Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Monday, 19 December 2011

THE FAIRY HOUND AND THE POOKA - A CRYPTO-FOLKTALE FOR CHRISTMAS

My very own Celtic fairy hound! (Dr Karl Shuker)

During my time on Facebook, I've made many friends all over the world who share my interests in cryptozoology and animal mythology. One of these friends is Randi Wood, from Texas, USA, to whom I recently recounted a very brief version of a traditional Irish folktale about a Celtic fairy hound. She liked it so much that she said she would love to read a full-length version of it if ever I decided to write one. Well, now I have done, so here, as an early Christmas present to you, Randi, is my story. I hope you enjoy it - Happy Christmas!

According to Irish mythology, one of the most formidable enchanted beasts occasionally met with in lonely rural locations is the fairy hound, or hound of the hollow hills, where the Faerie folk of Erin dwell. Gracile in form, and white in colour, but extremely large, often shaggy-coated, and always instantly distinguished from mortal, non-magical dogs by virtue of its bright red eyes and the red inner linings of its ears, even the mere sight of one of these ethereal creatures is said to bring bad luck. And to speak to or touch one means certain death – usually. Very rarely, however, a fairy hound will bring its human observer good fortune, if it is treated with sufficient courtesy and compassion – as was the case in the following traditional folktale, featuring both a fairy hound and a pooka, which has variants on record not only from Ireland but also from Cheshire and certain other regions of England. But what, may you ask, is a pooka? Let's just hope that you're never unlucky enough to meet one and find out...!

It had been a very long, arduous day, and the apprentice labourer was weary as he slowly trekked across the mist-shrouded moorlands, following the winding, shadowy road that would lead him back home, aching, hungry and earnestly yearning for the warmth, comfort, and security of his parents' little cottage. Whistling to himself to keep his spirits up as he continued on his way through this somewhat depressing, forbidding terrain, where strange shadows lurked all around him, and without warning a tree would abruptly loom out of the darkness up ahead like some frightful apparition, he suddenly heard what sounded like a dog, whining somewhere close by. He walked on a little further, and there, lying in some bushes at the side of the road, was what seemed on first sight to be a large red and white foxhound.

Having seen a number of footsore foxhounds in the past, which had been left behind by the pack when they had grown too weary to pursue their quarry any further, the youth called to it in a friendly voice, telling it that he'd take it back to the kennels but would first do something for its sore paws. True to his word, he scoured around and soon spotted some large dock leaves that he soaked in water from the stream running close by. Then he whistled to the dog, and called to it to come out of the bushes, so that he could treat its tender paws with the cooling wet leaves.


Celtic fairy hounds (Roger Garland)

Sure enough, up stood the dog and trotted out of the bushes towards him – but it was no foxhound. As large as a calf, with a shaggy pure-white coat, but red-lined ears and bright scarlet eyes that glowed like rubies, it was – as the terrified youth was only too readily aware – a fairy hound! Shaking with fear, he stood there, as still as a statue as the great dog padded right up to his side. All of the stories that had passed down through the generations in his family and in those of his friends and neighbours came flooding back. If you so much as see a fairy hound, you will experience bad luck, and if you should be foolish enough to speak to one or touch one, death will swiftly and assuredly follow. And yet, somehow, he sensed that it meant him no harm. Scarcely knowing what he was doing, or why, the youth spoke gently to the fairy hound, politely asking it to give him each of its paws in turn, so that he could bathe them.

The hound raised its huge head until its scarlet eyes were gazing directly into those of the youth, transfixing him for what seemed to him like an eternity yet was the merest moment in real time, and then, slowly, it raised its right front paw, and placed it heavily in his hands. At its first touch, the youth felt a strange sensation course through his body, like a living stream of electricity rippling and sparking beneath the surface of his skin. As if awakening from a dream, he shook his head, and then, after carefully inspecting the creature's paw, wrapped some wet leaves around it in a cooling bandage. As soon as he had done this, the fairy hound pulled its paw away, sniffed it for a moment, then gingerly placed it on the ground. The dock leaves were clearly working their own kind of magic, because the hound never flinched when it placed its full weight on the paw.

