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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Monday, November 09, 2009

LET'S CYST AGAIN (Like we did last summer)

I usually get up before anyone else in the house. This isn't because at the age of fifty I have finally embraced the mens sano in corpore whatsit ethos that my father, and the staff of my minor and fairly dismal public school managed to avoid drumming into me all those years ago, but just because I do. And I have to admit that I quite like having an hour or two of peace and quiet, when my only companions are the orange cat, and a family of blue tits who fly out of the mist in order to gorge themselves at the bird feeder outside my office window. When Mark lived here he was adept at taking pictures of the little fellows, but although I keep a digital camera by my keyboard, and the bird feeder is (as the tit flies) only about three and a half feet from my face, I have nothing to show for my endeavours but a series of not very good pictures of a misty garden, an unwashed window, and an empty birdfeeder (which sounds like a song by Gram Parsons).

Even the orange cat laughs at me, whilst Biggles keeps his own council, asleep by the rayburn.

The garden does look very misty and mysterious at the moment, and it is one of those times of year when I begin to believe all that I have written about Britain still being a surprisingly wild and mysterious place, and for an hour or so before anyone gets up I can still live in the mysterious land of my imagination.

But I am waffling. I am actually supposed to be writing about the reason that I haven't done as much as I should have done during the past few weeks.

As I believe I have mentioned before on these pages I am not in the best of health. Diabetes, a history of heart failure, and manic depression are not a very healthy mix, especially when the patient has a propensity for self-medication with brandy and raspberry doughnuts (not always at the same time). Howewer, I have managed to muddle on through reasonably well for half a century, and I have reached some sort of detente with my body in that if I do not treat it too badly, it limps along helping me through the rigours of life to the best of its ability.

However, as I said last week, I have had a benign lump on my chest for twenty years, that has suddenly gone nasty. I have been on antibiotics for a fortnight now, and the infection shows no sign of clearing up. I have several doctor's appointments this week, and I hope that by the end of the week I shall be a little more functional. However, for the past few weeks I have done little apart from get up early, do the blog, talk to the cat, play with the dog, and then stagger back to bed at lunchtime because either the antibiotics or the toxins that the lumpy thing is pumping into my bloodstream make me feel like crap.

Apart from the blog I have achieved practically nothing for weeks now, and I am painfully aware that I am very much behind schedule with both my correspondence, my writing and the CFZ Press work. However, guys, I am doing my best. I promise. And normal service will be resumed as soon as body and soul can manage it. In the meantime I want to thank Corinna for looking after me, and doing so much CFZ stuff behind the scenes.



Jeff Rense's website has some extraordinary pictures of albino moose, taken somewhere in the wilds of Wisconsin. They are very beautiful and well worth checking out

NEIL ARNOLD: Chinese Monster Tales Part Two

I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a mod schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippy who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years. We are just both a tad older....

From ‘..Chinese Tales of the 3rd – 6th Centuries’, ‘The Serpent Sacrifice’.

In the province of Minchung in Tungyueh, Mount Yungling towers many miles into the air. In its north-west corner there used to live a huge serpent, seventy to eighty-feet long and so thick that it too a dozen men to encircle it. The local people went in terror of it, and many officers of Tungyeh, capital of Tungyueh, and other adjoining districts were killed by it. Though they sacrificed oxen and sheep, they had no peace. Then someone dreamed, or some oracle predicted, that this serpent demanded virgins of twelve or thirteen. The authorities were dismayed, but since the serpent continued to make trouble they began supplying it with local girls, especially from families of criminals. So every eighth month they made a morning sacrifice, setting down the girl at the mouth of the serpent’s cave. And the serpent would come out to eat her.

This went on year after year until nine girls had been sacrificed in this way. But when the order came down the tenth time, no virgin could be found. Li Tan of Chianglo County had six daughters but no son, and his youngest daughter Chi offered to go. Her parents would not agree.

“My unhappy parents have six daughters only and no son”, said Chi. “So they have no real descendant. We are not like To Yung in the Han dynasty who offered to serve as slave in place of her father. Since we cannot work to support our parents, but are simply a burder to them, the sooner we die the better. Besides, my sale will bring in some money for the old folk. Surely this is best!”.

