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, September 15, 2009


Some months ago Alan Friswell, the bloke who made the CFZ Feegee Mermaid and also the guy responsible for some of the most elegantly macabre bloggo postings, wrote me an email.

He had an idea for a new series for the bloggo. Quite simply he has an enormous collection of macabre, fortean, odd and disturbing magazine and newspaper articles, and he proposed to post them up on the bloggo.

Here’s another freaky feature, although this one should perhaps be subtitled: 'Reasons that I became the balanced and well-adjusted individual that you see before you # 1.'

As I’m sure you can imagine, a large percentage of my childhood years were spent--thanks mainly to the tolerance and indulgence of my Mum and Dad--watching Harryhausen films and late-night horror movies; haunting the museums in South Kensington; reading horror magazines and super-hero comic-books; making my own monsters; and building a small zoo in my parent’s back garden containing frogs, toads, various newts and salamanders, and a large grass snake, which--creepily, I suppose, to the uninitiated--ate baby frogs with ghoulish enthusiasm.

Perhaps it’s just the old chestnut of viewing the past with rose-coloured specs--whatever idiot thought that one up--but the shops of my childhood seemed to be positively overflowing with grim and gruesome jollies, freely available to kids--things that, if you tried to sell them to children now, would see you swiftly carted off by the thought police for contributing to the corruption and subsequent delinquency of a minor.

Yeah? Well, stuff that! As part of the freaky feature feature--you know what I mean--I’ll be dropping a few of the terrifying, unsettling, and sometimes downright nauseating toys, comics, picture cards, and model kits of my youth right into your laps, so you can fully appreciate just why I’m so normal…So here's the first one.

When I was about nine years old a new novelty appeared in my local newsagents. They were called Ugly Buttons--a series of badges that came in paper packets, featuring horrific and gruesome images of death, destruction, and lots of other great stuff. The badges were huge--over two inches across--and seemed gigantic in my small hands. They were originally produced in America in 1967, but came over to Britain years later. Does anyone remember them? Here's a link to an Ugly Buttons site



From the Bugclub list comes this picture, and a message from Jason in Chicago who writes: "These Bugs shot me with white liquid! What are they?"

I have no idea but I am sure that someone in the bloggo readership will enlighten us.

RICHARD FREEMAN WRITES: Galápagos feels the bite

The famous Galápagos islands are under threat from a huge influx of mosquitos. The southern house mosquito is a carrier of diseases such as West Nile fever and avian malaria that could harm the endemic wildlife. Scientists from Leeds University and the Zoological Society of London found that the insects were coming in on planes with tourists. It is thought that they might interbreed with local mosquitos.

Another recent study by American scientists found that some Galápagos penguins were harbouring the Plasmodium parasite, which is carried by the southern house mosquito. In a similar case in the 19th century, mosquitos introduced to Hawaii caused the extinction of a number of unique bird species. The Ecuadorian government recently introduced a requirement for all aircraft flying to Galápagos to have insecticide treatment but it is not yet known how effective this is.


Max spent most of the summer doing his A-levels, which is - I suppose - a perfectly valid reason for him not having done any bloggo stuff for yonks. However, he has managed to sneak out a few times to sit in his car and listen to Tarkus with a peculiar look on his face, and occasionally to do a little bit of bird watching. He usually takes his camera with him, and over the last few months has built up a fantastic library of images of the wildlife of the Wells region of Somerset. Here are some of them....

I usually take pictures of birds. OK, fine; these are not birds. They do both fly, though, which is how I am justifying this set of pictures. These are all species from reed beds in North Somerset, showing a wide diversity of Odonata in the area.

To start we have the widespread and adaptable large red damselfly; a large, obvious damselfly, which is one of the first British species to emerge. Our garden pond has only hatched out 3 adults (that I have seen) of this species this year, and they have all zipped off to new areas, which is a shame.

Now we have what could be a very rare species, the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura pumilio. I am fairly sure that this is an I. pumilio because the blue area on the tail looks more like the markings on I. pumilio than the more common Ischnura elegans. This is a species mainly found in the southwest, but it can be found in scattered isolated colonies throughout the British Isles.

One of the Coenagrion genus, now; I cannot identify it to species level as I am not that familiar with the different species in the genus - there are 5 different species of Coenagrion in the UK and all of them are blue with black banding! If anyone has any idea what this mating pair are then I would be very grateful.

Lying apart from most of the other British damselflies in the family Calopteryigidae, the Banded Demoiselle male is a stunning insect. They have a strange wobbly way of flying, flaunting their wings to potential mates, and to rivals to show that this particular area is theirs, and any other Odonata will have to fight for it! This is the only family of damselflies in Britain that have coloured wings so this, plus their large size and odd flight makes identifying them a piece of cake.

