Genetic evidence shows that yetis are simply bears

November 29, 2017 • 12:45 pm

I doubt that many of us accept the existence of yetis, those Himalayan creatures that are supposed to be hairy apes, more or less humanoid. Previous hair and footprint analyses have been inconclusive, though a 2014 paper identified hairs from Ladakh and Bhutan, supposedly coming from yetis, as samples from  paleolithic bears (maybe polar bears or polar bear hybrids) and dogs. Whatever they were, that study showed they certainly weren’t primates.

Now, according to CNN and other sources, and resting on a new study in Proc. Roy. Soc. (reference and free access below), the issue is resolved. Performing mitochondrial DNA analysis on 24 samples, including a diversity of hairs said to be from yetis, the study of Lan et al. showed that all the “yeti” samples fell firmly in the group containing living bears, including these four bear lineages: Himalayan brown bear, Tibetan brown bear, Continental Eurasian brown bear and Asian black bear. No “yeti” sample fell outside these groups. You can see the phylogenetic trees, and the location of the “yeti” samples falling in these groups, in the paper, and the diagram below shows where the samples were collected (all falling within historical ranges of living ursids).

There’s not much more to say except this sentence: “The ‘yetis’ are just bears that we already know about.” Oh and this: “science has settled the issue.”

h/t: David


Lan, T. et al. 2017. Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau-Himalayan region and the identify of the yeti. Proc. R. Soc. B 20171804 on line,

“I can call monsters from the vasty deep…

April 21, 2015 • 4:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

Why, so can I, or so can any man; But are there any to come when you do call for them?”

[Update below.]

In writing about today’s Loch Ness Monster Google Doodle, Jerry noted that I have taught about cryptozoology (the science of “hidden animals”) for many years, and we’ve written about it here at WEIT on several occasions, including a mention of the Loch Ness Monster. The “surgeon’s photo”, supposedly taken in 1934 by military physician Lt. Col. Robert K. Wilson, features in Jerry’s piece, and, indeed, in most accounts of the monster. Although the photo shown by Jerry is well known, it is less well known that it is cropped from a larger image. Here’s the original.

The uncropped surgeon's photo.
The modestly uncropped surgeon’s photo.

I have always been suspicious of the surgeon’s photograph, because it seemed to me that the ripples are the wrong scale for a large object. This is not something I could quantify, but, just as in older Japanese monster movies you could tell it was a scale-model city burning (and not Tokyo) because the flames didn’t look right, the water doesn’t look right for something the size of the monster. Commenters on the original photo note that the far side of the Loch is visible in the distance, but I can’t see it in this version (see Update below).

In 1994, the story broke that the photo was a hoax arranged by Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter, in order to embarrass the Daily Mail. (If only Wetherell were alive today, so that he could see how thorough a job the Mail does in embarrassing itself every day without his assistance!) Some have considered the hoax story a hoax, but that’s not the consensus view. Stephen Lyons has a good account of the photo on PBS’s Nova website. His account is part of a companion website for the NOVA film “The Beast of Loch Ness” (1999), and I can recommend both the site and the film (which features participants in the Academy of Applied Sciences expeditions– see below),

As Jerry notes, Wilson was always very cagey about the photo and the circumstances under which it was taken, and what was in it. As Nicholas Witchell put it in The Loch Ness Story (1975),

Colonel Wilson refused to enlarge upon the bare facts of his story and would not try to estimate the size of the object. In fact, he never claimed that he had photographed the ‘Monster’; all he ever said was that he photographed an object moving in the waters of Loch Ness. He wrote: ‘I am not able to describe what I saw. As I finished, the object moved a little and submerged.’

Witchell took this to be the sober reticence of a scientifically trained observer, but in hindsight we can see it as a guy being real careful not to lie. In teaching cryptozoology, I have the students read the account of the photo in Witchell, and ask them about exactly which claims (extraordinary or otherwise) were made by Wilson (Answer: essentially, none). If the hoax story is true, then Wilson must have been in on it, but depending on exactly how the photos were taken, everything he subsequently said could be true.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, M.A., M.B., Ch.B.Camb., F.R.C.S.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, M.A., M.B., Ch.B.Camb., F.R.C.S.

In addition to the surgeon’s photo, there are also the famous “flipper photos” of 1972, and the “body and neck” and “head photos of 1975. These were taken by a team from the Academy of Applied Sciences led by Robert Rines and Harold Edgerton. Edgerton was a well-known physicist, inventor, and pioneer in photographic technology who was also a Nessie skeptic, but agreed to help inventor and lawyer Rines, an MIT alumnus, in his quest to photograph the beast.

