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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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Tatzelwurm as lungfish?

In the Alpine mountains of Austria, Bavaria, and Switzerland a strange animal is occasionally reported. It is described as a cylindrical, scaly animal with a blunt head and powerful jaws. Its legs are greatly reduced and some say it sports only a front pair of limbs. It grows to some 90 cm (3 feet) in length and is greatly feared on account of its aggressive nature. It is believed to have a bite so venomous that it can kill a cow and can even breath out poisonous gas. It is known variously as the Tatzelwurm (worm with feet), the Springwurm (jumping worm), and the Stollerwurm (tunnel worm).

The creature’s existence was excepted as fact in the Alps and it appeared in several books on Alpine natural history and hunting along side more familiar animals. Swiss naturalist Friedrich von Tschundi was convinced of the reality of the creature and wrote in 1861…

“In Bernese Oberland and the Jura the belief is widespread that there exists a sort of “cave worm” which is thick, 30 to 90 cm long and has two short legs ; it appears at the approach of storms after a long dry spell…

“In 1828 a peasant in the Solothurn canton found one in a dried-up marsh and put it aside intending to take it to professor Hugi. But in the meantime the crows ate half of it. The skeleton was taken to the town of Solothurn, were they could not decide what it was and sent it to Heidelburg-where all trace of it was lost”

In the 1930s Dr Gerhard Venzmer and Hans Fulcher collected the evidence of 60 witnesses. All agreed it was 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 feet) long, cylindrical in shape with the tail ending abruptly. It had a large blunt head that grew directly into the body with no narrowing in the neck area. The eyes were large and the body scaled. It hissed like a snake.

There have been sightings further south in Europe as well. Similar creatures have been reported from France, Italy and Sicily. There has even been a report of what sounds very like a Tatzelwurm from Denmark in June 1973! Although most authorities have treated the Tatzelwurm as a mystery reptile others disagree. An Austrian schoolmaster who came across one in 1929 whilst exploring a cave on the Tempelmauer believed it to be a giant salamander.

“I started to look for the entrance to the cave. Suddenly I saw a snake like animal sprawled on the rotting foliage that covered the ground.. Its skin was almost white, not covered by scales but smooth. The head was flat and two very short feet on the fore part of the body were visible (….. ) “My” Tatzelwurm did not have large claws but short and atrophied looking feet; his length did not exceed 40 or 45 centimetres. Most probably the Tatzelwurm is a rare variety of salamander living in moist caves and only rarely coming to the light of day.”

There are aquatic amphibians with only two legs. The siren (Siren lcertina) of the south east U.S is one such creature. Others have a pallid hue, such as the blind cave dwelling olm (Proteus anguinus) of south eastern Europe. Both of these animals sport feathery external gills, a feature notably lacking in the schoolmaster’s description. The white skin and troglodyte existence does suggest that what this man saw was some unknown cave dwelling salamander.

However, my colleague, zoologist Richard Freeman has an even more extraordinary explanation. His theory all hinges around a remarkable photograph taken in 1924 by a Swiss Photographer called Balkin. He was photographing scenery around the Meiringen area when he took a snap of what he thought was a rotten log. As he pressed the shutter the stump sprang into life and revealed itself to be a large angry lizard. The alarmed man fled but later had the snap developed. It showed a blunt headed heavy scaled animal head on to the camera. “As soon as I saw the picture”, writes Richard, “it immediately brought to mind the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri). Of course the photo may be a fake, nothing more than a carved model. But if it is genuine the resemblance to the lungfish is very striking.”

Lungfish (dipnoans) are a bizarre group of fish. Their air bladders are modified to act as lungs that allow them to gulp air. This is a distinct advantage in times of drought. The South American and African species can also aestivate in periods of hardship. The former burrows into mud tunnels the latter builds a “cocoon” of mud about itself. There are six species, four from Africa, one from South America, and one from Australia. The latter species bares a strong resemblance to the archaic lobe finned fish first crawled onto land in the late Devonian era (408 to 360 million years ago) to give rise to the amphibians.

