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, February 28, 2010


As anyone who has read the blog or watched OTT in the past few weeks will know, Corinna and I are off to Texas on Thursday.

This is unusual as far as expeditions are concerned, because although it is a bona fide expedition, and one which we hope will produce a formidable amount of data, as well as a jolly book showing us having an intrepid time, we are staying with our dear friends and benefactors Naomi and Richie West, and so will have Internet access while we are there.

So both Corinna and I shall be updating both our blogs daily (at least once). Expect stories, pictures and maybe even some film. The whole programme of the blogs will be compiled by Graham at CFZ base camp here in Devon, and Lizzy who will be at home in Lancashire.

There will be an editorial each day from Liz, and a daily update about life at the CFZ sans J+C by Graham. Oll will continue to run Yesterday's News Today, and I will post various bits and bobs from Texas. So I think that things are gonna go relatively smoothly.

Watch this space (and wait for a shite-storm of cock-ups).

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1933 the movie King Kong opened in the United States of America. Whereas the film’s special effects haven’t aged well, mostly thanks to some very bad reacting to the effects, for the time it was spectacular and inspired the superior Japanese ‘giant monster’ films like Godzilla. Some even contend that certain aspects of the ‘popular culture myth’ that surrounds Bigfoot/BHM can be traced back to King Kong. Another debt society owes King Kong is that without the original skyscraper-based rampaging ape Nintendo would never have been inspired to create Donkey Kong and its hero Mario, and without Mario there would be no Legend of Zelda games and no Pokemon (which inspired a whole new generation of children to show an interest in natural history, cryptozoology, care for the environment and animal rights). It’s quite astounding to think of the knock-on effects one fairly ropey film has had on modern culture.

And now, the news:

Digger wasps protected by antibiotics
Boozy chimp off to rehab
It's raining fish ... no really

For most fortean researchers, witnessing a rain of fish as it happened would be a ‘bream’ come true….

EDITOR'S COMMENT: King Kong 'fairly ropey'? Really, Oliver. Tut tut.

ON THE TRACK - Episode 30

I really cannot believe that we have done 30 of these...

The latest edition of a monthly webTV show from the CFZ and CFZtv, bringing you the latest cryptozoological and monster-hunting news from around the world. This episode brings you:

CFZ in springtime
Repairs and renewals
Graham plays showjumper
Training Biggles
Texas blue dogs
Kay and the banana mystery
Corinna looks at out of place birds
New and Rediscovered: Borneo clouded leopard on film
New and Rediscovered: New spiny Mouse
New and Rediscovered: Australian stingray discovered
New and Rediscovered: New colour changing frog

MAX BLAKE: Humpback whale exhibiting extraordinary dextrous use of pectoral fin

Well, it made us laugh, anyway. I was amazed that the poor bird apparently survived unscathed.

GLEN VAUDREY: Another visit to The Savage World

So far (see yesterday) The Savage World had failed to notice that the extinction of one bird, the great auk, had already happened. However, regarding today’s bird, the passenger pigeon, the author seems to have been more on the ball.

‘The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is our best know American bird of the pigeon genera, though within the last few years it has so nearly disappeared that it is seldom seen except in the Indian Territory, where one or two large roosts are still visited. When a boy I have seen the pigeons flying overhead in such enormous flocks that the sky would be fairly shut out from view by their bodies for hours at a time. These migrations were very frequent, caused by the very great devastations the birds wrought, requiring almost constant change of place to produce food. It is perfectly within the bounds of reason to say, as did Wilson, that as many as a billion wild pigeons have been seen to pass over a single course in three days, and that the consumption of food by these birds in the same time was equal to seventeen million bushels. Incredible as their numbers were twenty-five years ago, only a bare remnant now remains and within a like period they will probably become extinct. So quickly do they leave their feeding places and so great is their speed of flight that specimens have been shot in the northern New York with crops yet filled with rice taken from the savannas of the far South. As digestion is accomplished in these birds in less than twelve hours, the distance of more than one thousand miles must have been traversed in less than that brief time’

While sightings of wild passenger pigeons crept all the way up to 1930 it is unlikely that any actually managed to hang on that long. Certainly the last captive example, Martha, died on 1 September 1914 at Cincinnati Zoo. As an example of both the numbers of birds involved and the scale of the slaughter it is recorded that in 1878 at a site in Petoskey, Michigan, there was a daily slaughter of 50,000 birds that carried on for nearly five months, perhaps then it is hardly surprising that the author could see that the end was nigh for the passenger pigeon.

DALE DRINNON: The Ugly Mermen

There are several recorded sightings of what are reported to be big ugly mermen in lake lonster lore. One such creature is said to inhabit Thunder Bay in Lake Superior (first reported 1792 and subsequently called a 'Merbeing')

I am attaching an illustration of a Vodyany, in this case a Russian 'Old Man in the Waters' in an illstration from my edition of Larousse Mythology, a drawing made by Ivan Bilbin in 1934, and in direct comparison to a bearded seal in Spitzbergen (Arctic Ocean). The bearded seals can turn up in the oddest places, most notably once recently inland in Florida, but also sometimes in the Baltic sea and even in Japan. In the article in question in Larousse Mythology, the location of Olonets in Karelia is specifically mentioned, although similar reports come from adjoining parts of Russia and nearby Finland.

This is not the only kind of Vodyanoy: in central Europe the name attaches to a sport of aquatic dwarf that wears raggedy clothing and a broad hat, and another version is described as being a large frog or salamander that sometimes looks like a log that moves against the current, and which seems to include the 'Pskov crocodiles' as one of the variants. This would be the giant salamander sort of creature, also known under a variety of other names in the Baltic countries.

But in the case of these Ugly Mermen of Karelia and Finland, I think we are plainly dealing with a type of large seal that has wandered inland. The same sort of creature could also be at the base of 'Merman' reports in the North Sea and especially around Norway. I remember reading in a book called Mysteries of the Sea that an identikit of merman reports was closely similar to a description of a walrus, minus the tusks.


A big thank you to our old friend Steve Jones at the Wakefield and West Yorkshire Pagan Meetup who comes to the Weird Weekend every year. His group agree with what we are trying to do, especially our work in instilling a love of the countryside and the world around us into the next generation, and have very kindly donated two hundred quid towards the running costs of the forthcoming Weird Weekend.

Thanks, guys.

I'm a Christian as you well know, and other members of the CFZ Organisational Body are Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans and even a Buddhist, but when it comes to doing positive stuff for the environment, animal welfare, education and science, then we are all singing from the same hymn sheet!

Check out our other sponsors...

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


Happy Saint David’s day, everyone!

And now, the news:

Deadly new attractions at Blue Planet Aquarium
Trainer's death reopens debate on dangerous animals in captivity
Killer whale Tilly saved
Should the Killer Whale That Fatally Attacked Its Trainer Be Euthanized?
Does the Killer Whale Need a Lawyer?
Killer Whale Trainers Are Like Astronauts
Florida whale shows will go on after deadly attack
The "Zoo" haven for animals
At Fort Worth Zoo, a world-class collection is given a world-class home
Zoo partners with SWAT team for animal emergencies
Zoologists call for culling of stray dogs to stop rabies
Hungry Panda Swipes Bones From Pig Pen

Poor thing just needed a ‘pig’ meal.


These companies and organisations are donating (or have promised to donate) money, goods or services to the Weird Weekend 2010. Everyone has been remarkably generous. Thank you, guys.


Dear Max. He is very good at finding things that are both on-topic and amusing....


CFZ ARCHIVING PROJECT: General Forteana Part 3

As you know, Oll has been working on the archiving project since early February 2009 and he is now working on a general mish-mash of a section known as `General Forteana`. This third trenche is another general mish-mash with animal attacks, bigfoot culture, cults, ghosties and UFOs as well as other bits and bobs. Good stuff.


RICHARD FREEMAN: The Monsters of Prague (Part Seven)

The Savage Unicorn
Jeronym Bouse was a sucessful spiritualist who appeared in many papers as far afield as Denmark and Portugal. He was said to have teamed up with a medium called Alzbeta Rakosnikova in an attempt to materialise a legendary unicorn. The experiment worked and a great white beast with a long horn, beard and cloven hooves appeared. Unfortunatly the unicorn of legend is a far cry from the mild beast of popular imagination. It is a wild and aggresive creature, tameable only by a virgin.

The unicorn skewered Alzbeta on its horn and trampled Jeronym. Leaving both dead, it charged out into the city. It was supposed to have appared in Biskupsk Square where it trampled a plumber's weelbarrow and broke a street lamp. When a police patrol was called, it charged them, forcing them to hide in a graveyard. The beast is said to be so aggressive it even attacks its own shadow. The unicorn has not been seen in recent years.

