La Patagonia, ¿Otra Fuente Indígena Para La Leyenda O Una Hasta Ahora Desconocida Creación Del Imaginario Aónikenk?Magallania, (Chile), 2007. Vol. 35(2)7-14.
[2] Martinic B, Mateo, (1995). Los Aonikenk Historia y Cultura. Punta Arenas: Vanic, Punta Arenas. pp. 153
[3] Grupo de Estudio y Seguimiento de Volcanes Activos. University of Buenos Aires.
[4] Map by Austin Whittall ©, based on Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, Chile and pp. 166 of The geology of Chile, Teresa Moreno, Geological Society, 2007.
[5] Martinic B, Mateo, (2008). Registro Historico de Antecedentes Volcanicos y Sismicos en la Patagonia Austral y La Tierra del Fuego. Magallania, Punta Arenas, v. 36, n. 2, nov. 2008.
[6] Martinic B, Mateo, (2000). El establecimiento de la agricultura en Magallanes (1843-1880). Historia (Santiago) v.33 Santiago.
[7] Payró Roberto, (2008). La Australia Argentina. Biblio Bazaar. pp. 97.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More on Patagonian Bears

Cave Bear
Arctotherium at Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

A bit more information on Patagonian Bears. Last weekend while visiting the lovely colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento in neighboring Uruguay (a UNESCO World Heritage site), I spotted a statue that reproduces an Arctotherium in the garden of one of the town's museums, and took the photograph posted above.

A terrible beast that could weigh up to 1,200 kg (2,650 lb), it would have been a formidable predator (and, like most modern bears, it ate insects, fruits, and carrion snatched from other predators).

It was the biggest predator on the whole planet at the end of the last Ice Age and, was the biggest bear that ever existed (larger even than polar bears, which do not weigh more than 1,000 kg - 2,200 lb.). It was also the world's southernmost bear.

Then, quite suddenly it became extinct about ten thousand years ago. Perhaps due to the fact that its megafaunal prey became extinct too or, maybe because humans who had come on the scene at about the same time, hunted it to death.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Big Birds - Surviving Terror Birds

extant seriema
Red Legged Seriema. From [1]

The closest living relatives of the Terror Birds are the (much smaller) seriemas, which live in the southernmost regions of South America.

The seriemas are the only surviving members of the ancient family Cariamidae which dates back to nearly 63 million years, and which comprised the Terror Birds.

They can be found in northern and central Argentina, though not in Patagonia.

There are only two species, the Red Legged Seriema (Cariama cristata) and the Black Legged Seriema (Chunga burmeisteri). Both measure about 75 to 90 cm tall (30 to 35 inches. Omnivorous, they also eat snakes, frogs, small mammals and insects.

The Black Legged Seriema runs quickly (60 km/h - 37 mph) and only flies if forced to, and then, only for a short distance.

Their monstrous relatives

Imagine their prehistoric relatives, monsters that weighed up to 40 kg (88 lb.) and were about 1,40 m tall (5 ft.), who eat large sized mammals competing with the Sabre tooth cat!.

A recent paper [1] indicates that one of these terror birds, the Andalgalornis steulletiits "bite's strength" was smaller than expected and that it must have it "applied multiple well-targeted strikes in a repetitive attack-and-retreat strategy" or restrained its prey -though it lacked claws. Its big but hollow beak could not withstand lateral shaking so the bird pecked with repeated boxer-like blows at its victim (see an image here).


[1] Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled
[2] Degrange FJ, Tambussi CP, Moreno K, Witmer LM, Wroe S, (2010). Mechanical Analysis of Feeding Behavior in the Extinct “Terror Bird” Andalgalornis steulleti (Gruiformes: Phorusrhacidae). PLoS ONE 5(8): e11856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011856

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Sea Horse

sea horse

The Sea Horse is a cryptid mentioned at Chiloé Island. It is, according to Latcham [1] a creature that neighed strongly, foamed at its mouth and being very large, could fit up to twelve native wizards on its back.

