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A NATURAL HISTORY OF SLURPASAURS
by Professor Edward Challenger III
excerpted from MONOGRAPHS ON LOST ANTEDILUVIAN WORLDS IN REMOTE REGIONS,
Ed. Challenger & Summerlee, published 1966, London Zoological Society.

edited and brought to The Godzilla Saga by Den Valdron



Introduction - Giant Reptiles of Lost Lands

Recent expeditions, most significantly the famous, Challenger 'Lost World' expedition in South America (1960), have confirmed the existence of gigantic reptiles, earlier reported in the ill-named 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' expedition of the 19th century.

In America, colonies of nearly identical creatures have been identified inhabiting an immense cave system in the 'Killers from Space' incident. However, this may be part of a delusional turn to the American mind, as similar reports emerged from the ludicrous 'Robot Monster' encounter. Superstition and delusion and tall tales seem to be an essential part of the colonial character - what else are we to make of the insane ramblings of 'Flash' Gordon and his tales of trips to planets unknown in the solar system, and similar battling monsters? Outer space, or the outer limits of credulity features in another story of similar creatures in the 'King Dinosaur' episode which we can assume to be a deliberate fabrication intended to make the American space program more exciting.

Even discounting reports which must almost certainly be lies, fantasies or delusion, it is now clear that such creatures exist in isolated regions on and under the Earth, and have existed in Earth's history. Remains of similar creatures have also been identified in the famed 'One Million B.C." paleontological grounds which also sport traces of alleged pre-humans. It has become clear that Man does and has shared this world with gigantic reptiles sufficient to give even Dinosaurs pause.

Originally described by Arne Saknussem, a 15th century Icelandic spelunker and alchemist, who named them 'Saknussaurs' or loosely 'Saknussem's Lizards' or alternately 'Saurpusaurs' or 'Lizard of Lizard,' a wordplay on 'King of King's'. Modern language and usage has corrupted this into the modern form 'Slurpasaur,' generally believed to be a reference to the 'slurping' prehensile tongues which the animals use for feeding.

Slurpasaurs and their Environment

Despite the wild assumptions of untrained journalists and opportunistic film makers, Slurpasaurs are not true Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were archosaurs, relatives of crocodiles who existed in the Mezosoic Era in a profusion of forms and varieties for almost two hundred million years.

The only things that Slurpasaurs have in common with actual Dinosaurs is immense size, with specimens ranging from 40 to 80 feet in length, and the largest recorded specimen reaching 96 feet. Despite their length, Slurpasaurs tend to be much less massive than their dinosaur counterparts. A 40 foot Slurpasaur may weighs about 4 tons. An 80 foot Slurpasaur may weigh only 10 to 15 tons.

Taxonomically, Slurpasaurs are clearly members of the Lizard or Squamata family, characterized by gigantic size and prehensile tongues. Slurpasaurs often resemble gigantic varieties of lizards such as monitors, iguanas and mock crocodiles.

Slurpasaurs are found all over the world on deserted pacific islands, in giant underground cave systems, or so called 'lost worlds.' Typically, these giant reptiles are found in near sterile environments, barren deserts, rocky caverns, empty islands. These areas are characterized by naked rock or sand, or poor quality gravel soil often with high acidity or salinity. Water is rare, and often so heavily saline or polluted as to be near toxic. Volcanic activity and earthquakes are common. Most of these regions are extremely inaccessible, usually cut off from the rest of the world by cliffs, rock barriers, chasms, plateaus, oceans or cave blockages, requiring great effort to reach or escape.

These environments are extremely harsh: Vegetation is often rare or absent, but there are often areas showing signs of previous fertility, including elaborate fungal growths, dessicated forests and occasional bits of green. This tells us that while normally sterile deserts, the realms of the Slurpasaurs have intermittent periods where they bloom and become rich and green. One puzzling anomaly is that there are almost no other animals than the giant Slurpasaurs. There are no mammals, no birds, not even small or medium sized reptiles.

Given these near sterile environments, the existence of Slurpasaurs is a paradox. How is it that ten ton reptiles can survive in an environment where even a rabbit would starve to death? What are they eating, and how do they find enough of it not only to survive but to grow gigantic? Why aren't there any other animals? Why are they found only in these harsh habitats and not elsewhere? And how did they get to such widely scattered and difficult to reach locations?

It is the harshness of their environment which is the key to the existence of Slurpasaurs. Essentially, it is too harsh an environment; mammals and birds, warm blooded/high energy creatures simply cannot survive. They starve to death.