The youth expected to receive the hound's left front paw next, but the hound had other ideas. Instead, it turned sideways, and raised its right back paw towards him. So the youth knelt, and bandaged this paw with some more soaked dock leaves, then repeated his actions with its left back paw. When this was bandaged, the fairy hound turned to face the youth again, and as he looked down at its one remaining untreated paw – the left front paw – he realised that the hound was barely resting on it at all. Instead, it held it up just above the ground. Clearly, this was the most painful of its four paws, and when the youth knelt down to it, he immediately saw why.

Embedded in one of the paw's thick pads was a long curved thorn! Shocked, he looked up at the fairy hound, once again meeting its bright scarlet stare. Surely he dare not attempt to pull a thorn from the paw of a fairy hound? To do so would certainly inflict pain upon it, and that in turn would surely be more than sufficient to bring about his own death. But scarcely had these thoughts materialised within his petrified mind than the hound raised its wounded paw and delicately placed it in his open hand. As if sensing his hesitation, it then licked the thorn and nuzzled his hand with its large, icy-cold nose before gazing directly into his eyes again.

'Hound Wraith' - a very different, unicorned fairy hound (Heather L. Kidd)

Drawing a deep breath, and trying hard to hide the fear in his voice, the youth softly spoke to the fairy hound, telling it that he would try his best to remove the thorn but warned that its paw might hurt for a moment while he was doing so. Taking a second deep breath, and focusing his attention entirely upon the thorn in the hope of remaining as calm as possible, the youth gripped it tightly between thumb and finger, and then, in a swift fluid movement, withdrew it from the pad of the creature's paw with Androclesian skill.

The fairy hound jerked its leg back, and the youth heard what sounded like the faintest rumble emanating from its chest, like the onset of thunder on a humid summer evening, as it attempted to pull its paw from his grasp. At the same moment, however, with his other hand the youth deftly placed a dripping-wet bandage of dock leaves upon the pad, and immediately he felt the hound relax, leaving its paw within his hand. After holding the leaves against the wounded pad for a few moments, the youth then removed them and replaced them with some more, which he bound in place.

The fairy hound placed its paw on the ground, and, as before, the dock leaves had evidently proven effective, because it discovered that it could place its full weight upon the paw without discomfort. For one last time, the fairy hound looked up at the youth, capturing his eyes with its own, and then it slowly wagged its long white tail from side to side, several times, before turning away. Remembering how he had been told by his elders to be respectful at all times to the Faerie folk, he bid it a polite "Goodnight, Sir", and he saw it wag its tail again as it departed into the mist.

Fairy hound (C Martin)

Scarcely believing that he had survived such an extraordinary encounter with a fairy hound, the youth hurried on along the road leading home, hoping to leave this deserted, lonely terrain before it became completely dark. Happily, he did so, and although he made the same journey each evening in the weeks to come, nothing else eventful took place – until one night, just before Christmas.

The youth had worked even later than usual that particular evening, so it was already almost dark while he was still walking along the road across the moorlands - which, as a result, seemed more oppressive and threatening than ever. Even so, he smiled when he reached the area of low-lying bushes where, a few weeks earlier, he had treated the fairy hound's paws. Although he had never seen it again, he frequently thought about it, but he had never told anyone about his encounter, just in case to do so would anger the Faerie folk.

Suddenly, something large moved amid the shadows covering the road up ahead, and for a moment the youth thought that the fairy hound had returned. But as he drew nearer, he saw something very different – and even more frightening! At first, it looked like a small black pony, but as he looked at it, the creature began to grow bigger, and bigger. In moments, the 'pony' was the size of a horse, and as it turned his head towards him, the youth cried out in terror - because the head was no longer that of a horse. Instead, it now resembled a goat's, bearing a pair of long twisted horns, and with glittering emerald-hued eyes that glowed malevolently like green fire. This was neither a pony nor a horse – it was a pooka!