OLIVER SENT ME THIS. I post it without comment

LINDSAY SELBY: A Skeggy Sea Monster

During the 1960s there was a Butlins holiday camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire that attracted lots of visitors and a spate of sea monster sightings.

A holidaymaker is appealing for a middle-aged couple to come forward to verify his story about “something like the Loch Ness Monster” which he claims to have seen at Chapel St Leonards [near Skegness] .Mr George Ashton of Miles Road Sheffield was strolling near the beach recently with his wife, May, when they were ‘mystified’ by the sight less than 100 yards offshore. “It had a head like a serpent and six or seven pointed humps trailing behind”, he said. Mr Ashton, a 49 year old shot-blaster at Sheffield casting works, has a caravan at the seaside village just north of Skegness. He also has a motor boat and said “When I have been out at sea I have seen seals and sea snakes swimming about and what I saw was neither of these. “At first I thought it was a log but it was travelling at about 8 miles per hour and going parallel with the shore. We watched it for some time coming from the direction of Chapel Point until it disappeared out of sight towards Ingoldmells. “I just didn’t believe in these things and tried to convince myself it was a flight of birds just above the water. But it was leaving a wake in the water. I even thought of a miniature submarine but after watching it for some time I knew it couldn’t be. “There was no noise, it just skimmed through the water.” About a 100 yards from them was a middle-aged couple who were also looking out to sea. “They disappeared onto a caravan site nearby”. said Mr Ashton.

“There was no one else about and I want them to prove to my friends that I’m not joking. I have always been the first to laugh at the Loch Ness Monster and such things as flying saucers – things that cannot be explained – but not anymore. “I will swear on oath about what I saw”. Said Mrs Ashton, “It really was an incredible sight and a complete mystery”. Mr Jack Hawkes, licensee of the Smugglers Inn at Chapel St Leonards, just opposite the site where Mr Ashton keeps his caravan, said “He seem to be the only person to have seen it, but the way he described his experience convinced me he saw something!”. Said a Coastguard official, “I haven’t seen any monsters. We get sharks sometime, but not of this description”.

Source: Skegness Standard 19th October 1966

This was not the first time something had been sighted off the coast in that area:

  • ON 7th August 1960 5 witnesses saw a fast-moving creature offshore in the sea described as black, long and whale-like.

  • On August 14th 1960 Mr Len Booth reported that he saw a strange whale-like creature, also witnessed by Mr John Dutton. This was in the same area

  • The following day, August 15th, Mrs Joan Betts and Rosina Stubbs saw a long black thing, dark and curved, about 800 yards (265 metres) offshore, going fast through the sea.

  • Then earlier in 1966 (exact date unknown) Mr John Hayes saw a huge dark shape 500 yards (165 metres) from shore moving at about 20 mph .

    (More details of these sightings can be found in Sea Serpents and Lake monsters of the British Isles by Paul Harrison, 2001, Robert Hale ltd, London).

So what was it? Well, some of the sightings could have been a whale or a basking shark but the sighting in the newspaper article was different. Mr Ashton said he knew what seals etc. looked like and it was nothing he had seen before. Any suggestions as to what he saw?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

GLEN VAUDREY: Great auks in the Savage World

I am lucky enough to own a first edition 1889 copy of The Savage World: a complete natural history of the world’s creatures. This is a mighty tome. For those who have never seen a copy, I can give you very good clue to what it resembles, and that is a breeze block; it is that big and heavy. Of course it does have better pictures than a lump of building material.

Aside from its potential use as a hefty doorstop, it does give a glimpse into the natural world of the late Victorians. As you may imagine, some animals known today do not feature in it; the Okapi was still to be found, as was the mountain gorilla. But it isn’t what’s missing that I find interesting; rather it is the animals that were still current at the time the book was written, and what if anything we can learn from them.

The first animal to look at is one of my favourites, the great auk; the following is what The Savage World has to say about that bird.

‘The spectacled auk or great auk (Alca impennis) belongs to northern-most Europe. When it is the water it is almost impossible to pursue it quickly enough to get within shooting range, but like the albatross it can be caught with a hook. It is rapidly becoming extinct and, in spite of the extreme high price which either the bird or its eggs command, the museums of the world contain but 34 birds and but 42 eggs. Collections of the bird’s eggs are quite important to naturalists, but the objects sought by THE LIVING WORLD forbid any discussion of so large a theme. The spectacled auk is black above and white below; around and below the eyes are white markings (which give the auk its popular name) and the small wings or flippers are bordered with white on the upper arm’

Bizarrely, despite the fact that this book is from 1889, it appears that the author was unaware that the last known great auk went to meet its maker in 1844, and by the time of the book’s publication the type had long been extinct. That said, there were a few supposed sightings off Lofoten isles in the 1930s but these are widely suspected to be sightings of king penguins that had been released in the area at around the same time.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


On this day in 1939 the word ‘Dord’ was discovered in the Webster’s new international dictionary. The word apparently meant ‘density’, according to it’s definition, but alarm bells were rung after an editor noticed there was no etymological information on the entry, and investigated. It turned out ‘Dord’ had been in the dictionary for 8 years and wasn’t a word at all; just the result of a note sent by the dictionaries chemistry editor. The 'D or d' is an abbreviation of density that was misinterpreted as 'Dord.'

If you find this sort of thing fascinating (and who doesn’t?) this wikipedia page has a few more examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fictitious_entry

And now, the news:

Cat's matted fur 'horrified' shelter staff
Dinosaur fossil found in pensioner's garden rockery
Africa: warthog befriends hornbill for grooming favour
Shark aquarium in Dubai Mall starts leaking

“This shark, swallow your mall”


Oliver and Julia went out on the streets yesterday soliciting local sponsors for the forthcoming Weird Weekend. They had a fair amount of luck as well. Things are certainly looking up, and we will have a considerably longer sponsor list than last year.

The CFZ Dream Team (despite looking frighteningly like fundamentalist canvassers on the knock) will be reconvening in a few weeks. Shopkeepers in Barnstaple, Torrington and Bude watch out.

RICHARD FREEMAN WRITES: Sea Shepherd Captain to go on trial in Japan

Sea Shepherd Captain to go on trial in Japan

Captain Peter Bethune, whose $3 million ship the Ady Gil was rammed, sunk and destroyed by the captain of the whaling vessel Shonan Maru #2, has been arrested and is to stand trial in Japan. After the incident Bethune later bravely sneaked onto the Shonan Maru #2 in an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of its captain for endangering the lives of the 6 crew of the Ady Gil.

His colleague Captain Paul Watson said..."If the Japanese put Peter Bethune on trial in Japan, it will be a case that will draw the attention of the world. What is the Japanese government thinking? The persecution of Captain Peter Bethune will be a rallying point for an international campaign to free Captain Bethune and to end the brutal illegal slaughter of the whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”


"Patterson's sasquatch spotted in Calgary Alberta, Canada...apparently caught up in the winter Olympics". (Thanks to G. A. Christian Bilou) It is interesting how cryptids are becoming more and more a big part of popular culture.


Today I am taking a gander at my Strange Nature scrapbook to present a few unusual stories from the world of vegetation, trees and moulds.

The Salisbury Journal, July 1839: A thistle near Shrewton. Stalk measuring 7 ¼ inches in circumference and a head 10 inches in diameter (1)

Beijing Review, April 30th 1984 Queer Date Tree (let`s not get homobotanicophobic now, friends!)

From “Gongren Ribao” (Workers` Daily)

Cylinders, eggs, cubes, spindles, balls, gourds, oblateness, kidneys and the like – one date tree, planted in Xiajin County, Shandong Province, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), bears fruit which differs in all these shapes but not in kind. Once in a while it bears different differently shaped dates on one branch. An average harvest is 500-600 kilogrammes of dates a year. The largest crop was 850 kilogrammes. (2)

Now one of my favourites:

The Guardian August 11th 1986 Infant Dr Noi`s `magic` tree bark draws crowds in Thailand. Bangkok: Thai police used roadblocks, health warnings and arrest threats at the weekend to stop a three-year-old faith healer using “magic” tree bark to draw thousands of peasants to his village.

Prasit Cherdchu, the child known across Thailand as “Doctor Noi”, was resting yesterday after turning rain into “holy water” at his final healing session, on Saturday near Korat in north-east Thailand, police said…His parents, interviewed in the Ban Muang daily, said the boy could heal people because a divine doctor had possessed him. Belief in spirits is widespread in Thailand.

Police became suspicious as his family began raking in money daily. Food vendors arrived with the crowds and sharp landowners reaped fees from fields turned into car parks.

A senior ministry official warned the public their illnesses might worsenif they chose superstition over proper treatment.

