Tullimonstrum gregarium – my Tully Monster mannequin, seen from under (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Down by way of the a long time because it first
attracted notable public and media consideration in the course of the early Nineteen Thirties, Scotland’s
(in)well-known Loch Ness Monster has impressed all method of recommendations as to its
doable zoological identification – all the time assuming, after all, that it truly
exists within the first place!

However none, certainly, could be any stranger
than the little-known instance revealed right here, a veritable monster in its personal
proper – and which additionally featured at a lot the identical time, furthermore, in one of many
most extraordinary zoological hoaxes ever recorded, regarding a big and extremely
harmful but hitherto inexplicably-overlooked species of dancing worm!



In July 1966, based mostly upon some fossils discovered
in Illinois and relationship again 280-300 million years, Dr Eugene S. Richardson Jr
(1916-1983), Curator of Fossil Invertebrates from Chicago’s Discipline Museum of
Pure Historical past, totally described inside that month’s concern of the Discipline
Museum’s scientific Bulletin a brand new
species of small, ostensibly inauspicious worm-like creature, however which has subsequently
proved to be probably the most zoologically baffling beasts ever recorded by
science. Not solely that, it may well additionally boast a few startling, surprising
hyperlinks to cryptozoology, as will now be seen.

The official taxonomic title of this
enigmatic little animal is Tullimonstrum
, which Richardson had bestowed upon it a short while beforehand in
the distinguished American weekly journal Science.
Nonetheless, it’s generally identified colloquially merely because the Tully Monster, and in
subsequent years it grew to become so well-known that in 1989 it was formally designated
the State fossil of Illinois.


This very unusual species derives each
its binomial and its vernacular title from its fossils’ discoverer, Francis J. Tully,
an beginner fossil collector who in 1958 had discovered some specimens of it within the
Mazon Creek formation, a collection of fossil beds in Grundy County, northeastern Illinois,
which had been a coastal estuary in the course of the Late Carboniferous Interval when Tullimonstrum had thrived. Unable to
determine them, Tully took these mystifying specimens to the Discipline Museum, whose
palaeontologists had been equally puzzled, by no means having seen something like them
earlier than.

Nonetheless, additional fossils of this archaic
thriller mini-beast had been subsequently found – so many, in actual fact, that their
abundance impressed Richardson’s eventual naming of it, as a result of Tullimonstrum gregarium interprets as
‘widespread Tully monster’. Having stated that, nevertheless, just one Tully Monster species
is thought, and just one very particular locality for it’s identified (the Essex biota
part of the Mazon Creek fossil beds) – however what isn’t identified in any respect, or at
least not for sure, is what on earth, or in earth, Tullimonstrum truly is!


The rationale why this historical anomaly is so
baffling is its morphology, which is so totally weird that it has defied
all makes an attempt by researchers to classify with any diploma of satisfaction or
confidence its singular species inside any pre-existing taxon, not even one as
elevated within the taxonomic hierarchy as a phylum.

Vermiform in primary physique form and
measuring roughly 3-14 inches lengthy, Tullimonstrum
is characterised by some really novel attributes. At its anterior finish is a protracted
slender proboscis terminating in a greedy, claw-like pair of jaws, every
containing as much as eight small, sharp tooth-like buildings. Simply behind the bottom
of the proboscis is a skinny transverse bar, at both finish of which is a small
spherical organ believed to be a camera-like eye, every containing melanosomes whose
type and construction is in line with such an identification for it. Additional again
nonetheless are paired buildings which were recognized as gills, and its most
posterior, tail-end physique portion bears a pair of vertical fins resembling a
spade in form. As well as, and the principal motive for its having incited so
a lot hypothesis as to its taxonomic identification, is the presence of what could be a rudimentary notochord or spinal

Tullimonstrum reconstructed as a lamprey-like beast (© Entelognathus/Wikipedia
CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Each few years ever since its mid-Nineteen Sixties
description, a brand new examine of its fossils leads to a brand new concept being proposed in
the scientific literature as to what Tullimonstrum
could also be, just for this to be hotly disputed by opposing viewpoints.

The newest printed examine and
proffered opinion dates from as not too long ago as April 2023, when a Japanese
analysis workforce introduced that their superior 3-D imaging methods had revealed
that Tullimonstrum has segmentation
in its head area which extends from its physique – one thing that no identified
vertebrate lineage possesses. So despite possessing a putative notochord or
spinal wire, Tullimonstrum was not,
they believed, of vertebrate affinity.

