Alligator-human Hybrids

Hybrids out of History

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD

     
Two men, Sessions and Thomas, exhibited at Lake City last week a monstrosity of a human shape, in a boy, who, they say, resembles an alligator in form and motion.
The Weekly Sumter Republican (Aug. 29, 1873)

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alligator-human hybrid Jake the Alligator Man, an alleged half-man, half-alligator mummy on display at Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington. Image: Wikimedia. A much clearer picture of Jake, which cannot be shown here due to copyright restrictions, can be accessed on Flicker.

The actual occurrence of alligator-human hybrids was alleged in numerous 19th-century news reports, and such individuals were even the subject of articles in medical journals.

But more interesting is the existence of what just might be a specimen of such a hybrid, Jake the Alligator-Man, a mummified curio in the collection of Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach Washington. They keep Jake in a glass case there, and photos show him with the head and torso of a human being, but the lower body and tail of an alligator (see image right). As can be seen in this photo his lower torso, tail and hind legs are exactly like those of an alligator. Verbal descriptions his teeth are sharpened points. And as can be seen in the pictures, his hands are withered and claw-like. To my knowledge, no scientist has ever subjected Jake to molecular genetic analysis.

The founder of the museum, Wellington Marsh, Sr. bought Jake for $750 from an antique dealer in 1967. According to an online inflation calculator $750 would be equivalent to $5,470.13 in 2017. So it seems, paying that much money, Marsh must have thought he was getting the more than a taxidermist’s fake. The reference to an antique dealer suggests Jake is old. But how old? No one seems to know.

Unfortunately, just from the way Jake looks, it's easy enough to imagine a hoaxer taking the upper half of a real Egyptian mummy (there are literally millions of them available) and attaching it to the back end of an alligator. I could do the job myself. Look at this photo. It looks human down to the waist. All you'd have to do is plug the human torso into the alligator back end and voila!

Since Jake, the only available specimen of human-alligator hybrid, could easily have been faked and has never been genetically tested, this cross is poorly documented indeed. There are certain other, equally distant crosses that are far better substantiated, for example, chicken x human.

The glaring problem with most reports about human-alligator hybrids, beyond the large disparity between the proposed parents, is that there is a lot of hearsay, that is, the reports talk about what other people have seen in other places, and provide few specifics. A reliable report about any type of hybrid cross, should at a minimum specifically identify the author of the report and any other witnesses, and state exactly where the hybrid(s) can be found. Without such information, especially in a wide cross like alligator-human, a report becomes dubious indeed.

alligator-human hybrid Betty the Alligator Girl, as shown in a medical journal (Source: Medical Summary, 1915, vol. 37, p. 293).

alligator-boy The Alligator Boy (as shown in the Journal of Cutaneous and Venereal Diseases, 1884, p. 97)

One report that goes beyond hearsay, and actually does give first-hand descriptions is that of Betty the Alligator Girl, shown at right (see: Medical Summary, 1915, vol. 37, p. 293). But in her case the symptoms of alligator heritage are not nearly so marked as in the second-hand accounts quoted below. In Betty’s case, there is no long alligator tail, no love of water or long basks in the sun. Her similarity to crocodilians seems to have been limited to a peculiar scaly skin condition and a certain degree of mental deficiency.

Another report from a medical journal, The Alligator Boy — A Case of Ichthyosis (Fox 1884, p. 97) discusses an individual, that from the description given, seems more like Jake than Betty, but the accompanying picture of the child (see image right) seems to document nothing beyond a severe skin condition. However, the physician’s verbal account reads:

    A year ago, I had the opportunity of presenting this child at the Skin Clinic of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and at this time made the following brief notes.
    At birth the child weighed four and one-half pounds and presented an ichthyotic condition which has since increased in severity. When about a year old, the frontal epidermis split vertically in the center of the forehead and was cast off in two lateral pieces.The hands, at this time, "looked like those of a ninety-year-old man." ... The muscles of the lower extremities were not at all developed, and he was scarcely able to stand alone. By means of his arms, he would creep across the floor quite readily, and, according to the fathers statement, could not only swim like his namesake, but had an uncontrollable desire to get into the water whenever opportunity offered. He had a good appetite and was especially fond of fish, oysters, and the whites of eggs. He liked fruit, but ate no meat, and I was assured that his bowels rarely moved oftener than once in two weeks.
    xxxxxxxxxxxxx
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But there are in fact many reports that go much further. The earliest report located to date about an alligator-human hybrid appeared on page 2, column 4, of the December 17, 1873, issue of the Juniata Sentinel and Republican, a newspaper published in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania (source):

    They have a human monstrosity in Jacksonville, Florida, which is called an alligator boy. It is thus described: A boy thirteen years old, with hands and feet shaped like an alligator’s, his backbone all on one side of his body, his heart on the right side where the liver ought to be, fifteen ribs on one side and four on the other, the countenance of a bright, intelligent boy, and the movements of an alligator.