A doctor at a hospital near Wang Rongoi announced that a villager who had drunk tea made from Doctor Noi`s bark had died anyway of a long-standing kidney ailment
. (3)

The Guardian, October 14th 1992 Epic blob delights world.

It`s slimy, it`s mysterious, it`s Richard Muirhead, oops! It`s slimy, it`s mysterious, it moves towards food and consumes it, fruits and moves on. It`s not exactly an animal and it`s not exactly a plant and normally it weighs a few grams. It sounds like a science fiction monster and it has been puzzling scientists for decades. It`s a slime mould.

Yesterday the Chinese official news agency announced the discovery of a 35 kilogram slime mould. The almost epic blob was spotted in a river in Shaanxi province in August. It put on 10kg in three days

'Specialists at the biology department of Northwest University in Xian have determined that it is related to fungus and is still alive,” the agency said…Professor John Bonner, of Princeton University, confirmed yesterday that there were slime moulds that lived in water. A 35kg mould would be the size of a small donkey or a large dog, trailing spaghetti-like tendrils. “ I can`t imagine a slime mould the size of a big dog,he added.”

Slime moulds surge backwards and forwards like waves at the shoreline. In laboratory tests, they surge towards food.” They are the physiological equivalent of a wolf pack.” Said Professor Bonner.'

1 The Salisbury Journal July 1839
2 Beijing Review April 30th 1984
3 The Guardian August 11th 1986
4 The Guardian October 14th 1992

Talking Heads - Paper

Hold the paper up to the light
(some rays pass right through)
Expose yourself out there for a minute
(some rays pass right through)
Take a little rest when the rays pass through
Take a little time off when the rays pass through
Go ahead and mis it up..Go ahead and tie it up
In a long distance telephone call..

LINDSAY SELBY: A lake creature in Michigan

Lake Leelanau consists of two conjoining lakes north and south, and runs through the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. The south lake has a maximum depth of 62 feet (19 m) and the north lake has a maximum depth of 121 feet (37 m). It is the reported home of a strange creature described as having a long neck and tail, and two large eyes.

The creature first appeared after the Lake Leelanau Dam was built in the late 1800s. When the dam was finished the lake’s water levels rose 10 to 12 feet ( 3-4 metres), flooding parts of the land and creating a marsh-like environment around the lake. It also shut off the lake’s outlet and some say, sealed the creature in.

In the summer of 1910 teenager William Gauthier was fishing on the lake. He rowed out to a new fishing spot near the town of Lake Leelanau looking for perch and paddled up close to a tree that he estimated to stand about five feet tall above the water, with a six-inch trunk. He cast a line and began tying the boat to the tree. The young William suddenly noticed the tree had eyes. They were staring him dead in the face at about four feet above water level. The two starred at each other for a few moments before the animal dove into the water and went under the boat. Gauthier said later that the creature's head passed one end of the boat while the tail was still at the other end, though it was undulating very quickly through the water. Gauthier admitted to having been frightened by his encounter, and that he stayed off that lake for many years. His great grandchild stated in an interview years later that his great-grandfather came from a prominent family in the area and was very well-educated, so not easily fooled. William had also told his family that he knew of others who would admit privately but not publicly that they too had seen the creature.

Several other encounters with the creature were apparently reported around the turn of the century but were not formally recorded for fear of ridicule.

I could not find any modern-day reports and the theory is that whatever was trapped by the dam was alone and has since died.


My life gets weirder. Yesterday evening we were sitting down, having a civilised glass of wine with our friends Jules and Dougie the Cornish ghost hunters when there was a knock on the back door.

It was Mrs Ashby, our one-time housekeeper, and her daughter. They were clutching a big tupperware box containing two bananas.

One one of the bananas was this. "What is it?" they asked. Well, to my eyes it seems like a cocoon of come sort, containing a chestnut brown chrysalis.

However, what or whom will hatch from said chrysalis, I have no ideas. Over to you folks....

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1971 the ‘mentalist’ Derren Brown was born.
And now, the news:

Ancient Human Ancestors Faced Fearsome Horned Crocodile
Brainy Crows Finally Stumped by Intelligence Test

Well, that’s nothing to crow about….

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Yesterday I noted that whenever I am engaged on an investigation news items come in thick and fast on related topics as if by magick. I am currently investigating the canids of the southern United States, in particular Texas, and look what turned up in my inbox yesterday evening!

There are only 42 Mexican Gray Wolves left in the wild in the United States: a 20% decline in just the past year. They're the most endangered mammal in North America and something needs to be done now to prevent them from going extinct.

This decline is not through any fault of the wolves, who have done everything needed to survive in the wild; they have formed packs, had pups, and successfully hunted native prey. The decline is human-caused and must be human-remedied.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must:

1. Give Mexican gray wolves greater endangered species protections.
2. Release more wolves into the wild and bolster the genetic fitness of the population.
3. Bring the criminals killing our wolves to justice.
4. Write a new science-based Recovery Plan because the outdated 1982 plan is not working.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is managing Mexican wolves under a flawed 28-year old recovery plan that does not include recovery criteria, does not incorporate modern science, and has done little to protect the Mexican Wolf. This long-term mismanagement has pushed Mexican Wolves to the brink of extinction.

It's time for a new, modern Recovery Plan that will begin restoring a healthy Mexican gray wolf wolf population.


Weird, huh?


I have no idea whether these pictures are genuine or not, but they purport to be of an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake caught recently in Florida. I had no idea that they could grow this big, because the only species that I have ever encountered in the wild is the Eastern Missasagua rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), which grows no longer than 30ins. However, according to Wikipedia (and I know that in some quarters it is thought that relying on Wikipedia for accurate information is about as useful as relying on me for weight loss tips), yer Eastern diamondback can grow to eight feet in length.

The pics were sent to me by a lady called Paula, along with the following information:

Guess what was found just south of Jacksonville. Near the St. Augustine outlet, in a new KB homes subdivision.

  • 15 foot Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. Largest ever caught on record.
  • After seeing this, I did a little research, and learned the following:
  • One bite from a snake this large contains enough venom to kill over 40 full grown men.
  • The head alone is larger than the hand of a normal sized man.
  • This snake was probably alive when George H. W. Bush was President.
  • A bite from those fangs would equal being penetrated by two 1/4 inch screwdrivers.
  • A snake this size could easily swallow a 2 year-old child.
  • A snake this size has an approximately 5 and 1/2 foot accurate striking distance. (The distance for an average size Rattlesnake is about 2 feet)
  • Judging by the size of the snake, it is estimated to weigh over 170 pounds. How much do you weigh?
I refuse to answer the last question, but would be interested to hear what the herpetologists and the photographers who regularly visit the bloggo make of this....

LINDSAY SELBY: Loch Ness Migration

There has been speculation over the years that the Loch Ness creature moves between the local lochs. I was browsing through some old newspaper articles and news reports when I came across these two from the same year.

14 Jun 1996


LONDON, June 14 (Reuter) - Sixteen people watched in amazement as a mysterious object ploughed swiftly across Loch Ness, leaving a white water wake before disappearing after five minutes into the depths of the Scottish lake. "I cannot find a rational explanation for what I saw," said English tourist David Neeld, the morning after Thursday evening's sighting. "I do not think there is any other explanation than it was the Loch Ness monster." Sightings of the monster, nicknamed Nessie and often described as having a long neck and large body like a brontosaurus, have been reported since the 15th century. Several expeditions have been undertaken in the loch but they have found nothing. The strange object was first spotted at 10 p.m. by Kate Munro, joint owner of the Craigdarroch House, a hotel on the edge of the Highland lake. She alerted her husband Dave and 14 guests who watched the object for five minutes. They told reporters that it appeared to be something large just under the loch's surface, moving at high speed. "There was no traffic on the loch at all, yet here was a wake as big as comes from a cruiser," said Neeld. "There were a few locals in the hotel's bar and they said it was Nessie, so I will go along with that," he said. "I must say that I was very impressed." Another tourist, Karen Hemingway, said: "Whatever we saw was certainly quite strange. There were no boats around at all. I think I could well have seen the monster. "Around two million tourists are attracted to 40-km (25-mile) long Loch Ness each year because of the monster legend.


15 Sep 96


Lizzie the Loch Ness Monster's cousin is back. The beastie surfaced briefly, 36 years after she was last spotted in Loch Lochy. Eye-witnesses were stunned to see the 12ft-long, three-humped creature rearing out of the water. And guests at the nearby Corriegour Lodge Hotel rushed to get a better view. Hotel boss Lorna Bunney said: "I've never seen anything like this creature before."

So could Nessie have gone on holiday to Loch Lochy? Interesting thought, isn’t it?