At last, a dragonfly! And what a species! Anax imperator is Britain’s heaviest dragonfly, and one of our biggest insects. This is a male in his prime. Males rarely stop flying, eating prey on the wing to keep control of their territory. However, their large size makes them an obvious target for predators, and the lower image shows this very dragonfly minutes after I had taken photos of it, being eaten by a Hobby, which had zipped in front of the hide I was sat in and grabbed the poor Emperor in front of my eyes. Strange thing, life.…

And another dragonfly. The Broad-Bodied Chaser is a funny-looking species. They are very wide and short, but they have a very fast, erratic flight, which belies their appearance. This is a female; males have a bright blue abdomen. They are only found in the south of Britain.

These are Four-Spotted Chasers. Looking at this similar species; the odd shape of the above species’ body becomes apparent. These and other chasers are commonly found using the same perch and vicious fights often break out over who gets to sit on what seems to be a very ordinary blade of dead grass. But sometimes they are happy to co-own a perch, as this photo shows with 6 individual chasers sat on it.


“Make sure you do an editorial,” Jon said. So here it is. I haven’t the foggiest what to write; normally I just pick at other bloggers’ work like a strict Victorian schoolmistress who has noticed a dodgy stitch in a pupil’s embroidery (I rarely screech “You will do this again, you stupid child!”, however, as much as Jon accuses me of pedantry and grammar fascism).

One thing worthy of note has happened to me this week that is vaguely cryptozoological in nature: I’ve converted someone! My nephew Leo, who will be two in a few weeks, was busy scribbling in black pen over important documents (as usual) when he chanced upon my latest Fortean Times and though it too received more than its fair share of additional illustration, the darling little vandal DID stop briefly to gaze in wonder at the pictures, particularly at the chimera on page 18. After a few minutes he excitedly squealed “Giraffe; birdie; Gee-gee!” and promptly drew over that as well. At least if he doesn’t become the next Picasso he could be a zoologist.


I received word at 9pm last night via carrier pigeon that Corinna, Maxy and everyone's favourite Big Hairy Man, Jon Downes, arrived in Pembroke and were last heard of waiting in the car park for the ticket office to open....


So, we are just about to leave for Ireland. This is actually my first trip outside the UK since December 2004, and I am very much looking forward to it.

The main reason for going is to visit Tony Shiels, who is an old friend of mine and the nearest thing to a father I have left alive. If I may quote from my 2004 autobiography:

'As the date for my divorce hearing rumbled slowly closer, my wife, her family and friends, once again made it perfectly obvious that they were prepared to stoop pretty low in order to secure our divorce on as favourable terms - for them - as possible. I found myself in a position where in order to protect my ageing and ailing parents from witting or unwitting injury during the fall-out from this particular explosion, I was no longer able to confide in them to any major degree. Even so, my mother had a nervous breakdown, from which she never really recovered, and was subsequently stricken down by breast cancer - from which she did recover for a few years at least. Unable to confide in my own parents because of the enormity of the situation, I found a father figure in a very unlikely place. In many ways Tony "Doc" Shiels - the Wizard of the Western world - became a father to me between the closing weeks of 1996 and the spring of 1998.'

I also owe him my career. If I may quote another passage from the same book:

'Standing at the bar, Alison and I found ourselves next to an extraordinary Irishman. I've never met anyone like him up before or since. "I want a fokkin' Guinness and I want it now", he bellowed, and a dozen acolytes from all over the room hastened to his side, eager for the chance to buy him a drink. It took several minutes for me to realise who it was. It was Tony "Doc" Shiels, surrealchemist, and magician, sometimes referred to as the `Wizard of the Western World`. I whispered as much to Alison, who turned to me with a withering glance and told me that she had realised that all along. Tony, overhearing our conversation turned to me and boomed "Yes, of course I`m Doc Shiels. Who the fokk else would I be?", and a friendship was formed, which although it has been through its rocky moments, has lasted ever since.

Alison went exploring, whilst Tony and I sat down to the serious business of getting drunk. About half-an-hour into our mutual self-congratulation session, a middle-aged man in a brown suit approached us. He saw that I was wearing a VIP badge and that Tony was wearing a badge proclaiming him to be one of the speakers. He introduced himself as a features writer for one of the more anally retentive of the Sunday newspapers. He offered to buy us a drink, and gingerly asked who we were and could he have an interview with us? Tony Bellowed at him: "Of course you can buy us a drink you Saxon ********. And if you buy us a drink you can ask us anything you bloody well like. Who are we ye ask? I`m the Wizard of the Western world and this fat bastard is the greatest ******* cryptozoologist in the fucking world!"

