Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 2nd, 2010
What are the Con Rít? Have any ideas?
The following is from The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep.
Great Sea Centipede
This unique marine animal generally is quite large, 30 to 60 feet in length, with a relatively thin neck. Its body may be segmented and displays lateral projections, plates, or fins that stick out prominently from its sides. This animal routinely sprouts what appears to be water vapor from its hairy nose or mouth area. This visible breath is one of the diagnostic features of this kind of Sea Serpent.
Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans called this type the Many Finned, and noted that its many lateral fins and segmented, jointed armor of bony dermal plaques “were common among archaic whales.” The multiple finned structures have been reported in a variety of configurations, and Heuvelmans points out that the rigid nature of the animal may cause the fins to be seen from different angles when the animal turns radically. Because of the animal’s movement, therefore, these triangular fins can give an appearance of a massive jagged crest, when the cryptid is swimming on its side.
We have renamed Heuvelmans’ Many Finned, the Great Sea Centipede, which hacks back to the original—and more appropriate– original Roman name.
Heuvelmans said this type is found only in the belt of tropical and subtropical waters around the world, living in some of world’s warmest waters. A close study of the distribution of sightings of this distinctive creature appears to demonstrate a restricted range for this tropical marine animal, from south of Asia to Arabia, at 15 degrees north, to 15 degrees south near Madagascar, with only a few reports coming out of the normal range. A specific, well-documented population has historically been reported from the South China Sea off of the old Indochina, east to the Gulf of Aden. Reports from Madagascar to the south, and sightings in the Mediterranean Sea reinforce the restrictions of this type to the world’s warmer marine environs.
The first modern discussion of these animals took place in the sixteenth-century work, L’Histoire entiere des poissons by the “Father of Ichthyology” Guillaume Rondelet. What he called the “cetacean centipede,” had “a multitude of feet,” the “oars with which it propels itself.” This cetacean, which was frequently seen in the Indies, stated Rondelet, was first described by Aelian (d. 230 A.D.) in his On the Nature of Animals (200 A.D.), as the “great sea-centipede.” Aeliad told how this animal sometimes beached and witnesses would describe the lobster-like tail and hairs of the large nostrils.
Though the legacy of the Great Sea Centipede is centered on the South China Sea, sightings in other parts of the world give hints of an earlier, more widespread, distribution of this type.
One detailed record of a sighting was noted by the Illustrated London News. It came in the form of a letter from Edmund J. Wheeler, who was quoting from the log book of his company’s ship, Princess, recently returned from China. When going around South Africa (latitude 34 degrees 56’ S, longitude 18 degrees 14’ E), Captain Tremearne saw a “large fish, with a head like a walrus, and twelve fins,” six on each side, a great tail, and some 20-30 feet in length. It was sprouting something from its mouth. The Princess’ crew fired on it and felt they had hit it around the head. This all took place at 1 P.M. on July 8, 1856.
Commander Hugh L. Pearson, captain of the Royal Yacht and his Lieutenant W. P. Haynes, both of the H. M. S. Osborne, cited in an official report to the Admiralty, that they had seen a sea monster, but not one that was serpent-like, off Cape Vito, near the north coast of Sicily, on May 2, 1877. Remarkably, it displayed a long row of fins, over thirty feet long, which appear to have been seen sticking out from the side of the animal, rather than from the back, as Sea Serpents are sometimes described. This certainly appears to be the case, because when the gentlemen grew closer to the creature, it showed a head with a smoothness down its back “like a seal” and front flippers.
The next year, another sighting followed in which the witness told an investigator that what she saw looked exactly like what had been seen from the Osborne. In December 1878, an Englishwoman named Mrs. Turner was aboard the P & O liner Poonah anchored off Suez or Aden (she could not remember which), at the Gulf of Aden when saw her creature. She related her experience to Robert P. Greg, who subsequently wrote a letter to biologist Antoon Cornelis Oudemans. What she said she saw, a mere 150 feet away, was a strange animal motionless on the surface. Greg relayed that “She saw both the head and 7 or 8 fins of the back, all at the same time in a line. She cannot remember exactly how many dorsal fins there were, but they were large, slightly curved back and not all the same size…. The head looked 4-6 feet diameter, like a large tree trunk…. The color was nearly black like a whale. The whole length appeared considerable, perhaps as long as an ordinary tree, or moderate sized ship!”
