G is for Godzilla

Godzilla was definitely a dinosaur. The question is : Which one? And that means, of course, both which kind of dinosaur and which Godzilla, since there were several. Plus, always with the science, the ultimate question is: How do we know?

One thing is known about the Big Guy. Godzilla is the only dinosaur to have both an Oscar and his own theme song.

Which Godzilla

If we’re going to define what kind of dinosaur Godzilla represents, we have to narrow the list to which one we’re talking about. In total, there have been 38 film Godzillas (33 Japanese) beginning with the one in 1954. While I’d love to spend a leisurely post (or ten) about Godzilla’s history, let’s stick with the dinosaur theme. Point being, there have been a lot of renditions of Godzilla which look different, so if we’re going to call him a dinosaur we have to narrow the field to at most three.

Many Godzillas, many different skeletons.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to talk about mainly three Godzillas,. We’ll call them OG: Original GMan, 1954; Reboot, the 2014 or current “monsterverse” version; and DINO, the 1998 version which GFans call “Dinosaur In Name Only.” I’m skipping the Oscar-winner, Godzilla Minus One, only because he was designed to be very similar to OG.

OG (1954 version) Godzilla skull from Kaijukits

Godzilla Skull, Including Teeth

So, here’s a pop quiz. If you’ve read some of the other posts and you think Godzilla IS is a dinosaur, what’s the problem with this OG Godzilla skull being sold by Kaijukits? Spoiler: There’s no Antorbital fenestra. If Godzilla is a dinosaur, then he has to have an extra hole in his head, and that dinosaur does not.

Comparative skull analysis by Ken Carpenter

Overall, the design of his skull, the teeth, and the claws on his 4-footed feet and hands mark him in the group with the carnivores, the theropods.

Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist with tons of experience, takes a very good stab at analyzing the OG Godzilla in a research paper to categorize the creature within the appropriate species of theropods. OG does not look much like T Rex; instead, his skull composition is closer to that of Ceratosaurus or Carnotaurus. That is, his eyes are a little closer to the front of his head, then his mouth and jaw bones extend back quite a bit, like many dinosaurs.

The sharp, serrated teeth mark Godzilla as a carnivore–meat eater–although technically, although he rips apart subway trains and stomps buildings, he doesn’t eat people so much as angrily destroy them. He’s never actually shown eating anything. It’s certainly arguable that he feeds on radiation, which is logical since he’s the product of nuclear mutation. Radiation restores his energy level, sometimes after he seems to have died, plus it allows him to glow and breathe fire or shoot a radiation blast.

But it kind of begs the question–if Godzilla really only “eats” radiation, then why does he have the teeth? Are they just for ripping things up in anger? Did he eat meat before he was hit by nuclear blasts? I have so many questions. I would speculate that he actually eats meat, but it would need to be a LOT (tons of cattle) if that’s all he feeds on. I think it’s more likely that he eats some fish or animals daily, but that most of his calories still come from those radiation doses.

1998 DINO Godzilla, at least walking with balanced tail. TriStar pictures.

Tail Physiology

Godzilla’s tail is one of his more notable physical features. Estimates of its size range from 200 to 500 feet, though that is a pretty huge range. If anything, the way he uses his tail is sometimes problematic. He needs to use it for balance, but if it’s too long, how could he pull it? And why would it be designed to require that much effort? I noted in earlier posts that Sauropods and Diplodocus that some had super long tails that had nearly hollow bones, making them light enough to whip around. So perhaps Godzilla’s tail was light enough for him to move it. Sometimes he uses it like a snake or monkey, wrapping it around opponents in battle, so perhaps it was light-weight but with extremely strong muscles.

The DINO version, the 1998 incarnation that people don’t usually discuss, did seem to get one thing right. That Godzilla walked with his tail outward for balance. Older depictions of dinosaurs from the beginning of the 20th century have dinosaurs dragging their tails, and it’s well understood now that animals that large needed the tails to be held outward, balancing their large bodies as they moved forward. On the other hand, the DINO Godzilla has super tiny legs which, according to the Internet, could not possibly have supported such a large body and tail, so there you go.

The “Tail” thing, from Vs. Megalon. Youtube still photo.

The strangest tail behavior that Godzilla has displayed was when the OG version used his tail to spring or slide forward against Megalon or Mechagodzilla. In one of those Japanese renditions in the mid 1970s, when Godzilla had a son (where was mom? so many questions!), he fought an epic battle that involved a lot of tail springing. After giving a cheery wave to his son, this Godzilla uses martial arts and tools. At one point, he leans back on his tail and then flies forward. This is a little hard to explain, either based on the laws of biology or the laws of physics. Now, Professor Carpenter does speculate that Godzilla’s general posture was more that of a kangaroo than a lizard. And kangaroos have been known to stand on their tails, so maybe this is not as bizarre as it seems.

Size and Skeleton

If one thing is really bizarre, it’s how the different versions of Godzilla have played with his size. It’s one thing to have different versions of Robin Hood or Moses, played by different actors. But all of them were human and only a few inches different from each other (5’10” to 6’4″ say). However, the OG from 1954 was 164 feet, the size of a 10-15 story building, whereas the Rebooted Godzilla in recent years is twice that, some 350-390 feet. The second Godzilla would tower above the Statue of Liberty. Size has implications for its physiology.

Skeleton of the reboot, by Jess Lightbox.

The size of this latest Godzilla is so large, that many people point out that his bones would be crushed simply from that size. Crushed, unless they had some non-bone like strength, perhaps being infused with some unique cell structure that made them like steel or titanium. Kind of hard to say what exactly nuclear radiation blasts would do to make your bones stronger; usually it’s the other way around. Overall, there’s something about a 350 foot tall entity with a 500 foot tall that doesn’t seem … what’s the word? realistic?

Advanced Scientific Analysis of Godzilla

However, perhaps the size has been over-estimated by frightening people who fell off the subway trains. Let’s just not get hung up on the size. The tail, skull, teeth and whatnot might make enough sense. In fact, if anything is really heartening about looking at Godzilla’s biology is that so many scientists have taken a serious crack at trying to define and understand Godzilla’s biology. All of them acknowledge that he emerged from works of fiction, but they try hard. I’ve already mentioned Ken Carpenter’s work but there’s also these two–Tetrapodzoology, The Science of Godzilla (2010) and The Ichnology [the “trace” evidence] of Godzilla, Tmartin (2014)–which work very hard to break down what the stories get right and what they get wrong about Godzilla. They cite each other, they include “bibliographies,” and a couple of them came through scientific journals and were peer reviewed.

Overall, what Godzilla has allowed people to do is make comparisons based on knowledge and facts. That’s always good for scientists. Ken Carpenter even had the opportunity to dig up a dinosaur fossil which he named after our beloved G Man. Here is Gojirasaurus, named for the Japanese rendition of the name:

Rendering of Gojirasaurus, Discover magazine.

In the interest of scientific accuracy, I will point out that while Carpenter officially described and named this specimen( UCM 47221) as Gojirasaurus quayi in 1997 and classified it as a coelophysoid, others in peer reviewed journals later argued that there was not enough material to the fossil to distinguish Gojirasaurus as a unique species. The Gojirausarus fossil bone might really be part of an already known dinosaur.

But it’s cool anyway.

2 Replies to “G is for Godzilla”

  1. This was very entertaining to read. Gojira, aka, Godzilla is one of my favorite monsters of all time. I grew up watching Godzilla movies. Thanks for such a comprehensive look at this hero/anti-hero.

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