An explainitory essay using the Jersey Devil to explain the mechanics of cryptozoology.
Author's Note: This essay was originally written as a speech with a 10-minute time limit.
She cursed the day she and Leeds were wed
Heavy with life she held her head
and cried to the midwife, silent and grim,
“Twelve children I have given him!
Still young, I am old, pale, and sick with wear.
Twelve hungry mouths, twelve burdens to bear!
Oh, what I would give to bear the Devil's child,
all claw and fang, all fierce and wild.
Such sweet revenge to see Leed's face
when he finds a beast in the baby's place!”
Now it prowls the pines in the damp of night,
when a gibbous moon spends its sickly light.
As child of darkness, who leaves in the sand
a cloven hoofprint, the mark of a hand,
a broken branch, or a claw, who knows?
But the wise pinewoodsman never goes
alone in the Barrens late at night.
He fears the blue heron in it's flight;
avoids the red orchid, passes it by,
leaves it to suckle the carrion fly;
starts at the sudden crack of a twig -
Something is moving there-something big!
There are charms to be carried. Don't tempt the fates.
The Jersey Devil watches and waits!
This poem by Linda Reddington tells the story of the Jersey Devil, New Jersey's own resident cryptid. Essentially everyone is familiar with the Conventional Sciences: chemistry, ecology, physics, biology, etc. However, there is a whole other field, called, cryptology, which examines things that are not traditionally considered “scientific.” Branches of cryptology include: disology, ectology, and, more commonly, astrology and cryptozoology. While you may not know these particular titles, it is a safe guess that everyone in this room is familiar with these cryptologies: ectology is the study of ghosts and spirits; disology is the study of divine intervention, or miracles; astrology is the study of the positions of astral bodies; and, my favorite, cryptozoology, is the study of fantastic creatures. According to Ben S. Roesch, in an essay on forteantimes.com, crypids, or creatures studied by cryptozoology, must fit into one or more of the following three categories: a) they have been sighted recently, despite being declared extinct; b) they have been sighted recently, but are not accepted by conventional science as “real;” or c) at any time in the past, they fit into one of the previous categories.
Cryptozoologists look at creatures like the Jersey Devil and study them. I want to pay homage to my home state's resident cryptid by using the Jersey Devil to explain the two main objectives of cryptozoologists: determining how these creatures would work if they did exist, and the most likely explanation for the legends if they do not.
In the most common version of the legend, and the one reported by James F. McCoy and Ray Miller, Jr. in their books The Jersey Devil and Phantom of the Pines, the Jersey Devil was born in 1735 during a violent storm. It was born a normal baby, probably a boy. However, minutes after birth, it began to change. It grew to 7 feet tall, developed the body of a kangaroo; a horse's head; large, glowing red eyes; and enormous, bat-like wings. Its other characteristics, however, vary depending on the teller. In the legends, it had a forked, serpentine tail; weak, clawed forelimbs; and muscular, hooved hind legs (on which it walks). Most eye-witnesses, however, say it walks on four, clawed paws.
In order to archive our first objective – that is, to determine how this creature functions, we must fully delve into the world of the paranormal. So imagine, if you will, that we had more to study than simply the myths and stories. Imagine if we found...a body. For the sake of time, I want to focus on a few of the most prominently improbable traits of the Jersey Devil.
Examinations of the carcass reveal that the interior of the creature's mouth is armor plated, and contains a false palate, similar to a structure in crocodilians that prevents water from entering their bodies while attacking prey underwater. Furthermore, the scientists discover odd, interlocking teeth at the back of the creature's mouth.
Looking beyond the mouth, scientists discover a bone structure similar to that of modern birds of prey: instead of being a dense mass, this creature's bones are honeycombed, with pockets of gas contained within them.
Delving further into the body, scientists discover that the creature's cell structure, especially in the lungs, is oriented much differently than that of most other creatures. They come to the conclusion that these strange structures represent a body system theorized to have existed in early dinosaurs: this creature breathes in reverse, meaning it takes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen. The examination also reveals that the forelimbs are essentially vestigial, meaning non-functioning.
The first thing a scientist objects to when looking at the Jersey Devil and creatures similar to it is the wings. There is not, and never has been a scientifically documented creature with more than four limbs. In fact, most scientists go so far as to declare a surplus of four limbs as physically impossible, according to an article in BBC's Knowledge magazine. How, then, does the Jersey Devil have six?
The answer lies in its lineage. In order to have evolved a its fifth and sixth limbs, the Jersey Devil must have evolved from a creature that already possessed wings – it is much more likely that an extra set of legs evolved than the much more complex structures of the wing. This leads cryptozoologists to believe that the Jersey Devil is descended from winged dinosaurs, like the pterodon. The vestigial forelimbs could represent this partial evolution.
A sister legend to that of the Jersey Devil is detailed in the book Tales of the Jersey Devil by Geoffrey Girard. He writes about the Blue Holes, strange lakes of crystal blue water found throughout the Barrens. These do exist, but are not “bottomless,” as the legend implies. The Devil is said to throw his meals into the Holes and use his fiery breath to boil them. How can the Jersey Devil breaths fire?
This answer can be found in the examination. The creature's false palate and thick protection in the interior of the mouth are protection for breathing flame. The creature's strange breathing patterns are also essential for this adaptation. The oxygen that the creature exhales is flammable, and the simple act of striking its unique back teeth together could ignite the gas.
Finally, how could the creature fly? The anatomy of the creature's hollow bones would certainly help. But it would seem that the creature is far too heavy to gain the lift to fly. While the Jersey Devil has a wingspan of nearly 100 inches, the creature weighs over 100 pounds. Just how does it fly? That's an answer I don't have.
Now, let's look at a completely different aspect: what the Jersey Devil actually is, if it isn't the mythical monster from the legends. The most common explanation based on visual characteristics is the Sandhill crane, a waterbird that can have an 80-inch wingspan. It has an eerie cry and preforms a bizarre mating dance of hops and flips. At one time, the Sandhill crane was rather common in the Pine Barrens. Encroaching human populations, however, drove it out of the Barrens into seclusion in the Deep South.
All this being said, it is important to think ahead. If the previous hypothetical was true - we had found a body, of any cryptid, what would would it mean? For society, for the media, for our schools? How important it would be, if we found concrete, scientific evidence, that we remember that these amazing creatures are so much more than mere monsters.
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