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Buff Or Fluff? What’s Under Bigfoot’s Fur?

Updated: Apr 15, 2023



I’m sure we’ve all seen the Patterson-Gimlin Film. It depicts a brown-haired specimen known as Patty, a female sasquatch estimated by various sources to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall, weighing perhaps as much as 400 to 1,000 pounds. Her arms appear to be almost a foot in diameter, if not larger. Her plentiful thigh muscles can be seen rippling in the soft light of the afternoon sun. If this information is accurate, it would indicate that a primate of considerable size and strength is living in the Pacific Northwest.

It would be simple if that were the end of the story, but there are many more photo and video recordings of wood apes. Some of them show more of the same, with tall, bulky hominids very similar to Patty. Others, however, throw abit of a wrench into our perception of sasquatch. Many specimens appear to be shorter in stature, or have more slender frames. Then there’s hair colour. Patty may be a brunette, but wood apes are also reported as having coats that are black or reddish, or even sometimes blonde or white. Then some witnesses mention a strong, distinctive odour, while others didn’t smell a thing. That’s more variation than we see in most great ape species. They just aren’t that consistent.

Some skeptics cite this discrepancy as sure proof that these appearances are nothing more than hoaxes and cases of mistaken identity. If these are real flesh and blood creatures, and not products of the human imagination, why the inconsistencies? Believers, however, may posit that there are an array of bigfoot species, each with unique adaptations to its own environment. Why couldn’t divergent evolution have produced an assortment of related hominid species?

While both of these approaches seem plausible, there might be a simpler explanation. What if all these traits could really belong to the same variety of creature? What if we’ve been looking at it all wrong? We’re going to get to the bottom of why some wildmen might appear to be bigger and bulkier than others. Today, we’re looking under bigfoot’s fur.


Regional Variation


One possible explanation is that of simple genetic variation. While there exists no consensus on exactly how much variation is required for any particular divergence to be classified as speciation, the typical approach is to consider whether two organisms can produce fertile offspring. If they can, they are typically considered to be of the same species. While this definition of species can fail to neatly apply in some circumstances, such as when classifying ring species, it is generally considered adequate. Thus, if the reports of wildmen interbreeding with humans are indeed true, this would strongly imply that humans and bigfoot belong to the same species. This would align with Dr Ketchum’s proposition to classify sasquatch as Homo sapiens cognatus. (Not to imply that this theory is the strongest, or that Dr Ketchum’s work doesn’t have problems, but I think it’s at least worth considering.)

This poses an interesting question. If humans, neanderthal, and sasquatch possibly belong to the same species, why don’t we see the same variation across other great ape species? And even if they aren’t, (which is probable) sasquatch alone vary substantially. Chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan populations are fairly uniform in comparison, and they are classified as genera rather than species. (Unless you consider bonobos as distinct from chimpanzees; this modern view places chimpanzees as their own species forming a genus with bonobos, but that’s just semantics.) In each of them, they have a largely consistent hair colour, and they all have similar builds. There is some variation, but not nearly as much as in Homo sapiens.

While it is possible that this reflects an older bias towards splitting animals into several distinct categories, hailing from a time predating evolutionary theory, when the Aristotelian and Linnæan schools of thought considered species to be largely immutable arrangements stratified into a great hierarchy of being, and perhaps it would be wise to consider reclassifying them in light of a non-orthogenetic model of biology, I still don’t think that’s the crux of the issue. Even if we limit our discussion to H. sapiens sapiens, (ordinary modern humans) you still see more apparent variation than exists in the entire genus of Pan. Why is that?

Well, it’s typically considered to be a result of regional variation. Humans have traditionally lived in every continent except Antarctica, and somehow we still manage to spend time there anyway. With our vast geographic expanse, covering most of the globe, it’s no wonder that changes have occurred along the way. Some of these changes would be the result of evolutionary pressures exerted by the environment, (ex– reduced levels of UV radiation in conjunction with a vitamin D-poor diet resulting in less skin pigmentation), while others would be the result of genetic drift (ex– the Quebecois developing a distinct genetic profile). There are a wide array of heights, skin colours, hair textures, facial structures, and body compositions among human populations, and it seems to be driven primarily by geographic distribution. So, if wildmen are distributed to as wide an array of environs as we are, should we not expect a similar result?