But most of the sightings of the Great Sea Centipede are tied to Indochina, and the excellent records the French kept of sightings from 1890s through the early 1900s, as French and others ships were opening the markets off the South China Sea. A record of a stranding of one of these animals took place in 1883 (see descriptive case). Good sightings of sea-going unknowns with many fins occurred off of Indochina in 1893, 1896, 1898, 1902, 1903, 1904, and 1908. Sightings near Somalia occurred in 1923 and 1928, and near Madagascar in 1926. In the 1920s, A. Krempf, Director of the Oceanographic and Fisheries Service of Indo-China, formally considered these animals to be real and part of the zoological sphere to be described and collected. Heuvelmans’ view is that this Vietnamese cryptid is the prototype for the Oriental dragon.
More recent sightings are rare, but one report of a Sea Serpent seen by Chinese students in about 1968, near Hong Kong, suggests the continued existence of this type.
Dermal plating has been an evolutionary adaptation for aquatic environments, as it is to be found in certain fish groups, including the ancient fossil plated fish (Placodermi), and the present day examples of the sturgeon (Chondrostei), the seahorse (Teleostei), and the armored catfish (Teleostei, Loricariidae, Hypoptopoma). Even the coelacanth, of course, possesses a form of dermal plating that survives from 65 millions years ago. Having the body covered with an exoskeleton of horny epidermal scales with the addition sometimes of bony dermal plates, is the design of most reptiles (alligators, turtles, snakes). But did ancient whales have dermal plating? Convergent evolution could have produced some ancient whales with armored dermal plating.
Bernard Heuvelmans certainly thought so and designated this animal and its relatives, the Cetioscolopendra aeliani (“Aelian’s cetacean centipede”), linking it to the ancient whales – perhaps even the zeuglodons. One such a primitive, extinct whale (or zeuglodon) that Heuvelmans thought may have evolved a plated form was the Basilosaurus, an Archaeoceti whale from the Eocene epoch, 50 million of years ago. This snake-like whale had 44 teeth in its long jaws. It was about 65 ft (20 m) long, and had small hind legs and a reduced pelvis.
Heuvelmans noted that a few dermal scutes had been discovered in association with one basilosaur fossil, and some amorphous rounded lumps were found in associated with a fossil squalodont (a primitive toothed whale). Both finds were interpreted as evidence that primitive cetaceans were “armored.” However, in private correspondence in 2002, British paleontologist Darren Naish reports that the basilosaur scutes turned out to be from a leathery turtle and the squalodont “lumps” were either petrified wood or unidentifiable. No evidence of dermal plating, therefore, exists for cetaceans, extant or extinct.
Due to this lack of precedent, the rarity of good sightings, and their limited range, most cryptozoologists today feel that the Great Sea Centipede is one of the least likely of the Sea Serpent types. But actual plating is not necessary for the Great Sea Centipede to look as if it has plates. The plated nature of some archaeocetes may be due in part to the encrusted, stalked nature of epizootic barnacles and characteristics of the skin not recorded in the fossil record. Yet another possibility may exist, of course. The lateral “plates” may not be plates at all, but merely fins. We propose an additional function for these reported lateral fins – heat dispersal. The Great Sea Centipede appear to live in rather warm waters and they may have adapted to the high temperatures with these body attachments, which would have aided in cooling the animals.
Type: Great Sea Centipede
Descriptive Incident: Con Rit
Location: Hongay, Along Bay, Vietnam
Witness: Tran Van Con
Con rit is Vietnamese for “millipede,” a name applied to the special form of Sea Serpent found in the oceans off South East Asia.
French doctor Armand Krempf, Founder and Director of the Oceanographic and Fisheries Service of Indo-China, conducted initial research on the Con Rit in the 1920s. He interviewed a first hand eyewitness, a 56-year-old Annamite native, Tran Van Con, who reportedly touched a beached Con Rit in 1883. The body (without a head) was sixty feet long and three feet wide. Dark brown above and light yellow below, the animal had regular armored segments every two feet along its body (thus its millipede and centipede names), and three feet wide. It had a pair of appendages 2 feet, 4 inches long. The segments, when stuck with a stick, rang “like sheet-metal.”
The Con Rit turns up as the dragon of ancient Vietnamese legends, not as a snake but as an animal seen in the Gulf of Tonkin, fabulously long “like a centipede.”