RICHARD FREEMAN: the Monsters of Prague (Part Six)

The King's Werewolf

Rudolph II (18 July 1552 – 20 January 1612) had a royal menagerie in which he kept lions, wolves and panthers. An assistant to the head keeper was a man named Janek. Janek was dumb but had a way with animals. He was particuarly fond of the wolves. Despite never uttering a word in human speech he would ofter howl with the wolves.

One day he vanished and a massive wolf was seen roaming the area. People thought that Janek had been killed but he was later found unconcious under at tree. Each time Janek dissapeared the wolf returned and later the man would be found in a swoon. The head keeper realised Janek had become a werewolf.

Soon the beast left the grounds and was prowling further afield, and attacks on humans by a massive wolf were reported. One gamekeeper called Rickany was killed and when what was left of him was buried, a wolf was heard howling at his funeral. The werewolf was never slain and legend has it that it still prowls around the leafier areas of Prague.

MAX BLAKE: The return of Taxonomy Fail


Well, the mystery of what Richard Pharo saw the other morning has been solved. It was indeed a crane. Well done to all of you who got it right, and thank you again to Richard for reporting his sighting. I wonder what will turn up next....

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


Christopher Marlow was born in 1593. Marlow is most widely known as a playwright, his most famous work being The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Marlow’s version of the Faust legend is not typical of other retellings of the time, which have the necromancer repenting at the end and being spared as a demonstration of God’s capacity to forgive. In Marlow’s version he does not repent and is dragged to Hell by demons (that’ll learn him). But despite being the author of the best known Elizabethan play not written by Shakespeare, this was not the most interesting aspect of Marlow’s life. He was rumoured to be a spy for Queen Elizabeth, and conspiracy and attempts to discredit him followed wherever he went, including attempts to label him as a Catholic (a very dangerous charge to be made against an Englishman in the wake of Bloody Mary’s massacres) and when that didn’t stick as an atheist (perhaps an even worse charge at the time). His death is thought to have been the biggest conspiracy of all as he was murdered by two other spies a few days after being falsely accused of blasphemy in very dubious circumstances. The coroner’s report says that he tried to attack one of the spies while drunk and that he was stabbed in the eye in ‘self defence’; however many commentators believe there was more to the events than that and that this was a co-ordinated assassination ordered by the Elizabethan underworld.

And now, the news:

Dorset big cat 'seen 30 times recently'
Blonde raccoon is star of show at new wildlife centre
SeaWorld trainer dies in killer whale attack in Orlando
Giant predatory shark fossil unearthed in Kansas

Because I feel I need to make up for the really bad pun yesterday and because today’s pun would have just been a variation on a ‘Jaws’ quote, as I always do when there’s a shark story, I thought today I would ‘treat’ you all to a joke I made up yesterday morning, instead. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with today’s news stories but what the hell, you can memorise it, tell it to your workmates and be hailed as the planet’s greatest living comedian:

Did you hear about the singer in a Blockhead’s tribute band that fell off the stage and cracked his head open during an animated performance of “Hit me with your rhythm stick”?

Sadly, he died from his ‘Ian Durys’…

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I received this in my mail yesterday:

Have you heard of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)? It's an international treaty that 175 countries around the world have signed on to in an effort to protect threatened and endangered species. All of those countries are meeting next month to discuss whether or not they should increase or remove protections for certain animals and plants.

The United States has submitted a proposal for the upcoming CITES meeting that would remove international protection for bobcats, one of only two iconic American wild cat species. Removing CITES protection for these animals would not only decrease regulatory control of the trade in their fur, but it would also leave other similar spotted wild cats more vulnerable to illegal international trade.

I just signed a petition urging the U.S. delegation to withdraw this harmful proposal. Will you please help bobcats and other spotted wildcats, too? It will only take a minute!

To take action on this issue, click on the link below:


With only a week to go before we embark for Texas my thoughts are becoming increasingly of dogs. And strange doggie stories are surfacing all the time.

I came across this story (the cutting on the left is only the first of three) on the forteana email list. It is a facsimile of an article from the San Jose Evening News (17 September1890) about dozens of sick dogs that supposedly crawled under a house to die.

I have noticed before that when one is on a particular train of investigation all sorts of allied (but completely irrelevant) stories and facts come up to confuse, titillate and distract you.

Even my favourite webcomic is about dog spirits.


LINDSAY SELBY: The Searle Photographs

Frank Searle allegedly took many photos of Nessie. I realised that not many people will have seen them as his first book was taken out of circulation because of allegations of plagiarism, and unless you are old enough to have visited his tent, you would not have had chance to view them.

I have a copy of the book in paperback. Nessie seven years in search of the monster by Frank Searle, 1976, pub. by Coronet books, London. Some of his photos (I counted 20 last time I visited him) are reproduced in the book and I have scanned them in for you to see. Frank died in 2005 in obscurity but for his time on the loch he was a bit of a star and TV crews came to see him and tourists flocked. I will not go into the stories here about him,(will save that for my book, perhaps), but sufficient to say he could be quite aggressive if you accused him of faking the photos.
He could be charming whilst you agreed with him but it was best not to disagree with him within earshot.
In saying that, I have a soft spot for Frank as he was a character and somehow seemed to fit in with what was going on at the loch at the time.
So here are some of the photos. See what you think.


Hi folks!

Today I am looking at two cryptids: one river monster and an alleged hybrid between a cat and a rabbit. The water monster is from 1904 in Wisconsin and the Californian “rabbit-cat” example from 1907 at a show in a place called Chutes Park (in or near Los Angeles?) is the first case I have ever read about. I am not familiar with the literature on the subject of “rabbit-cats.”

New Wisconsin Fish Story

A strange creature resembling a long-haired dog with six webbed feet and fins like a fish was caught in the river near La Crosse, Wis,the other day by Millard (?) a clam fish man. The animal was equiped with the tail of a fish and had a head shaped much like a walrus. The species is unknown to local scientists. Nothing like it has ever been seen before.(1)

Note – La Crosse is an inland town by a river about 200 miles west of Lake Michigan

Freak Graces Show.

A pair of rabbit cats bred by Frank T. Cantara are another freak exhibit of the show. These strange creatures have the haunches of a rabbit and the short stubby tail of that animal, but their bodies and heads are those of a cat. At places on their bodies the cat hair gives place to rabbit fur. These strange quadrupeds hop about like a rabbit and eat grass. Mr Cantara produced them by crossing a male rabbit and a female cat. The original litter contained seven little ones, but Jack and Tootsie are the only ones left.

An accident to one of the exhibitors who was viewing the sights at the Chutes was the occasion for the creating of another class of cats yesterday. While a young man, who desires his name to be kept quiet, was leaning over the railing watching the sea lion disporting in the icy water he noticed some animals swinging around in the pool. Crawling over the rail to get a closer view he fell into the pond. He then observed that the creatures he had seen were also a variety of cats, called cat-fish.

1. The Richmond Climax June 8th 1904
2. Los Angeles Herald January 18th 1907 p.9

Devo – Beautiful World

It`s a Beautiful World We Live In
A Sweet Romatic Place
Beautiful People Everywhere
The Way They Show They Care
Makes Me Want To Say

It`s A Beautiful World (x3)
For You (x3)

It`s A Wonderful Time To Be Here,
It`s Nice To Be Alive,
Wonderful People Everywhere,
The Way They Comb Their Hair
Makes Me Want To Say,

It`s A Wonderful Place (x3)
For You (x3)……

Aquarium Gazette Website

The official TAG website was launched today at http://www.theaquariumgazette.co.uk/ The website gives full details of what TAG is all about, review of the current issue, article listings for previous issues and ordering information etc.

Although a bold statement: I believe that TAG is the only aquarium magazine that encourages the interest in aquatic cryptozoology. With this in mind we have already published a number of excellent articles by Jon, Richard (subject of the Naga) and Dr Shuker (Buru) and keep our readers informed of all the latest CFZ news through our 'Community Zone' feature.


David Marshall, (Editor)


Sent by Richard Muirhead.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


John Burgess Wilson, better known as Anthony Burgess, was born on this day in 1917. His most famous work was A Clockwork Orange, which most people are familiar with from the KubricK film. As you might be able to guess, as Kubric had a habit of turning great books into merely OK films (see 2001 and The Shining) The book was much, much better.

And now, the news:

Elephant 'secret language' clues
Sniffer dog Treo to be honoured with PDSA Dickin Medal
Where Did Insects Come From? New Study Establishes Relationships Among All Arthropods
South Pacific countries face threats from alien invasive species
HerpDigest Volume # 10 Issue #9 2/23/09 Bibliographies Major Herp Publications
So fat, I can't reach my nuts

That’s just nuts (apologies for the exceptionally poor quality of today’s pun; normal quality service will be resumed at some point in the future, possibly).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Email from Richard Pharo to Richard Freeman, Monday Morning....