A pooka (Ceara Finn)

An evil shape-shifting supernatural being, a pooka often assumes the guise of a pony that is sometimes merely mischievous, chasing after humans in gleeful delight, or slyly luring them across the moors until they are hopelessly lost if they try to capture or ride it. On other occasions, however, if someone succeeds in mounting it, the pooka will instantly ride off at speed and plunge into a river or lake, drowning its hapless rider (click here for a separate ShukerNature post retelling this Irish legend). And if it should transform into a goat-headed monstrosity like the beast now confronting the terrified youth, death is inevitable.

Leering at him with a vile grimace that revealed an abundance of sharp white teeth, the pooka reared up onto its hind legs, and flailed its razor-sharp hooves at the youth's face. Backing away, he stumbled, losing his footing in his fear as this huge black beast of nightmare come to life reared again, its hooves ready to slash him to ribbons.

Suddenly, however, a huge white shadow hurled itself out of the darkness and directly onto the pooka's back. Gazing at it in amazement, the youth saw that it was none other than the fairy hound! Equally astonished, the pooka turned away, throwing its neck back as it attempted to discover what was attacking it. The fairy hound's mighty jaws bit deeply into the pooka's neck and shoulders as the latter beast sought to shake its assailant off, and the silence was shattered by an ear-splitting cacophony of shrieking neighs from the pooka and baying growls from the fairy hound.

Never underestimate a fairy hound!

The pooka, weakening from the fairy hound's unabated onslaught, dropped to the ground, and sought to dislodge its attacker by rolling over and upon it. To avoid being crushed, the fairy hound duly released its hold upon the pooka's neck, and leapt off – at which point the pooka instantly transformed into a large black owl and flew swiftly away across the moors.

By now, the petrified youth had staggered back up onto his feet again, and there in front of him stood the fairy hound, seemingly none the worse for its battle with the pooka. It looked up at him with its bright scarlet eyes, and wagged its long tail from side to side.

The youth was about to thank it for saving him from the pooka, but just in time he remembered how his wise old grandmother had told him when he was still a child that although you must always be very respectful to the Faerie folk, you must never thank them aloud, even if they have helped you or have been kind to you in some way.

And so, just as he had done during their previous meeting, the youth nodded courteously to the great dog before him, and then bid it a polite "Goodnight, Sir". The fairy hound turned away, and in seconds was lost to sight amid the darkness and shadows of the night, and the youth continued on his way back home, well aware of how exceptionally fortunate he had been that evening, and looking forward even more than before to the Christmastime holidays with his family that awaited him there.

A pack of fairy hounds in pursuit of a wrongdoer



Tuesday, 13 December 2011

THE WONDERFUL THING ABOUT TIGUARS!



Over the years, a great many unusual big cat hybrids have been born in captivity - everything from ligers (lion x tigress hybrids), tigrons (tiger x lioness), and leopons (leopard x lioness), to lipards (lion x leopardess), jaglions (jaguar x lioness), and pumapards (puma x leopardess), to name but some.

Of especial interest, however, because he is quite possibly unique, is a big cat hybrid called Mickey. Born in June 2009 at Altiplano Zoo in San Pablo Apetatlan, Mexico, Mickey is a bona fide tiguar. His father is a Siberian tiger and his mother a jaguar originating from the southern Chiapas jungle. But what does Mickey look like? Despite an extensive online search during the completion of my next book - Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, due out in autumn 2012 - I have been unable to locate a single description of him.

However, there may be at least one online colour photograph depicting Mickey. Reproduced below, this photo was kindly brought to my attention yesterday by mystery cat researcher Mark Fraser from BCIB (Big Cats In Britain) and cryptozoological enthusiast Ian C. Thomas. As can be seen here, it shows a very impressive, predominantly ginger-brown big cat, stocky in build, with an unmistakeably tigerine face, plus a white chin and mouth, but only very faint, greatly-reduced body striping.

