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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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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

OI FOUR EYES


The Anableps, known to aquarists as the four-eyed fish, is a small creature of the streams,rivers and estuaries from southern Mexico to northern South America. There are actually three closely related species of four eyed fish. Anableps dowi is found as far north as Mexico, while A. anableps and A. microlepis are found further south. These are not only one of my personal favourite fish but unusually for the fish I will be describing in this column it is one that can sometimes be seen for sale to private hobbyists.

Its name is sadly misleading – it doesn`t actually have four eyes, but the two it does have are so specially modified as to be unique within the animal kingdom. Each eye is divided in half horizontally with two separate optical systems, each with its own focal length. The top half is for seeing in the air; the bottom half is for underwater.

This fish swims at the top of the water with its eyes projecting partway into the air. The upper half of each eye can see threatening birds of prey in the air. The lower half, different in structure, can see underwater and enables the fish to find food.

Anableps are mostly found in brackish water where there is heavy algal growth and detritus, and they can withstand wide fluctuations in salinity. In recent years it has been noted that occasionally, Anableps will climb out on land and sit on the mud flats of tidal estuaries where it fulfills many of the same ecological roles as the mudskippers do in the mangrove swamps of Africa and Asia. They eat pretty well anything that moves and quite a lot of stuff that doesn`t, but if you are intending to keep these fascinating creatures as pets you should note that they are primarily surface feeders and will usually ignore food that has fallen to the bottom.

Although most of the emphasis upon anableps is on its peculiar eyes, these are not the only strange things about these singular creatures. Their breeding habits are, if anything, even more extraordinary. Anableps are internally fertilizing and viviparous. In other words, they give birth to live young and provide the embryos with nutrition throughout gestation However the cloaca of a female A. anableps is covered by a single large scale that is unattached on either the right or the left side. The rays of the anal fin of a male Anableps are modified into a tubular gonopodium that can only be bent to the left or the right. Thus, only a “right-handed” male can mate with a “left-handed female” and vice versa. Luckily for the survival of these gloriously peculiar fish the proportion of left-handed males in a population seems to be equal to the proportion of right-handed females . However, surprisingly, it has been reported that right-handed males (60%) are more common than left-handed males (40%)

Anableps are wonderful fish and apparently make charming pets. I have only ever seen them once, when Corinna and I were in Enfield following our near fatal car crash about 18 months ago. I had no way of getting them home so I didn't buy them, although I have been kicking myself ever since. I have often thought that they should be more widely kept and if this article of mine has done something in a small way to further interest in these delightful creatures then I shall have done something very useful for once in my life!


GUEST BLOGGER TIM MATTHEWS: For Fox Sake

Tim Matthews is one of my best friends, and also - coincidentally - one of the most controversial figures in contemporary forteana. He has been involved with the CFZ for nearly a decade now, raising eyebrows wherever he goes.


Golfers are idiots. They say the do it for relaxation but they could go for a walk in the countryside. They say they like the exercise but they could go swimming. They say they do business deals on the links but it’s just an excuse for a jolly and they could always make a phone call or meet in the local Latte house.

I don’t care what anyone says but various recent stories might, you think, shed some light on the extent to which we have become disconnected from nature and reality. Here’s one. 18-hole motor mouth Donald Trump comes over to Scotland, big and bad and with comb over in full effect, and decides to use his considerable wealth and bullying Apprentice-a-like methods to influence local people and their elected representatives in to allowing him to construct his dream $2 billion golf course in Aberdeen. Who will benefit? Five-star hotel guests, the usual rich suspects and the “really lucky” local workers who might get £6 an hour and a nine iron’s full of abuse from the target-driven American entrepreneur and “his people“. New Money from the New World at great expense to land and wildlife.

Meanwhile, in London, we are expected to believe, despite most evidence to the contrary, that urban foxes are a “real pest” and “a serious danger” to the local community. And who by? A pest-control “expert” called Bruce Lindsay-Smith who has enjoyed killing foxes for the last 25 years despite the fact that killing them does not, as scientific studies at Bristol University have shown, make a jot of difference to their numbers! Ah yes, Lindsay-Smith is working for a north London golf club by the way. See what I mean? Those bloody golfers again! Apparently, a famous rock star in Hampstead employed Lindsay-Smith to kill foxes on his property. In today‘s society celebrity and fame is an excuse for any excess no matter how stupid the celebrity. (Jordan comes to mind). Despite claims about foxes spreading diseases and attacking pets, the science mentioned above suggests that in any urban area, foxes will attack no more than 8% of caged animals left out in the open (and one wonders who is leaving their caged animals out in the open without adequate protection), which means that 92% are OK all the time.

In any case, isn’t this is a good example of nature taking its course? Have pets in the garden and the naturally predatory fox can take advantage. We seem to have forgotten this. Farmers shoot foxes if they see them on their land. That’s life. It’s what happens. Hunts singularly fail to reduce fox numbers but the Countryside Alliance talks up its policies for “managing” wildlife numbers. All food for thought, eh?