Still her parents could not bear to let her go. But in spite of this, Chi left home secretly. Having procured a sharp sword and a dog which could catch snakes, early on the first day of the eighth month she went and sat down in the temple, taking her sword and her dog. As she put several large rice cakes soaked in honey at the mouth of the cave, very soon the serpent came out. Its head was the size of a bin, its eyes like bronze mirrors two feet in diameter. When it smelt the fragrant cakes and started eating them, Chi loosed her dog to worry it while she cut and wounded it several times from behind. The serpent fled, writhing with pain, but did not get far before it died. The Chi went into the cave and found the skeletons of the nine other girls. She carried them out and said sadly:

“Because you were timid, the serpent ate you, poor creatures.”

Then she made her way leisurely home.

When the prince of Yueh heard of this he made her his queen, appointed her father magistrate of Chianglo, and richly awarded her mother and her sisters. Since then there have been no more monsters in Tungyeh, and the local people sing her praises to this day.

See also Part one of this series

RICHARD FREEMAN: Mantis eats bird

After the pictures of spiders capturing surprisingly large prey items, I found this picture of a mantis eating a humming bird. I have seen another photo of a very big mantis eating a small gecko. (There is of course the famous account of a mantis eating a gecko in Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, which if you haven't read, you really should).

DALE DRINNON: The Master Otter

I had sent Jon some information about the Irish master otter on the grounds that the creature that was seen and filmed in the Killarney Lakes would have been about in the right size range for that sort of a creature. What is generally not noted about the category is that similar sightings are seen in North America, on both coasts, and in both freshwater and saltwater.

BTW, one of the types of sightings associated with giant otter types is the fact that they will come out on land and then sit back on their hind legs, making them stand up about as tall as a human being (more usually a small human being of course, but tradition exaggerates). You get that all along the Western coast of North America and you get that rarely in the "Master-otter" lake reports in Ireland and in Scotland. One of Costello's reports was a 'THING sitting up on a rock' evidently as tall as a human, only Costello seems to have missed the importance of that . That would more likely be one of the giant otter types than a long-necked sea lion. This is from In Search of Lake Monsters pages 181-182; Costello says it is like a seal, but it has a tail distinctly mentioned, and it resembled a monkey when sitting up and a crocodile when stretched out at length. The Irish reports specify a very reasonable length of 8 to 12 feet for it, probably only a little exaggerated, but the corresponding McDuff Morag sighting (p.150) and the 1923 sighting by Alfred Cruikshank ashore at Loch Ness (p122) guess the length as 20 feet; 20 feet seems a common exaggeration. In both of these cases, the creature was NOT reported as long-necked and in fact in both cases the animal had clawed, webbed feet and not flippers. And despite Costello, long tails.

Here is the new revised map for the theory. This version makes a discrimination between recent historical and legendary refernces to the giant otters (of the Holarctic sort) and the more current monster reports, meaning the actually recorded reports from the 1920s on, plus strongly suspected rumours in the same areas. There is traditional material from the Hudson's Bay area and what used to be Canada's NWT, but I don't think that comes as close as saying actual reports since the 1920s or so. And the Greenland traditions were evidently already of an extinct version at the time the tradition was recorded. The midwestern U.S. water panthers (Mishipizhiws) may well have persisted until colonial times but there is nothing to connect them to more recent monster reports. Almost all locations on this map are only tenative at this point, but there is some strong suspicion that some of the creatures have been video-taped in recent years.

The gist of the matter is rather simple: at one point, group member Dave F. was considering that Steller's reported sea ape was a giant otter and I did a comparison of the description with the Irish master otter, and found that the description of the pointed nose and pricked ears matched. I also found ample evidence for a cryptid called the sea wolf off the northwest coast area to Alaska, and thought that the descriptions matched better than Mackal's hypothetical eared-earless seal. So I made the construction that the two were possibly the same based on that, and other traditional reports filled in from Greenland, the Hudson's Bay area, the Mound-culture area of the USA, Iceland, Scandinavia, Far-Eastern Siberia and Japan. When I had done my water monsters survey and statistical analysis for the SITU in the late 1970s (with revisions up until the early 1980s), I had noted that there was a distinctive series of reports at Lochs Ness and Morar that did not conform to the pattern of a long-necked plesiosaur-like creature, that it had a shorter neck and clawed feet with webbed digits, and that it seemed to be the same as the Irish Master-otter going by Costello's In Search of Lake Monsters.

