Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Oklahoma Octopus

I have always been particularly interested in the concept of the freshwater octopus - an unknown cephalopod reported from lakes in Oklahoma and surrounding areas of North America. Whilst the stories seem to be apocryphal, some seem to have a germ of truth. According to accepted wisdom freshwater octopuses are a complete impossibility, because cephalopods cannot live in freshwater. But scienetists have been wrong before...

One specimen found dead in a North American lake a few years ago proved to be a marine species Octopus burryi that had been dumped. Mark A Hall apparently suggested that these things could be eurypterids - an extinct group of arthropods related to arachnids, which include the largest known arthropods that ever lived. They were formidable predators that thrived in warm shallow water in the Ordovician to Permian from 460 to 248 million years ago. However, I have not read his argument, and on the surface this would seem to be highly unlikely.

Another suggestion is that they are freshwater jellyfish. There is indeed a species of freshwater jellyfish - Craspedacusta sowerbyi which appears to have an almost global distribution. It has been found in countries on almost every continent including parts of Yorkshire, London and nearly every state in America.

The medusa appearance is sporadic and unpredictable from year to year. It is not uncommon for C. sowerbyi to appear in a body of water where they had never been documented before, in very large numbers, and they may be even reported on the local news. In parts of the mid-west and the great lakes area of North America, seeing one is considered to be a sign of good luck.

The trouble is that it is only the size of a 5p peice. I, however, have been fascinated by the species ever since first reading about it in my childhood bible of Natural History The Hong Kong Countryside by G.A.K Herklots. I want to exhibit some one day in the CFZA museum.

Could there be a larger species, analogous to the larger jellyfish of the oceans? It seems unlikely, but still the stories of freshwater octopi continue.

We were recently sent this video which purports to show two nubile young women being attacked by one of these cryptic cephalopods. I think that it is dubious in the extreme, but include it for its entertainment value..

GUEST BLOGGER COLIN HIGGINS: The Burbot - the Holy Grain of British cryptozoological fishing

Over to a brand new guest blogger - Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in last month's `On the Track`.

This is, I think, my favourite guest blogger article since we started this whole crazy cavalcade of cryptoblogging ten days ago or whenever it was.

It re-awakened lots of memories of my grandmother (who was a great fisherwoman, as the record breaking chub in the glass case in the CFZ Dining Room bears testament) telling me about this strange fish she had caught in Cambridgeshire in the 1920s..

Quite some years ago, before I knew the true nature of chaos I was volunteered - in the sense Her Majesty’s Navy impressed those having a swift pint into voluntary service - to help write some quiz questions for the natural history section of a football club fund-raiser.

This event had become a regular Olympiad for the big guns of the local quiz league, teams containing individuals au fait with quantum mechanics, previous wives of Bruce Forsyth and the scoring details of cricket’s infamous bodyline series. Through a process of elimination and ingestion of tidal quantities of real ale a familiar pairing made the final, two teams familiar with a knowledge of everything, save perhaps applied fashion.

As it turned out the tie-breaker between this Scylla and Charybdis of unconsidered trifles was one of the questions I’d set.

‘What’, it asked with a naivety I can only blush at now, ‘what is the rarest indigenous freshwater fish in England?’ I may as well have written a sign saying kick here and pinned it to my backside. By some freak of mental empathy one side wrote my intended answer ‘the burbot’ while the other quite reasonably demanded that lota lota was in fact extinct. It was a wrong-headed question on so many levels. Not only are there probably whitefish who live exclusively in some tea-coloured tarn the size of a soup tureen in Cumberland but how do you measure indigenous from an incomplete record?

My reason for choosing the burbot, the only freshwater member of the cod family for the dubious honour of fewest extant members goes like this. In 1969, when fish and fishing consumed every youthful waking thought, the Angling Times ran a headline ‘Burbot Caught’. Burbot it explained to those of us who knew species only through the colour plates of Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing, was a once plentiful inhabitant of waters in the eastern counties that had gone into decline for reasons that weren’t apparent. Eel-pout as it was otherwise known were common in British markets in Victorian times, the Edwardians knew them, a few were caught pre-WW2 and then, nada. Or almost for like the thylacine, the burbot re-appears every so often in reports to haunt our imagination. For how can a species that existed since it was trapped by retreating ice sheets have suddenly vanished as though it were never there?

The thing with the burbot is it needs uncommonly cold weather to breed and a consistent spell of it, the kind of chill we rarely see now. If it remains anywhere it’s probably in the Yorkshire Ouse and its tributaries or perhaps East Anglia’s river systems. If I weren’t romantically inclined I’d have to admit the freshwater cod was probably as dead as mutton and yet what is 40 years in an existence lasting millennia? And what of those reports? Mis-identified loach? A cod or ling come up the estuary on a high tide?