Tullimonstrum reconstructed as an invertebrate (above), and as a vertebrate (under)
(© Fossiladder 13/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Earlier recommendations by earlier
researchers, in the meantime, have ranged from this latter beastie being a basal vertebrate
distantly associated to lampreys, or an anomalocaridid-allied arthropod, to a
specialised type of mollusc, a worm, a conodont, or a chordate however of
non-vertebrate identification (like present-day tunicates).

As this current ShukerNature weblog article
isn’t involved primarily with both the taxonomic or the palaeontological
complexities and controversies referring to Tullimonstrum,
nevertheless, I shall abstain from presenting any additional concerns of those
topics right here, and progress as a substitute to what it is involved with. Particularly, two very stunning hyperlinks between
Tully’s bizarre little worm from the far-distant previous and cryptozoology in fashionable



Ever because the early Nineteen Thirties, the Loch Ness
Monster has all the time been a serious supply of cryptozoological rivalry, however this
was very true in the course of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, following Tim Dinsdale’s
taking pictures in 1960 of his quick however iconic cine-film purportedly displaying a really
massive, unidentified creature shifting throughout and under the loch’s floor.
Quite a few Nessie-themed books and articles appeared throughout this era, however one
of essentially the most uncommon was undoubtedly The
Nice Orm of Loch Ness: A Sensible Inquiry Into the Nature and Habits of
, authored by F.W. ‘Ted’ Vacation (1921-1979) and printed in

Vacation had lengthy been intrigued by Nessie
and different aquatic thriller beasts, however whereas in a second ebook, The Dragon and the Disc (1973), he
pursued a mystical clarification for such entities (even linking them to UFOs),
in The Nice Orm of Loch Ness he
adopted a extra typical strategy, proposing a corporeal, zoological
identification for Nessie. Nonetheless, the precise creature that he nominated was
decidedly unconventional.


my copy of Vacation’s ebook The Nice Orm
of Loch Ness
(© Dr Karl Shuker/Faber & Faber – reproduced right here on a
strictly non-commercial Honest Use foundation for instructional/overview functions solely)

Fairly than any of the then-in vogue
herpetological contenders (corresponding to a large newt or frog-like amphibian, a
crocodilian reptile, or, hottest of all again in these instances, a dwelling
modern-day species of plesiosaur), after receiving a duplicate of Richardson’s 1966
paper from a fellow LNM investigator Vacation boldly proposed that the Loch Ness
Monster was nothing lower than a gargantuan present-day descendant of the Tully

Vacation postulated that Nessie’s
frequently-reported lengthy slender neck was in actuality the elongate proboscis of
his proposed large Tullimonstrum,
that Nessie’s entrance flippers had been truly his latter hypothesised creature’s transverse
appendages, and that Nessie’s posterior physique area, typically likened by
eyewitnesses to a finned tail, was in actual fact the latter’s paired vertical tail
fins. He additionally noticed indications of two dorsal humps in varied images and
different illustrations of Tullimonstrum
fossils that may clarify Nessie’s well-known humps if current in a large Tully


Talking of which, he contemplated whether or not
the small specimens of this extraordinary fossil creature up to now found
had been solely immature examples, and that maybe there have been full-sized (i.e.
Nessie-sized) specimens nonetheless awaiting scientific discovery:

Furthermore, it’s
not at all unimaginable that sections or components of a lot bigger Tully monsters could
even now be reposing in museum basements awaiting identification.

Fifty-five years have handed since
Vacation wrote these optimistic phrases, however as but, nevertheless, no such specimens
have come to gentle. Neither is that the one main concern with Vacation’s makes an attempt to
determine the Loch Ness Monster with the Tully Monster. The unhappy however easy fact
is that he had misunderstood the true nature of sure key facets of the latter’s
morphology, which inevitably had led his proposals badly astray.


Ness (public area)

As an illustration, in his ebook he referred to
essentially the most anterior jawed portion of Tullimonstrum
as its head, whereas in actuality it’s nothing greater than the terminal jaws of this
creature’s lengthy proboscis – and which Vacation misrepresented as its neck.
Equally, he did his greatest to determine the transverse bar behind the bottom of
the proboscis as a pair of locomotory paddles, when in actuality the pair of fleshy
lobes on the two ends of this bar are believed to be visible organs, as a result of
they seem to include some type of retinal construction. And what he envisaged as
humps alongside its again seem like nothing greater than artifacts brought on by the
flattening of the delicate Tullimonstrum specimens
throughout their fossilization.