Another early report appeared on page 5, of the November 14, 1879, issue of the The Cincinnati Daily Star (source):

WHAT IS IT?

Amphibious Boys With Alligator Hides

Queer Freak of Nature in Eastern Kentucky

Special to the Star.
    Mt. Sterling, Ky., Nov. 14.—Marvelous stories reach here from Morgan County, up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, concerning two wild creatures recently discovered, which surpass all freaks of nature that have heretofore been brought to notice. They are two boys aged apparently about eight and twelve years, respectively, and both of the same peculiar construction.
    While having the form and body of a human possessing all the activity of the children of men on land, they are covered all over with a scaly hide similar to that worn by an alligator, and take to the water just as naturally as that amphibious animal. They walk, run and play and have been taught to talk. They are entirely devoid of hair, and their limbs are always in motion whether they sleep or wake. One peculiarity is that they have never been known to sleep with their eyes shut. They will leap into the water, warm or cold, with the agility and seeming delight of bull frogs and will catch and handle snakes with perfect delight and the entire absence of anything like fear.
    Several parties from Morgan County testify to the accuracy of this description, and the two alligator-boys will be brought here next Monday, at the request of the Medical faculty, for examination.
    

The following report, which originally ran in the Jacksonville, Florida Times Union appeared in papers across the country, the transcript given here is taken from page 4, column 6, of the October 25, 1883, issue of the Daily Los Angeles Herald, a newspaper published in Los Angeles, California (source):

The Alligator Children

(Jacksonville (Fla.), Times-Union.)

    Perhaps the greatest living curiosities now in existence in this country will pass through this city on their way to Cincinnati and Louisville next Tuesday. About two years ago Mr. Charles Lewis, of the Lewis Brothers’ “Bloody Knife Combination Company,” in passing through the State [i.e., Florida], discovered, about fifteen miles below St. Augustine, a family of white persons, consisting of John McDonald, his wife and five children. Two of the children he found to be half human and half alligator. He at once contracted with the parents, who gave him the management of the children, and he agreed to pay them twenty-five dollars per month to care for them until such a time as he saw fit to take them away. A few weeks ago Mr. Lewis returned to the State for the purpose of taking the children North, and on Wednesday arrived in this city to arrange for their transportation. He will go to St. Augustine Monday after the children and arrive in this city with them perhaps on Tuesday morning, and will remain here about five hours before leaving for Louisville. Mr Lewis does not intend to exhibit them here, except perhaps to a few friends and acquaintances.
    These children are now nine years of age, and have never been exceeding ten miles from their home, and consequently have never been placed on exhibition. Their bodies, arms and heads from the hips up are perfectly formed, while from the hips down they present the identical appearance of an alligator, having a perfectly formed tail of about five feet in length, together with the hind feet and legs of the alligator. They crawl around on their hands and feet, converse intelligently and seem to enjoy life very much. They live part of the time in the water, which they enjoy very much, using their tails while swimming, the same as the alligator, to propel their bodies. They are healthy, good-looking and well-developed children, and outside of their love for the water their general mode of living is the same as that of other human beings.

A story about the same pair ran in the Memphis Appeal (p. 4, column 4, September 25, 1883) and read as follows (source):

    The statement published a short time ago in the Appeal regarding a couple of monstrosities in Florida which are half human and half alligator is verified by a lady residing at Tampa, who is now on a visit to Memphis. They are amphibious, living in water most of the time, and coming out occasionally to bask in the sun. The lady also knows of another in the lower portion of Georgia which is thirty years old. From the waist up it is a man, bearded, the other half being alligator, tail, hind feet and all. It crawls about the floor, eating with a knife and fork as other people do. Its mother is a widow and very poor, but has refused an offer of $10,000 for ten years from Barnum, as she is devotedly attached to the strange offspring.

