Three-Toes Revisited

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 24th, 2006

Tony Signorini Hoax

St. Petersburg Times: Tony Signorini said that in 1946 or 1947 his boss saw a picture of dinosaur tracks in a National Geographic and said, "You know, we could have fun with this."

Tony Signorini Hoax

Ted McLaren, St. Petersburg Times: Signorini’s tracks, using these 30-pound molds, created a sensation. A zoologist speculated they were left by a giant penguin.


Tony Signorini told the media in 1988 that it was all a hoax, and then recycled it as “news” again last summer. (I refused to post it here as “news” then for that reason.) The zoologist was Ivan T. Sanderson, and he based his sense of what might be happening on eyewitness accounts and the tracks.

What are we to make of the eyewitnesses’ sightings today?


George Eberhart’s excellent two volume book, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002) summarized the events, thusly:

Three-toes. Dubious FRESHWATER MONSTER of Florida.
Etymology: From its tracks.
Variant name: Old Three-toes.
Physical description: Length, 15 feet. Hairy or furred. Gray or dirty-yellow color. Blunt head like an alligator or rhinoceros. No neck. Front flippers hang from its shoulders. Back legs like an alligator but heavier. Huge, three-toed feet. Long, blunt tail.
Behavior: Amphibious. Bipedal; runs or waddles. Churns up foam when swimming. Makes a gurgling growl.
Tracks: Three clawed toes. Length, 13.5 inches, from middle toe-tip to heel. Width, 15 inches. Stride, 2 feet 7 inches.
Distribution: Clearwater-Tampa area, and Suwannee River, Florida.
Significant sightings: The first incident took place in February 1948 when a young Clearwater, Florida, couple on a beach road early in the morning reported to police they had seen some kind of monster stomp out of the sea. Tracks were discovered soon afterward coming out of the water, wandering on the beach, then returning to the sea. Other track discoveries were made in the Clearwater-Tampa area in March and April.
On July 25, 1948, fliers George Orfanides and John Milner saw a 15-foot animal swimming about 200 feet off the shore of Hog Island near Dunedin, Florida.
A couple from Milwaukee saw a huge, furry something with a rhinoceros head waddling down the beach into shallow water north of Tarpon Springs, Florida, in August 1948.
On October 21, 1948, a set of about 240 similar tracks were found near Old Town in north Florida, coming out of the Suwannee River.
In November 1948, Ivan T. Sanderson was flying above the Suwannee River south of Old Town when he and the pilot saw a large, yellowish animal rolling on the surface of the water, creating a large patch of foam.
Possible explanations:
(1) An unknown species of giant penguin, 15 feet tall, suggested by Ivan T. Sanderson and based on its tracks.
(2) A hoax by Tony Signorini and Al Williams who strapped on huge, cast-iron, three-toed feet to create the foot-prints at both locations in Florida.
Sources: Ivan T. Sanderson, “That Forgotten Monster: Old Three-Toes,” Fate 20 (December 1967): 66–75; 21 (January 1968): 85–93; Jan Kirby, “Clearwater Can Relax: Monster Is Unmasked,” St. Petersburg Times, June 11, 1988; “Florida ‘Giant Penguin’ Hoax Revealed,” ISC Newsletter 7, no. 4 (Winter 1988): 1–3; Bob Rickard, “Florida’s Penguin Panic,” Fortean Times, no. 66 (December 1992–January 1993): 41–43.


Is the Florida’s “Old Three-Toes” really a closed case?

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

5 Responses to “Three-Toes Revisited”

  1. Lee Murphy responds:

    I remember in Brad Steiger’s “Monsters Among Us” (the first crypto-related book I had), he went over the case in detail and suggested it was an extant therapod dinosaur. It wasn’t until I read Sanderson’s account some time later in which he proposed the giant penguin. I don’t believe he ever mentioned therapod.

    It was a good lesson in cross-referencing research material, and left me a little disappointed in Mr. Steiger’s book.

  2. sharmcos responds:

    Sounded like a monster from Japanese TV series the Ultraman

  3. Rillo777 responds:

    I wonder if it couldn’t be a combination of a hoax and a real cryptid sighting? Granted, it would be a peculiar coincidence but it is possible. It is also possible that the tracks merely fed people’s imaginations and sightings of anything remotely unusual or unexpected were then blown up to become strange animals.
    We can’t always rely on witnesses unfortunately. The human mind can play strange tricks.

  4. busterggi responds:

    Personally, I have a hard time believing the claims of people who brag they are liars, which is what hoaxers really are.

    Don’t suppose there are any casts of the originals to compare with Mr. Signorini’s footies?

  5. mystery_man responds:

    I find it interesting that this all started in 1948. What would account for that? No history of a cryptid of this type in that area and then suddenly a rash of sightings starting in 1948? Now perhaps this animal, if it exists, isn’t indigenous to the area and somehow ended up there? That would explain how a giant penguin (if that is what it is) would end up in the tropics I suppose, because I highly doubt it would have been a native species to that area. If this is not a hoax then what other explanation could there be for it not being seen until 1948? Was the area remote and just being developed then? I feel the relatively recent appearance of this creature from out of the blue is a bit unusual and it leads me to suspect some sort of human influence here. I won’t outright say hoax just yet, but I would not be unduly surprised if it turned out to be just that.

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