Alleged photo of Mickey the tiguar of Altiplano Zoo as an adult (credit: http://www.taringa.net/comunidades/tkaffee/945148/Felinos-Hibridos.html)

Worryingly, however, on a few other sites this same photograph is labelled not as showing a tiguar but a liger (lion x tigress hybrid) instead. Moreover, the cat is surrounded by snow, which is not what one would expect from the subtropical region of Mexico where Altiplano Zoo is located. Having said that, as pointed out to me by fellow investigator Paul Willison, meteorological records show that during the winter period this region's temperature has sometimes fallen to only a degree or so above freezing point. So perhaps the presence of snow here is not so implausible after all.

In addition, I have discovered what I feel sure is a fleeting glimpse of Mickey as a 2-month-old cub in a video shot at Altiplano Zoo and uploaded by someone with the user name mvzxim onto YouTube on 9 August 2009. View it at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyv8HtA1w6M&feature=related

A still from the above video of Altiplano Zoo showing a mysterious cub that may well be Mickey the tiguar (video credit: mvzxim)

Certainly, whereas not resembling that of any familiar big cat, such as a lion, tiger, leopard, or jaguar, the cub (visible in the section of the video spanning 3.10 minutes to 3.14 minutes, and captured here in this still photograph) very closely resembles the above-noted alleged photo of the adult Mickey, complete with ginger fur, faint body striping, and white chin/mouth. Furthermore, unlike the photograph, there is no question that this video was indeed shot in Altiplano Zoo.

I am continuing to investigate the mysterious Mickey, in the hope of obtaining a verified photo of him as an adult plus any additional information concerning him that may be available, so any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF NEW AND REDISCOVERED ANIMALS - A FIRST GLIMPSE OF MY LATEST BOOK



I've just received, one day early, the perfect birthday present! Here's the fully-approved, finalised version of the cover for my soon-to-be-published book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals: From the Lost Ark to the New Zoo - and Beyond (which is off to the printers in the next few hours!). My very sincere thanks to Bill Rebsamen for his wonderful front and back cover illustrations!

Here's some information concerning my book:

At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists and laymen alike appear to have been peculiarly confident that the world had been thoroughly explored and most of its creatures named and documented. Few, if any, large animals still awaited discovery. The scientific unveiling of the giraffe-like okapi in 1901 was one of the earliest of this century's discoveries to shake this belief. But many consider it to be the last great find, and view the rediscovery of extinct animals to be as likely as the alchemic conversion of iron into gold.

Since 1901, however, a whole host of new and rediscovered creatures has turned up to contradict these views - including a giant 7-ft-long forest hog from Africa, a colossal Indonesian monitor lizard called the Komodo dragon, the lobe-finned coelacanth fish resurrected from 64 million years of supposed extinction, the incredible megamouth shark, deep-sea tube-dwelling worms over 8 ft tall with huge red tentacles resembling strange alien flowers, plus the extraordinary Vu Quang ox and giant barking deer both discovered in Vietnam during the 1990s. And discoveries continue to be made today, in the 21st century - ranging diversely and dramatically from giant peccaries and zombie worms to an entire new suborder of insects known as the gladiators, a veritable jungle of new monkeys, and an extraordinary chameleonesque snake. And nor can we possibly forget the sensational rediscovery in North America of the near-legendary, supposedly long-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.

The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals is the third, wholly-updated edition of the very first - and still the definitive - book to be devoted to the spectacular zoological discoveries and equally amazing rediscoveries of the 20th century, which attracted international acclaim and exemplary reviews following its original publication in 1993 (when it was entitled The Lost Ark), and its subsequent republication in 2002 as an updated, greatly-expanded second edition (entitled The New Zoo). This latest edition also contains an in-depth survey of the 21st century’s most celebrated discoveries and rediscoveries made during its first decade, a superb foreword by pre-eminent American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, plus an exhaustive, significantly-increased bibliography, as well as the only comprehensive collection of colour and b/w illustrations of these spectacular animal species ever published (including new, previously-unpublished photographs, and several exclusive, specially-commissioned full-colour paintings).

Unquestionably, The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals provides good reason indeed for believing that our world continues to holds many more animal surprises in store for future revelation.