In the next report an alligator boy goes to court. The story appeared on the front page, column 3, of the August 16, 1892, issue of the Southwest-Sentinel, a newspaper published in Silver City, New Mexico (source):

Half Boy Half Alligator

    One of the most curious and revolting spectacles of deformity is to be found at Waycross, Ga., in the form of a human alligator.
    The monstrosity is a boy 14 years of age, who not only bears a close resemblance to a saurian, but hisses, bellows and foams at the mouth, just as an alligator does when angry. He can neither talk nor walk, and is an idiot, practically, save for the fact that when hungry he can make known his wants. If it is time for eating or drinking he lets those about him know by groaning and crawling about the floor on his belly.
    The boy’s body is almost entirely covered with scales of a delicate texture. His head is long and flat; his eyes are round and beady and blink with a superficial lid or film, like those of a 'gator. His mouth is long and wide and filled with an unusually large number of teeth.
    His legs and arms bear a close resemblance to the corresponding members of an alligator, being flat and turned sideways from immense joints. Altogether he is as near a blending of man and reptile as was ever seen. Water he loves, and he seems to know the presence of it by instinct.
    A few days ago the creature was taken before the grand jury and examined by the jurors and several physicians. The jury pronounced him harmless and returned him to the care of his mother.
    The secret of the deformity is in the history of the mother some time before the birth of the child.
    She and her husband then lived in a wild portion of Florida. One day they were crossing a mill-dam together when two enormous bull alligators met in shallow water and began a terrible combat. She was startled, and turned away and shuddered like an aspen. Her husband compelled her to look again. She did and seemed to have her gaze fixed on the monsters, which crushed each other with their wicked jaws, rolled in the contortions of pain, and lashed the water with their tails into bloody foam, until one was killed and the other crawled out on the bank victorious. For days and days afterward the vision of the battle haunted her, even in her dreams, and the dreadful result is the monstrosity she bore.

The next report describes a pair of alligator-human hybrids residing in the swamps of south Georgia (U.S.). It appeared on page 3, column 3, of the November 12, 1896, issue of The Hocking Sentinel, a newspaper published in Logan, Ohio (source):

GEORGIA’S ALLIGATOR CHILDREN

They Were Born with Scales and other
Saurian Markings

alligator man

     Down in a far away southern portion of Georgia is an extensive swamp called Grand Bay. It is a branch of the great Okefenokee Swamp. On the borders of this swamp live a pair of freaks the like of which are not to be found elsewhere. They are known as the “alligator children,” and are the offspring of a man and a woman of the poorest class of piney woods “crackers.” [Cracker is a name often used to refer to rural Georgians.]
     The eldest of the “alligators” is now twenty-three years of age, and in the best of health, except for her deformity. Shortly before the birth of this child the mother, Mrs. James Dawdy, was frightened by suddenly coming upon a huge alligator. The little girl shortly thereafter born to her was in appearance half human and half reptile.
     Her head and face was elongated, her jaws protruded. There was only a very scant growth of hair on her head, and down her back extended a row of dark callousities like the scales on an alligator’s back. She had a well defined tail several inches long, and her fingers and toes bore an unmistakable resemblance to an alligator’s claws.      About a year later a second child was born, a boy, and he showed the same peculiar markings, only they were not so strongly defined as those of the girl.
     Both children were mutes, and all efforts of the parents to teach them to utter intelligible words were unavailing. The girl made her wants known by a sort of whining sound, and when angry would snarl like an alligator. She was very unruly. The boy was more tractable, but both he and his sister displayed all the characteristics of the alligator.
     The girl would be now about five feet high if she could stand upright, but the same number of feet long would be the more appropriate way to describe her longitudinal dimensions. The jaws bear a strong resemblance to those of an alligator, and curving claws, calloused by long use in creeping about the floor, disfigure her hands and feet.
     The boy is more docile and exhibits a higher degree of intelligence, and will accept sweetmeats, holding them in his jaws as he crouches in the corner, munching them with evident satisfaction. He, too, creeps on all fours about the house.
     The other children of the family are of average intelligence, and show no kinship with their less fortunate brother and sister.
     [The article above appeared in various newspapers around the U.S. (for example also here).]

So all and all, the evidence for alligator-human hybrids, though rather copious, over-the-top and entertaining, is really quite iffy. Some eyewitness reports and well-characterized specimens would be nice, please.

Egyptian reverence for the crocodile

alligator godThe Egyptian God Sobek,
a crocodile-human hybrid.

The ancient Egyptians reportedly practiced sexual congress with the crocodile (Masters 1962; Ramsis 1969). During this ritual, which was thought to bring prosperity and increase the potency of the participating male, the female crocodile was turned on her back, which rendered her helpless. Herodotus (The History, Book II, 69) wrote that “The crocodile is esteemed sacred by some of the Egyptians, by others he is treated as an enemy. Those who live near Thebes, and those who dwell around Lake Moeris, regard them with especial veneration. In each of these places they keep one crocodile in particular, who is taught to be tame and tractable. They adorn his ears with ear rings of molten stone [i.e., glass] or gold, and put bracelets on his forepaws giving him daily a set portion of bread, with a certain number of victims, and, after having thus treated him with the greatest possible attention while alive, they embalm him when he dies and bury him in a sacred repository.”

Human hybrids:

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Human × Cat

Human × Alligator

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Bibliography >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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