Hi Rich,

on my way to work, somewhere a few couple of miles east from Landkey along the North Devon link road, I have just been overflown by something, at about 7.45am.

In my estimation, it was a stork, crane or flamingo, It was perhaps 80 yards above the road and flying east. It was a lot bigger than a heron although for its size its wings were fairly small, although the spread into long flight feathers like storks. I do not think it was a European stork, because for its size its wings were too small and were wholly a light colour, probably white. It had very long legs, but its beak did not seem to have the length or size of a stork. In profile from below, it had a thin neck and larger head, having the shape of cormorant, but with a bit longer beak. The rest of it was largely white or other light colour. I watched it for perhaps 10 seconds as it flew along the route of the A361 towards me and directly above my car.

I am surprised and annoyed but also pleased I don't know what it is. If you hear other reports on the creature vine, it probably achieved landfall down the Taw estuary, but it will be out of Devon pretty fast at this rate!

Hope things are good with you. Will speak to you soon,


LINDSAY SELBY: 2008 lake creature was a Devil Ray

Look what I found.

Rare ray creates flap in Lake BY MATTHEW KELLY 16 Sep, 2008

LAKE MACQUARIE might be harbouring one of the rarest marine creatures found in Australian waters a Japanese devil ray. The ray, which locals originally thought was a manta ray, has been in the lake for about a month. It has become increasingly active in the past week and breached the lake surface many times on Saturday less than 100 metres off Wangi Point. The creature's presence has drawn the attention of University of Queensland marine biologist and ray researcher Kathy Townsend. Dr Townsend said that, based on the ray's description and location, she suspected it might be a Japanese devil ray, usually found in Indonesia and Japan. Although manta and devil rays belong to the same family, devil rays have a shorter head and cephalic lobes, a white tip on their dorsal fin and a venomous barb. Only 13 devil rays have been found in Australia, the first of which was caught in a net in Lake Macquarie on April 4, 1968."If this is a devil ray, it's a very significant discovery," Dr Townsend, who is also research manager at the Moreton Bay research station, said. "They normally don't travel that far south." It is thought the ray sought refuge from large seas during a winter storm and was attracted to warm waters around Eraring power station's Myuna Bay outlet. Coal Point resident Audry Diggins captured part of the ray's aerial display on video last Saturday. "It was carrying on for quite a while," she said. "When it came out of the water it was rolled up like a sushi roll and then suddenly spread out when it hit the water." The ray was among diverse marine creatures, including a shark, a blue groper and turtles, presently in the area. "We really need a proper study of what's in our lake so we can better understand what's going on," Ms Diggins said.

Source: http://www.theherald.com.au/news/local/news/general/rare-ray-creates-flap-in-lake/1274210.aspx

The ray is not normally indigenous to the area, which begs the question, how many other lake creature sightings are just out of place creatures? I have been unable to find out if the ray is still resident, but an interesting thought for the day.

OLL LEWIS: Hope Springs Eternal

About a week and a half ago Jon published a blog I had written about the birds we have had visiting our garden this winter. Among the list of birds was a pair of turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur). This was of particular interest because they should not be here at this time of year (mid-February) as they usually winter in Africa, returning to Europe in spring with the warmer weather.

It was suggested that this may have been a misidentification of a collared dove, which to be honest, were I a twitcher rather than just a keen amateur bird-watcher, might have been the first explanation to my mind as well. However, the pair of doves in question were almost certainly turtle doves and this was confirmed by the appearance of a collared dove in the garden over the past few days, which looks quite different. The turtle doves have a more peach-like tinge to their plumage than the pale grey tinge of the collared dove; the markings of the turtle dove's wings are more ‘busy’ than the collared dove; and the turtle doves are smaller than the collared dove.

I hope to get some photographs or footage of the turtle doves to show you all but for now you’ll have to be satisfied with the fact that I’m a good 95% sure of my identification and that we have a pair of turtle doves visiting the garden that should be somewhere a lot warmer at this time of year.

Whether those doves have migrated back to Britain over a month early or whether they didn’t migrate in the first place I have no idea as the last time I saw them before we put the feeders out was some time around the start of autumn. Despite what the cold weather would have us believe, spring is full flow in North Devon having started, as far as the plants and animals are concerned, almost along with the start of February this year. The snowdrops in our garden, which usually start to flower around the 10th of February, started flowering towards the end of January and our chicken started to lay eggs last week when she usually starts laying at the beginning of April.

Although early springs are often blamed on global climate change by the press the truth is often far more complicated. While climate change plays a part there are a multitude of other factors that can come into play. Some of these factors can be part of the evolutionary ‘arms race’ between plants, herbivores and predators; early emergence can in some cases prove to be a selective advantage meaning there is a greater chance of passing on genes to the next generation before you get eaten. Over several generations plants can start emerging earlier, which has a knock-on effect on the things that eat them emerging earlier and so on up the food chain. A recent extensive study into the timings of the start of spring found that on average, spring starts 11 days earlier than it did 30 years ago (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8506363.stm).

Eventually this trend should self-regulate as plants and animals will reach the cut-off point when early emergence’s advantages are out-weighed by the disadvantages cold weather can bring so I would doubt we’d ever see snowdrops and summer birds at Christmas, but for now I’ll be keeping an eye on the local wildlife to see if anything else turns up early.


Looks like a slightly mutilated manatee to me, but see what the blog thinks.

GLEN VAUDREY: Cthulhu and Cryptozoology

Anyone who has read my book, The Mystery Animals of the Western Isles, may have noticed that I often managed to slip a mention of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos into the odd tale of sightings. Could the Blue Men of the Minch really be Deep Ones?

But it was while reading the particularly turgid dull-as-dishwater The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath that it occurred to me that there seemed to be a connection between one particular cryptid and one of Lovecraft’s creations. Not a giant squid and old Cthulhu but rather the Jersey Devil.

This mystery winged beast was rumoured to be the result of the foolish and quite mythical Mrs Leeds stating a bit too loudly while pregnant with her thirteenth child that she hoped it would be a devil. Perhaps she was oblivious to the dangers of such utterances for of course when the child was born it had a fine set of horns, a tail, wings and a horse-like head.

Without a doubt the kid was pig-ugly and was sent packing, forever to haunt New Jersey. The Jersey Devil was, or could even still be, a long-lived beast for not only was it being blamed for animal deaths in the 1820s it was still going strong into the start of last century.

So which H.P. Lovecraft critter springs to mind when I see a picture of the Jersey Devil? Well, if it isn’t the Nightgaunt. These creatures of the Dreamlands are described as having a pair of inward facing horns atop their heads, clawed hands, a skin that is slick and rubbery, membranous wings and last but not least, a long barbed tail; this long barbed tail was used to tickle any victim it plucked into the air.

Perhaps a couple of pictures will be helpful to make the point: one is of the 1909 Jersey Devil, the other of a rather soft plush Nightgaunt toy (life is easier if you can imagine terrifying cosmic horror as a small cuddly toy).


Something I found on facebook will make you cry (or at least I did). This was written by Catherine Hedges:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Average Pet Owner:

Thank you for contacting us animal rescuers, shelter volunteers, and foster-homes about your inability to keep your pet. We receive an extremely high volume of inquiries and requests to accept surrendered animals (and none of us is getting paid, OK?). To help us expedite your problem as quickly as possible, please observe the following guidelines:

1. Do not say that you are "CONSIDERING finding a good home" for your pet, or that you, "feel you MIGHT be forced to," or that you "really THINK it would be better if" you unloaded the poor beast. Ninety-five percent of you have already got your minds stone-cold made up that the animal WILL be out of your life by the weekend at the latest. Say so. If you don't, I'm going to waste a lot of time giving you commonsense, easy solutions for very fixable problems, and you're going to waste a lot of time coming up with fanciful reasons why the solution couldn't possibly work for you. For instance, you say the cat claws the furniture, and I tell you about nail-clipping and scratching posts and aversion training, and then you go into a long harangue about how your husband won't let you put a scratching post in the family room, and your ADHD daughter cries if you use a squirt bottle on the cat, and your congenital thumb abnormalities prevent you from using nail scissors and etc., etc. Just say you're getting rid of the cat.

2. Do not waste time trying to convince me how nice and humane you are. Your coworker recommended that you contact me because I am nice to animals, not because I am nice to people, and I don't like people who "get rid of" their animals.