In normal deserts or harsh environments, mammals or birds migrate back and forth to the biologically richer and more productive surrounding regions. When the 'deserts' bloom, they move in, when the deserts dry up, they move out. These nomadic 'raiders' mean that lower animals like Lizards are unable to dominate and are relegated to small sizes and subordinate niches.

However, because of isolation and inaccessibility, this is not possible in the 'lost worlds.' New animals and new life has great difficulty moving in, life existing there has difficulty in escaping. Although life is easy during the periods of 'bloom', these periods are punctuated by long spells of sterile desert. For the most part the species that exist must learn to endure harsh times or die off.

Thus, after isolation, the region is dependent upon its own impoverished fauna and appears to go through a winnowing process. Extreme conditions steadily eliminate all but the hardiest of mammals and birds. Indeed, in many habitats, mammals and birds vanish entirely. The remnant ecology is then dominated by Lizard, Turtles and Snakes, hardy animals with slow metabolisms who can survive long periods of drought and famine.

In such an environment, reptiles with their slower metabolisms and greater ability to endure privation finally have an advantage. Biologically, they are far more able to endure hard times. So, a Slurpasaurs 'lost world' may start off with the same normal complement of flora and fauna as in the surrounding countryside, but the isolation and the boom and bust cycle of the environment means that steadily, all the higher animals are weeded out, leaving only hardy lizards and a handful of lower life forms.

After that the normal processes of evolution takes place. The lizards, with no competition for food during the green periods, and with no predators apart from each other, have no limitations on their growth.

Inevitably, in competition for scarce resources, larger and larger species of lizards dominate, until eventually the Slurpasaur emerges. There are numerous competitive advantages to larger sizes. A larger 'low metabolism' animal can build up greater reserves of fat to survive drought periods. It can outperform rivals of its won species for food and mating opportunities. It becomes easier to avoid or ward off predators, and outcompete rival animals. Greater and greater size allows it to stabilize its metabolism and endure adverse conditions of extreme heat and cold. The evidence seems to be that in the right conditions, Slurpasaurs will evolve very quickly to gigantic size.

It would appear that Slurpasaurs from different habitats are generally unrelated to each other. Rather, they evolve independently from similar basic stocks of lizards into giants. Thus, there is no common origin or single point from which a Slurpasaur emerges. Rather, in the right conditions of isolation and feast and famine ecology over millions or perhaps as little as hundreds of thousands of years, Slurpasaurs will tend to arise. In this, they are similar to the giant tortoises of India, the Galagos, and isolated Islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Similar conditions have turned similar animals into unrelated giants.

Slurpasaur Anatomy and Life Cycle

Although the various breeds of Slurpasaur have emerged independently, most of them share common features dictated by their great size and harsh environments. Almost all of these great reptiles have prehensile forked tongues which they use for feeding. In normal lizards, the tongue is a sense organ used to taste or smell the environment. In the Slurpasaurs, the tongue in addition becomes a prehensile tool like an elephant's trunk, used for grabbing prey or stripping vegetation. Among the larger Slurpasaurs the tongue is long and sensitive enough to pluck a grown man away in the blink of an eye.

All Slurpasaurs store fat for the famine times, and are specially adapted for these purposes. Usually the primary fat storage is in the tail. Despite this, almost all experience long periods of near dormancy or hibernation during the famine times, where their metabolic rate falls very low.

Despite their resemblance to small lizards, their bones and musculature are substantially heavier. Despite this, like lizards they are crawlers, spending much of their time at rest after exertions, and thus do not resemble the more upright and rigid posture of dinosaurs and mammals. The environments of Slurpasaurs are often uneven, thus encouraging climbers rather than walkers or runners. As a result, Slurpasaurs are characterized by sprawling postures and long digits.

One of the great challenges for Slurpasaurs is heat regulation. Their large size helps them to maintain stable temperatures, but many species evolve sailbacks, fins or neck frills in order to discharge excessive heat. Sexual competition, or struggles against rivals, prey and predators often lead to the development of horns and spikes.

Typically, Slurpasaurs reproduce in anticipation of or during green periods in their environment. This is often triggered by the presence or emergence of water in large quantities, or changes of temperature. Typically, solitary individuals will gather to form large breeding colonies, laying dozens or hundreds of eggs which quickly hatch. Like most lizards, once the eggs are laid, Slurpasaurs will take no further interest, and indeed may even consume their own eggs or juveniles.

Slurpasaurs will reproduce continually throughout the green period so long as it lasts, so that several generations and sizes of juveniles will coexist. For a brief time, there is a population explosion and the newborns, juveniles and adults of the Slurpasaur species form a relatively complete ecology, devouring plants and each other with abandon.

