An alternative healer with a PhD and background in entomology (study of insects) has exploited an opportunity to officially name Bigfoot as a new species. The being portrayed in a famous film that some believe depicts an actual Bigfoot has been designated the type specimen for the as-yet non-corporeal animal.
Dr. Erich Hunter, who specializes in pendulum healing, has described and formally named the animal commonly referred to as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” in a self-published document based on the specimen portrayed in the Patterson Gimlin film of 1967. He has called the creature Kryptopithecus gimlinpattersonorum (Hunter 2017). The original species name was “gimlinpattersoni”. This appeared on the cover and in the released print/Kindle copy. That is incorrect Latinization since there are two persons’ names, not just one. The name should not have been altered. But sloppy Latin was just one of the serious problems in this Bigfoot naming ceremony.
Hunter published an amateurish 20-page paper through CreateSpace entitled “Kryptopithecus gimlinpattersoni, A New Species of Bipedal Primate (Primates: Hominidae) From Humboldt County, California USA” (edited to “gimlinpattersonorum” as noted above) that attempts to legitimize this new formal name under the naming code published by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN.org). Hunter, who published a Doctorate thesis on the “Systematics of Phasmida” under the name Erich Hunter Tilgner, provides no legitimate zoological credentials to support why he should be the expert to name this species. He is listed as a former alumnus of the McHugh Lab at the University of Georgia, but is currently not working in this field as his main business is as a holistic healer writing books, providing online courses for learning pendulum healing, and honoring personal requests for healing at $200 per session. Hunter took advantage of a low-bar that allows for naming new animals.
Hunter states his awareness that the ICZN allows a new species to be formally named (for all time, everywhere) based on a photographic specimen as the holotype (the individual upon which the species description and name is based). Hunter used what was, in his opinion, the “best” visual documentation of Bigfoot as the holotype. The reasoning for allowing a photo in this circumstance will inevitably be colored by your prior conclusions about Bigfoot: if you accept that the PG film depicts a real animal, the naming based on this designated holotype is legitimate. The specimen “escaped”, as Hunter argues, and all that remains of the now-presumed dead animal is the image. He uses Frame 352 of the movie which is in the public domain as the film itself is copyrighted and, thus, private. If you assume the creature in the PG film is a human in a horsehair suit – it falls under Homo sapiens and Equus caballus.
The ICZN does not allow the naming of a hypothetical animal. So Hunter attempts to demonstrate in his publication why “Patty” (as the female being is known from the film) is a genuine animal and deserving of being the official name-bearer.
I consulted Dr. Ronald Pine, Adjunct Research Associate of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas and the Museum of Texas Tech University, for assistance in navigating the validity of Hunter’s act of naming. Dr. Pine says Hunter simply had to follow the ICZN rules of naming and correctly establish both the new genus and species name he proposed for it to be valid.
Hunter’s publication, even though it’s self-published, is a valid form of publication for official naming. This is a real problem in naming species as many people have engaged in what Dr. Darren Naish called “taxonomic vandalism” via self-publishing in their own journals. Name-grabbing or name-bagging is not uncommon because the first name officially published is the one that must be adopted. As long as the publication is publicly available in print, or in an electronically published scientific journal that meets criteria for archiving and registered on ZooBank – the official ICZN registry, then it’s acceptable. The Code makes no judgment on the validity of the species description or characterization, not even if it really exists! The Code only provides the rules for how you can name animals and which names take precedence over synonyms.
Hunter registered the name with ZooBank even though it is not required. Melba Ketchum also registered her name for Bigfoot Homo sapiens cognatus after her ill-received self-published paper on field-collected Bigfoot DNA. The Ketchum name is NOT valid because the publication itself did not follow the rules for naming including criteria for description, defining the type specimen, locating the type specimen, and stating the species be given this name. Therefore, it has no standing.
Hunter does complete the task of describing the animal from the morphology he sees in the PG film including the following:
Pelage – Black hair covering body with varying degrees of density; muzzle of face haired; mammae covered in hair.
Head – Prominent sagittal crest; no forehead; distinct brow ridge; nose broad.
Neck – Skull atop slightly curved spine and is positioned below shoulder line; neck relatively short; robust.
Shoulders/back – Broad shoulders and back that appear gorilla-like.
Arms/hands – Powerful arms; hands not elongated; thumbs appear opposable.
Torso – Broad, gorilla-like torso.
Hips/Legs – Tailless; broad hips; well-developed buttocks; powerful legs that appear slightly bent when walking; knees do not appear to lock when walking.
Feet – Feet flat; fully adducted hallux in line with the rest of the digits. Midtarsal break evident.
He also gives estimated measurements, admitting that these will be refined at a later time based on new information. Ideally, the details should be argued within the community but, this is Bigfoot, so there is no professional community of scientists who will hash out the details and disputes.
