Saturday, May 16, 2009
One of the oddest things Herodotus heard of on his travels were stories of giant ants.
“There are other Indians further north, round the city of Caspatyrus and in the country of Pactyica, who in their mode of life resemble the Bactrians. These are the most warlike of the Indian tribes, and it is they who go out to fech the gold-for in this region is a sandy desert. There is found in this desert a kind of ant of great size - bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog. Some specimens that were caught there, are kept at the palace of the Persian king. These creatures as hey burrow underground throw up sand in heaps, just as ants in Greece throw up the earth, and are very similar in shape. The sand has a rich content of gold, and this it is that the Indians are after when they make their expeditions into the desert. Each man harnesses here camels abreast, a female, on which he rides, in the middle, and a male on each side in a leading rein, and takes care that the female is one who has as recently as possible dropped her young.
That, then, is how these Indians equip themselves for the expedition, and they plan their time table so as to actually get their hands on the gold during the hottest part of the day, when the heat will have driven the ants underground. In this part of the world the sun is not, as it is elsewere, hottest at noon, but in the morning: from dawn, that is, until the closing time in the market. During this part of the day the heat is much fiercer than it is at noon in Greece, and the natives are said to soak themselves in water to make it endurable. At midday the heat diminishes and it is much the same here as elsewere, and as the afternoon goes on, it becomes cooler and cooler, until at sunset it is really cold.
When the Indians reach the place where the gold is’ they fill the bags they have brought with them with sand, and start for home as fast as they can go; for the ant (as it is said in the Persians’ story) smell them and at once give chase; nothing in the world can touch these ants for speed, so not one of the Indians would get home alive, if they did not make sure of a good start while he ants were mustering their forces. The male camels, who are slower than the females, soon begin to drag and are left behind, one after the other, while the females are kept going hard by the memory of their young, who were left at home.”
It has been suggested that the ‘ants’ were in fact marmots, burrowing rodents related to prairie dogs, who inhabit the area. However marmots are not known for their aggresiveness and are not larger than foxes (unless you are comparing a woodchuck with a fennec). He story may have been concocted by local people to keep other away from the gold bearing area in a ‘Scooby Doo’ style.
A benefit concert on his behalf is being held there tonight, if anyone in the area would like to go along. Sadly, Jon is too ill to go, let alone sing.
This is a slight departure in the Big Three series, because someone has taken our idea and run with it. And that, after all, is what this should be all about and all so often isn't. Scotty over at the Wildlife Mysteries blog has done his own Big Three, and we are so impressed we have decided to link to it..
Richard's latest article is a guide to organising your own monster hunt, one which I'm sure will inspire a lot of readers. I've been working with the Illustration Department of our local university and took the opportunity to ask one of the students, a talented cartoonist called Steph Murta, to come up with some amusing pics to go with it. I sent Steph a photo or two of Richard so that she could include him in the illos. I hope the following, which is accompanied by a quote from Richard's piece ('I have travelled the globe trying to track down beasts of legend'), will make you chuckle. I think Steph has captured the essence of the man! (Though I'm not sure what those things are creeping up to his left - monster sperm?)
Paranormal Magazine issue 37 will be out on May 29 and will also include a fascinating article by Dr Karl Shuker on 'Nightmares of the Dreamtime'.
Richard Holland. http://www.paranormalmagazine.co.uk/ / http://www.uncannyuk.co.uk/
From 1876 – MURDEROUS ATTACK BY A GORILLA: ‘A brief report has reached us of a fearful adventure at Famber. It appears that Madame Cartinet and her sister Mdlle Proche, wife and sister in law of an African merchant, have been residing at the above named place for some weeks past. M. Cartinet was always away in the day-time and indeed for some days in succession. Mdlle Proche and her sister occupied the same sleeping apartment during the absence of the latter’s husband and had just finished their toilettes when the window of the room was flung open to admit a monstrous gorilla. The hideous monster rummaged through the drawers and eventually laid hold of a razor which he flourished and chattered in evident delight. He sprang suddenly forward and attacked Mdlle Proche, the poor lady struggling to free herself from her assailant. The gorilla inflicted severe wounds on the throat and neck of his victim who had by this time fainted from loss of blood.
A gentleman, a soldier, went to the assistance of the two ladies, having been aroused by the piercing screams of both ladies. Upon arriving at the scene the terrible situation of the inmates of the room became apparent. The soldier levelled his revolver and fired three times in rapid succession. The gorilla fell at the third shot and died some few hours afterwards. The ladies wounds were treated and it is hoped they will not prove fatal. This, however, it is not possible to tell at the present.’