Chilean explorer, Guillermo Cox wrote that one of his guides, Pedro Oyarsún had once seen a dead “sea horse” on the beach, “its mouth hurt by the bit, black and white [skin] and very short legs like those of a sea wolf”.[2]

In Latcham’s opinion, this creature was the native’s distorted view of a sea elephant (Macrorhinus leoninus) which was once abundant in Chile but had been hunted to extinction. The largest member of the seal family, its long snout—40 cm (16 in.) in length— could have seemed like a horn; its imposing size, up to 5 m (16.4 ft.) long and 4,000 kg (8,800 lb.) and aggressive behavior in males also resemble the fierceness and enormity of the sea horses.

Chilean hippopotamus. From [3]

The quote shown above, reads:

The sea horse is the same as the river horse or hippopotamus, which is found in the African rivers; it is different however in that it has a mane on its nape.[3]

He goes on to add that: "I did not have the chance to see the sea horse. Following the description of some who saw it under water, I thought that it was not different to the African hippopotamus. Later, others who have seen it out of the sea, have told me that it has roughly the height of a ordinary horse, which it colosely resembles in its head, tail and back.[3]"

And it is the second time that I find a reference about the strange Patagonian hippopotamus.


[1] Latcham, R., (1924). Op. Cit. pp. 611+
[2] Cox, G. Op. Cit. pp 70.
[3] José Toribio Medina. (1878) Colección de historiadores de Chile y documentos relativos a la historia nacional. Imprenta del Ferrocarril. Vol. 11. pp. 295. and 302

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Freshwater Plesiosaurs

Leptocleidus capensis. Online From [5]

In my previous post I said that Plesiosaurs would have had to adapt to the freshwater conditions of Patagonian lakes, which is not a simple feat for an animal that lived in the salty sea waters.

Salt water – Freshwater adaptation

In all aquatic creatures, the outer or external environment is separated from the creature’s cells by a membrane through which different substances move.

These membranes are of two kinds, one, at a cellular level, the other at an organism’s level (its skin).

Solutes (salts, minerals, etc.) are diluted in the solvent (water) in different concentrations. If a membrane separates them, the solutes will migrate across it from the area with higher concentration to the area with lower concentration.

So, salt water animals whose bodies have less salt diluted in their organisms in comparison to the sea water in which they live, must avoid dehydration (due to intake of salt from the environment). They tend to lose water and gain salt.

Freshwater fish on the other hand must avoid loss of salts (their blood and cells have a higher concentration than the surrounding freshwater).

Adapting to a freshwater environment

This is known as osmoregulation. If a marine animal moves into a freswater habitat, its regulating system would have to be reversed, a virtually impossible feat.
Look at sharks. They remove excess salt from their blood through their kidneys. They uptake water from the sea and eliminate the salt via urine. If they move into freshwater, they will absorb too much water and die.


Marine vertebrates evolved on land and their blood has a lower concentration than seawater. As these animals breathe air from the atmosphere their respiratory surfaces (unlike fish, whose gills are submerged in water) are not in contact with seawater. This, plus their “waterproof” skins, reduces the surface through which water loss can occur.

Yet they still lose water when excreting uric acid (reptiles do this, mammals excrete urea), and while breathing. They absorb salts through food or by drinking sea water. So they must solve the problem of losing water and up-taking too much salts.

Marine reptiles such as turtles, crocodiles, sea snakes, iguanas (and probably plesiosaurs) must drink seawater to keep alive. However they can not produce concentrated urine like fish do. To compensate, they must secrete salt and are equipped with special glands that do just that; they pump out the Chlorine ions from the animal’s bodies (the sodium ions follow suit).

Reptiles have difficulties in osmoregulating in freshwater because their skin is relatively impermeable it hampers the influx of water and the excretion of salts across it. Therefore they must produce dilute urine and reabsorb the salts in its urinary tract.

Freshwater plesiosaurs

However, it seems that there were freshwater plesiosaurs after all as some remains have been found in Australia[1], Canada[2] and South Africa [3] in non-marine strata.

The remains are mostly juvenile specimens, which suggests that these animals may have entered river mouths or coastal lagoons to escape from their predators. So their environment may have been marine and some died in a brackish/non-marine depositional environment.