"Get rid of" is my least favorite phrase in any language. I hope someone "gets rid of" YOU someday. I am an animal advocate, not a people therapist. After all, for your ADHD daughter, you can get counselors, special teachers, doctors, social workers, etc. Your pet has only me, and people like me, to turn to in his or her need, and we are unpaid, overworked, stressed-out, and demoralized. So don't tell me this big long story about how, "We love this dog so much, and we even bought him a special bed that cost $50, and it is just KILLING us to part with him, but honestly, our maid is just awash in dog hair every time she cleans, and his breath sometimes just reeks of liver, so you can see how hard we've tried, and how dear he is to us, but we really just can't . . . ." You are not nice, and it is not killing you. It is, in all probability, literally killing your dog, but you're going to be just fine once the beast is out of your sight. Don't waste my time trying to make me like you or feel sorry for you in your plight.

3. Do not try to convince me that your pet is exceptional and deserves special treatment. I don't care if you taught him to sit. I don't care if she's a beautiful Persian. I have a waiting list of battered and/or whacked-out animals who need help, and I have no room to foster-house your pet. Do not send me long messages detailing how Fido just l-o-v-e-s his blankies and carries his favorite blankie everywhere, and oh, when he gets all excited and happy, he spins around in circles, isn't that cute? He really is darling, so it wouldn't be any trouble at all for us to find him a good home. Listen, we can go down to the pound and count the darling, spinning, blankie-loving beasts on death row by the dozens, any day of the week. And, honey, Fido is a six-year-old Shepherd-Lab mix. I am not lying when I tell you that big, older, mixed-breed, garden-variety dogs are almost completely unadoptable, and I don't care if they can whistle Dixie or send semaphore signals with their blankies. What you don't realize is that, though you're trying to lie to me, you're actually telling the truth: Your pet is a special, wonderful, amazing creature. But this mean old world does not care. More importantly, YOU do not care, and I can't fix that problem. All I can do is grieve for all the exceptional animals who live short, brutal, loveless lives and die without anyone ever recognizing that they were indeed very, very special.

4. Finally, just, for God' s sake, for the animal's sake, tell the truth, and the whole truth. Do you think that if you just mumble that your cat is "high-strung, " I will say, "Okey-dokey! No prob!" and take it into foster care? No, I will start asking questions and uncover the truth, which is that your cat has not used a litter box in the last six months. Do not tell me that you "can't" crate your dog. I will ask what happens when you try to crate him, and you will either be forced to tell me the symptoms of full-blown, severe separation anxiety, or else you will resort to lying some more, wasting more of our time. And, if you succeed in placing your pet in a shelter or foster care, do not tell yourself the biggest lie of all: "Those nice people will take him and find him a good home, and everything will be fine." Those nice people will indeed give the animal every possible chance, but if we discover serious health or behavior problems, if we find that your misguided attempts to train or discipline him have driven him over the edge, we will do what you are too immoral and cowardly to do: We will hold the animal in our arms, telling him truthfully that he is a good dog or cat, telling him truthfully that we are sorry and we love him, while the vet ends his life. How can we be so heartless as to kill your pet, you ask? Do not ever dare to judge us. At least we tried. At least we stuck with him to the end. At least we never abandoned him to strangers, as you certainly did, didn't you? In short, this little old rescuer/foster momma has reached the point where she would prefer you pet owners to tell her stories like this: "We went to Wal-Mart and picked up a free pet in the parking lot a couple of years ago. Now we don't want it anymore. We're lazier than we thought. We've got no patience either. We're starting to suspect the animal is really smarter than we are, which is giving us self-esteem issues. Clearly, we can't possibly keep it. Plus, it might be getting sick; it's acting kind of funny. "We would like you to take it in eagerly, enthusiastically, and immediately. We hope you'll realize what a deal you're getting and not ask us for a donation to help defray your costs. After all, this is an (almost) pure-bred animal, and we'll send the leftover food along with it. We get it at Wal-Mart too, and boy, it's a really good deal, price-wise. "We are very irritated that you haven't shown pity on us in our great need and picked the animal up already. We thought you people were supposed to be humane! Come and get it today. No, we couldn't possibly bring it to you; the final episode of "Survivor II" is on tonight."

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Pet Owner, for your cooperation.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


On this day in 1942 a UFO was spotted over Los Angeles. The incident became known as ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ as a blackout was ordered, barrage balloons were sent out and searchlights combed the sky for the mysterious object. It was never found and 3 people died as a result of the panic. Over the years many possible explanations for the initial sighting have been put forward from hoax or possible scare tactics perpetuated by the Japanese right through to an alien spacecraft or the usual US government standby explanation of ‘weather balloon.’

And now, the news:

Pygmy goat arrives at Wildwood
Island of dwarf dinosaurs
Giant George enters record books as world's top dog
Dengue fever solution
Blurred vision?
Spaniel survives 90m cliff plunge


Monday, February 22, 2010



This story came in via Tony Lucas at CFZ New Zealand. Thanks, matey.

I live in the USA; in South Carolina. My question is `Do all birds have three toes?` I won't tell my full story now, but I will send some of my pictures. I will say that the tracks started (yes, that's right, STARTED)
in my yard, just like something just fell from the sky. The tracks were in clean snow. I made a large hunt for where it could come from. After I followed the track it was gone again.

It ended in clean snow then came back down about 1/8 of a mile away. It walked over to a tree with its feet about three feet apart.

It peed. The pee was like it was sprayed out. It was not a hard stream like a man would do. The thing then walked about four steps (which were about five feet apart) then left the snow into the air. I know this may not be what you deal with, but no-one else can help me find out what this is...

Mr H.

THE AMATEUR NATURALIST IS BACK (or will be very soon)

Issue 8 of The Amateur Naturalist goes into production next week, and we hope that we will be finishing it soon after Corinna and I return from Texas.

So, in the meantime, we are inviting folk from the bloggo community to submit articles on the sort of fringes of natural history that we cover here on the bloggo. Not Fortean, and not crypto - those are strictly for A&M, but the sort of stuff that brightens up the day of folk like us who are desperately still trying to be naturalists despite the fact that the 21st Century gets ever grimmer.

DAVEY CURTIS: Giant Pacific octopus in Tynemouth Aquarium

Dear Jon,

I hope this is of some interest to you.

As it was the last day of Rosie's school holidays we took her to the Tynemouth Aquarium. I don't know if you agree with these type of places or not, but from what I could see their hearts are in the right place and they do seem to have had some fantastic success stories in breeding rare and endangered fish. Anyway, here is some footage of what I thought was their star exhibit, The Giant Pacific Octopus.

As the Octopus is light sensitive I turned the light off on my camera so the footage does not do this magnificent creature justice.

The colours and texure were just out of this world! I could have stood there for hours but I was blocking the kids having a look so I moved on to the sting rays and said a prayer for the Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin instead.


Davey C


I found this article from the Carbon County News of December 17th 1909 on a North American on-line newspaper database. It seems to describe some sort of living dinosaur – or an intricate hoax.

IDAHO MEN FIGHT MONSTER BEAST. Bullet proof animal cause of great terror in quiet country. STILL TALK OF THE GIANT. Great creature crunches trees in its teeth and lifts rocks weighing tons, say two “sober” citizens.

Frozen Dog Idaho – The people of this quiet neighbourhood,as they gather around their fireside still talk of the unclassified monster seen by two men in the hills near Mendota.

It was first seen by Joseph Cliffe and Walt Glifford. They were hunting trip in the North Basin when they came upon the hideous monster. As described by them and others who saw it later,the beast bears no resemblance to any other animal extinct or in existence.

Cliffe and Gifford were following the trail through the dense forest of the Basin last Monday and had reached a point near Grizzly Gulch when a tremendous bellow echoed from the depths of the gulch and caused them to halt tremblingly. As they peered towards the point from whence the noise came an immense pair of horns, crowning a lizard like head of enormous size, appeared above the gully`s edge. Deep set in the creature`s slimy head a pair of round eyes glistened with a terrifying light. The hunters, nearly frightened to death, and not caring to make closer acquaintance with the strange animal,beat a wild retreat to the top of North Mountain.

Arriving there they halted, out of breath,and looked down furtively into the gulch. The creature, with head still darting hither and thither, almost filled the gulch with its colossal bulk. Its body resembling somewhat that of a dinosaurius, was sheathed with slimy scales, and all along the back were ranged a row of bony spikes. The forelegs were shaped like those of a horse, though only half the size. The hind legs, thirty feet in length,and as big around as a good sized pine tree, were like those of an ostrich. A kangaroo-like tail 80 feet long stretched its length down the bed of the gulch. Gaining courage Cliffe raised his 45 90 and aimed at the monster`s head, pulled the trigger. His aim was true enough, but the bullet`s force was half spent before it reached the mark. The bullet`s impact with the animal`s head was forceful enough however to arouse its ire and cause it to thrash about wildly.

