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, April 25, 2010


Partly for scientific interest and partly to stop the bloody things eating our bird food, Oll L. is carrying out a mammal survey using humane traps. Hence what we believe to be a field mouse of no cryptozoological interest whatsoever, was caught in the conservatory (sounds like a game of Cluedo) and released near Barnstaple yesterday.


Steve Jones writes:

Jon dear boy,

I have just been catching up on CFZ posts, and spotted
the one about your Gambia movie being ripped off, and something called TSM doing a mod. Well, this link might explain it: http://www.theriseoftsm.com/

A mod is a gaming term, and is short for "module" i.e. something put together by a gamer as a level to be played in a game, or as an add on to an existing D&D type stuff; someone obviously thought doing a monster hunt Gambia module might be fun.

Steve Jones

CFZ alumni as computer games characters? I can't see it m'self

MIKE HALLOWELL: The giant flea of Gateshead

Now this is just weird; an amazing piece of synchronicity. Totally independent of each other, Richard Freeman and Mike Hallowell recount the same very obscure story in blog postings submitted to me on the same day. I am posting both of them because they are both fine and entertaining writers with slightly different takes on the same peculiar tale.

This must be the strangest story I've covered for a while, but it's a good one; superb, in fact. I just hope it doesn't make you itch.

My good friend and fellow explorer of the unknown, Richard Freeman, Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, recently sent me a curious tale involving a Doctor Backhouse from Gateshead.

Backhouse awoke early one morning in 1857 and to his consternation, discovered a flea in his bed – not an entirely unknown occurrence in Geordieland back then. He killed it – we know not how, although legend has it that he twatted it with one of his boots – and on closer examination was taken aback by the creature's size. As fleas went, this one was gigantic. At first Backhouse thought the critter was simply a very healthy specimen of Pulex irritans, the common human flea, but the more he looked the less convinced he became.

Backhouse sent the creature off to the legendary entomologist Professor John Westwood, (that's him, on the left) who examined it thoroughly. 'The Gateshead Flea', as it later became known, was no less than twenty times the size of an ordinary flea.

It should be mentioned here that Westwood was a genius in his field. He was a professor at Oxford University and also a Fellow of Magdalen College. He later became president of the Entomological Society of London and a Fellow of the Linnean Society. If Westwood thought there was something odd about this flea, then you could stake your life on it. Either that or you could forfeit your life deliberately by taking on the flea in a punch-up in the back lane.

Westwood became convinced that what Backhouse had captured and killed was a new species of flea, which he promptly named Pulex imperator – the Supreme Commander of Fleas, if you will. The Gateshead Flea became a sensation. Geordie cryptozoologists later renamed the creature Geordicus maximus hardarsii. Although its possible I just might be making this bit up.

Truth to tell, Backhouse and Westwood brought the flea to the public's attention at just the right time. The eminent scientist Robert Hooke had in 1865 published his magnum opus, a book called Micrographia. There, for the first time, readers could see a detailed illustration of a flea in all its horrible glory.

Hooke's book catapulted the common flea to superstardom and for the next two hundred years poems were written about them and ballads sung in their dubious honour. When Westwood claimed to have discovered a new giant flea then, the nation was captivated.

Until, that is, John Obadiah Westwood took a deep breath, ignored all the excitement and privied himself a closer, more dispassionate look at the insect Dr Backhouse had sent him. That bit that looked like a huge proboscis actually turned out to be an antenna of some sort, and the body wasn't…well, it wasn't actually flea-shaped, really.

Before long Westwood addressed a packed meeting of the Entomological Society of London. With great candour he told a stunned audience that there was really no such thing as the Giant Flea; what the good Doctor Backhouse had killed and forwarded on to him was nothing more than a Blatta nymph; in common parlance, a young cockroach.

To say that the scientific community was disappointed would be an understatement. Still, even though Pulex imperator never got off the biological drawing board the story was good while it lasted. Even now, in Entomological circles, the legend of Backhouse, Westwood and the Giant Flea of Gateshead still crops up in conversation from time to time.

