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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MUIRHEAD`S MYSTERIES: ENGLAND`S FIRST BLACK SQUIRREL AND SCOTLAND`S LAST WOLF


Whilst at the Zoological Society of London Archives last week I came across a book called `History and Mystery` published in 2011 by the Society for the History of Natural History (ed. Charles Nelson) which certainly lives up to its name.

There are two stories in it that I want to cover here. Firstly, the earliest record by a very long way of a black squirrel in England ( web sites such as http://www.blacksquirrelproject.org/ will tell you it was 1912, and your hero, i.e. me will say 1894 from Thirlmere in the Lakes in my article in British Wildlife in 1998-1) but this squirrel, from 1527 was probably a genetic mutation from the red. The numbers in brackets refer to the issue numbers the stories in Annals and Magazine of Natural History come from  

A black squirrel in England in 1527? { series 2, 47:5. 1993}

Are there early records of the Continental sub-species of “black” (dark brown) squirrels being known in England? I have searched without success in the limited books available to me , since noticing that the animal in Holbein`s portrait “ A lady with a squirrel and a starling” (see below) is a “black” specimen, not the native “red” squirrel .There was some brouhaha in the newspapers early in 1992 when this superb painting was bought for the National Gallery from Lord Cholmondeley for £10 million, saved from export at the last minute by the National Arts Collection Fund and the negotiation of a public-spirited dealer. Art critics date the portrait to Holbein`s first visit to England in 1527, and presume the sitter belonged to Sir Thomas More`s circle; does her black squirrel suggest otherwise?        W.R. LeFanu. (2)

Wolves in Scotland { series 2, 62:5. 1998}

James Edmund Harting in his British mammals extinct within historic times ( 1880: 178) stated that the last wolf in Scotland was killed “ at a place between Fi-Giuthas and Pall-a-chrocain, and according to popular chronology no longer ago than in the year 1743”. Earlier on p. 175, Harting wrote that “ in Lochaber, the last in that part of the country [Harting`s italics] is said to have been killed by Sir Ewen Cameron in 1680, which Pennant misunderstood to have been the last of the species in Scotland. “ This sentence has the following footnote:

“ In the Sale Catalogue of the “London Museum” which was disposed of by auction in April ,1818, there is the following entry: Lot 832, Wolf -  a noble animal in a large glass case. The last Wolf killed in Scotland by Sir E. Cameron.

Very little taxidermy from the seventeenth century is extant and it would be very interesting to find this stuffed wolf. Does anyone have any information on its whereabouts?  David Mackenzie (3)


  1. R.Muirhead  Black Squirrels in Britain . British Wildlife vol 10 no. 2 December 1998 p. 102
  2. W.R. LeFanu A black squirrel in England in 1527? History and Mystery 2011 p. 54
  3. D.Mackenzie  Wolves in Scotland  Ibid p. 54

1 comment:

BobSkinn said...

Further information about the wolf mentioned and its provenance can be found in the following Guardian news report:
http://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2014/jul/21/last-wolf

Bob Skinner