Great rocks weighing tons were dislodged by the angry flourishings of the beast. Trees two feet through were gripped in the snapping maw and made into kindling wood by the things sharp teeth. Cliffe was preparing to take another shot when the animal leaped to the top of the gulch as if shot from a catapault, and bounded much after the fashion of a kangaroo up the trail. A wild race followed in which the beast gained with every leap until the terrified hunters the woods bordering Trout Creek. Here the thickness of the timber slackened the pace of the pursuing monster and made possible the escape of Cliffe and Gifford, who reached town in an exhausted condition.

A posse scoured the hill country and once or twice saw the strange beast at a great distance.

This reads like something a bored journalist invented on his/her lunch break - witness the ostrich-like hind feet; how were they supposed to have supported a dinosaur-like animal?

But who knows?

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy played guitar,jammin` good with
Weird and Gilly,
The spiders from Mars,he played it left
But made it too far
Became the special man,then we were
Ziggy`s band

Ziggy really sang,screwed up eyes and
Screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan,he could lick
`em by smiling
He could leave `em to hang
Came on so loaded man,well hung and
Snow white tan…….

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1965 Arthur Stanley Jefferson died. Better known by his stage name Stan Laurel and the main creative force behind Laurel and Hardy, he can lay claim to being one of the greatest comedians to have ever lived. In Buster Keaton’s words at Laurel’s funeral: “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest.” Laurel and Hardy’s films and shorts certainly stand the test of time better than most comedies of their era. It has been scientifically proven that it is physically impossible not to at least smirk while watching this clip for example:

Stan Laurel also frequently drew on the Fortean and the absurd when writing comedy, notable examples of this include the ‘ghost’ and amnesia scenes from A Chump at Oxford and the running gag in Way Out West of Stan being able to use his thumb as a lighter, much to Ollie’s bemusement.
And now, the news:

Caspar the white lion moves to Isle of Wight
Man bailed as lemurs seized in Banbridge and Ballymena
Dead Fin whale strands on beach in north Cornwall
Feds outline plan to nurse Great Lakes to health
Nepalese man, 22 inches tall, seeks title of the world's shortest man
Anniversary of the cloned sheep

Q: Where can you find aged DNA?

A: In the old folks ‘genome’

Sunday, February 21, 2010

IVAN MACKERLE: Man-eater or only killer?

I have always been passionately interested in learning about all sorts of monsters and creatures from the animal world hiding in the remote and unexplored places of our planet. And even though I have known that it is not at all easy to track them down, I have tried to do that many times. When I once read about a man-eating tree that grows yet undiscovered by science in the Madagascar rainforests and that can entrap a human in its branches and then gradually consume it, I rejoiced. It is not an animal, which could hide. The tree grows on the invariable place all the time and so it can not flee, can it? I was certain that this time I would solve the mystery and uncover the green monster.

"At the bottom of the valley and near its eastern extremity, we came to a deep tarnlike lake about a mile in diameter, the sluggish oily water of which overflowed into a tortuous reedy canal that went into the recesses of a black forest composed of jungle below and palms above. A path diverging from its southern side struck boldly for the heart of the forbidding and seemingly impenetrable forest.

My interpreter Hendrick led the way along this path, I following closely, and behind me a curious rabble of Mkodos, men, women and children. Suddenly all the natives began to cry “Tepe! Tepe!” The sluggish canallike stream here wound slowly by, and in a bare spot in its band was the most singular of trees. Imagine a pineapple eight feet high and thick in proportion, but a dark dingy brown, and apparently as hard as iron. Eight leaves hung from the tree, each about elf feet long, and tapered to a sharp point. These leaves hanging thus limp and lifeless, dead green in color, had in appearance the massive strength of oak fibre.

A clear, treacly liquid, with highly intoxicating properties, trickled from the centre. A series of hairy, green eight feet long tendrils stretched out in every direction. Suddenly, after the natives had offered up prayers to the tree, they encircled one of the women and forced her to climb its trunk. When she stood at the top, surrounded by its dancing tentacles, she bent down and drank the treacle-like fluid, then became wild with hysterical frenzy. But she did not jump down, as she seemed to intend to do. The atrocious cannibal tree came to sudden savage life. With the fury of starved serpents quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms. Her screams were replaced with a gurgling moan. And now the great leaves slowly rose and stiffly, like the arms of a derrick, erected themselves in the air, approached one another and closed about the dead and hampered victim with the silence force of a hydraulic press.

The retracted leaves of the great tree kept their upright position for ten days. When I came by one morning, they were prone again, with the tendrils outstretched, and there was nothing but a white skull left at the foot of the tree."

That is how German traveller Karl Liche described his eyewitness experience in a letter to Polish savant Dr Omelius Fredlowski at the end of the nineteenth century. The letter was published in several newspapers and magazines and attracted a great deal of attention.

It was first published by German popular magazine Graefe und Walther of Karlsruhe in 1878 and then by Indian Mail published in Madras. New York based World and Australian Register followed in 1880 and a year later the story appeared in Antanarivo Annual and Madagascar Magazine published by missionaries in Madagascar. The discovery of a man-eating tree, however, went unnoticed by botanists as well as travellers, and so it slowly fell into oblivion.

Searching begins

A new wave of interest was created by a Sunday supplement of American Weekly published on Sept. 26, 1920 even though it did not bring any new information but a dusted-off and dramatised version of Liche's letter that ran accompanied by a cartoon of a naked blonde entrapped by thorny leaves of the terrible tree. The article, however, inspired Michigan governor Chase Salmon Osborn to a trip to Madagascar to this botanical anomaly.

Osborn had criss-crossed Madagascar but did not find the tree anywhere. All natives he met, however, had allegedly told him about the tree. American Weekly published his travel experience in October of 1924. And for the third time, American Weekly returned to the subject in January 1925. A story titled `Escaped from the Embrace of the Man-eating Tree` described an expedition of traveler W. C. Bryant to one of the Philippines islands where he had discovered human skeletons in branches of a strange and unknown tree.

These articles, though, met with a harsh reaction from botanists. "Carnivorous plants entrap and consume only insects the size of several millimetres," they raged. "A man or a bigger animal can never become their prey."

Science magazine American Botanist closed the unmerciful criticism saying: "Field and forest do not teem with poisonous plants and animals. They are far more peaceful and harmless than the streets of any city. If there is such a plant as those have been described in tabloid press, we hereby offer ten thousand dollars for a living specimen."

Hard to say whether it was a prospect of the reward or just a desire for an adventure that in 1935 took former British army officer L. Hearst searching for a man-eating tree to the Madagascar rainforests. And even though he had not met natives of the Mkodo pygmy tribe who would have taken him to their worshiped tree, he was not quite that unsuccessful. He met with a tiny black hillman who assured him that the Devil tree does trap and devour human victims and that secret religious rites and tribal sacrifices are offered to it even today.

This encouraged Hearst who then spent four months on the island searching for the trees until he finally found huge carnivorous plants. The natives managed to keep the man-eating tree Tepe out of Hearst's attention but he still brought back photographs of large pitcher plants swallowing small rodents and photographs of some sort of unknown trees that were surrounded by skeletons of larger animals. He, of course, could not bring living specimen of the trees because he would have needed at least a truck to do that.

The scientists, however, did not accept his photographs as proof and accused him of forgery. That made Hearst return to the jungle. However, this time he did not come back. He died under mysterious circumstances somewhere in the area of succulent Harpagophytes in the southeast part of the island. And that was where we started our search.

Surrounded by insidious tendrils

We had thought that we would be met by the same impassable green jungle as in Africa but the dry spiny bush that we got into here was perhaps even worse and less passable. The vegetation was dominated by raffia very well accustomed to the dry climate and by huge baobab trees that were scattered among thorny scrub. The landscape looked as if it was not on the Earth.

The area we were in was covered by thorny giants growing out of bright red sand. There were Euphorbias with thirty-centimetre thorns as well as strange-looking octopus trees which resilient branches were covered by thorns in such a way that the leaves were almost invisible.

Passing through such countryside is extremely strenuous even with a machete. The thorns immediately tear up your clothes and scratch up your body. After a few tens of metres of a march through this terrible vegetation you have to return, bleeding. That is one of the reasons why there are still hidden so many undiscovered plants.

And it is true that there live also carnivorous plants, mainly the so-called pitchers, which are equipped with strange pots they use to entrap their prey. The prey is lured in by sweet nectar extracted on the lid and other parts of the pitcher and once it touches the inner slippery surface it falls inside without a chance to climb out. The prey then drowns in the slimy liquid and is gradually decomposed by the digestive fluid of the plant.

Pitchers of the known Madagascar carnivorous plants are, however, no longer than 30 centimetres, which means that insect, maximally smallest animals, is their only prey. And even more, the trapping mechanisms of these plants are only passive.

According to Liche's description, though, the man-eating tree was catching its prey actively. It had apparently grabbed the prey with some sort of tendrils and then captured it with its leaves. In that case, it would have resembled carnivorous plants from the family of flytraps or sundews. Even those, however, trap only insects.