I had arrived. As soon as the interview was over, we were surrounded by people wanting to talk to me about cryptozoology. One of them was a man called Dr Karl Shuker - then the leading cryptozoologist in Britain. We had spoken on the telephone but never met in person. However one of the fortean luminaries present took a photograph of us together and with the apparent endorsement of both Shuker and Shiels, I sold 200 copies of Animals & Men that day and signed up 30 new members. Alison and I had started the day practically bankrupt and we finished it with nearly 500 quid in our pockets and a completely unwarranted reputation for being a major player in the Cryptozoological community. The following weekend the interview with Tony and me appeared in the Sunday paper. It described my work in glowing terms, none of which I even faintly deserved, and didn't even allude to the fact that Tony and I were so spectacularly drunk when we did the interview that to this day I have no idea what I said.'

So, if it hadn't been for Tony I would certainly not be here now. I owe him my career, and I quite possibly owe him my life.

The least I can do is buy him a few drinks and give him an old computer once given to us by the late, semi lamented Simon Wolstencroft.

See you when we get back!


So Keith Floyd is dead. Poor old bugger; he had a heart attack at his girlfriend's house in Dorset.

All very sad, I can imagine you saying, but what has this got to do with us? I admit that the CFZ bloggo does indeed go off topic on occasion, but the lonesome death of a TV chef? What gives?

Well, Keith Floyd is actually responsible for my TV career - such as it is.

Back in the balmy days of 1994 I was approached by a TV Production company, in which Senor Floyd had an interest. They wanted a fortean version of Keith Floyd to wander about the country with a glass of brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other patronising the bejeezus out of eyewitnesses to the Loch Ness Monster, or UFOs. The fact that I was a friend of Doc Shiels also came in handy, and the script (such as it was) looked riotous and it is probably a good thing that it was never made.

For some reason they chose me as the Keith Floyd-a-like. About half the pilot was made, but I am very glad to say that it was never finished and that the rushes have disappeared into the mists of time. But apparently it was Keith F.'s idea, and although I never met him personally, my on-screen persona for the next ten years was cast in stone.

But it did also lead to my first series for Westcountry TV, and my career.

So goodbye, mate. I owe you one


Would you believe that aquaculture and the international industry that supports it all began with an unsuccesful attempt to breed hawk moths? Although both ornamental and edible fish had been kept in outside pools for many centuries, the modern age of aquaculture began in the autumn of 1829 when an amateur naturalist called Samuel Nathanial Ward found the chrysalis of a hawk moth. Wishing to attempt to rear the creature when it emerged the following spring, he put it in a bottle, resting on a bed of earth, shoved it into a corner of his study and promptly forgot about it. The following spring he found that although the hawk moth hadn’t emerged, two seedlings - a fern and a grass - had germinated although Ward had not watered them. In one of those extraordinary pieces of serendipity that characterise the advancement of science, Ward had accidentally discovered that plants enclosed in almost airtight glass cases are practically self sustaining.

Ward followed up on these experiments, and over the next few years he managed to succesfully propogate over thirty species of fern in these hermetically sealed conditions. News of this new discovery spread slowly. In 1834 a London nurseryman used Ward’s technique to send delicate plants to Australia, and in 1842, after no less a scientific personage than Faraday had discussed Ward’s findings at a meeting of the Royal Institution, Ward published his findings in a paper entitled “On the Growth of plants in closely glazed cases”. The public were interested - Natural History was a national preoccupation at the time - but there was a major stumbling block to ‘Wardian Cases’ (as they were now called), becoming a popular hobby. Since the Napoleonic Wars a quarter of a century earlier, there had been a stringent tax on glass. However, when this was repealed in 1845, the Wardian Case full of ferns became an essential peice of furniture in the parlours and drawing rooms of the emergent middle classes. The great fern craze only lasted a few years but it paved the way for a new national obsession - the aquarium.

People had attempted to keep fancy goldfish in bowls for years. Invariably they died when the oxygen ran out although one budding aquarist, Mrs Anna Thynne, had discovered a novel way to keep her pets alive. She maintained the oxygenation in her tank by having the water poured back and forth for half an hour a day. “This was doubtlessly a fatiguing operation, but I had a little handmaid, who, besides being rather anxious to oblige me, thought it rather an amusement." As most people were not blessed with servants who were so easily amused, the pursuit of aquaculture remained an esoteric and arcane occupation. However, following on from his experiments with ferns Ward discovered that with the simple addition of some valisneria and some pond snails, two small goldfish could be kept in a tank for nearly a year without a water change.