What Dr Backhouse thought of the affair I do not know but his professional reputation seems to have remained intact or at least undamaged by the Giant Flea. In his latter years he probably looked back upon the affair with some amusement.

Westwood continued his career without any tarnish on his record. He died at the ripe old age of 88 on January 2, 1893. Neither he nor Dr Backhouse will ever be forgotten, nor will Pulex imperator, the Giant Gateshead Flea.

WARNING: Geordicus maximus hardarsii may contain nuts. It may also eat nuts, like John Obadiah Westwood, Dr Backhouse and the author of this blog.


Now this is just weird; an amazing piece of synchronicity. Totally independent of each other, Richard Freeman and Mike Hallowell recount the same very obscure story in blog postings submitted to me on the same day. I am posting both of them because they are both fine and entertaining writers with slightly different takes on the same peculiar tale.

Back in the 1970s I read an excellent short story. It was in a freaky anthology called either Horrors Horrors, Horrors or Terrors, Terrors, Terrors. I can never remember which of these anthologies it was as I read them pretty much back to back. They are notable for having stories with very odd premises. There is one about a man who, like me, has a dread of large moths. He transforms into a bat and eats them. In one sequence he wakes and thinks that he is tucked tightly in bed when in fact the tight sheets are his own wings wrapped around him.

In another story, narrated in the first person, a boy's little sister begins talking about strange things and places she has never seen or been to, like the grandfather moon and the dark woods. When she meets an old man whose family name is Moon she dies of fright. The strangest story was The Bakerloo Flea by Michael Rosen, which deals with a giant flea that terrorises the Bakerloo line on the London underground. Like an urban legend, it is told second-hand. Cleaning ladies who work in the tunnels each night relate the story to an acquaintance of the narrator. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across an account of a giant flea in Karl Shuker’s book From Flying Toads to Snakes With Wings. A lot of internet digging brought some sparse information on this odd case.

In 1857 the eminent entomologist Professor J. O. Westwood was sent a dead flea that had been found squashed flat in a bed in Gateshead by a Dr Blackhouse. He saw that the monster was twenty times larger than Pulex irritans, the common flea. Professor Westwood named the giant bloodsucker Pulex imperator, the Imperial flea. Upon closer examination, however, it was found to be the distorted carcass of a young cockroach. It goes to show how anyone can make a mistake.



I don't know whether it counts as a bona fide taxonomy fail when it is a computer generated image from some stupid game rather than a real incidence of someone being idiotic, but I suppose it does.

Or that's what Maxy says.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 570AD Muhammed was born.
And now, the news:

Bird-Eating Squirrel Illustrates Avian Dilemma
Resident spots squirrel monkey in Pelican Bay
Buddy the dog saves owner's home from fire
Dinosaurs died due to chilly seas
Dinosaurs died from sudden temperature drop 'not comet strike', scientists claim
Wis. woman braves traffic, saves 14 ducklings
Whale poo could aid climate, say Aussie scientists
Squirrel with a sore nut...

That’s nuts….

RICHARD FREEMAN: The Monsters of Prague #12

The Phantom Bear
In the olden days, before modern laws on hygeine, meat was sold from wooden huts. These were fly-infested, foul-smelling places over-run with dogs. Sometimes wild animals would approach the huts to steal meat. A large bear began to frequent the crude butcher's shops, cleaning up bits of old meat. It did not seem agressive and no-one really worried about it. As it turned out, the creature had not come out of the forests but was owned by a man who lived in Prague.

One day the 'tame' bear turned on a scribe and ate him. The authorities demanded that the bear be destroyed but its owner fled, taking the bear with him. He made money by displaying his man-eating bear in the towns of Cesky Krumlov, Strakonice and Klatovy. He was never caught.

Back in Prague a totally innocent bear was used to take the man-eater's place and was beheaded. Its ghost is said to haunt the areas were the butchers' huts once stood at Klarov. It will only pass over when it commits the crime it was executed for and eats a person.