It has been well established that creatures tend to vary with latitude. Less equatorial populations tend to be bigger, stockier, and lighter pigmented. If we apply this principle to the US alone, it would explain the majority of reported variance. The need to conserve body heat in arctic climates could well be the reason Alaskan sasquatch reports describe a creature as much as 15 feet tall, and this notion accords well with the reports of skunk apes being slim and gracile. The Pacific Northwest, which harbours more than its fair share of sasquatch sightings, seems to be something of a happy medium, if not a little on the larger side. The Midwest also seems to be in the medium range. In short, we seem to have a spectrum of size diversity, scaling from larger in the north to smaller in the south.

About skunk apes specifically, it should be noted that some appearances may be due to cases of mistaken identity. Some specimens photographed or reported may actually be escaped great apes, specifically chimpanzees or orangutans, and this could bias the average reported size downward even further. While this could technically happen anywhere, I think it’s more likely to occur in the Southeastern United States. First, it would be a better climate than most for a chimpanzee, with warm, humid forestry in abundance. Second, we’ve all heard about Florida man. If anyone’s going to release an exotic pet into the wild, it’d be him. Third, skunk apes are typically thought of as being smaller, so a chimpanzee would be more likely to be misidentified there than in higher latitudes. Having said all that, I think skeptics are far too quick to run with this theory. Some of them would have you believe that there’s an epidemic of great apes being released into the wilderness all across the States, and I just don’t think that checks out. So I’ll concede that it probably does occur, but I’m not convinced that it’s incredibly common.

While we’re on the topic, let’s discuss that distinctive odour. Why are skunk apes in particular known for their smell? If we subscribe the theory that the foul odour commonly reported around sasquatch sightings is essentially body odour, (the phenomenon by which bacteria decompose odourless lipids produced by apocrine sweat glands into smaller, strongly-scented substances, like butyric acid) as was entertained by Dr Meldrum for example, then it would figure that increased sweat would result in increased odour. Due to the higher temperatures in the region, we should expect Southeastern sasquatch populations to produce more sweat on average, and therefore carry a stronger scent overall. If it’s instead a selective pheromone causing these odours, as Bob Gymlan theorizes, then perhaps it may be a result of genetic variation, or else just an aberration of reporting; that is, the feature is reported disproportionately across popular reports. Perhaps the name skunk apes biases us toward emphasizing this feature, or perhaps it is related to encounters being at closer range due to the denser foliage of southern forests.


Maturity & Individual Variation


Now we know the answer. It all comes down to regional differences in bigfoot populations, right? Well, hold on for a minute, because we’re not done. While much of the variation likely arises from population differences, don’t forget about individual differences. Just like with mankind, we shouldn’t expect our closest relatives to be carbon copies of one another.

In humans and other great apes, sexual dimorphism is quite pronounced. Males tend to be larger and more heavily muscled, in addition to behavioural differences like increased aggression and territoriality. In addition, what about diet and exercise? While this is going to matter more in the context of industrialized society than with wildmen, it’s worth considering that some individuals may be malnourished or may have simply not generated as much muscular hypertrophy. More important than this, of course, is sheer genetic variance. Remarkable changes can occur within a single generation. I mean, just think of how different you are from your parents. In humans, there are genes associated with differences in height, body composition, bone structure, and (yes, I’m bringing it up again) body odour, so discrepancies between reports can certainly be explained this way. It only makes sense that witnesses would be reporting wood ape encounters somewhat differently. A ‘squatch is a proverbial snowflake; no two are ever quite the same.

We also have to consider age-related factors. If these are flesh-and-blood creatures like any other tetrapod, then they’re going to have to start off in a smaller life stage, growing over time. So a smaller specimen may just be a juvenile, not as tall or heavily muscled as a full-grown adult. A senile individual may develop sarcopenia or simply lose muscle mass with age. And, yet again, we circle back to body odour. In humans, the apocrine sweat glands are more active around puberty, so perhaps adolescent wildmen will carry a stronger scent. Juvenile specimens may account for any arboreal sasquatch sightings, as the younger individuals may be light enough to climb trees easily. Skeptics may attribute these instances to mistaken identity, with there being some kind of monkey or gibbon or whatnot swinging around the North American woods, but I’ve already mentioned how I think this line of speculation is somewhat implausible on the large scale.


Horripilation


Now, this is going to be a theory I don’t hear talked about much. I’m sure someone else has thought of this before I did, but I actually stumbled upon this line of conjecture myself. Some call it horripilation, others piloerection, and others still the pilomotor reflex. Most of us know it as getting goosebumps. Now what does all this have to do with bigfoot?