By this time the Wardian Cases of ferns were so ubiquitous that they were considered to be bordering on vulgarity, and the new revelations about the ease of fishkeeping prompted many erstwhile fern keepers to throw out their precious plants, turn their Wardian Cases upside down, and become fishkeepers.

In the meantime two naturalists, Robert Warrington and best-selling author Philip Henry Gosse, were carrying out experiments independently of each other, and almost simultaneously announced that they had managed to keep marine creatures alive in captivity. Writing in a book called A Naturalists rambles on the Devonshire Coast (1853), he described his success at keeping small marine creatures, especially sea anemones, and in doing so enthused an entire section of the British public into wanting to follow his example. The following year he debated the relative merits of the words 'aqua-vivarium' and 'vivarium' before concluding “let the word Aquarium be selected to indicate these interesting collections of aquatic animals and plants.” He also announced that an affordable ‘Marine Aquarium for the Parlour or Conservatory’ was already being manufactured on a large scale for public consumption.

The books of Gosse and other authors also inspired a generation of amateur naturalists to take up the occupation of rock-pooling. This involved exploring rocky shores in search of interesting and peculiar creatures and by 1858 the two hobbies had led to enormous numbers of people keeping sea anemones as pets.

At the same time public aquaria were opened in London and Brighton, and the star arrivals at both exhibits became another national obsession. One commentator wrote '..the arrival of the octopus had attracted almost as much attention as the visit of a foreign emperor, and the death of a porpoise was mourned as a national calamity.' When London Zoo exhibited its first hippopotamus the animal-hungry public visited in droves and went away inspired to start their own aquariums at home. G.H. Lewis - the biggest proponent of the hobby of sea-anemone propogation - wrote in Seaside Studies (1958) that "At once pet, ornament and ‘subject for dissection’, the Sea-Anemone has a well established popularity in the British family circle; having the advantage over the hippopotamus of being somewhat les expensive; and less troublesome to keep.”

Like all fads that grip the public imagination, the craze for aquariums was short-lived. Like the C.B. Radio fad of the early 1980s it was soon replaced with other interests. The public aquaria, which had been opened with the grandiose aim of the advancement of piscatorial science, were soon degraded into sordid freak shows where prostitutes plied their trade and there were as many jugglers, performing bears, dancing midgets and siamese twins as there were fish.

Writing in 1890, Gosse’s son scathingly commented that when his father had been “eagerly proposing the preservation of marine animals alive in mimic seas, he certainly did not anticipate that within forty years an aquarium would come to mean a place devoted to parachute jumping monkeys, performing bears and aerial queens of the tightrope.”

Possibly the most important aspect of the short-lived boom in home aquaria during the mid-Victorian era was the fact that its practitioners were mostly women. The pursuit of natural history was something that had taken place for many years across all echelons of society, but for many Victorians the obsession that naturalists had with the reproductive habits of the creatures that they studied were “not quite nice” and certainly totally unsuitable for those of the fairer sex. The fact that the inhabitants of aquaria were singularly lacking in external genitalia was certainly one of the main reasons for the extraordinary success of the short-lived movement.

A century and a half later we may laugh at these mores of petty gentility. Indeed the image of the corseted Victorian gentlewoman ordering her maid to dutifully aeriate her aquarium whilst she remained in blissfull ignorance of the sexual habits of its inhabitants is an amusing one - especially when seen against the social situations prevalent at the time - a culture were child prostitutes and female alchoholism were common - and which led to the appalling predations of Jack the Ripper and others.

However, we should never forget that if it weren’t for these pioneers the hobby we all know and love would not exist today. Bearing this in mind, we should raise a silent toast to the Victorian aquarists each time we look at our fish tanks, tend our fish or even read the parts of this blog that refer to fishkeeping....


Some of you don't subscribe to other blogs on the CFZ network so a brief heads up to tell you that we have some entries of interest:

New Press Release about the Sumatra expedition

Corinna on our Irish adventure

Well it made ME laugh!

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


It's time for another round-up of the latest Cryptozoology news:

Big cat is making tracks for Moira

Dogs First Tamed in China -- To Be Food?

New Charles Darwin film is 'too controversial' for religious American audiences

"Cove" Town Suspends Dolphin Slaughter

Natural History Museum takes punt on discovery of Loch Ness monster in extraordinary money deal with bookmaker

I guess that means if they ever did verify the existence of the monster they’d be getting ‘ness’ money.