All known lungfish are tropical but could there be a distant relative adapted for temperate climes? An amphibious, bulky fish with a powerful bite. Hibernating in winter and inhabiting remote pools and caves. The tubular body and thick scales giving it a reptilian appearance. Perhaps this kind spends more time on land like a mudskipper (Periophthalmus sp) and with better developed eyes. We will never know the for sure until someone takes up the challenge of solving this cryptozoological mystery which for those of us living in Europe at least is literally on our doorstep.


I have just been sent this, and I really don't know what it is. It vaguely reminds me of an anhinga, but I don't think that it is one.

The YouTube blurb reads:

Unknown bird fishing @ Arcadia arboretum (L.A. County)

Recorded July 11, 2007While feeding the fish and turtles at the arboretum lagoon, a persistent unknown bird, (I know electronics, not birds) was going after baby catfish, feeding on bread.He (?) eventually caught one. (No video), but I do have a still photo, of the little fish in its mouth. (beak?)

Whilst on the subject of anhingas, it is a little known fact that for some years one was living in Exminster marshes in South Devon. Back in 2001 a friend of mine from America was visiting Exeter and spent some time with Richard and me. We took the mildly touristy river boad that goes along the canal from Exeter to The Turf Lock a pub out in the marshes. The pilot of the boat was a lady who spent every winter in the Everglades doing something involving manatees, and she pointed the anhinga out to us. That is certainly what it was, although no-one has ever mentioned it before or since...

(For those not aware of these peculiar birds, the lower piece of footage is of an anhinga from You Tube


Things are going on apace with the indexing project. It is horribly tedious, and I am very grateful to dear Heather and Lee for their sterling work. They are both working very hard on the project. The first semi-completed page is now up. It covers anomalous behaviour from aquatic animals, such as strandings, attacks and unusual swarms and gatherings. The periodical data needs to be added, but you can find it here:

This is an urgent plea to anyone who feels like joining in. There are enormous amounts of this stuff to be done. I estimate that the CFZ Archives actually contain over 25,000 items and they are growing daily. So PLEASE if you have an hour or so on your hands, and especially if you are au fait with the most rudimentary html coding, please get in touch with me at jon@eclipse.co.uk



I should have guessed that this would happen. We have been waiting for a week or so to confirm the last speakers for this year's Weird Weekend, and finally I posted the incomplete list this morning. However, we can now proudly announce that we have Tim the Yowie Man as one of our headliners. We have been hoping to get him for the WW, but as he lives in Australia this has not been easy. But finally herte he is, so lock up your daughters.

If you have not already done so, but your Weird Weekend tickets at the link below:


ARCHIVING PROJECT: The Third Trenche of Folklore Clippings

Oll has been a busy little beaver and the latest set of scanned news clippings and other stuff from the Archiving Project is ready for you to download HERE should you want to..

The CFZ Archives yeild up a mixed bag of odd folklore clippings mostly folklore reports from the Devonshire Association between 1892 and the early 1950s

NICK REDFERN: Not A Cave-Monster After All

Having read with much interest the recent controversy concerning the so-called Quatari goblin, and the subsequent discussions here and elsewhere concerning various photos of non-cryptids - models, toys and constructs, in reality - being passed off as the real-thing, I'm reminded of this photo which was sent to me around (I think) 1997 or 1998.

Nope, this is no cryptid either. Rather, it's a creation that can be found in a certain, very famous series of caves in England, and which is meant to merely offer a bit of "sword-and-sorcery"-style entertainment to those who visit the caves in question.

But what was interesting was the intricately woven tale that accompanied the picture when it was mailed to me. I forget the precise details now, but it all revolved around the claim that intelligent, sword-wielding cryptids were roaming the many and varied caves that exist deep below the British Isles.

The letter ran to 2 or 3 pages - and was, of course, all complete nonsense. So, if you too have ever been on the receiving end of this photo, just enjoy it for what it is: a piece of man-made entertainment and nothing else!



This timetable is ridiculously provisional, and that the CFZ take no responsibility for disappointment caused by the non-appearance of any of the advertised speakers All stuff in PINK is tba. We are waiting for a couple of surprise big attractions to confirm, but to avoid disappointment we are not going to announce them at this stage..

