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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lizard Man sighted again

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The Lizard Man is back! At least that's the word on the street - and on CNN. Two decades after reports that the seven-foot, three-fingered, three-toed monster had been sighted near Scape Ore Swamp in South Carolina, the brute is back in the national news. As a herpetologist who is currently writing a book on lizards, naturally I am intrigued by the story of a giant lizard-like creature.

Twenty years ago Dan Rather on CBS News reported that Lizard Man had attacked a car driven by a high-school student in South Carolina. The monster beat on the roof of the car and chewed on its chrome bumper.

Many stories about Lizard Man were written back then, but the best investigative reporting was by Lynne Katonak, a staff writer for the Aiken Standard. She began her story by saying it was "time to get to the bottom of the Lizard Man story and the only way to do that is to go to the experts."

The five experts were scientists from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Four were herpetologists - Justin Congdon, Nat Frazer, Jeff Lovich, and me - who presumably knew something about lizards. The fifth was Chuck Lydeard, the token mammalogist. As someone said, "We brought Chuck along in case this thing turns out be more mammal than reptile."

Lynne asked the group of scientists, "Does this Lizard Man story sound likely?"

Nat noted that "South Carolina lizards are not aggressive. However, that doesn't rule out the possibility." He pointed out that some lizards such as the 10-foot long Komodo dragons of Indonesia could be perceived as very aggressive. I interjected that I had never heard of one that would eat chrome, whereupon Justin remarked that "no experiments have ever been designed to feed metal to lizards."

Lynne asked if Scape Ore Swamp, the location of most Lizard Man sightings, would be a typical habitat for a lizard. Justin replied that except for the coldest regions of the world, lizards live anywhere including beaches, woodlands, deserts, and swamps. "One group, the gecko lizards, even live in and on buildings."

The swamp was once the site of moonshine stills. Lynne asked if the presence of illicit alcohol could have attracted Lizard Man. "I've never come across a lizard with a drinking problem," replied Jeff. "Sure, I've seen a lot of pickled lizards, but they are all in museums."

Another theory addressed was that Lizard Man was looking for a mate. I noted that male lizards will sometimes move long distances looking for mates, and Nat suggested that was why Lizard Man was always in a hurry. I made the point that we must then assume that Lizard Women look like cars. Justin suggested that instead of biting the chrome bumper Lizard Man was kissing it. As far as Lizard Man walking upright, the herpetologists noted that basilisk lizards of tropical America and collared lizards of the Southwest run on their back legs.

Chuck was able to get in a few comments related to his mammal expertise when a comparison with Big Foot was brought up. He also pointed out that the very term Lizard "Man" had implications of the creature being some sort of hybrid.

We concluded the interview with this assessment, "We're not saying the Lizard Man story is true or false. But we have so many amazing creatures in the world, we shouldn't need to invent mythical animals. We have enough real ones that remain shrouded in mystery to keep us fascinated for several lifetimes."

Clearly, interviewing lizard experts was less than conclusive in determining the reality of the story.

My favorite comment during the original Lizard Man story came from a local sheriff interviewed by Dan Rather. The clear-headed officer of the law told the reporter that he had received a report that day of "the Lizard Man walking down the Interstate holding hands with Elvis."

The officer pointed out how absurd such reports were, noting that "everybody knows Elvis is dead. And even if it was him, he wouldn't be holding hands with another man!"

Whit Gibbons' e-mail address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
 
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