On Sunday 26th April seasoned and novice Aquarists’ alike travelled from many corners of the U.K. in order to join the members of the Ryedale Aquarist Society for their annual aquarium fish Open Show, which was held at the Kirkbymoorside Memorial Hall.
This year the event was split into two sections.
The first of these was a full Open Show with 45 Classes covering the full range of tropical freshwater and coldwater fish. 20 families brought along a total of 180 fish, many of which were of an extremely high standard, and these were judged to Y.A.A.S. rules and standards.
The main results were as follows: -
Best in Show - Mr. B. O’ Neill (Workington Aquarist Society) with a Humpbacked limia.
Best Exhibit - Mr. Mark Walters (Castleford A.S.)
Best goldfish - Mr. N. Swales (STAMPS)
Junior Award - Miss A. Charters (STAMPS)
The second section consisted of a Guppy only show that formed part of the British Livebearer Association Guppy Section Show League. A total of 40 fish were entered in the 3 Classes. BLA Judges judged to their own rules and standards.
The Class winners were as follows:-
Broad tail guppy - Mr. S. Elliott
Sword tail guppy - Mr. D. Jordan
Short tail guppy - Mr. M. Clarke
22 families submitted auction ‘lots’ giving Mr. Steve Jones and his auctioneering team a very busy, but enjoyable, afternoon.
The Ryedale members send their thanks to the small army of helpers from both the Y.A.A.S. and T.T.A.A.F.B.A.S. for their wonderful help, to all the exhibitors who brought along their best fish, to the people who brought their auction ‘lots’, aquatic industry and tourist attractions for their generous support, to all our friends who made the journey to be with us and interested visitors from the Ryedale area who came along to view the fish exhibits.
On Sunday 4th October the Society will return to the Kirkbymoorside Memorial Hall to host an Open mini-show and auction of aquatic items. Further details to follow.
In the Americas the most searched for cryptid is Bigfoot and its no surprise that BHMs are among the most sighted cryptids there as a result. However in the UK things are quite different, man beasts are hardly ever seen here and if they are they usually end up being attributed to either a trick of the light, zooform phenomena or misidentification. Besides Britain just doesn’t have the enormous wilderness areas that America and Canada do, colonies of big cats might be able to hide themselves but large hairy ape-men would find that task considerably more difficult. Well, one bit of Folklore from North Wales tells the story of a British BHM and how he, for some time, evaded capture and detection.
Villagers in Nant Gwynant in North Wales have long told a story about how a cave in the valley came to be named. Long ago villagers and shepherds in the area were plagued by a thief that would break into their homesteads. They would awaken to find that their goats and cows had been milked, food had been stolen and the best sheep taken during the night. This went on for some years and every time anyone laid a trap for the thief it never took the bait and the finger of popular suspicion passed from ne’er-d’-well to ne’er-d’-well with each suspect’s guilt eventually being disproved.
One day a shepherd was returning from the mountains later than usual and spotted something strange; a huge burley naked man covered from head to toe in thick red fur was resting on a neighbouring hill. The shepherd suspected that this out of place and strangely hirsute giant might be the thief that was plaguing the village so the shepherd snuck past the man without being detected and ran back to the village as soon as he was out of sight.
When he reached Nant Gwynant he rounded up all the available men and they hatched a hasty plot to catch the hairy giant. Unfortunately, because it would seem this plan involved running at the hairy man and shouting loudly whist brandishing makeshift weapons this plan was, not surprisingly, unsuccessful.
The hairy man bounded off on all-fours leaping over obstacles with the skill and precision of a dear.
A watch was kept on the area over the coming weeks to see if the hairy man would return, and he did a few days later. Because the previous plan had failed the villagers decided to loose their dogs on the hairy man instead, however this also proved unsuccessful when the man bounded off with a hare-like speed.
The villagers despaired that they’d ever catch the man, as he was too fast for even their dogs to catch, and one man came up with the idea of consulting a magician. The magician told the villagers to find a red haired greyhound without a single hair of a different colour and this would be able to catch the man. After much searching and bartering with local towns and villages the people of Nant Gwynant found a dog that fitted the bill and proudly took him home. When the villagers next saw the hairy man they were ready with the red greyhound and it was set loose to catch the hairy man. The hairy man escaped again by leaping down a small cliff.
