Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” stomped into theaters last week to critical and audience acclaim, but there are some people you can never fully satisfy. We’re thinking, specifically, of certain Japanese test audience members who dubbed Godzilla an “American fatty” after first glimpsing the redesigned monster, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
“Everyone gets middle-age spread,” one of the fans reportedly said, while another commented that, “he got fat in America on cola and pizza.”
Meanwhile, we imagine Godzilla, whose name is literally a combination of the word “gorilla” and the Japanese world for “whale,” stared at himself in the mirror and silently mouthed, “I hate myself,” deciding to skip his lizard lunch.
Since we’ve never met Godzilla in real life and lack the scientific know-how to evaluate his girth, we turned to Matt Evans, supervisory biologist at the Reptile Discovery Center at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for some answers.
Answers not only about whether the king of all monsters may have been enjoying a few too many sandwiches lately, but also his moods and behavior. Can lizards get fat? Yep. But is Godzilla actually a lizard? Uhhhh…read on.
What is Godzilla, really?
As it turns out, Godzilla may not actually technically be a lizard. Yes, he’s fictional as far as we know, but Evans’ best guess at classification leaned more toward the prehistoric era.
“I started researching Godzilla a little bit,” Evans said. “I know that it’s supposed to be a kind of reptile monster, but I always thought of it more as a dinosaur. I guess it’s based on some Japanese kind of culture, but it looks like it’s supposed to be kind of a Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, mixed with some kind of alligator. It’s not really a giant lizard. It seems to be an aquatic reptile monster, based on a combination of alligators and dinosaurs.”
For the sake of science, however, we stuck with the animal group Evans actually knows stuff about, as opposed to the unknowable Godzilla facts. Since, you know. Fiction.
Can lizards get fat?
“Yes, lizards can get fat,” Evans said. “But as for adipose tissue and fat, fat is different in mammals than it is in reptiles. Reptiles are cold-blooded. In mammals, body fat is used to generate heat. In lizards, being ectothermic, they generate their body temperature from the outside environment.”
Sure, yes, but you know what we mean, Evans.
“Yes, they can produce fat, but they go ahead and store their fat,” Evans continued. “A lot of lizards store their fat in the basal portion of their tails. When a lizard is very healthy or fat looking, it’ll have a very thick base of its tail. That’s healthy.”
It’s safe to say that the Godzilla gracing movie screens is rocking a whole lot more than just a chubby tail. Evans feels there may be cause for concern.
“I’ve never seen a really fat lizard in the wild, like the fatty arms or anything like that, you don’t see those reptiles,” Evans added. “Reptiles can be obese. It can get a fat belly. When you’re looking at a Komodo dragon you shouldn’t see a belly that’s touching the ground.”
So, essentially, if Godzilla’s getting that much cardio, there may be some sort of metabolic problem that’s keeping him so hefty.
“If a lizard is active and he’s on the hunt, stomping around cities, active, he’s going to need to hunt and eat a lot,” Evans said. However, it should be noted that Godzilla is never seen eating in the new movie.
Could a lizard eat a building? Or a person?
Could poor nutrition be the key to unlocking Godzilla’s heft? Maybe it’s all the building destruction the monsters are historically known for tearing apart and sometimes chomping down on. Komodo dragons, as the biggest living kind of lizard (they can weigh in from 150 to 180 lbs on average, and grow to a length from seven to nine feet long), were used as a comparison point for the jumbo-sized Godzilla.
“An animal that large can be very, very destructive,” Evans explained. “As an example, they have these fairly large, serrated teeth, maybe about an inch in length. They have about 60 of them in their mouth that they can frequently replace. These are razor sharp and they have a very powerful bite.”
That’s not to mention the bacteria and venom Komodos utilize, as well as shaking their prey vigorously once they’ve bitten them. Victims can include smaller Komodo dragons, other moving prey, and even carrion — stuff that’s already dead, which they can smell from roughly six miles away. And, yes, they could eat a small human.
“A small person, a child, can definitely be considered a meal to a large Komodo dragon if that animal was starving or really having a difficult time finding prey,” Evans said. However, he reassured, “for the most part we are not on the food chain.”
Also not on the food chain: concrete and buildings. “I don’t know why they would ever bite into something like that,” Evans said. “I think their teeth would probably break off. But Komodos have a very strong sense of smell. If there is something that is not really edible but it smells like it could be edible, they would investigate it and probably bite it or probably try to swallow it before they realize it’s something they probably would not want to eat.”
Why’s Godzilla so mad? Wait, can lizards even feel?
Short answer: Yes, lizards can feel. They’re just misunderstood.
“Reptiles don’t show emotion like mammals do,” Evans said. “So a lot of times people will say reptiles don’t feel. That’s not true. Reptiles feel. They feel pain. They feel frustration. But they don’t respond to it the same way a mammal does, so it’s really hard to kind of quantify whether they have emotions.They respond to emotion and anger differently than mammals do.”
What about that roar?
“Lizards and reptiles can vocalize,” Evans said. “Crocodiles can growl. Snakes and lizards do more of a hissing. Geckos vocalize, they actually make some really kind of alarming sounds. There’s a lot of variety in the lizard group. Some of them do vocalize, some of them don’t. Some vocalize in a very odd way.”
One way you won’t hear a lizard speak? Roaring. Sorry, G.
“Not a lot of roaring,” Evans added. “Tigers roar. Lions roar. I’ve never heard a lizard sit there and roar.”
If Godzilla was let loose in San Francisco, what would actually happen?
Again, the best comparison we have is with a Komodo dragon. What would the biggest Komodo dragon do, if dropped in a mass of humans?
“I don’t think they’d hide. I think they’d move around. I think they’d start to investigate. They’re very curious. They are very smart and intelligent reptile. They can think, they can problem solve,” Evans said. “I think they would move around, scare the bejeezus out of people I’m sure. I don’t think they would attack unless something pressured them or cornered them or injured them in a way that they would need to defend themselves.”
Evans’ best advice, no matter how well-intentioned the Komodo dragon is, however, would be to beat feet.
“I have a very healthy respect for Komodo dragons,” Evans said. “If one was running towards me, I would not approach it and would not recommend anyone approach it. I would get the heck out of dodge. I’m not gonna hang around to see what happens.
“When you’re looking at a large reptilian predator like that, when they’re in a hunting mood they rely on an instinct. That predatory response triggers everything, so you don’t want to be between the Komodo dragon and its prey, because you’re going to end up being the prey item, or be in with that prey item.”
“Godzilla” is in theaters now.