Source: Krempf, A. “Carcass on coast of Annam, 1883,” in Gruvel, Abel. L’Indochine Ses richesses marines et fluviales. Exploitation actuelle. Avenir, Paris: Société d’Editions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales, p. 123, 1925.
Type: Great Sea Centipede
Date: May 21, 1899
Location: Cape Falcon, near Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria
Witness: Lieutenant Boothby, several sailors
This sighting in the Mediterranean occurred when sailors aboard the H. M. S. Narcissus, saw a creature they said was 150 feet long, near Cape Falcon, Algeria.
Lieutenant Boothby was on watch at 5 A.M. when he observed a “sea monster” from the port bow. He wrote in the log that it was “propelled by large fins, and lying very low in the water.”
Boothby and sailors on board observed it for thirty minutes.
A London newspaper reporter asked one of the sailors if he did not think it wasn’t a line of porpoises. The sailor said that they has seen “some porpoises just after and their motion was not the same. You could see the porpoises jump and tumble over, but this creature lay steadily on the surface, gently gliding through the water.”
The signalman witness reported the monster was “propelled by an immense number of fins.” The movement of the fins was strong enough to keep the creature thrusting along at the same speed as their ship. He noticed the fins were on both sides of the animal, turned over and over, and were located all the way to the tail. The head could not be seen because of the water being kicked up by all those fins.
Curiously, the animal “spouted up water like a whale, only the sprouts were very small and came from various parts of the body,” one witness recalled. Heuvelmans speculates that some of this water seen spraying up was “splashes raised by rows of fins along the sides.”
Source: Heuvelmans, Bernard. In the Wake of the Sea Serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1965, 1968; “Sea Serpent at it Again.” Daily Mail, London, May 31, 1899.
But others have had some difference takes on this cryptid.
Darren Naish recently wrote a short Fortean Times piece, in which he briefly discusses this topic:
Bernard Heuvelmans regarded two of his nine sea monster kinds as basilosaurids. However, rather than regarding the long-bodied, serpentine types as modern representatives of this group, he proposed that the armour-plated ‘many-finned’ and bumpy-backed ‘many-humped’ were both basilosaur ids. His logic was somewhat obtuse: absolutely integral to his identification of the ‘many-finned’ was his interpret ation of the 1883 Vietnamese con rit account conveyed by Dr A Krempf in 1921. Yet this account described a gigantic segmented creature, covered in plate-like armour sheets that “rang like sheet metal” when struck. This fantastic description remains an enigma, but Heuvelmans’s conclusion that the creature was an armour-plated whale is peculiar and rests on the idea that basilosaurids were armoured, a proposal that had been disproved decades earlier.
There are many ways to view this armor-plated oddity.
The following is from George Eberhart’s Mysterious Creatures:
Con rít. Sea monster of the China Sea.
Etymology: Vietnamese (Austroasiatic) name for a millipede with a toxic bite.
Physical description: Length, 60 feet. Dark brown above, light yellow below. Body composed of armored segments 2 feet long and 3 feet wide. A pair of thin appendages, 2 feet 4 inches long, is attached to each segment.
Distribution: Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Significant sighting: Tran Van Con and other Vietnamese found a carcass washed ashore at Hong Gai, Vietnam, around 1883. The head was gone, but the remainder was formed of odd segmented joints that rang like sheet metal when hit with a stick. It smelled so badly that it was towed out to sea.
(1) The backbone of a whale, though the vertebral structure should have been obvious and described in a different way.
(2) The caudal vertebrae of an Oarfish (Regalecus glesne). However, its bones are shaped differently and this fish generally only grows to 36 feet.
(3) Surviving archaic Basilosaurid whale, similar to those in Heuvelmans’s Multifinned sea monster category, which he theorized had armored plates. However, it’s now known that Basilosaurids were not armored.
(4) A surviving Sea scorpion (Class Eurypterida), a group of arthropods that flourished from the Ordovician to the Permian periods, 500–250 million years ago, had an abdomen divided into 12 segments, but no appendages were attached to them. In addition, they actually lived in brackish or fresh water instead of the open sea, and the largest one, a species of Pterygotus, only reached 10 feet in length.
(5) A giant crustacean of an unknown type, proposed by Karl Shuker. The carcass represents only the exoskeleton and limbs. However, the largest known living crustacean is the Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), which has a claw span of 10–12 feet but a body size not much over one foot—nowhere near the size of the Con rit.