There are 250,000 foxes in the UK and the majority live in urban environments and started to colonise cities during the early 1930s. They have always had a tense relationship with urban dwellers due to claims about foxes “spreading diseases” (despite their being little or no evidence to support this claim) and, more realistically, the fact that foxes scavenge.

Where I live, which is truly Urban (!), I am always thrilled to see foxes. There are many of them roaming the nearby streets and yet no pets have been harmed as far as I’m aware. Cats who stay out at night have an uneasy relationship with the fox, for obvious reasons, but foxes are only really dangerous during late Spring/early Summer when they are rearing cubs. In the park behind the house, I often see foxes at night time on expeditions. They are probably the most exciting example of wildlife you’ll see locally and yet one does not get the sense that the neighbours are at all unhappy to see their nocturnal visitors out and about.

Indeed, it is more a sense of wonder and you can hear people saying, “oooh I saw a fox last night” as if this is somehow a rare thing and yet they have been seen for over 70 years in the built environment! The surprise is due to lack of knowledge, lack of education and a disconnection with the world around us. To really appreciate these creatures you have to experience them, see them, and perhaps most importantly, accept them as part of your world.

Even local councils appear to have got the message. Lindsay-Smith and his .22 toting gun addicts won’t get much work from the public purse as it is clear that fox numbers are stable (and growing only by a small percentage in some urban areas), sustainable and have reached their carrying capacity in most areas. Simple methods to deter them from your property, should you want to are simple and could require you to do as little as tying up your bin bags and putting them in a dustbin!

Last Monday morning I arrived at work at 0645am and was thrilled to see two foxes across the road. I stood and watched them and they were clearly aware of me. It was cold and bright and the pair looked magnificent as they scooted across a car park towards their lair. Now it’s snowed, you can see several sets of tracks and footprints from our close neighbours and it never ceases to amaze me how you can be working away and within a hundred feet a family of foxes can be living in perfect harmony in the middle of Greater Manchester.

Let us live and learn, and understand our mutual relationship with the animals around us….

GUEST BLOGGER MIKE HALLOWELL: A closer look at Geordie Monsters

Geordie cryptids are normally identifiable by a number of peculiar "trademarks"; they tend to wear string vests, drink copious amounts of brown ale ( colloquially known as lunatics' broth) and have a fondness for dining on the fish Gadus morhua, or Atlantic Cod. Being omnivorous, they will often supplement their diet with the root vegetable Solanum tuberosum. Together, Gadus morhua and Solanum tuberosum are commonly called "fish and chips".

Anyway, enough of the science lesson and on with the blog.

On Saturday evening, Mr. Richard Freeman and I proceeded to a somewhat ostentatious drinking establishment called The Alum Ale House. "The Alum" sits on the south bank of the River Tyne in South Shields, and provides refreshment to weary travellers. However, in keeping with Geordie by-laws patrons who frequent the place must be at least two weeks old and are not allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages until they have reached three months. For pedants, an "alcoholic beverage" in Geordieland must be at least 86% proof. Any weaker products are classed as "soft drinks", as only new-borns and "soft" people imbibe them.

The purpose of our visit was to educate the local populace regarding two cryptozoological enigmas. I opened the proceedings by informing the packed Dungeon Bar about one of our more colourful crustaceans; a huge critter commonly known as The Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks. Having suitably traumatised those foolhardy enough to attend, Mr. Freeman then followed with a rendition of his adventures in a country called "Russia", which allegedly lies many furlongs away in another land supposedly called "Europe". The existence of both these locations has yet to be verified by our scientists.
The Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks is something of a puzzle, as it is almost certainly not a lobster and it doesn't reside on Trow Rocks. Mind you, it lives pretty close to them.

Aquatic cryptids are supposed to live in picturesque underwater caves decorated with sea shells. The Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks, being a Geordie, prefers to tart up his home with old copies of Viz magazine and Woodbine packets, but we need not quibble over details.

In the early part of the 20th century, there stood in Jarrow, also on the banks of the Tyne, a dock. Docks were places where we used to build ships, dismantle ships and fish for our supper, but with the decline of the shipping industry they steadily became redundant. At the neck of the dock stood a huge steel thing known as a gate. The gate was used to keep some of the water out and to prevent the locals from escaping. At some juncture it became surplus to requirements, and a rich bloke bought it and decided to have it sent off to Norway where it could be broken down and sold for scrap. The plan went swimmingly - please excuse the pun - at first. The dock was strapped to another big thing called a boat, and it duly made its way down river. After entering the North Sea the boat turned right and got as far as Marsden Bay. Here, alas, tempestuous waves and gusty winds precipitated a disaster. The boat shuggied about a bit in the sea, and the gate fell off.

Now the gate was so big that even after it hit the bottom the top bit was still sticking out of the water, where it remained for many decades - a stark testament to both the skill of our nautical engineers and the ferocity of our ocean.