In fact, one may recommend in Vacation’s
defence that by not being a zoologist or palaeontologist he might be forgiven
for drawing such faulty conclusions. Sadly, nevertheless, this defence
falls by the wayside after we uncover that his ebook additionally contains as an
appendix the total textual content of Richardson’s July 1966 Bulletin paper describing Tullimonstrum,
by which its physique areas’ anatomy and capabilities are precisely documented by
Richardson. As well as, Vacation had even corresponded instantly with Richardson
concerning his proposal that Nessie was a large Tully Monster (however concerning
which Richardson had in flip expressed grave misgivings to him). Consequently,
Vacation had no excuse for his personal extremely inaccurate assumptions concerning these
similar issues.


Tullimonstrum, the Tully Monster – however evidently not the Loch Ness Monster (©
Tim Morris)

Vacation had lengthy believed that Nessie was
some type of large worm – therefore the title of his ebook, the phrase ‘orm’ being an
archaic model of ‘worm’. This latter time period is in flip typically utilized not
merely in zoology to limbless elongate invertebrates of the earthworm and
outwardly comparable form, but additionally in western mythology to dragons that match that
similar description, i.e. elongate and limbless, such because the well-known Lambton worm
and Laidly worm. This subsequently explains why his second ebook, linking Nessie to
UFOs, was entitled The Dragon and the

Vacation additionally thought of the Tully Monster
to be a worm, however one in every of a uniquely plesiosaurian form:

Tully’s monster
did one good thing. It firmly demonstrated that wormlike animals with the
look of a plesiosaurus did as soon as exist.


plesiosaurian illustration of Loch Ness Monster (© Richard Svensson)

In that case, this might clarify not solely
Nessie’s form when seen by eyewitnesses but additionally why it wasn’t seen extra usually,
i.e. frequently. For if Nessie had been certainly a worm, it might subsequently take in
oxygen from the loch’s water instantly by way of its physique’s outer layer (epidermal
respiration, like frogs and salamanders can usually do), not needing to floor
on a frequent foundation so as to inhale air into its lungs like a mammal or
reptile would want to do. Accordingly, Vacation concluded his private
identification of Nessie as a large undiscovered modern-day Tully Monster with
the next daring assertion:

No-one is aware of whether or not
the Orm of Loch Ness is a type of Tullimonstrum;
however, speaking most unscientifically, I’d wager my shirt that it’s.

Sadly, nevertheless, I feel that my above
account of how and why his understanding of Tullimonstrum
is critically flawed, and, as an inevitable consequence, his conclusion {that a}
large model of this species does certainly clarify Nessie is wholly wayward,
proffers greater than adequate proof to recommend that Vacation would have
definitely misplaced his shirt!



At a lot the identical time that Vacation was
searching for with fervor however final futility to hyperlink the Tully Monster to the Loch
Ness Monster, Tullimonstrum was additionally
hitting the cryptozoological headlines for a really completely different but no much less
memorable motive.

On 1 September 1966, after studying a
report within the East African Commonplace
(a really well-known newspaper in what was then British East Africa) regarding
the invention and Richardson’s current scientific description of Tullimonstrum, a retired military
Lieutenant-Colonel named R.G.L. Cloudesley, from Nairobi in Kenya, wrote an
extraordinary letter to Richardson, by which he made the next doubtlessly
thrilling declare. The related portion reads as follows:

In 1926 having been seconded to the Kings (now Kenya) African
Rifles from the Indian Military, I used to be in northwestern Kenya coping with some
border incidents. Passing by way of the executive centre of
Lodwar on my return journey,
I t
ook the chance of calling upon Mr. A. M.
Champion, then D. C. Turkana Dis­trict. Along with being a eager shikar,
Champ­ion was a naturalist of the primary rank, and in the course of the two evenings I
handed in his firm he regaled me with many a captivating yarn in regards to the
fauna of the world. Amongst these was one a few exceptional worm reputed to stay
within the swamp nation to the southeast. The native tribes­males informed incredible
tales about its dancing and giving milk, if I keep in mind appropriately. Such
nonsense apart, Champion did give me a descrip­tion of the creature which he
had obtained from varied natives (he by no means succeeded in getting a specimen)
and this curiously sufficient has remained in my reminiscence when a lot else has been
forgotten. His account agreed remarkably properly with the illustration of your
“Tully Monster,” even to the “paddles” and the lengthy snout.
Your point out of sharp tooth, by the way, does agree with a Turkana story that
the creature bites. On this account they’re deathly afraid of it, believing
that it’s toxic. However then practically all natives consider the whole lot of the
creeping or crawling form to be venomous.

I hardly dare to recommend {that a} relation of your extinct
“Monster” nonetheless survives in one of many remotest components of East Africa,
however it may simply be worthwhile to pursue the matter.