It is published by Coachwhip Publications in the USA, and is due out very shortly (printers permitting!) - so keep checking Amazon!

Friday, 2 December 2011

MOA FOR YOUR MONEY - REVIEWING THE BEST BOOK ON THE CRYPTOZOOLOGY OF NEW ZEALAND'S AVIAN GIANTS



My review of: Moa Sightings (Volumes 1-3) by Bruce Spittle.

Paua Press (www.pauapress.com), Dunedin, 2010; ISBN 978-0-473-15356-4 (Vol. 1), 978-0-473-15357-1 (Vol. 2), 978-0-473-15358-8 (Vol. 3); £101.97 for the 3-volume set. Hb with dustjacket, 415 pp (Vol. 1), 422 pp (Vol. 2), 416 pp (Vol. 3), colour and b/w illus., colour maps, footnote refs, index.

With such terms used so frequently yet all-too-often so undeservedly nowadays, it is rare indeed today for a book to warrant being referred to as 'the standard work' or 'the definitive treatment'. Both of these superlatives, and many others of a similar nature too, however, are fully-justified when considering Bruce Spittle's monumental three-volume treatise on putative sightings of living moas – if only because I simply cannot conceive how anyone could ever produce a more comprehensive account of this subject.

The giant, and not-so-giant, moas constituted a diverse family of flightless birds unique to New Zealand, but according to mainstream scientific belief most if not all of the eleven currently-recognised species had become extinct at least 300 years prior to the landing here of the first Europeans with Captain Cook in 1769. And even if a few stragglers had somehow lingered on in remote localities up to and even for a time beyond this initial European influx, these had still died out long ago – or had they?

Giant Dinornis moas - 19th-Century painting (Heinrich Harder)

In his vast, exhaustively-researched trilogy of tomes, Spittle painstakingly documents and assesses every known eyewitness report alluding to possible moa survival since the early 1400s, devoting an entire chapter to each such report, and including 151 reports in total. Each chapter follows the same format – a headline giving the eyewitness, the year, and the location of the alleged sighting, which is then followed by an introduction, a detailed account of the sighting, and a thorough discussion. Each report is also accompanied by one or more full-page colour maps of the location, plus various relevant colour or b/w illustrations, including many previously obscure images that were new to me. The same, exceedingly detailed index is included at the back of all three volumes, which is very handy.

The degree of scholarship evident in the sightings' discussions is breathtaking – Spittle gives the impression of having consulted everyone ever involved in and everything ever written on the subject of moas (and if he hasn't, it clearly isn't from want of trying!) - and his examination of each sighting is both incisive and commendably objective. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Spittle surveys the two most famous (and contentious) putative moa sightings of all - one (Sighting Report #22) by Alice MacKenzie at Martins Bay in 1880, to which he devotes 98 pages; and the other (Sighting Report #151) by Paddy Freaney and two companions in 1993 within Craigieburn Forest Park, to which he devotes no fewer than 283 pages (taking up most of Volume 3, in fact), and which include several detailed maps and even full-colour reconstructions based upon the enigmatic, famously-fuzzy photo snapped by Freaney. In each case, Spittle produces a review so meticulous and fascinating that it would stand alone very well as an entire book in its own right.

Newspaper account reporting Freaney's alleged sighting

Every report is also liberally annotated with footnotes supplying key references (there is no collective bibliography – perhaps this work's only failing in my view) and additional information where required.

I dare not even begin to guess how long it took Spittle to produce his magnum opus, which Moa Sightings assuredly is, but when preparing any work as extensive as this, errors of typography and of fact are inevitable, however earnestly one seeks to eradicate all such gremlins from the final version, and I did spot certain instances of this in Moa Sightings. Needless to say, I do not wish to overshadow or diminish the magnificent overall contribution to the field of moa study and beyond that this work has made, so two such examples of errors, one from each of the above-noted categories, will suffice here.

Upland (dwarf) moa, Megalapteryx - did Alice MacKenzie encounter one at Martins Bay in 1880?