After everything they tried to catch the hairy man had failed the men of the village reluctantly gave up and resigned themselves to the fact that the thefts would continue. However, one woman was so angered by her frequent losses she decided to stay up every night and hide herself in the front room of her farmhouse to wait for when the hairy man decided to pay a visit. Sure enough after a few weeks the hairy man paid a visit to the wrong house and the lady was waiting with a hatchet.
She remained hidden until the man had squeezed his bulky frame halfway though the window before she struck the hairy man with her hatchet. The unexpected blow cleaved off the hairy man’s hand in one blow and he recoiled back out of the window before the woman could smite him with a further whack. The brave woman dashed out of her door, hatchet in hand ready to finish the man off but by the time she had gotten outside he had fled.
When the village awoke the next day and the men learned what had happened they followed the trail of blood the hairy man had left behind to a cave beneath a local waterfall. As the big hairy man was never seen again it was assumed by the villagers that he had died in the cave, so the cave was named ‘the cave of the hairy man’.
Diet: Seeds - granivore, grasses - graminivore, insects - insectivore
Food & feeding: Omnivore
Habitats: Temperate forest and woodland, desert and semi-desert
Description: Like the name says, this is a mouse with spines, a series of spiny hairs along its back that make it harder for predators to swallow them. Like many mammals living in hot climates these mice have extra large ears, which may help them keep their blood cool, like a car radiator. Length from head to base of tail is about 10 cm.
Care: Spiny mice are incredibly simple animals to care for, and require no specialized care or maintenance, other than their need to be protected from low temperatures or severe drafts. Being natural desert creatures, Spiny mice do best with a low humidity level and in temperatures ideally no lower than 75 degrees, and certainly no lower than 65 degrees at any time.
My interest with cryptozoology started with visits to Loch Ness in the late 60’s and early 70’s. An impressionable teenager escaping from school and allowed to roam free, I met some wonderful characters such as Frank Searle, Dan Scott Taylor and Tim Dinsdale, plus some years an assortment of students, which was a great attraction to a teenage girl. Both Dan and Tim were real gentlemen, and I kept in touch with Dan on and off over the years until his death. I was supposed to meet up with Dan at his next visit to Loch Ness to see the new submarine, sadly this was not to be. Frank, well Frank was I think a showman, and I had the sense never to venture into his territory alone, he was also a ladies man. He like the others has also sadly passed away.
Loch Ness is surrounded by trees and bushes and not as easy to observe as people think. Those dark waters, scared me and thrilled me all at the same time and I would imagine the Loch Ness Beastie swimming in it’s waters. I corresponded with Nicholas Witchell when his book came out and spent a summer just observing the Loch, as he had. In the 60’s and 70’s a plesiosaur seemed a likely candidate for the creature but as I got older and learnt to do my own research, I realised it was unlikely as the loch had only been formed for about 10000 years. Undeterred I have spent many hours by the Loch over the years and even once took a job for a year in the area so I could spend more time there. What is in there? Maybe Retired Professor Robert Rhines is right and the last Nessie is now dead. He hopes to find remains at the bottom of the loch. I think the similarity of so many lake sightings around the world means something is going on and something whether an optical illusion or a real animal is there and in other lakes, and one day some tangible evidence will be found.
The other cryptid that interested me in those days and has continued to do so since, was the Yeti. Tales told by mountain climbers of seeing the footprints and hearing the sounds and then the film with Peter Cushing in black and white, scarred me for life, I had to learn more. The Yeti , a sort of mountain Bigfoot, was supposed to be sacred and talked of in hushed voices. The local’s name for the Yeti is metoh-kangmi, a term that was mistakenly translated into English as “abominable snowman.” This is a name that has stuck. Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountaineer, was said to believe in it and then changed his mind and said it was a legend, after testing a so called Yeti scalp he got from a monastery and finding it to from a known animal. There have been reports coming back to England since 1832 of the Yeti, seen by British travellers and army personnel. Something is up there and whatever it is walks about in bare feet so must be immune to the cold .Can anyone really think climbers will take off their boots to leave fake footprints in the snow? They would lose said toes to frost bite.
The world has moved on a lot since those heady days, when belief was enough to mount an expedition. The last few years, I have taken an interest in snakes, fascinating creatures and would love one except either the cat would eat it or it would eat the cat!
The stories of giant snakes have always had my interest. From old Tarzan films to the more modern film Anaconda I love to watch the giant snakes. Could they exist? Well recent fossils found and named Titanboa in honour of its immense size, show that for 10 million years the giant snake was the largest land predator on earth. There are anacondas and pythons reported today up to 30 feet long. The reports since the 1800’s of giant snakes excite the imagination and Sir Percy Fawcett set off to find one and never returned. As a youngster I thought perhaps it found him and ate him. I think it is the romance of the giant snake that appeals, the Victorian type explorers in the jungles and swamps of Africa, South America and even the Everglades, searching for the unknown. So cryptozoology, romantic, exciting, and full of unknowns and the chance of new discoveries , what more could a person want ?