I once actually saw a burbot. It was cased in an antique shop that doubled as a café. It was also for sale, cheaply, but I was in a new romantic liaison and feared an obsessive compulsion towards a mediocre piece of taxidermy of an already ugly fish might mark me down as well, obsessive, even compulsive so said nothing and drank my coffee. It looked like nothing so much as a jumbo dog poo with glass eyes in a bow fronted box. Even so I travelled back to the tea room/tat palace a few weeks later but as you might have guessed it was gone, like the ones in the river. Vanished, though the squeeze is now my wife so all is not lost.

There are periodic attempts to re-introduce the burbot from eastern Europe but they founder, like the one last year, because the ministry believe they might introduce the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris. So as far as anyone knows there isn’t a Lota lota eel-pout in England, or indeed any at all.
Then again, as someone called Alex wrote to The Times website:

“A novice angler, named Phil, caught one in the Cam two years ago.”

Wally Stott/Angela Morley dies

We would not be who we are if we did not make mention of the passing of the transexual composer responsible for the orchestration on the first three Scott Walker albums.

Angela Morley was born in Leeds in March 1924. Her early work was originally credited under her birth name Wally Stott. She had a sex change operation in 1972. In the later part of her life, Morley lived in Arizona. She won two Grammy Awards for her work in television musical scoring, also receiving two Academy Award Nominations. She died January 14, 2009, following a long struggle with cancer. She was 84.


"A new Royal Family
a wild nobility
we are the family
blah blah blah"

There's a rockabilly party on saturday night...

Mott the Hoople, one of the most gloriously idiosyncratic 70s rock bands are reforming. What's this got to do with cryptozoology? you ask. Well nothing much, but I am sure there are many middle aged men with a wild glint in their eye who will read this blog entry and then rush for their credit cards...

WIKIPEDIA: January 2009, it was announced that the band would be re-uniting for two concerts at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, on 2 and 3 October 2009. According to Hunter's website, all five of the original members will participate in the reunion. Hunter wrote, "Why are we doing it? I can't speak for the others, but I'm doing it just to see what it's like. Short of war, death, famine etc. ...it's ON."

I'm gonna be there! And I bet I won't be the only fortean in the audience


Last night I made a decision that got me slightly - surprisingly (and slightly embarrasingly) - upset: I changed the name of this blog. Since I started the blog in 2005 it has been mine, and mine only. It was where I chronicled my father's final illness and death, my marriage to Corinna, and my hopesd and fears, triumphs and tragedies over the years. No more than about 50 people a day would read it, but it was quite important to me.

Now, by a happy accident, the CFZ Blogosphere has blossomed beyond recognition (we had over a thousand hits yesterday) and it seems more appropriate that this is renamed the CFZ blog. I am not going to start another personal one, and as editor of the CFZ family of blogs, and ringmaster of this veritable circus, I completely intend to carry on writing my own bits and bobs on this blog, and you will - of course - get the occasional rant from me on the subject of music, politics or whatever has caught my eye that morning.....


For five or six years our Indiana representative has been a charming young lady called Elizabeth Clem. We met face to face during my visit to Illinois in 2004, and have been firm friends ever since. Today she sent me the following, slightly revolting story...

SW side homes showered with brown spots
Health dept. suspects bird droppings
Last Edited: Wednesday, 21 Jan 2009, 11:43 PM ESTCreated On: Wednesday, 21 Jan 2009, 5:08 PM EST
Eric Halvorson
Edited by Andrew Bonner

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Some people in Camby, Indiana want to know what hit them. Their neighborhood in southwestern Marion County is covered with splotches of brown matter. The event is enough for a health department investigation.

The department's inspectors said whatever it is, it's not like anything they've ever seen before. And, they're still trying to figure out just what "it" is. One resident said the brown spots stretch for about half a mile.

It's smeared on siding and clumped on cars.

"All honesty, yeah, it's pretty disgustin," said neighbor Randall Cooper. "That's definitely not mud fallin' from the sky, for sure."

Some neighbors speculated that since jets fly over the area all the time, it's human waste dropped from a plane. But the health department has another theory.
"Well, we're leaning to thinking we're probably talking about bird feces," said John Althardt of the Marion County Health Department.

The department sent environmental specialists to examine the area and collect samples. They hope to have the test results for an official explanation, Thursday.
"I'm just glad it's winter time and not 90-degree weather and smelling up the place," said Cooper.

The Health Department said neighbors can use a hose to clean their houses but should first cover the hands, eyes and mouth. They also say to clean your shoes before going back inside. And, if your pets walk in anything, wipe their paws. The basic point is: limit your interaction with the substance...whatever it is.

Well, I tend to go with the airliner theory, although I would have imagined that there would have been strict zoning laws as to when and where aircraft could empty their lavatory tanks. I also have a vague memory from reading an article in Fortean Times some years ago that aircraft mix their human waste with green chemicals of some sort, so perhaps this aint human waste after all?

So what the bloody hell is it? We await further developments with interest.
Being frivolous: Maybe - 32 years after its last appearance - the Illinois thunderbird has made a visit to the neighbouring state. If so, Marlon Lowe had better look out just in case his hair this time turns from white to brown!

I think that The Buzzcocks said it best on the B-side of What do I get?