Thursday, February 22, 2024

Book Review: Sunshine State Monsters

Sunshine State Monsters: Cryptids & Legends of Florida  

Eerie Lights, 2022: 300pp. 

This is a wondrous book for a Floria-raised naturalist and cryptozoological researcher to peruse. I know of three other books on the topic, but this is my new favorite. It's also the best of Weatherly's state-by-state cryptozoology books I've read so far. 

From Pinky the sea monster (wonderfully rendered by Sam Shearon on the cover) to skunk apes to giant octopuses, Weatherly has collected all the stories and uncovered new ones. His work shows a great deal of research. I would have been more skeptical in recounting some of the stories, but this is not a deep scientific analysis: Weatherly is a storyteller, and a very good one.

Weatherly of course covers all the most famous cryptids. He has the most thorough account I’ve read of the Saint Augustine globster, aka Octopus giganteus.  On the Brian McCleary “sea serpent” tragedy, he tries to be very fair to McCleary, but the sole witness was a terrified, nearly drowned 14-year-old in pitch darkness: you can’t prove there was no sea monster, but there’s no evidence there was. I have some nitpicks on his coverage of the “giant penguin” tracks known as Old Three-Toes. He correctly points out discrepancies between the tracks as reported by Ivan Sanderson and his inability to reproduce the tracks vs the iron shoes of confessed hoaxer Tony Signorini. However, he overlooks the fact Sanderson was a serial exaggerator. He also, like seemingly every other writer, misses the fact that Thomas Helm reported the hoax in this 1962 book Monsters of the Deep.   

He mines the state’s folklore for enjoyable tales of giant alligators, sharks, birds, snakes (not much of an exaggeration these days), and – one I’d never heard of – armadillos.  He mentions Scott Marlowe’s report of seeing a dead gator 24 feet long being removed by authorities. This is a bit of an aside, but I’ve never known what to make of this. I knew the late Mr. Marlowe and had no reason to think him a liar, but the gator simply could not have been that large – authorities would immediately have called the news media, the people involved in the removal would have gone on TV as soon as they clocked out, and the thing would have been hauled to a university and be on display. (I have email correspondence claimed n a 30-foot gator was killed and left in a swamp, but I’ll just leave that here.) I hadn’t heard much about Two-toed Tom, a gigantic gator blamed for a host of depredations at the north end of the state. Weatherly includes a claim of a 20-foot rattlesnake: I heard a similar story secondhand when I was a kid.

There are tales of dinosaur-like creatures, sea serpents, a mermaid or two, an alligator man, and much more! For cryptozoologists, Florida is the gift state that keeps on giving.

When it comes to Bigfoot-like critters, most writers lump them under the title Skunk Ape, which seems to be a primate a bit smaller and a lot smellier than its Pacific Northwest counterparts. As Weatherly shows, however, there is a confusing myriad of reports of everything from monkey-size animals to those more on the order of baboons or chimps, to wildmen, to apes of genuine Bigfoot proportions. Florida’s well-earned reputation as a haven for all sorts of escaped or released wildlife, including primates, can explain some of the smaller creatures, but the Skunk Ape endures.

The book includes the search for endangered or presumed extinct wildlife, including the ivory-billed woodpecker, Carolina parakeet. Concerning the Florida panther, the story is complicated by claims of black panthers, lions, and other exotics. Just for fun, Weatherly throws in stories of werewolves, El chupacabra, and similar unlikely beasts.

As in all Weatherly’s books, there is a short bibliography and nothing more in the reference section. He does, however, do a very good job of listing the sources for individual accounts in the text, and that largely makes up for it. The lack of an index is irritating when modern software makes it fairly easy to generate.  I certainly would have liked more maps and photos, although I know photos can jack up the cost for a small publisher.

This is a most enjoyable romp through the lore of a state that must have more types of cryptids than any other.


Saturday, February 03, 2024

Unique Dunkleosteus fossil model

 Here’s a unique Dunk item. Star Ace Toys in Hong Kong offers a simulacrum of a complete, articulated Dunkleosteus fossil. This is part of their Wonders of the Wild series. I'll leave aside my usual quibbles about the tail structure and just enjoy it. It's a great piece of work. 

