Dinosaur Disclosure: Large Lizards, Sinister Serpents and Dangerous Dragons in the Modern World.
Many years ago, I took a dirt-cheap flight from the buzzing big city of Bangkok to the overcrowded smaller city of Siem Reap in Cambodia. The place was packed — at least in the city area — with backpackers, tourists, and street vendors, all in an unholy mix of buying and selling and come and see, but it didn’t leave a lot of memories for me except for a long and grueling trip on a moped to a waterfall somewhere in the distance. To be fair, after the worst pain in the buttocks and back had passed, we found an idyllic spot populated by colorful butterflies and — of course — easily accessible drinks and nutrients.
On our second day, our driver took us to the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, extra famous in popular culture for being the filming location of the Angelina Jolie blockbuster “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), especially the temple of Ta Prohm with its magnificent roots slithering down like alien tentacles over the ancient ruin walls. It’s an impressive site, and in hindsight, I wish we had taken it more slowly. We felt rushed for some reason, and there were Cambodian cops everywhere trying to sell us their badges. I’ve never been comfortable with cops selling me things, so I bought a badge — probably mass-produced — and spent an hour or two scared I’d just participated in something illegal.
The temple complex itself is extremely impressive — and enormous! It’s so big that a visitor, like me, after a while, kinda gets a bit bored. I mean, if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here. It’s a cool place. However, what really made my day was finally seeing and taking a photo of something truly mysterious: the alleged stone carving of a Stegosaurus. I was afraid the photo was lost, but I found it the other day after intensively searching inboxes, dropboxes, and drives. Not that the photo by itself is especially unique; you can find thousands of similar depictions of dinosaurs on the internet. But this is my photo and my experience.
What is it then? Some say it’s a modern-day carving, a hoax — maybe to make the location even more spectacular and interesting for tourists, archaeologists, and researchers. It could be. Another theory is that it’s a cow or a rhino, with leaves around it making it look like blades in its back. I doubt that. In all honesty, it looks more like a Stegosaurus than a cow/rhino — even if it lacks the spiked tail. According to one hypothesis, this is part of a visualization of the evolution in Hindu tradition, which still raises the question of how the artist knew about dinosaurs. In the end, I guess it really doesn’t matter, as long as the mystery continues to flourish.
So, how the heck can I make a smooth segue from dinosaurs to dragons? Because it’s dragons I really want to write about in this text. Sure, it’s easy: the dragon might be an archetype, forever imprinted in our consciousness as a result of lizards, crocodiles, alligators, snakes…and of course, dinosaurs. These truly otherworldly animals, almost alien — and always with a sinister look, like they want to eat you. Maybe they do? But that’s just what most animals want, so it’s understandable. I still love and respect them deeply, but who knows if I would stay behind and pet a T-Rex if one came stomping through the woods instead of running for my life?
The mighty T-Rex seems to be alive and well, at least in the state of Texas, with numerous sightings over the years, up until today — including one of the worst fake photos ever presented as evidence. Many of these observations also include miniature versions of the formerly mighty giant of the past, as one caller to Coast to Coast, Dan in Bakersfield, recounted a childhood encounter in a 2014 call. Dan was only around 13 or 14 years old when he was out with his motorcycle in the desert and saw something utterly strange: “It was probably about two feet high. It stood up on its back legs. It didn’t have, like, fingers or like you’d normally see a T-Rex in the movies with three or four fingers. It only had one claw. It was greenish-yellow, I think, in color and I never really thought about it. I just assumed it was some weird, you know, lizard but I remember… It was about 2 or 2 and a half, maybe 2 or 2 and a half feet high when it stood up. When it stood up, it had this egg-shaped dome… The only thing I can say is that it did look like a T-Rex. It had an egg-shaped face or head. It was crawling along on all fours and as we rode up on it, it reared back and it had these little tiny arms. It looked like a little T-Rex. It was angry. It wasn’t happy that my friends and I were riding our dirt-bikes in that area.” Lon Strickler’s excellent site Phantoms and Monsters has collected a ton of these stories, and I can recommend a visit. But beware, you might never leave that site as the strangeness never ends!