Eventually the Green period fades, the climate begins to turn harsh, the vegetation begins to die. As vegetable food sources diminish, the pressure on them increases, with various sizes of Slurpasaur literally consuming every bit of green that they can locate. Increasingly, the Slurpasaurs begin to prey on each other, with mid-sized individuals hunting the small ones, and the giants hunting the mid-sized.

Eventually, as a result of intensive hunting, there is nothing left except a handful of the largest, with a scattering of smaller forms hibernating, well hidden and continually hunted. As prey becomes scarcer and scarcer, the giants' metabolisms slow down and they enter long dormancies, ever watchful of opportunities, until finally the cycle begins anew. During the long harsh spells, the only active animals are the giant Slurpasaurs, carefully ignoring each other until territoriality or hunger drives even these titans to combat.

Slurpasaur Behaviour and Habits

Slurpasaurs are predators first and foremost. However, they're also omnivorous opportunistic feeders, and their behaviour is dictated by their seasonal life cycle.

For instance, in the so called 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' Lindenbrock and Saknussem encounted a breeding colony near an underground sea. Although there were a dozen or more animals present, they showed very little hunting behaviour beyond simple opportunism, and the explorers were able to escape relatively easily.

There have been few if any encounters with Slurpasaurs during their green periods, but it seems clear that on such occasions, with a surfeit of food sources including both vegetation and easier prey, that they would simply be opportunistic, but not dedicated hunters.

On the other hand, as their life cycle moves into desert and famine stages, they become increasingly more relentless hunters. Predominantly carnivores, their tactics are a mixture of ambush and chase. Their senses are extremely acute. They have long torpid periods of inactivity broken only when they become aware of prey. Focusing on motion, they will often wait motionless until a victim comes within range. However, they will also pursue prey relentlessly, and are capable of tirelessly running down or waiting out most species within their habitat. Even hiding or seeking shelter will not save prey, as the creatures are both relentless and unstoppable, tracking over dozens of miles or waiting days for a treed meal.

The creatures are fearless, and if hungry will attack other specimens as large as they are. Once they are decided on a course, it is difficult to dissuade them, they are difficult to kill, and are able to tolerate massive pain and injury. That said, generally their preference is smaller forms. A recurrent feature of the Slurposaurs is cannibalism. Larger specimens will readily devour smaller specimens, adults devour juveniles, females will devour their mates. Often in mating competitions, unsuccessful or injured males will be devoured by females and rival males.

If prey are unavailable, Slurpasaurs are avid carrion eaters and scavengers. They will also readily consume vegetation, bulk loading it into specialized stomachs and letting it decompose until it can be digested. However, despite this, their metabolisms are much slower than comparably sized mammals and dinosaurs, thus their diet requirements are only a fraction of their relatives. The flip side of this is that their metabolic energy and activity rates are much lower, with short periods of intense activity balanced by long periods of torpor.

Slurposaurs are extremely long lived animals, specimens estimated to be 150 to 200 years old have been identified, but in fact some may be much, much older. When dormant, they often pick out secure locations from which to ambush, and can remain there for months or even years. They are usually solitary, occupying large territories, but as noted, are known to congregate for mating or feeding. Although behaviour is consistent from species to species, a few species do sport distinctive attacks or behavioural traits. For example in the 'Lost World' of South America, at least some species frequent scalding volcanic pools. Many species swallow stones to aid in digestion, and there are recorded reports of some animals vomiting up these gizzard stones as projectile attacks. Other species have been observed to spit stomach bile or venom, or belch flaming methane.

Nevertheless, the uniformity of Slurpasaurs across the world from one continent and landscape to another is a testament to both the remarkable miracle of convergent evolution, and to the ingenuity and genius of life in adapting and expanding in the harshest environments. The Slurpasaurs are not Dinosaurs, but in their own fashion they are as remarkable as any extinct monstrosity, and all the more remarkable for being with us today.

George Edward Challenger, esquire Professor Emiritus, Doctor of Natural History

Postscript: The Real Natural History of Slurpasaurs

Slurpasaurs first appeared in movies as early as the 1930's, for a very simple reason: Real Dinosaurs were damned expensive. Historically, there were only two ways to film dinosaurs with any sort of realism -

One was through use of stop motion animation, as seen in the original Lost World, King Kong, Son of Kong, Valley of Gwangi, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Giant Behemoth and Planet of the Dinosaurs. The results, particularly back in those days, were amazing, bringing prehistoric creatures vividly to life. Dinosaurs with their scaly rubbery hides and immobile reptile features were particularly amenable to stop motion. They were also expensive as hell. Stop motion footage was shot one frame at a time on three dimensional dioramas, with each animal's every movement being painstakingly done by hand.

