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Crazy About Cryptids! An Ecological Hunt for Nessie and Other Legendary Creatures


Matthew P. Rowe
Department of Biology
University of Oklahoma


Who wouldn't want to go in search of a creature like Bigfoot, Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster?  Using the science of ecology, students do exactly that in this case study that encompasses a variety of case study teaching formats.  Working in groups, students are encouraged to discover and apply ecological concepts, including but not limited to geographic range, minimum viable population size, net primary productivity, and ecological efficiency.  During their intellectual quest, which focuses on "Nessie," students also consider important issues regarding the nature of science, such as peer review, multiple working hypotheses, expectation bias, and the principle of parsimony.  Designed for use in an introductory, nonmajors general education science course, the ultimate goal of this case is to demonstrate the power of science as a "way of knowing" to a cohort of often science-phobic students. The case study is also "flipped" in the sense that students view selected videos (including one made by the author) in advance to help prepare them to solve this ecological mystery in class.


  • Explore factors that might limit the geographical range of a species.
  • Apply the 10% rule and the 50:500 rule.
  • Introduce and reinforce concepts such as net primary productivity (NPP), carrying capacity, food webs, energy flow, ecological efficiency, genetic drift, inbreeding depression, and minimum viable population size (MVP).
  • Understand that ecology is inherently interdisciplinary, borrowing from and relying on other disciplines (including, in this case, geology, limnology, psychology, paleontology, anthropology, and genetics, among others).
  • Distinguish credible from "not-so-credible" sources.
  • Understand the importance of peer-review.
  • Develop "multiple working hypotheses" when evaluating a claim.
  • Appreciate the limitations of anecdotal evidence, including personal experiences and eyewitness testimony.
  • Apply Occam's Razor when evaluating competing explanations.


Geographic range; net primary productivity; carrying capacity; minimum viable population size; ecological efficiency; multiple working hypotheses; expectation bias; Occam’s razor; principle of parsimony; Loch Ness; bigfoot; nessie; hoax; 10 percent rule

Topical Areas

Scientific method, Pseudoscience, Scientific argumentation

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education



Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Directed, Discussion, Flipped, Interrupted, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Earth Science  |   Ecology  |   Evolutionary Biology  |   Interdisciplinary Sciences  |   Science (General)  |  

Date Posted


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Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Species Distributions
    This short video, which was constructed specifically for this case study by the author of the case, is designed to prod the non-science student into thinking about various ecological factors that might limit the distribution and abundance of a given species. Running time: 10:31 min. Produced by Matthew Rowe in association with The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science and Michigan State University, 2015.
  • Energy Transfer – The 10% Rule
    This short, simple video explains the 10% rule in ecology. Running time: 1:42 min. Produced by Region 10 Education Service Center, 2012.
  • HD: Bait Ball Feast – Nature’s Great Events: The Great Feast – BBC One
    David Attenborough narrates a short clip (1 minute, 14 seconds) from his Blue Planet series showing a marine feeding frenzy. Running time: 1:14 min. Produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, 2009.
  • Tim Dinsdale. Loch Ness. 1960
    A link to the famous Dinsdale footage, which purportedly shows Nessie, but more likely represents a boat and its wake. Running time: 40 sec. Produced by Tim Dinsdale; YouTube upload by Zoilo Bolanoble. 1960 (original footage); uploaded to YouTube in 2013.
  • The Lost Golf Balls of Loch Ness
    Short video of the extensive search using remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) of the lake bottom in 2009. Lots of golf balls were found, but no monsters. The same video is available embedded in a news article at Running time: 1:08 min. Produced by SeaTrepid, 2009.
  • Could Bigfoot REALLY Exist?
    This video is a perfect recap for Part I of the case study. Running time: 7:30 min. Produced by Joe Hanson ("It’s Okay to Be Smart" series); uploaded to YouTube 2016.