Then we have all kinds of sea serpents and lake monsters, and of course, winged pterodactyl-like creatures sweeping down above cars on lonely countryside roads. But I won’t go into that. I want dragons. REAL dragons. Or so they say. For some reason, Italy seems to be the hub of modern dragons. Why? I have no idea, but the environment — castles, beautiful forests, and fields — seem to attract these gentle, lizard-like monsters, making it a perfect place for fantasy animals. For example, in 1933, the people of Syracuse, Sicily, were terrorized by a huge serpent, somewhere between 11 and 20 feet long. The villagers, scared shitless, unfortunately shot and burned the poor creature, according to newspapers at the time, and not much more information is available. The year after, in the forests of Montessore al Mare, a coastal area in the north of Italy, another monster made an appearance. An elderly man encountered an eight-foot-long dragon, scaly, and with green and gold colors. As usual, not much is known about this case, so maybe it’s just modern folklore in the works?
A few years later, in 1939, two women who were out picking berries in Ossun, France, claimed to have encountered a huge lizard, a creature that had allegedly roamed the countryside since the 1890s, when the first sighting was reported. The French, as you all know, have a rich folklore regarding dragons. Without going too deep into this fearsome creature, it’s worth mentioning the Tarasque, a dragon-like hybrid with a colorful shell. There have been no modern sightings of it, but it’s famous enough to have given its name to the city of Tarascon in the Provence region. I’ve included it here because it’s adorable!
However, we need to jump further ahead in time, to 1975, when the dragon craze really took off in Italy, at least for a couple of weeks, causing headlines, speculations, and the involvement of police and government. Join me on the hunt for… The Monster of Goro!
If one follows the river Po out west through the northern parts of Italy, you will first meet the town of Torino, and be led to the Adriatic Sea and the municipality of Goro. It’s one of the most important harbors in Italy for the fishing industry and has been a hub for commerce since the year 945. The ancient Greeks called the river Eridanos, one of Hades’s rivers in Greek mythology, the god of death and ruler of the underworld. Like much else in Italy, it’s a place filled with legends and magic. Whether those were the esoteric thoughts of the farmer Maurizio Trombini on that day in June 1975, I cannot answer. But something made him change his mind when he was sweaty and hairy working in his tomato field. It all started with the bushes nearby shaking so much that the stunned Maurizio had to take a step back. Out from the vegetation came a monster! He described the creature as a long snake with legs on both sides and an “ugly and unpleasant dangling tongue.” However, he wasn’t alone in his terrifying experience. Around the same time, other witnesses claimed to have seen the monster and described it as a mutated giant centipede! One thing is for sure: it was long and had multiple legs.
The terrified farmer, who was, to say the least, surprised, immediately contacted the local police station, where Constable Starchelli took his report very seriously. He sent a telegram to senior commanders in Ferrara, and soon the area was swarming with police and soldiers in search of the monster. The news became big at the time, and of course, more logical explanations were presented. One suggestion was that it was a large crocodile that had escaped and got lost in the greenery, but Maurizio himself, known by the media to be a serious person, refuted that. It was definitely not a crocodile; it was something he had never seen before. A similar event actually took place five years earlier, a few hours away, in Forli. A man reported being chased by a similar beast, a large lizard-like creature about 15 feet long, with breath that radiated heat. He likened it to a dinosaur.
To be fair, I could go on forever with more modern observations. There are countless videos, often from China, allegedly showing long dragons flying and an array of winged serpents — in the latter case, not only in China but also in the rest of the world. However, I’d say that the majority — maybe even all of them — are fakes, which is easy to produce in this day and age of digital trickery. So, how about Sweden? There are, of course, tales of dragons up here, including a few winged creatures. In my upcoming book “Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden,” I briefly go into one of the legends: “During my research, I’ve encountered several Swedish stories where I’ve come to the conclusion that they might be internet hoaxes, like the Halen Vulture, a pterodactyl roaming the small town of Olofström and the nearby Halen lake. Through the phone, I reached one of the elders in Olofström, veteran book antiquarian Johnny Karlsson. Amused by my stories of an alleged pterodactyl, he told me he wished they were true and added that he had never heard anything about flying monsters in his neighborhood before — and he was a seasoned guide in the area and the lake himself.”