The other technique was 'suitmation', or simply stuffing a human stuntman into an awkwardly fitting dinosaur suit, perhaps with some rod puppetry. The most remarkable example of this was Godzilla and his ilk - Gorgo, Gamera, and the entire Japanese menagerie. 'Men in Suits' Dinosaurs were seen in American movies even in the 1950's as in the Untamed World, and in British movies like The Land that Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core. But this too was expensive in its own ways, and it had the added disadvantage of often looking like hell. Humans could fit very nicely into a variety of monster and ape costumes.... But Dinos? No way. A Dinosaur costume generally required a certain artistic license.

Of course, B-movie adventures didn't actually have a lot of money, and certainly didn't want to spend a lot of money, so they were on the lookout for a better (cheaper) way to go about it.

Well... Dinosaurs were reptiles, right? And Lizards were reptiles, right? And stop motion just used miniatures to blow up and look enormous, right? So why not chop out the middleman, and use real live animation, shoot regular reptiles on miniature sets and blow them up to look enormous.

Perfect!

Except, of course, that you can blow up a mouse to look to be the size of an elephant, and it's still going to look and act like a mouse. Dinosaurs had an inexorable fascination for children. Every schoolboy was steeped in them. Kids knew what Dinosaurs looked like. They also knew what Lizards looked like. They weren't fooled. Mostly, I remember being offended. It's true that kids will tolerate a lot of crap, our bullshit detectors aren't that highly tuned, and if the adventure movie was on top of its game in other ways, we'd put up with some fakey lizard. But we weren't fooled.

And sadly the execution of live lizards blown up into Dinosaur size on optical printers left a lot to be desired. The trouble was, of course, that the sort of people who were inclined to go this ultimately cheap route were generally not the sort of people who were going to spend a lot of money on anything else. If you were going to shoot a Lizard and pass it off as a Dinosaur... well, there's the background to consider. You couldn't have anything in the background that would give a sense of real scale and tip off the audience that the critters were only a foot long.

It was also critical. Think of the jungle landscape that the original King Kong lived in. Would Kong have been as effective without the endless trees, the lush jungle, the great wall? In King Kong's first appearance, he emerges out of the forest, standing as tall as the trees. In the scene with the Tyrannosaurus, the monster literally pushes trees over as he walks out to face Kong. The miniature sets were full of familiar or recognizable landscapes built to scale so that they reinforced the image of Kong and his enemies as giants. If he'd only been shot against neutral backgrounds? Not nearly as impressive.

But anything of that nature would have to be built in miniature, which was time and money.

So no grass, trees, vegetation, ruins, buildings, etc., etc. For the most part, the optically printed Lizards were shot against the cheapest most non-giveway backgrounds that they could come up with. Mostly... Rocks and sand, sometimes gravel. Well, a tree gives us a sense of scale. A rock gives no sense of scale, a pebble can be the same as a boulder. Which is why they used it, but it's also why it doesn't have the same effect.

There was little in the way of vegetation, sometimes some leafless twigs, mostly nothing in the way of miniature buildings or ruins. Instead, in the effort to present a clean image which wouldn't tip us off that these creatures were actually tiny, they presented their lizards in an empty environment that gave no sense of positive scale, conveyed no impression that these animals were huge or that there was any grandeur to them or their activities. In essence...Big fizzle.

Every now and then some apologist comes along and croons about the greater verisimilitude of using live animals to substitute for dinosaurs. It's supposed to be better because these are living cousins of the Dinsoaurs rather than rubber and wire armature stop motion miniatures. The trouble is that for the most part it's just dumb. As noted, lizards look nothing like Dinosaurs.

But worse, they were terrible actors. Look, mammals and birds are very expressive, they're constantly looking around, they have elaborate dances and displays for threats and courtship, they run, they trot, they gambol, they dig, they snarl, bark, sing, chase their tails, chew their cud, eat. There's always something going on.

Lizards...Basically, Lizards just sit there. They're low energy creatures, they spend a lot of time sitting immobile. For the most part, they're not nearly as frantic as mammals or birds, and when they do act, there's a sort of functional indifference. Technically, they may have faces, but there's almost nothing going on. Watch a lizard eat or flee, watch its face, you can't tell. A lizard may hiss or even bite, but not in the frantic way of a snake. So a lot of this stuff amounted to filming them sitting there and breathing, or occasionally crawling along somewhere.

