In modern mythology you can find many interesting characters. Among them, the Loch Ness Monster stands out – or Nessie, as fans affectionately call him.
The Loch Ness Monster has been a part of Scottish legends for at least 1,500 years, and has achieved international fame in the last century thanks to hundreds of reported sightings and eyewitness accounts. What kind of animal is this – the Loch Ness monster? Is there any chance it could be real, and if so, what does it look like?
Where does the Loch Ness monster live?
As the name suggests, the monster lives in Loch Ness in Scotland (“loch” is the Gaelic word for a body of water, usually a lake).
The lake is located near the city of Inverness and has a length of almost 37 km and about 2 km in width. The depth of the lake is 227 meters. Unsurprisingly, the lake contains the largest volume of fresh water in the whole of the United Kingdom. Loch Ness is also connected to various rivers and lakes that ultimately lead to the North Sea.
In other words, Loch Ness is a lot of dark water, in which something large and ancient may be hiding. But the depth of the lake can negate all attempts to find something at the bottom – and many such attempts have been made.
Loch Ness monster – the origins of the legend
Scottish folklore is rich in tales of mythological water monsters, such as Kelpie water horses and other supernatural creatures, that supposedly lived in the rivers and lakes of Scotland. Indeed, Loch Ness is far from the only Scottish body of water in which the monster “lives”, it is simply the most famous.
Saint Columba and the Loch Ness Monster
The earliest story associated with Nessie concerns Saint Columba, a 6th-century Irish missionary who came to Scotland to convert the local pagans into Christians. As a saint, Columba was known for his many miracles, but one incident in particular caught the attention of Nessie hunters.
In 565 AD, according to an early biography of Columba, the saint and his companions encountered a “water monster” in the River Ness, flowing from Loch Ness. The massive creature had already attacked and killed one person swimming in the river. In some versions of the story, Columba resurrected the unfortunate swimmer. Then, as a second miracle, he sent one of his friends into the river.
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That brave man immediately attracted the attention of the creature, which quickly swam towards him with its mouth wide open. But standing on the shore, Columbus is said to have called upon the power of God and commanded the creature not to attack his friend. The monster instantly retreated, disappearing into the depths. The locals were so impressed that Columba had no difficulty in converting them to his faith.
Many folklorists and historians believe that this story is more about a kelpie or water horse, but Nessie fans continue to claim that this is the first mention of the monster.
What does the Loch Ness monster look like?
Nessie really came to the world's attention in 1933, when several sensational accounts were published in local newspapers. One “eyewitness” claimed to have seen a large, whale-like creature circling underwater. Another witness said that the monster had a body resembling an eel, but larger than usual. Another sighting, this time on land, described the creature as “a dragon or a prehistoric monster” with flippers or legs that allowed it to come ashore.
Famous photographs of Nessie
One man provided a blurry black-and-white photo of a large creature lashing the water with its massive tail.
This photograph was followed by other photographs, including one of the most famous, taken in 1934, of a long-necked monster rising from the water. Since then, Nessie has become an international celebrity, even if not everyone really believed in her existence.
How big is the Loch Ness monster?
Early descriptions of the creature varied greatly, as did its size. Some attributed the monster to the size of a small boat, while others compared its size to a horse. Some claimed that the Loch Ness monster was approximately 2.5 meters long, while other observers said that its length was more than 6 meters.
Such scattered evidence has led to the idea that several monsters live in Loch Ness. For example, an adult and a young individual, or a whole group of representatives of an ancient forgotten species.
Ultimately, Nessie fans agreed that the creature is an inhabitant of the waters, it has a small head and a long neck, and also has flippers and a hump on its back. It is also generally accepted that the size of the monster’s hump is about 1.5 meters and its length is 8 meters.
Could the Loch Ness Monster be a dinosaur?
Given the size and description of the monster's body, it is not surprising that Nessie reminded many of a dinosaur, in particular a plesiosaur, which lived in the oceans and went extinct about 65 million years ago.
Scientists initially believed that plesiosaurs lived only in salt water. But recent research has shown that this type of dinosaur was also found in freshwater environments, just like the Loch Ness Monster.
The discovery only strengthened theories about Nessie, which could be either a plesiosaur or a previously unknown ancient species of dinosaur.
Could the Loch Ness monster be a giant eel?
Some supernatural hunters still believe that the Loch Ness Monster is an eel, as early eyewitness accounts may indicate.
This theory received unexpected scientific support when a new study came out in 2019. A team of scientists from the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed the DNA of hundreds of water samples taken from various locations and depths of the lake. They did not find plesiosaur DNA, nor did they find DNA from any large marine animal.
However, they found a lot of eel DNA. Scientists have suggested that it is eels that people see and mistake them for the Loch Ness monster.
Could Nessie be real?
Monster hunters, cryptozoologists and, as we have seen, some open-minded scientists have flocked to Loch Ness year after year, investigating traces of Nessie or simply hoping to see something interesting.
Photos of mysterious objects from Loch Ness continue to make the news – at least in the tabloids. In August 2023, the Loch Ness Center organized the largest search operation in the last 50 years. The organization recruited hundreds of volunteers with drones, infrared scanners and other devices to finally obtain conclusive evidence of the monster's existence.
And yet, any evidence of the Loch Ness Monster remains as elusive as Nessie herself. Despite all the advanced technology that enthusiasts had at their disposal, August's research could produce only a few strange shadows under water and unusual sounds as results.
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In addition, despite the size of Loch Ness, scientists say that it is still not large enough to support creatures the size of dinosaurs. The lake simply could not meet the food needs of such a large monster. Also, not a single fossil bone of a creature has been found that could resemble the descriptions of Nessie.
On the other hand, science has a number of facts that testify against the existence of a monster. For example, the water would be too cold for the reptile, and despite the lake's connection to the North Sea, there is no reasonable way that such a large creature could have migrated from there to the lake, even in prehistoric times. In fact, especially in prehistoric times, since most of Scotland was covered in ice, all of its lakes would have been frozen.
However, despite the lack of evidence, interest in the Loch Ness monster continues. According to some estimates, Loch Ness attracts up to a million tourists to the region every year. And those visitors are spending money: Nessie brought in about $52 million annually into the tourism industry, according to 2018 data.