Shortly after becoming acquainted with the evidence for bigfoot’s existence, I poured through all the (relatively) credible footage I could find. I was fascinated to know more about these creatures I’d assumed was a product of folklore and the collective unconscious. But I had a problem. Looking at different recordings of wildmen, especially Patty herself, I noticed that some of them appeared to be very muscular. As in, very muscular. Like, if their hair was close to the body like fur, their arms would be the size of a pretty stout tree trunk. I thought that was kind-of insane. I mean, I know these creatures are supposed to be strong, what with videos seeming to show them uprooting entire trees in seconds, but is there really that much muscle?

Look at an elephant. Their strength is overwhelming, but they actually look a little flabby. Hippos are almost pure muscle, and yet they manage to look pretty chubby. Should we really expect nature to produce arms that bulky on a hominoid? If you’re familiar with bodybuilding, you might know that bodybuilders often aren’t as strong as they look. Their physique may be aesthetically impressive to some, but it tends to be incredibly suboptimal for athletic performance. Strongmen, on the other hand, usually look pretty fat, but can pull vehicles around on their own. And I’m sure we’re all at least vaguely familiar with sumo wrestlers. So would piling on countless pounds of muscle on an extended limb really be in the forest giant’s body plan?

And what of the sleeker individuals? Is there really that great a gap in muscle mass? It seems almost unthinkable. Would there be such extreme variation? I was confused by this, until I recalled a Wikipedia article I read years prior, back when I thought the existence of bigfoot was rather unlikely. It was the article about goosebumps. You see, current research suggests that goosebumps are largely a vestigial response from ancestral hominids. When scared or threatened, their hairs would raise on end, creating the illusion that they were larger than they really were. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks; I was falling for the illusion.

Patty probably doesn’t have arms the size of a tree trunk, but giving us that impression makes her that much more menacing. Oh yeah, I’ve been afraid of forest giants ever since I watched The Legend of Boggy Creek as a kid. These creatures are terrifying. Anyway, most of the supposed bulk on these creatures is likely just fluff. That makes them a little less scary, but, then again, they lift entire trees. I’ve never seen a poodle or lamb do that.

There also seems to be a pattern. Aside from latitudinal differences, it also seems that it’s usually the big ones involved in any kind of confrontation. I can’t cite a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of how bigfoot bulkiness correlates with the tenseness or hostility of the encounter; all I have to work with is my own observations. I’ve never seen a slender wood ape appearing scared or aggressive. Now, you might suggest that the smaller ones are less aggressive, but wouldn’t they also be more flighty? It seems like whenever one of these creatures is alarmed, either fighting or fleeing, it’s always a bulky specimen. I propose that the evidence doesn’t suggest that size causes an increase in confrontational behaviour, but rather the opposite; being in a confrontation actually makes them appear larger.

And we also tend to get goosebumps in the cold. In a northern climate, it’s probable that the creature’s hair would be raised on end most of the time, making a photo of a slender sasquatch unlikely in such a region. (I mean, even more unlikely than getting a photo of bigfoot at all, which is already pretty rare.) Could this finally be the answer? That while wildmen vary considerably in stature, the bulkiness is all an illusion? I, for one, happen to think just so.


In Conclusion


There are several possible explanations for significant variation in sasquatch size, colour, and other morphological features. Their geographic distribution may play a significant role, as may age related factors. Surprisingly, the effect of horripilation (commonly known as “getting goosebumps”) can significantly skew the human perception of size, and may be a significant, yet rarely discussed, factor in bigfoot size and weight estimations. I believe this phenomenon warrants further study, although it’s definitely possible that my perception of this effect is exaggerated.

Thus, the perceived variations don’t necessarily indicate taxonomic distinctions. However, it is still entirely plausible that wildmen may constitute multiple species, subspecies, or even genera. Without a body, alive or dead, it’s nearly impossible to make that kind of determination. It is also possible that there are sasquatch-related primates that have yet to be discovered or documented in mainstream bigfoot research. (If you can call any of it mainstream.) At this point in time, all we can do is speculate.

The most important takeaway is that we still can’t be entirely sure of how large or massive these creatures get at what frequency. We have general ideas of size distribution, with some regions harbouring larger individuals than others, but we are unable to make conclusive determinations at this time. The average size and weight of these creatures remains a mystery, as do the creatures themselves. But hey! Look on the bright side; at least we finally know they exist.

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