And sometimes it resulted in animal cruelty. Let's set aside the practice of gluing fins and horns onto these critters in a vain attempt to make them look more Dinosaur-like, although I have to wonder if that did them any good. In order to get something like a performance out of these things, they would be hung from wires like puppets, as in The Lost World (1960). Or they'd be tortured or prodded with sticks to move. Or in at least one notable instance, they'd be pushed into actually fighting, and so they'd film a live scene of a baby alligator and a small monitor actually biting and tearing at each other for real. It was nasty and disreputable, and hellishly, it still looked terrible. Two tiny reptiles tussling, no matter how sordid and nasty it is in reality, still looks like nothing much blown up on a big screen.

Its only advantage was its utter cheapness as an effect to produce, and even that abysmally low cost dropped to almost nothing when it became re-useable stock footage. The fact that it cost pennies on the dollar, or fractions of pennies, in comparison to stop motion or suits, meant that any low budget film maker could use it to spruce up his barnyard epic for almost nothing. And they did.

I'm not sure which movie was the first to use lizards in this way. For all I know it may go all the way back to George Melieres. One Million B.C., from 1940, was perhaps the most high profile use, and produced stock footage that was continually reused. Irwin Allen's later Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Lost World, from the 1960's was also a source of endless stock footage. Between these movies, Slurpasaurs appeared in King Dinosaur, Two Lost Worlds, Killers from Space, Flash Gordon, Robot Monster and literally dozens more movies.

The bottom line was that the use of Lizards as Dinosaurs was such a crashing failure on every possible level that it aroused nothing but contempt. The name Slurpasaur was invented, either by disgruntled fans or some particularly acerbic critic, as a term to describe such cheapjack effects.

By the 1980's, the era of the Slurpasaurs were over. Film makers, even the lowest, nastiest exploitation workers, had come to realize that the audience, even gullible children, were just too sophisticated to buy into it. Hell, even by 1900 everyone knew what a Brontosaur looked like. Stop motion and even Suitmation had developed cult followings, and CGI was about to make a big appearance, but those optical printed lizards were beloved by no one. Let's not even think about the Animal Cruelty people.

But having said that, I think that we all grew up with Slurpasaurs. On one midnight movie or low rent Beta or VHS after another, they appeared, crawling through our childhoods, a part of the golden oldies, their appearances and habitat so consistent from one movie to the next that eventually, we can write an article like this. So there it is, if not a beloved part of our heritage of fantasy and sci-fi movie lore, then a genuine part nonetheless.

Postscript II - Real Slurpasaurs, or 10,000 B.C. Revisited

It's tritely obvious that art imitates life. It's only midly clever, and a bit of a cliche to assert that life imitates art.

But the truth of the matter is that often enough, life imitates bad art.

Man never coexisted with Dinosaurs. But in some corner of the world, Stone Age humans moving into new lands fought for their lives against giant lizards.

But forty-seven thousand years ago, the ancestors of the present day Australian Aborigines arrived in Australia as a Stone Age peoples. They were probably diminutive, as hominids of that day were, averaging perhaps five feet tall.

Early Australia had no shortage of bizarre megafauna, including a 10 foot tall kangaroo with a near human face, giant flightless predator ducks, marsupial lions, and giant diprodonts. It was a strange, strange land.

In Australia, they encountered, along with an assortment of strange marsupials, a series of fearsome reptiles.

Megalania, up to 26 feet long and two tons in weight, the largest land dwelling lizard ever to have lived, and one of the apex predators of the era. There was also Quinkana, a giant land dwelling crocodile with legs positioned under its body rather than spawling, that chased its prey down, running over 20 feet in length. There were two species of giant snake up to 30 feet long. And a placid gigantic horned turtle nine feet in length. At least some of these, notably the 'Dream Snake' may be remembered in Aboriginal folklore. And of course, the great Saltwater Crocodiles of Australia, whose lengths may have reached twenty and thirty feet are still with us.

Luckily, the turtle was a vegetarian, but the rest of these reptiles were predators and would have had no fear of early humans. Imagine what it would have been like for these diminutive Stone Age wanderers, without bows and arrows, armed with nothing more than crude spears and clubs, to encounter a lizard the length of five men, the height of a man. To encounter giant serpents, running crocodiles on the plains, hidden terrors in the water, immense predator birds.

The presence of these giant lizards, snakes and land crocodiles would have been a challenge to the early humans of Australia, and from time to time, events of One Million B.C. would have played themselves out. Who knows, perhaps some of those early Australians might have had a resemblance to Victor Mature.

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