The exhibits that appealed to me most were the animals and the shells, the animals were in a big room, a tiger shot by a king, a hippo and a giraffe with, apparently the tail of a cow.
The shells were upstairs in beautiful wooden cabinets that I still covet to this day.
I have just finished my diploma in Conservation (Museum Coservation: The job of being a conservator, who restores and maintains museum exhibits) and am starting the MA in September so I needed a placement. Having got a summer internship with the conservation team at RAMM along with my friend Catherine we are becoming very well acquainted with the shells, there are about 30,000 and all need to be checked and cleaned to go in their snazzy new place once the museum reopens.
We are based in a purpose built building in Exeter and I have been gazing upon deceased animals to my heart's content. Hummingbirds, Hippos and Helix pomatia are all there.
This week has been a good learning curve for me, I've learnt to mix up the conservator's adhesive of choice (paraloid), check a stuffed bird which is going on loan (I did mix up left and right until it was pointed out, oops), look round the textiles department (very very lovely!) as well as cleaning over 400 shells.
Being in the Museum Stores also lets one see things that wouldn't normally be on display, there's a real human skeleton, cabinets of birds eggs, butterflies and moths, and the spirit store where all the animals in jars and bottles are kept, the room smells of formaldehyde and looks somewhat like I imagine Professor Snape's office at Hogwarts to look like.
I also met the Curator of Natural History today who was very interesting and explained to us about how the eating habits of certain thrushes can change the populations of snails with different banding patterns and also told me more about Partula snails and the sadly extinct Quagga! Feel free to ask me any questions about conservation, I'll do my best to answer! (and if I don't know I'll ask people who do)
Fleur's bosses at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum have been kind enough to allow her to write this blog, even though it is not usually their policy to allow such things. We would like to thank them for this, and to point out that all pictures of museum specimens are copyright to the RAMM
As usual on a Saturday you get an extra special treat to go along with the daily digest of cryptozoology related news stories, the song of the week. This week I’ve picked something that should get you ready to face the day so click the link to listen to some Huey Lewis And The News: http://www.last.fm/music/Huey%2BLewis%2B%2526%2BThe%2BNews/_/The+Power+of+Love?autostart. Just to make it look like I plan these things rather than pulling them out of a hat or something, today’s song is also a clue to tomorrow’s film recommendation. If anyone uses the comments section and correctly guesses the film then I’ll use my drawing skills again, as with last weeks biscuit question.
Anyway, here is the news:
Parasite makes mice lose fear of cats
Spot the bull: waterbuffalo go on rampage
Neandertals sophisticated and fearless hunters
Penguin kidnaps mortal enemy
Why are there no penguins in Swansea?Because they’re scared of Wales.
As you can see, the Mocking Bird wasn't too happy. When the bird tried to frighten the snake off, the snake flattened his head and neck. I did some research, and concluded that this is an Eastern Hognose snake, which is native to the eastern United States, but can be found throughout other regions as well, including my own Central Texas.
Hognose snakes eat mostly toads and frogs, but will eat some birds and other small mammals. This snake is easily identifiable by its upturned snout, stout body, and ability to flatten its neck and head, much like a cobra. It is only very slightly venomous, however, and if its flattening and hissing doesn't frighten you away,it will roll over and play dead. If you try to turn it upright, it will roll back over and attempt to fool you again.
Pardon the quality of the pics with the bird -- I took them in a hurry through the screen.
EDITOR's NOTES: Naomi originally wrote that the snake is non venomous, and she is technically right. However Members of this genus have enlarged maxillary teeth and possess a slightly toxic saliva. In a few cases involving bites from this species, the symptoms reported have ranged from none at all to mild tingling, swelling and numbness. Nevertheless, they are generally considered to be harmless.
And for those only familiar with the word `mockingbird` from the novel by Harper Lee, and the songs by Eminem, Inez and Charlie Foxx, Carly Simon and James Taylor, Grant Lee Buffalo and Barclay James Harvest (I had no idea how many different songs there were with this title), mockingbirds are an exclusively New World passerine family that have been popular cage birds because of their extraordinary powers of mimicry, in the wild "mimicking the songs of insect and amphibian sounds as well as other bird songs, often loudly and in rapid succession" (Wikipedia)