There are older stories about this pterodactyl-like giant vulture, but they need to be counted as traditional fairy tales and folklore.
Another serpent that roamed the Swedish countryside many years ago is Lindormen, a giant snake, sometimes with a mane. One folklorist who spent a lot of time investigating this cryptid was Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius (1818–1889) who, in his 1884 book Om Draken eller Lindormen, described the beast as follows: “The mentioned species of animal, which is hitherto unknown to zoological science, does not seem to belong to the class of poisonous reptiles but rather offers an analogy with the boa snakes found in the south. It is dark in color, reaches a length of up to 10 Swedish cubits [=6 m], is as thick as a man’s thigh, and sometimes has on its neck a mane of scales or horsetail similar to a horse’s mane. When alarmed, it rises against its enemy to the height of 4 or 5 feet and displays such terrible fury that it can hardly be killed except with a gun.”
While this cryptid has more or less died out from the public consciousness, I actually found a story connected to a living person, though she relays an experience an older relative of hers had during childhood. Her relative was 12 years old at the time and was out walking on a sunny day during the late thirties. In a meadow, somewhere in Småland, he caught sight of a coiled, thick, and large snake with a strange reddish color lying on a small hill next to a stone wall. Curious as all kids are, he went a bit closer to the creature, armed with a tree branch. Then the snake rose waist-high above the ground and hissed loudly and with a high-pitched noise! On the head and neck, it looked like the snake had red hair, much like a horse, that split like a short mane. The relative then also saw how incredibly big and rough this snake was, got scared, and ran away from there. He went to the meadow several times that summer but never saw the snake again. He rarely talked about his experience as he was often met with disbelief from friends and family.
I wrote earlier in the text about how I wanted to avoid lake monsters, but I feel like sharing a story from my own life, and it’s about the legendary Great Lake Monster, Storsjöodjuret, in Östersund, Sweden. Yes, I had the privilege of encountering the alleged entity itself.
Although there were two of us who witnessed the creature, my companion prefers that I remain silent about it. However, I cannot resist sharing this extraordinary experience. It is rare for me to participate in events of this nature. The date was November 12th, 2006, and the time was precisely 12 noon. The snow had not yet settled, but the weather was bitterly cold and windy in Östersund. I was walking along the Brunflo road, trying to distract myself from the difficulties in my life, primarily those involving my companion who was with me. I reached a section of the road where we had an unobstructed view of Storsjön, and I gazed down at the water, which I enjoy looking at but am not comfortable being on. Suddenly, something caught my eye. My immediate reaction was one of surprise as it defied normality. Logically, it shouldn’t have been there, at least when referring to our consensus reality. My companion noticed it too, and we both came to a halt. We saw something swimming about 20–30 meters out in the water, which was between 10–12 meters long, black, or at least very dark in color. It swam against the wind and the strong waves, without any boat nearby — and believe me, I am well aware of the wave patterns that boats create. Within a span of 10–15 seconds, the creature dived and disappeared into the marked Storsjö water, leaving us stunned. And there you have it. I have now disclosed what few people know, I’ve seen the great lake beast of Storsjön.
Dragons and similar creatures might have long vanished from our reality, at least from our material world. However, they persist, as anticipated, in literature, television, movies, stories, and hoax videos on YouTube. I don’t think it’s bad for a good old lizard to keep going and going, and I sense that it will never die or disappear. It is one of those mythological legends that may be too absurd to enter the serious field of cryptozoology, but at least it will survive in the human imagination.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of five books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.
‘Mini T-Rex’ Encounter in West Texas (Lon Strickler, Phantoms and Monsters, December 7, 2015)
A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts: Encounters with Cryptid Creatures (Ken Gerhard, Llewellyn, 2016)
“Meanwhile in Italy — The Goro Monster” (Edoardo Russo, Pursuit, vol 9, issue 35, 1976)
“Manormen” (Christina Garpenstedt, Svensk folktro och folksägner, May 10, 2021)
Om Draken eller Lindormen (Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius, 1884)