When the discussion got to this point, I mentioned that the master otter had the "Greyhound"-like head mentioned in later lake monster reports such as at Glenderry Lough, and in fact that the 1527 report by Sir Duncan Campbell (Costello's version of this differs somewhat in the wording). The Irish reports specify something ordinarily in the range of six to twelve feet long but there is another series of such reports that estimates the size range as double that. The 1923 land sighting at Loch Ness by Alfred Cruikshank is one of the short-necked creatures supposedly in the realm of 20-24 feet long, but seen only briefly in bad lighting at night and Costello assumes that the length must have been doubled. The similar creature seen through clear water at Loch Morar might also have had its length misjudged if it had not actually have been sitting on the bottom. And Costello's composite creature has a large ear seen in several sightings, sometimes flopped down (at Loch Ness in 1954, according to In Search of Lake Monsters p.81) and at Lake Storsjon. Costello himself suggests that there might be both a giant seal and a giant otter involved - citing Burton's theory - but eventually settles on the seal. There could very well actually be two separate creatures that his composite runs together, one a type of otter that has the ears and the other the more usual longer-necked creature.

At the Frontiers-of-Zoology group, mention was made of the fossil giant otter Megalenhydris and it was suggested as a candidate. The species is represented by fragmentary remains in an ambiguous context at Corsica: it could have been saltwater or freshwater, late-Pleistocene or more recent: it is permissible to say ALL of these are possible. It was a giant otter larger than the present giant otter in South America, with a similar flattened tail, and I said there was a good chance that it represented Burton's giant otter (NOT that such a creature would account for the rarer reports of a plesiosaurian or eel-like creature, either one of which Burton had also supported earlier). Unfortunately, the parts of the face that would have been diagnostic for the reports are missing from the skull, and things like pricked ears and a pointed nose do not preserve anyway.

It is only fair to say that after Dave was satisfied with this much of the theory, he withdrew his suggestion that the Steller sighting involved a giant otter and began working on the suggestion that it was merely an ordinary river otter washed out to sea.

There is actually quite a bit more of this at the FOZ and actually I was trying to market the suggestion of a book on the matter, but nothing ever came of it.

I also include some of the photos from the group in the sea wolves and sea apes photo album, concerning giant unknown otters, possible surviving Megalenhydris. This includes my reconstruction from the sightings as I mentioned last time, the one that Karl Shuker had seen. Unfortunately the skull material left cannot determine if the fossil genus had the characteristic pointed snout and upstanding ears, and so the identification must remain open to some doubt. If the reports are any indication, it is both amphibious and able to tolerate both saltwater and fresh, it is basically a fish- and shellfish-eater but will sometimes attack land animals (including humans) - possibly as males defending their territory.

The fossil Megalenhydris is tantalisingly incomplete but it was a giant otter larger than the current South American giant otter; but from the remains (one individual, an incomplete skeleton) we do not know for certain if it was Pleistocene or recent, marine or freshwater; possibly it was all of these.

There are also other reports of possibly unknown giant otters in the tropics but the feeling at FOZ is that these reports would not be referring to creatures closely related to the master-otters.


Hi Jon,

I'd like to say this story made me think of Daedalus, Pasiphae and Poseidon's white bull, but, in fact, it just made me giggle. Especially the photograph of the cow looking on.


The ‘
Haptic Cow' recently won Sarah Baillie the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year Award. Hear that, Adam Frucci? It's for learning. Don't get any ideas. Miss Baillie's invention solves one of the biggest problems in veterinary medicine. That is, once your hand is up an cow's butt you can't really see anything you're doing. Now, with robotic organs and a monitor, she can teach students exactly what they should (and definitely should not) be grabbing.

On a related note, Miss Baillie claims she is also working on a 'Haptic Horse.'

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


This week’s film is Batman; no not the polished modern adaptations of the last 20 years or so, the Adam West batman movie:


And here’s the news:

U pair helps decode the horse genome

Mass extinction blamed on fiery fountains of coal

Pig rescued from Tim Horton's bathroom

Jumbo roadblock

Lion jumps onto bonnet of car during zoo trip in clever optical illusion

You’d be ‘lion’ if you said that didn’t look cool.