Turkana is a northwestern county in
Kenya, well-known for the invention there of assorted vital fossil hominid

Unsurprisingly, Richardson was very
interested by Cloudesley’s letter, however even earlier than he had probability to answer to it
he obtained a second letter of be aware, dated 13 September 1966, this time from
Purshottan S. Patel of Nakuru, a city located about 100 miles northwest of
Nairobi. Patel knowledgeable Richardson that one thing like Tullimonstrum may very well be current in Turkana’s lakes, as he’d
been informed by family of a wierd type of dancing worm that lived in these
watery expanses.

long-extinct Tullimonstrum gregarium
however was there a dwelling Tully Monster species of terpsichorean tendency awaiting
scientific discovery within the lakes of Turkana? (© Stanton F. Fink/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

Not lengthy afterwards, Richardson obtained
a 3rd letter, dated 8 September 1966, from Joseph N. Ngomo, an intermediate
college instructor from Nakuru, who knowledgeable him that after his class had learn the Commonplace newspaper’s report regarding Tullimonstrum, a number of of his pupils had
claimed that they’d been informed of a similar-sounding creature from their
fathers. Ngomo included in his letter a be aware written by one such pupil, a boy
named Akai, which acknowledged that these worms are identified regionally because the ekurut loedonkakini,
swim and “wave fingers” in the course of the full moon, give milk, and possess a
chunk deadly to people.

By now, Richardson was sufficiently
intrigued by these ostensibly unbiased but carefully corroborating
communications to recommend to his colleagues on the Discipline Museum that an
expedition in quest of Turkana’s tantalising dancing worms is likely to be justified,
as a result of in the event that they did become a dwelling Tullimonstrum
species this might clearly be a really momentous zoological discovery. First of
all, nevertheless, a be aware requesting any further info concerning these
creatures was ready by the Museum and duly printed within the Publication of the East African Pure
Historical past Affiliation
– however none was forthcoming.

mannequin of Tullimonstrum gregarium as a
vertebrate (© Петр Меньшиков-Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

In early 1967, whereas the proposed expedition
was nonetheless on the starting stage, Richardson was visited by a former colleague,
palaeontologist Dr Bryan Patterson (1909-1979), now a professor at Harvard
College however beforehand Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology on the Chicago
Discipline Museum. Patterson had not too long ago performed some subject work in Kenya and
acknowledged that he truly knew the uncle of Richardson’s second correspondent,
Patel. Nonetheless, Patterson additionally acknowledged that he’d by no means heard of dancing worms at
Turkana, and appeared extremely amused by the entire topic – as properly he is likely to be.

For it subsequently transpired that
Cloudesley, Patel, Ngomo, and Akai didn’t exist – that they had all been created,
and their communications written, by none apart from Patterson himself, as a
prank with which to idiot his pal Richardson, and which had clearly succeeded
very efficiently!


{photograph} of Dr Bryan Patterson and a shot Tullimonstrum
(public area)

Fortunately, Richardson took all of it in good
spirit after receiving the reality from Patterson in a Christmas 1968 letter that
additionally included a humorous hoax {photograph} by which Patterson was posing in full
subject regalia holding a rifle and a supposed shot specimen of a sizeable Tullimonstrum. Certainly, after cancelling
his deliberate expedition to seek for it, Richardson even ready a brief ebook
entitled The Dancing Worm of Turkana,
publishing it in 1969 underneath the pseudonym E. Scumas Rory. In it, he reproduced
all 4 of the principal faux communications despatched to him by Patterson, and
additionally briefly referred to a second missive that he’d obtained from ‘Patel’, plus
a number of further ones despatched to him by varied different correspondents.

Moreover, Richardson revealed on this
ebook that F.W. Vacation had written to ‘Cloudesley’ for info, however had
by no means obtained a reply (for apparent causes now!). Furthermore, Richardson even
contributed an introduction to the ebook underneath his personal title, along with some
tremendous illustrations underneath his Rory pseudonym, and these days this literary
curiosity is a highly-collectable publication in its authentic hard-copy format
(a number of web sites include downloadable public-domain pdf variations of it).


The Dancing Worm of Turkana, entrance cowl (public area)

Briefly, though the dancing worms
of Turkana by no means existed, they’re immortalized in print, that means that their
affect, albeit transitory, upon the zoological world can even stay on!

Lastly: the title ‘E. Scumas Rory’ appears
so unlikely, even contrived, that I can’t assist however ponder whether in actuality
it’s a intelligent anagram, however I have been unable to find one from it. So if any
anagram aficionados are studying this text, maybe they wish to see
whether or not they can extract one – and, if anybody does, I would enormously welcome


ekurut loedonkakini or Turkana dancing worm, biting a person – sketch by ‘E,
Scumas Rory’ (public area)


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