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What kind of animal is Godzilla? Is he a marine iguana?

Bruno Cooke April 2, 2021
what kind of animal is godzilla

The release of Godzilla vs. Kong has caused questions about what kind of animal Godzilla is to re-emerge. Is he/it/she based on a real animal? Is Godzilla a marine iguana?

What kind of animal is Godzilla?

Godzilla is a fictional beast, so he is not exactly like any specific animal.

He (in the MonsterVerse films, Godzilla is consistently referred to as “he”) is a giant, prehistoric, dinosaur-like marine animal, similar in shape to a Tyrannosaurus rex. However, he also has plates running down the length of his spine, similar to a stegosaurus. 

Oh, and he also has atomic breath – which real life dinosaurs definitely didn’t have.

Wrath of Man | Official Trailer

site of the latest cinema complex of Japanese film giant Toho [creator of the six-decade-long “Godzilla” series], and the Hotel Gracery

So he is a hybrid, semi-mythical monster with dinosaur-like characteristics.

But there are clues about what sort of animal (or combination of animals) Godzilla is supposed to embody in his name.

What does Godzilla’s name mean?

Godzilla’s name is a derivative of gojira, a portmanteau of two Japanese words: gorira (meaning “gorilla”) and kujira (meaning “whale”).

Therefore, it seems, part of the essence of Godzilla lies in its connection with these two animals.

Like a whale, he is gigantic, marine, enigmatic and displays a curiously human level of emotional intelligence. 

The similarities between Godzilla and gorillas are less obvious. However, like a gorilla, he is certainly majestic, and mighty.

Is Godzilla real?

Godzilla is not based on any specific animal, but exhibits physical and social characteristics of many animals, both prehistoric and contemporary.

His gigantic size is evidence of this – fascinatingly, planet Earth cannot support any animal larger than a blue whale.

And comparing a blue whale to Godzilla is like comparing a tabby to a tiger. Godzilla is much bigger, and has got a lot bigger since the 1950s.

Nevertheless, there are those who have speculated that Godzilla’s real life counterpart is the Galápagos marine iguana, or saltwater iguana, native to the Galápagos Islands.

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Is Godzilla a marine iguana?

Proponents of the theory that Godzilla is in fact a marine iguana point to the 1998 film Godzilla – the one starring Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Jean Reno (Leon).

In that film, a nuclear test in French Polynesia exposes a marine iguana nest to radiation fallout.

Marine iguana feeding on an algae covered rock. This image was taken late in the afternoon where we witnessed 100-200 marine iguanas coming back to the shores of Fernandina Island.

30 years later, after his fishing vessel is sucked beneath the waves by an enormous sea creature, a traumatised Japanese fisherman utters, “Gojira”.

Thus, Godzilla’s origin went from being a mutant fictional reptile of prehistoric design, to being a giant, irradiated marine iguana.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.