Twenty years later, a bloke from Sunderland, which lies within the adjacent Kingdom of Mackemland, purchased the gate with the intention of salvaging it. He strapped it to a boat, sailed a bit further up the shore and then watched as it fell off again. Bugger, he opined. A third attempt also ended in like manner, and the remains of the gate have lodged at the bottom of the briny ever since. You can still see it at low tide.


In 1963, people started to see a strange thing on the beach. It was 12 feet in length, dark green in colour and had big claws, upon which it sported sharp lumps. Recently, after much investigation, our marine biologists positively identified these lumps as - sorry to get technical - "pointy bits" and suggested that they are probably best avoided by bathers who find themselves in close proximity to the creature. Since its arrival, the creature has been known as The Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks, but this is a misnomer. Indeed, its description fits closely that of Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, the long-extinct (supposedly) Giant Sea Scorpion.


What, pray, I hear you ask, has this creature got to do with the dock gate? For reasons I have not been able to fathom, a legend arose that the monster - whatever its taxonomical provenance - lived beneath the remains of the gate just off the coast, and would only venture forth from its steel home to catch its prey or put a bet on at the local bookies.
This, in essence, is the story of the Giant Lobster of Trow Rocks. Those who wish to learn more can do so by purchasing a copy of my book Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Northumberland & Tyneside (CFZ Press, 2008), by means of which they may also edify themselves regarding more serious cryptids such as The Giant Rabbit of Felton and the Ghost Birds of Jesmond Dene. (The latter, I hasten to point out, should not be confused with two other species known as the Drunken Birds of Benwell and the Dolly Birds of Walker).


After, Mr. Freeman regaled our audience with tales of his Russian trip. One highlight was his fascinating description of a gorilla's penis, which was accompanied by vigorous wiggling of his little finger. Mr. Freeman assured us that both his pinkie and a gorilla's penis are nigh-identical. Whether the refusal of our audience to shake hands with him later was connected to this I cannot say, but his lecture went down a storm and the crowd yelled for more. Indeed, they got more the following evening when we were invited back by popular demand. The audience, alas, was not quite as large as the previous evening, but we at least had the opportunity to sample a delightful real ale called The Cross Buttock. I will refrain from going into too much detail, but I would like to point out that this beverage very much "does what it says on the tin", and proved to be a most efficacious treatment for solemnity as well as other burdens of body and mind.

Yours in the spirit of Biffa Bacon....Mike.

ITS IN OUR NATURE

Through the good offices of our old friend Dr Darren Naish, we have applied for, and been accepted onto the somewhat prestigious Nature Blog Network which is, as the name implies, a netweork of nature blogs. In one way I am very grateful to Darren for his kindness in thinking of us, but in another I am furious. This is just what I needed NOT!! Another distraction to take my mind off work!

This evening I have been supposed to be writing a piece about Charles Darwin to mark the bicentenary of his birth. Geoff Ward at the Western Daily Press who is a terribly nice guy, and who - incidentally - has a podcast of his own called Mysterious West which is never less than entertaining, always informative, and quite often features CFZ bods like me and Max Blake, commissioned it off me weeks ago.

But now, due to Dr Daz, I have found myself distracted by The Birdchick a blonde girl called Sharon, who has a mission to show the world that you can be a birdwatcher without being a geek. The fact that she is wearing a t-shirt proclaiming her as a `birding slut` was something that I found rather amusing.

Feral Thoughts is particularly interesting (note to self: remember to pass this one on to Maxy for reference in our alien animals project) because it is about the problem of feral animals in Australia. Any blog which tells of the adventures of Timmy the scat detecting Labrador has got to win my vote.

But there are dozens of others. Even as I sit here, late at night typing up a complaint about how much time I waste on the Nature Blogs Network I have found myself wandering through a whole swathe of fascinating blogs on a whole string of different subjects that interest me. Grrrrrrrrrr Darren. I may never do any work again.....

PS: Only joking


New Index

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that every few days the news stories disappear off the front of the CFZ site, to be replaced by new ones. Every post for the last five years is still archived on the site, and until recently, the lack of an nindex didn't matter. However, for the last three weeks we have been posting an average of sixty posts a week, and the archiving system that the jolly nice fellows at Blogspot have provided is wholly inadequate.

Therefore I refer you all to a brand new blog, which is acting as the dedicated Bloggo Index

At the moment it just has the January 2009 postings indexed by rough categories. However, I would like to make this index far more useful, by adding searchable by Author's name, and geographical area categories, and am looking for volunteers who wish to help improve it. Any takers?

More bloody computer problems

For some reason the server which holds the CFZ website http://www.cfz.org.uk/ has gone down. No doubt it will be up again later in the evening, but it does mean that I can't update the front page with the latest news. It also means that the images of the featured books are banjaxed because they are hosted on the CFZ site.

However, I hope all will be back to normal d'reckly (as they say in Devonshire). Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so, go and watch the latest edition of `On The Track` (our monthly webTV show). You can find it HERE and as Fleur would say, it's bonzarific!