At the south end of the island that so mysteriously swallowed Hearst we can find plants though that are dangerous to bigger animals and even to humans. Not that they could eat them but they can entrap them and hold them in their branches. Those are very peculiar plants that don't live anywhere else in the world. They thrive in the thorny bush that covers most of this area. They lie in wait among other prickly succulents resembling cacti the size of a house and surrounded by bushes with long thorns and leaves sharp as razors. They indeed lie in wait because they need to thrust their hooks into the skin of a living creature. But again, not to suck its blood as a vampire, but to spread its seeds this way.

One of those plants is a very precious Harpagophytum grandidieri. The locals call it andridritra or a tree with claws. It has very long and resilient branches that hang in a massive tuft reaching to the ground and at the end bear capsules with seeds. The capsules are egg-shaped equipped with very sharp back hooks. Unlike our burs that attach to clothes but don't hurt skin, capsules of harpagophyt can easily get stuck in skin. When the seeds ripen, the capsules readily fall off and attach to animals that then carry them away. In doing so the animal, however, suffers immensely because the hooks are tearing up its skin whenever it moves.

Until the seeds are ripe, the seed capsules hang on tight to the branches. If the wind swings the branches, they can coil around a passing animal or a human being, closing them in a perfect clasp. If the victim tries to break free it ends up being a fly caught in a cobweb. With every move it makes it becomes even more entangled with more hooks attaching on. It is entrapped in a painful grip and usually dies without outside help.

We were looking for a tree, though, that not only entraps its victims but also eats them up. Whenever we meet natives we did not miss a chance to ask them about the trees but they just kept on shrugging their shoulders. The "devil trees" dangerous to humans certainly grow here but they are mostly fady, which is Malagasy for taboo, meaning a certain restriction or a ban which disobedience is punished by supernatural forces. A place where such a tree grows is sacred and is off-limits to a white man.

Luckily our Malagasy guide Pascal was a university graduate and did not fear ghosts. He was very successful in dealing with the natives and often managed to elicit precious information concerning the tree from them.

Trouble with native keepers

Our jeep was bobbing over tree roots and deep holes of a narrow path leading through the middle of the forest. The dark had fallen already and we were beginning to grow nervous. To be entering natives' sacred area in the night was not too wise.

Even over the noise of the engine we could hear the sudden yell. It sounded like a high-pitched female scream but we knew too well it was bad news. It was the combat cry of the Antandroy tribe. We became alert and soon caught the glimpse of white shadows running between trees. And in a moment figures in white robes with spears in their hands ran down to the road. Pascal was encouraging our Malagasy driver to go faster but with little luck because of the rough road.

All of a sudden yelling people were running along our car and two even managed to jump on the rear bumper. Through the rear window we could see their grinning faces. Fortunately the road straightened up and the driver could speed up, which forced our pursuers to jump off. After a while all of them disappeared in the darkness.

The sacred territory that we had entered without the natives' permission was protecting one of the "devil trees." It was a tree that lived in many legends and was worshiped by natives from the wide area. Allegedly the tree's trunk is the incarnation of the soul of a local king who until today demands human sacrifices from time to time. The tree is the centre of inexplicable phenomena and mysterious deaths. Was it the legendary "man-eating tree" that we had been searching for, for several weeks?

After another fifteen-minute ride through the dark jungle the trees got thinner and then we saw it. It stood in the middle of a plain and it indeed looked scary. Its dark ragged silhouette with unnaturally twisted branches stood erect against a moonlit sky. We could see immediately, though, that it was not any to the science unknown man-eating tree but a plain baobab.

It is a rare tree that grows only on Madagascar but except its unusual appearance and ability to live extremely long, it is not mysterious in any way. It is not anywhere near to being dangerous to humans, further more to eating them.
The death of a man whose body had been allegedly found here recently torn into pieces we explained as an attack of the tree's worshipers and the sacred territory guards who had threatened us too.

It was getting close to midnight and strange screams and voices started coming from the forest around us. And the cause of the noise was not probably only the harmless lemurs as both Pascal and our Malagasy driver got nervous. It was about time we got out of there.

Finally on the trace

"Among the devil trees that we worship are also those that can really kill a man and sometimes even on a long distance," told us a white-haired old man from a little village.

"How is that possible?" we wondered.

"Go to the Kinkony lake and there you will learn their secret," he said with a mysterious smile.

The journey there was awful: deep holes, huge rocks and unbelievably steep slopes. In the Ananalava village that had a few reed-roof huts we were welcomed by a throng of villagers who enveloped us and pairs of black hands started touching us with a curiosity. There probably had not been many whites before us.

When Pascal asked them about the devil trees their faces turned into stone, though. And so we unpacked our presents: cheap costume jewellery, T-shirts and pens. In a moment everything was back to normal and the natives started their tales.

The trees are called kumanga and are really very dangerous. They don't eat humans or animals but they are so poisonous that they can kill even on a long distance. Especially when they are blooming. A cloud of poisonous air from the blossoms can extent fairly far in a calm. Birds that sit among their leaves fall dead to the ground and animals that want to hide in the trees' shade die instantly.

Our photographer Jiri Skupien showed a sceptical smile on his face. A man standing right next to him noticed the grin and nodded: "Many doubting Thomases already paid for their haughty carelessness. Demonstrating their bravery they smelled the blossoms and in a moment they lost their consciousness."

It occurred to me that perhaps the occasional discoveries of skeletons of people who had lain down in the shade of the poisonous tree made some of the locals think that the tree had trapped its victim, ate it and then spat out the skeleton.

When we asked them to take us to the nearest kumanga they were shaking their heads, warning us not to go there. It might not end well. We tried to explain to them that we had come here from a far away country just because of those trees and that we knew a way to protect ourselves from them. That was actually true. Our expedition diver Danny Mackerle wanted to use his mask and breathing apparatus to get with camera all the way to the dangerous tree. We pulled out more presents and after a while a young man climbed into our car. He decided he would take us to the tree after all.

Under branches of green killer

A sandy road winds through thick green bushes and a couple of times we have to turn on the four-wheel drive to get through. The car keeps on digging through the sand until we finally have to get out and walk. We apace take a few gulps of warm water, throw our backpacks on and go. Already on the way, the villager gives us our last lesson. When we are near the tree we cannot eat or drink. Unfortunately he does not know whether it is blooming right now or not. He has not been there in a while. We are burning with impatience and again discuss our strategy in approaching the tree once we get there.

And then finally we are there. Kumanga's green top is peeking behind a group of palm trees. If we were on our own we probably could not find it. I take my binoculars out and scan the tree's branches. I can't see any blossoms, which means there is no immediate danger. We are carefully coming closer while sniffing the air. The air is clean; no trace of any smell. The mask can stay in the backpack. There are two bird carcasses decomposing under the tree and spine vertebrae are sticking out of a turtle shell lying nearby. I would like to find skeletons of bigger animals but no luck. Maybe their instinct warned them in time.

The local is bending a tree branch to show us large hard pods. Only recently those were the deadly blossoms. I pick one to take with me and put it into a plastic bag.

Everything is calm; no drama is taking place. I was expecting we would be putting our lives atstake. I was a bit disappointed. We are several months away from seeing new blossoms and experiencing poisonous air. Not even the locals know when the tree will bloom again. It blooms irregularly and it largely depends on rain.

Kumanga is, however, severely poisonous even now. We have to be very careful and not touch it too much; not even the leaves.

The villager is telling us that about a year ago a herd of cows wandered near the tree and started grazing on its juicy leaves. All of the animals fell dead in a few seconds.

Loss of the cattle made the natives decide to get rid of the murderous trees and they burned some of them down. We could see their work of destruction on the nearby clearing where remains of burned and blackened trunks were still protruding to the cloudless sky.

Perhaps we were the last white men who could see the legendary killer trees with their own eyes and film them because they don't grow anywhere else. Even on Madagascar the last few specimens grow only in this area. And so, after all that search and all those stories we had heard, we were feeling a bit sorry for those feared "devils." And the man-eating tree? Maybe it has met with the same fate.


Mackal Roy P., Searching For Hidden Animals, p.248 (London 1980)
Kulik Sergej, Kogda duchi otstupajut (Moscow 1981)
Arkady Fiedler, Madagaskar, okrutny czarodzej (Poznan 1969)
FATE Magazine, December 1950, p.13, Steve Benedict: Man-eating Trees, p. 13
Strange Magazine, 1993, No. 12, Shuker Karl P.N.: Mystery Plants of Pray, p. 9,49,51.
Endavour, vol.35, No.126, p.114, Yolande Heslop-Harrison: Carnivorous plants a century after Darwin.