Among these freshwater plesiosaurs is the Leptocleidus ( Greek for "thin clavicle"). This is an Early Cretaceous animal and is similar to more archaic reptiles. Some authors believe that it retained primitive features and that this was " a consequence of the freshwater, probably fluviatile, habitat of this Plesiosaur, which resulted in its leading a life sheltered from the great competition among the marine Plesiosaurs".[4] Leptocleidus was similar to a modern seal in size.

So, there is a very faint chance that some plesiosaur could have lived in freshwater and having survived until now, live in modern lakes. (Faint and I would like to add, virtually zero probability).


[1] Kear, Benjamin (2006). Plesiosaur remains from Cretaceous high-latitude non-marine deposits in Southeastern Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26, 196–199
[2] Vandermark, D., J. A. Tarduno, and D. B. Brinkman. (2006). Late Cretaceous Plesiosaur Teeth from Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut, Canada. Arctic. 59, no. 1: 79-82.
[3] Cruikshank, A. R. I. (1997). A lower Cretaceous Pliosauroid from South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum 105: 206-226.
[4] Andrews, C,W,. (1922). Description of a new plesiosaur from the Weald Clay of Berwick (Sussex). Quarterly Journal of tlte Geological Society of London 78: 285-298.
[5] Online

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Plesiosaurs and Pliosaurs

pliosaur Neuquen
A Maresaurus (pliosaur) attacking a Chacaicosaurus (ictiosaur) in Neuquen 170 million years ago.(Original painting by Agustín Viñas). From [2]

During the Upper or Later Cretaceous (roughly spanning the period from 100 to 65 Million years ago) most of what is now Patagonia was covered by a shallow sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean. Southern South America was a group of islands, which comprised the current Somuncurá plateau and the Puerto Deseado massif (see map below).
At this time, the Andean volcanic ring began forming along the western edge of this sea closing off its connection with the South Pacific Ocean.

cretacean sea
Sea covering Northern Patagonia during the Upper Cretaceous. Adapted From [3]

In this sea, lived plesiosaurs such as the short-necked plesiosaur (Plesiosauroidea, Polycotylidae)[1], though most of the regional fossils belong to Elasmosauridae plesiosaurs, which were long-necked.

The difference is that short-necked Plesiosaurs had 13 vertebrae in their necks while the Elasmosaurs with their long necks had up to 76 vertebrae. However some believe that short-necked plesiosaurs should be classified as Pliosaurs.

These had a short neck with a long head and strong jaws (they were carnivorous) and could grow up to 15 m (45 ft.) long. They can be seen at the Olsacher Museum in Zapala, Neuquén province, Argentina, which holds the remains of several pliosaurs found in northern Patagonia.

Extant pliosaurs and plesiosaurs

If the alleged sightings of lake monsters are true, it is highly unlikely that they are one of these reptiles (pliosaurs or plesiosaurs). The reasons are quite simple:

- Time frame: they would have had to survive over 65 Million years. Outliving all other reptiles of their time.
- Adaptation: they would have had to mutate, adapting to a freshwater environment because they were sea creatures. This is not a simple feat and requires biochemical changes. Though, there is some evidence of freshwater plesiosaurs.
- Size: they were giants, and as such required a lot of food. Being carnivores they would quickly deplete the fish from Patagonian lakes. And for them to have survived for so long, a reasonable sized population in the same geographic region would be required. This would add strains to the food chain.

Patagonian lake mosnters are not reptiles that survived the massive extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous.

Further Reading
The Plesiosaur Directory


[1] Salgado Leonardo, Parras Ana, Gasparini Zulma. Un plesiosaurio de cuello corto (Plesiosauroidea, Polycotylidae) del Cretácico Superior del norte de Patagonia. Ameghiniana [revista en la Internet]. 2007 Jun [citado 2010 Sep 21] ; 44(2): 349-358.
[2] Fernández, Marta, (2002). En los Mares de la Araucania Ciencia Hoy, vol. 12,Oct.-Nov. 2002 No.71 pp.22-29.
[3] Aguirre-Urreta M. Beatriz, Casadío Silvio, Cichowolski Marcela, Lazo Darío G., Rodríguez Débora L.. (2008)Afinidades paleobiogeográficas de los invertebrados cretácicos de la Cuenca Neuquina. Ameghiniana [revista en la Internet]. 2008 Sep [citado 2010 Sep 21] ; 45(3): 591-611.

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
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