There are two-and-a-half pages (very large font), just 643 words, on the “evidence” for the existence of the creature and the quality of the film footage. This text consists of several quoted sections of a paper by Munns and Meldrum (2013), “Surface Anatomy and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue Features in the Analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin Film Hominid” published in The Relict Hominoid Inquiry. Part of this section includes a reference to skeptical anthropologist David Daegling (2004) who is quoted as saying that claims the film was a hoax have never been proven. Daegling’s book Bigfoot Exposed was dated the same year as that of Greg Long’s controversial book The Making of Bigfoot that some count as a reasonable (but entirely circumstantial) argument for why the PG film most certainly was a hoax orchestrated by Roger Patterson. Hunter fails to cite several other reputable sources that also support the existence of Bigfoot as a real animal rendering this document an incomplete review of Bigfoot-reality claims.
He discusses physical features he observes from the film as conclusive evidence of the creature’s validity, even though these are unverified – skin folds, surface anatomical features, hair patterns, muscle motion, and toe and hand flexion. The Munns and Meldrum paper is, again, cited as justification that the film is of adequate quality to make these biological determinations. For additional support of Bigfoot reality, he argues that it was not possible to make a realistic costume at this time. In supplying a few random weak rebuttals of common issues non-believers assert about the PG film, Hunter ultimately resorts to shifting the burden of proof by saying that no one has proved Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Along with the poor proofreading (the obvious misspelling of “gait” as “gate” twice) and lack of professional language and process displayed, this document is not comparable to the quality of scholarly scientific publications.
While the description is based on a dubious subject in a low-resolution film from 1967, it is essentially valid. Dr. Pine clarifies that even a verbal description or basic sketch based only upon a brief sighting would qualify as the basis for naming a new species as long as some distinguishing characteristics are stated and a name is properly proposed. It is disturbing to realize that anyone could have named the species before this, provided they followed the rules acceptable to the ICZN. However, Hunter failed to qualify his proposed genus name Kryptopithecus. While Hunter provides a description of the particular species, Kryptopithecus, as proposed, is without a description. I won’t be surprised if he churns out another slap-dash, unreviewed publication with the genus issue fixed, just as he casually fixed the mistakenly Latinized species name.
Several others have proposed names for Bigfoot. None, apparently, have done so officially, but that point might be debatable. This article by Loren Coleman on the BRFO website contains references to previous conditionally-proposed names that were all within existing genera. Dr. Jeff Meldrum has proposed a name for the iconic footprint, Anthropoidipes ameriborealis. Footprints are considered ichnotaxon, or traces. Meldrum is careful to describe both the genus and species in his publication with the proposed name. Tracks will have a different name as the animal who made them. This is common practice for fossil prints but, in this case, it is not a fossil but a cast of the print made from the location of the PG film site. The Code states ichnotaxa are fossil traces, not casts, thus, Anthropoidipes ameriborealis is invalid.
Major criticisms have been outlined here regarding Erich Hunter’s proposed name. All are important but, ultimately, may not matter in the big picture. From what can be determined so far, there is no other legitimate, accepted species name for Bigfoot. All other proposed names do not matter if the rules were not followed. Should remains of a genuine animal turn up that is determined to be just like that depicted in the film, there would be some appropriately giant arguments about its zoological name, though Hunter’s K. gimlinpattersonorum would have a claim. It doesn’t matter that the scholarship on this original description was shallow and shoddy. He was thinking of a creature that looked just as in that film when he named it and designated the film as a type specimen. As Dr. Pine wrote to me:
“That fact is tied up with the function that the type specimen is supposed to perform — THIS thing and no other, and forever more, is what this NAME applies to, with absolute surety, because the person who named it said so, and regardless of whatever someone might think in the future about the taxonomic identity or shared specific identity of it with other specimens might be, this is the one that the person had in mind when he/she came up with that name.”
If, after study, the animal was determined to be that of another species (either an extinct named species like Gigantopithecus blacki or modern Homo sapiens) then Hunter’s name would become a junior synonym of that designation.
Bigfoot does not exist as a real animal according to scientific consensus. It remains speculative and, therefore, no one actually cares about its name. Yet, in distilling all the various problems of this particular example, we have some unresolved issues.
The naming code allows for spurious research, non-peer reviewed publications, and poor scholarship to exist on equal footing as legitimate activities done by experienced and diligent scientists who care about making the most accurate and useful naming designations. There is significant “taxonomic vandalism” going on that should be addressed. In some cases (such as global identification of venomous animals) it may result in measurable harm, though, in general, it undermines basic scientific integrity.
Several researchers have petitioned the ICZN to address these lapses in standards of practice, scholarship, and peer review. Quality control standards are not required by the ICZN but clearly should be, for the good of science. As such, there is now an ugly situation that results in careless naming by unqualified people for egotistical purposes.
(Edited for clarification points – use of photos was not allowed via a rule change – it was previously allowed; Hunter’s thesis was for his Doctorate degree; the ichnotaxon A. ameriborealis is unquestionably invalid.)