One of the flipper photos from 1972, enhanced.
One of the flipper photos from 1972, enhanced.

The flipper photos seemed the most like a definite object in the water, but Dick Raynor, a member of the 1972 team, has argued, convincingly I think, that they are simply photos of the Loch bottom that have been enhanced beyond recognition. The 1975 photos aren’t clearly of anything, to my eye. Here’s one of them.

Body and neck photo, 1975.
Body and neck photo, 1975.

The 1972 and 1975 pictures were the subject of some scientific interest, with publication in science/technology media, and an account of a Cornell University conference in the scientific literature (Adler, 1976). Adler and other well respected herpetologists were impressed at the time for the evidence of something being in the Loch, but this was before the degree of alteration by enhancement was widely known. There are things in the Loch– sturgeons have been long known, and, more recently, seals, which have convex backs and heads that stick up at the surface, have been found in the Loch.

The now infamous Garry Trudeau gently ribbed the Academy of Applied Sciences Loch Ness expeditions in a series of Doonesbury cartoons in 1976; here are my two favorites.



And finally, I must applaud Google’s Streetviews of Loch Ness and the vicinity of Castle Urquhart– they include what looks like a trebuchet, my favorite medieval siege engine!

Update. Reader Michael notes that there are even less cropped versions of the surgeon’s photo in which the opposite shore is visible. He provides a link, but it’s rather long, so I here provide the photo, from Darren Naish’s Tet Zoo blog, which we have long commended for its cryptozoological acumen. Also, I note that a few readers of Jerry’s Google Doodle post also thought, like I did, that the ripples in the surgeon’s photo looked fishy for an animal supposed to be quite large. (Jerry told me about his post early today, and I set about writing my post before reading the comments on his.)


Adler, K. 1976. Loch Ness Monster evidence presented at Cornell University. Herpetological Review 7:41-46. (My copy of this, in one of the first journals I subscribed to while in high school, is a treasured part of my library.)

Rines, R.H., H.E. Edgerton, C.W. Wyckhoff, and M. Klein. 1976. Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Technology Review March/April 1976, pp. 25-40.

Witchell, N. 1975 The Loch Ness Story. Rev. ed. Penguin, Harmondsworth, UK.

Google Doodle celebrates (?) Nessie

April 21, 2015 • 7:30 am

Today’s Google Doodle, which contains this amusing animation, commemorates the 81st anniversary of a photograph (see below) that was long taken to be “proof” of the Loch Ness Monster. First the animation:


As the Torygraph notes:

The release of the images coincides with the anniversary of the publication of the renowed “Surgeon’s Photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster, in the Daily Mail, on April 21 1934 – a photo that was revealed to be a fake by The Sunday Telegraph in 1975.

Here’s that famous photo, which I’m sure you’ve all seen:


Time magazine explains the ruse:

Eighty-one years ago, Colonel Robert Wilson snapped a grainy photograph of what appeared to be a prehistoric sea creature raising its head out of the depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness — inspiring the legend of one of earth’s most infamous monsters, Nessie. On Tuesday, Google honored the anniversary of that celebrated photo with an animated Google Doodle.

Wilson said he took the shot of the Loch Ness Monster, printed in the Daily Mail in 1934, when he was driving across the northern shore and noticed something in the water. But Wilson himself never claimed the photo as proof of a monster and disassociated his name from the picture by calling it the “surgeon’s photo.”

In 1994, then 93-year-old Christian Spurling confessed that he had built the neck and attached it to a toy submarine. The toy was then photographed by a big-game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell to spite the Daily Mail for a perceived injustice from a previous Loch Ness Monster search.

The Torygraph’s article reports that Google spent a week in the Loch Ness area, photographing it with Google Streetview, including a camera attached to a boat (you can see all the Streetview images here):

Photo: Google

And, sure enough, they turned up an image that Nessiephiles will take as evidence for the monster (photos by Google):


And an enlargement:


There’s no wake, and that’s a strange profile for bits of a plesiosaur sticking out of the water! At any rate, Wikipedia has a good article on the long and fruitless search for Nessie, and the many hoaxes and false sightings.

Resident writer Greg Mayer teaches a course on pseudoscience and cryptozoology, and I expect he might have something to add.