Many have heard of the legendary lake monster Nessie, also called the Loch Ness monster in the Scottish Highlands. The Ogopogo lake monster is another reportedly living in Okanagan Lake, in BC, Canada. But what do we know about real lake monsters living around the world in freshwater lakes? Some of the most diverse and interesting ecosystems in the world are in freshwater lakes. They are also home to some truly fantastic and endangered beasts!
Our first real lake monster is one that is hard to find, because it lives on the floor of the lake. When people think of stingrays often they think of the ocean, but in Southeast Asia and northern Australia one species of stingray lives in freshwaters. This animal grows up to 5 meters long and weighs over half a tonne. Even though they are enormous, clams and crabs is this beasts’ main food source. They find their food by feeling for the electrical impulses of their prey.
The hard oval shaped shell is what gives turtles their cool ability to hide inside their shells when they’re scared. But the uniqueness of our next lake monster is it’s “horn” on top of its long snout. Called the mata mata turtle, this “horn” is actually a snorkel. This turtles’ cool ability is that it can breath while its body stays under water. Found in many countries in South America, this large aquatic turtle can grow to over 30 pounds. This is roughly the size of a very fat cat! Tropical freshwater streams, pools, and wetlands is the home and hunting ground of this turtle. They eat fish and invertebrates by swallowing them whole.
The classic Barracuda with it’s sharp teeth, or the beautiful Lionfish with its poisonous spines, is what typically comes to mind when thinking of scary fish. Both these fish live in the ocean, along with sharks, whales and eels. However, very “monstrous” freshwater fish also exist, like the Giant Catfish. These fish can grow over 3 meters long, and weigh up to 660 pounds. They can also live for over 60 years. Though they are enormous, humans are relatively safe around these animals.
The Giant Otter, a meat eating freshwater mammal rounds out our real lake monster profile. Found in South America, this animal has a body adapted for a life in water. It has dense fur, a paddle like tail and webbed feet, and is also huge! Growing sometimes to almost 2 meters in length, this animal has the ability to catch and eat caimans. Closely related to the vicious alligator, caimans are part of the Alligatoridae family. No one would think that an otter would be able to catch and eat a reptile like the Caiman.
These four animals are all facing similar problems in the wild, and are currently endangered. Poor water quality and habitat loss are factors negatively affecting these species. Scientists fear that pollution of freshwater habitats hinders population growth for both the freshwater stingray and mata mata.
Even though they are large and very interesting (and maybe a little scary), not a lot of information exists on their critical habitat needs, how they reproduce, and how big their current populations are. In order to come up with effective protection and habitat conservation plans, researchers are looking for more information on these important animals.
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