7.00 p.m Cocktail party at the CFZ,
Myrtle Cottage, Woolsery, Bideford, North Devon EX39 5QR

noon - 5.00 p.m Open Day at the CFZ
Myrtle Cottage, Woolsery, Bideford, North Devon EX39 5QR

Community Centre, Woolsery, Bideford, North Devon
Doors open at 6.00

7.00 – 7.15 Introduction
7.15 – 7.45 OLL LEWIS: Welsh Dragons and Gwibers
7.45 - 8.15 JULIAN VAYNE: A cabinet of curiosities from North Devon Museums
8.15 - 8.45 BREAK
8.45 - 9.30 JON McGOWAN: Big Cats in Brtain - exposed!
9.30 - 10.00 BREAK
10.00 - 11.00 TIM MATTHEWS: Crop Circle Confusion

Community Centredoors open at 10.00

11.30 – 11.45 JON DOWNES + RICHARD FREEMAN: An introduction to cryptozoology
(ALL AFTERNOON JOANNE CURTIS: monster making for kids)
11.45 – 12.15 MAX BLAKE: Unknown animals in Pet Shops
12.15 – 1.15 PAUL VELLA:The Minnesota Iceman
1.15 - 1.45 BREAK
1.45 – 2.45 ALAN MURDIE: Forteana from Colombia (PAUL VELLA: Bigfoot for kids)
2.45 - 3.15 BREAK (KIDS: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party)
3.15 – 3.30 QUIZ
3.30 - 4.30 ANDY ROBERTS: The big grey man of Ben McDhui
4.30 - 5.00 Break
5.00 – 6.00 JAN BONDESON: The basilisk
6.00 - 7.00 DARREN NAISH: British big cats in deep time
7.00 - 7.30 Break
7.30 – 8.30: NEIL ARNOLD:Zooform Phenomena - monsters amongst us
8.30 – 8.45 CFZ AWARDS
8.45-9.15 Break
9.15 – 10.15 tba
10.15 - 11.00 tba

doors open 10.30

12.00 – 1.00 MICHAEL WOODLEY: A proposed system of taxonomy for cryptozoology
1.00 – 1.30 GLEN VAUDREY: Mystery Animals of the Western Isles
1.30 - 2.00 LIVE: Sitting Now (Discussion and Panel) Presented by KEN EAKINS
(KIDS: Monsters are real – Jon Downes/Richard Freeman 30 mins)
(ALL AFTERNOON JOANNE CURTIS: monster making for kids)
2.00 – 2.30 BREAK (KIDS: Treasure Hunt)
2.30 – 3.30 NICK REDFERN: Stalin's ape men
(OLL LEWIS: Lake Monsters for kids)
3.30 - 4.00 BREAK
4.00 – 4.45 RONAN COGHLAN: Atlantis and other lost continents
4.45 – 5.00 JONATHAN DOWNES: Keynote Speech and Closing Remarks.

Events specifically for kids are in red. Whilst all the lectures are suitable for children, some may be of more interest to young minds than others. The talks marked with are those that we especially recommend for children under the age of 12, although - of course - they are welcome at any that they care to attend...



Exhibition: Pictures of Monsters by the children of WoolseryExhibition: Metamorphosis - exotic insects

EVENING: Dinner at The Farmer's Arms


OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Welcome to the Sunday update of the latest cryptozoology news from the CFZ daily cryptozoology news blog and of course Sunday’s bad pun.

Baby owls play in Spring sunshine
Farmers fear pigs may get swine flu from people
Dinosaurs 'survived in a remote 'lost world' for half a million years before extinction'
Showjumping rabbits tipped to become Britain's most talented pets

According to vets this sport has no ill effects on the rabbit’s health although they may sometimes feel a little horse.

JAN EDWARDS: Another conundrum

What is this animal? It has long back legs. It has a white mark on its head. It has a light-coloured tummy. It has a dark patch under each eye. It’s just over a week old and it’s eyes are just starting to open.

But what is it?

Answer on Tuesday.

Jan Edwards, Head of Animal Care
Farplace Animal Rescue -
the no-kill animal sanctuary
Farplace, Sidehead, Westgate,
County Durham, DL13 1LE