Star Ace produces a wonderful selection of items (no, I’m not being compensated here), including pop culture figures, creatures from movies (Rhedosuarus, anyone?), and other fossils like mammoths and dire wolves.  

They have a detailed, large (42 cm) Dunkleosteus sculpt, but at $329 I need to wait for someone to buy me a Christmas present. 

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!


Booz Review: Merbeings as a Real Species?

Merbeings: The True Story of Mermaids, Mermen, and Lizardfolk 

by Mark A. Hall (Author), Loren Coleman (Author), David Goudsward (Author)

Anomalist Books, 2023, 200pp.

I wanted to be intrigued by this book, but in the event I was disappointed. It's an uneven work, a mix of speculation, interesting stories, and puzzling errors. Hall (the primary author) was an exceptional researcher, Coleman is a prodigious cryptozoological writer and a friend, and Goudsward wrote a very good book on creature tales from Florida. I understand the challenge of trying to mesh the work of three people into a cohesive whole, but I expected a better book. 

The book starts with the hypothesis there is a global species of aquatic primate behind the merbeing stories.  Most of the stories of merpeople, as well as some hard-to-classify animal reports and even “Lizardmen,” refer to some variety of this species. It’s fair to mention that the late Mr. Hall liked to throw out provocative hypotheses, and the reader isn’t always sure how strongly he believes in them, but this is what we have to work with. If we suspend disbelief and read with an open mind, the book is entertaining but far from persuasive.

The authors did their research. The book is filled with interesting stories, with sources given in the chapter notes. Another good point is that Indigenous sources are, whenever possible, referred to by tribe or group names, vs the still-too-common “the Indians around Lake Powell say…” approach of lazy writers. They wisely avoid tying their idea too closely to the aquatic ape theory proposed by Hardy and expanded on by Morgan: they mention it just enough to make it a possible source of support without being dragged down by its universal rejection. Finally, they make a worthy effort to collect information from all over the world, avoiding being hemmed in by relatively recent Western motifs.  Missteps include stating the existence of many land primates all over the world as given despite the nonexistence of hard evidence and Hall’s championing of Homo gardarensis, a discarded species based on an acromegalic H. sapiens skull. 

The supporting accounts are spread all over the world, decades or centuries apart, often describing creatures quite differently. The authors suggest there is only one species of marine primate, likely a descendant of the swamp-liking fossil ape Oreopithecus. The differences are due to its using ornaments and coverings (including tails) from other mammals and fish to improve mobility, provide insulation, or express cultural norms. It’s an imaginative solution, and would be fun for fiction, but without evidence, it’s easier to argue the differences indicate unrelated mistakes, folklore, and hoaxes. (At one point it is mentioned there might be two species, one genuinely tailed.) 

Tales from Pacific fishermen, Native Americans, Western explorers, and other sources are used, and the hypothesis requires we accept all of them as true and basically accurate – even the ones about lizardmen jumping on to the running boards of cars. There is not a whit of evidence besides stories. The worst choice of an incident to mention concerns huge yellow humanoids in Vietnam. The source account in Martin Caiden’s book Natural or Supernatural? says American troops blasted the creatures at short range with automatic weapons without harming them, meaning the story is necessarily a hoax. 

The authors never try to condense the accounts into a single description of the species: size, current range and the reason for it, reproduction, etc. Nor is there an illustration of such. The book holds that scientists haven’t discovered the living animal because they are closed-minded about it and have not found fossils in the likely places (land once covered by shallow water), because they haven’t been looking for them. In any fossil dig, though, everything is collected and examined, and there have been many, many digs of such sites. One could posit that the species was always too rare to have turned up yet, but if so, it wouldn’t have a worldwide distribution of viable populations. Hall explains this with a crackpot theory of crustal displacement, which doesn’t help any.   

The speculation here is just too much of a reach, the evidence too thin and scattered to support it. Some of the individual accounts and legends are intriguing, and those plus the references make the book worth having for cryptozoologists, but the boat the authors try hard to build just doesn’t float.

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!