In all three volumes, the outer edge of each page contains three figures – the top one indicates the volume number, the middle one the chapter number, and the bottom one the page number within that chapter (this is also repeated in expanded version at the bottom of each page). Unfortunately, however, in Volume 2, Chapter 35 is incorrectly labelled as being in Volume 1. Ditto for Chapter 137 in Volume 3. These could easily be rectified in future reprints. As for factual blips: I noticed on p. 189 of Chapter 151, dealing with the Freaney sighting case, that Spittle claimed a letter by him sent to the British magazine Fortean Times updating that case was never published. In fact it was – twice! It first appeared on p. 54 of the Letters section in FT No. 98 (May 1997), and then it was summarised by me on p. 16 of my Alien Zoo column in FT No. 221 (April 2007).

Early, archive photo of life-sized Dinornis moa model alongside a kiwi for scale purposes

Never mind. Such slips as these pale into insignificance against the greater backdrop of a truly extraordinary publication that is unquestionably one of the finest additions to the canon of cryptozoological literature in modern times. The price might seem steep, and may limit the numbers sold, especially to private individuals, but I do feel that it is fully justified with respect to what it purchases.

As a final thought, I just hope that there isn't someone else out there still working away on their own in-depth coverage of reputed sightings and encounters of living moas – because, now that Spittle's Moa Sightings is in print, I'm afraid you're too late!

Standing alongside a life-sized Dinornis moa statue in Auckland, when I visited New Zealand in 2006 (Dr Karl Shuker)

A shortened version of this review of mine appears in Fortean Times, No. 283 (January 2012).

Thursday, 1 December 2011

SKY BEASTS, NOT SPACE CRAFT - UNMASKING THE UFOS?

'Cosmic Leap' – Sky medusae painting (Philippa Foster)


"Unknown, luminous things, or beings, have often been seen, sometimes close to this earth, and sometimes high in the sky. It may be that some of them were living things that occasionally come from somewhere else."

Charles Fort - Lo!


It has often been said that Nature abhors a vacuum – and evolution certainly does. Every conceivable niche upon planet Earth has been populated by life forms – on land, in freshwater and the seas, beneath layers of rock far below the earth’s surface, even buried within the formless ooze on the ocean beds and encircling their scorching water-spewing hydrothermal vents. Yet, inexplicably, there is one lone but vast ecological niche that has remained totally untouched by such animate activity – the rarefied atmospheric layers above and encompassing our world. True, insects, bacteria, birds, bats, and various other living entities spend varying extents of time in the sky, but there is no known life form that has evolved to live exclusively here, never venturing groundward except to die. There are no sky beasts, or cloud creatures – or are there?

One of the most intriguing UFO explanations on offer is that at least some of these elusive aerial entities are not alien spacecraft or anything else from beyond our planet. Instead, they are living creatures – huge, fast, and exceedingly fragile, but life forms nonetheless, highly-specialised for an absolute existence high above our earthbound domain. In my recent book Dr Shuker’s Casebook (2008), I devoted a lengthy chapter to this fascinating, but previously largely-forgotten scenario, which has helped to revive interest in the sky beast theory - one that, as will now be seen, is certainly greatly deserving of renewed attention.

Dr Shuker's Casebook (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008)


CRITTERS AHOY!

Down through the decades, a sky beast identity for UFOs has been championed by a number of writers and researchers, of which the most famous must surely be Trevor James Constable, who spent over 20 years investigating this subject, and published two books. The first of these, They Live in the Sky, came out in 1958, but the second, The Cosmic Pulse of Light, published in 1976 and then again, in abridged form, in 1978 as Sky Creatures: Living UFOs, brought this fascinating notion to a much wider audience than it had ever before reached.

Sky Creatures (1978) – Trevor James Constable

Constable considered the sky beasts – or ‘critters’, as he dubbed them – to resemble gigantic unicellular amoebae, but encased in a metallic or mica-like outer shell or capsule, and with the majority of their bodies composed of plasma, the fourth state of matter, comprising an ionised gas. Although some critters may be as small as a few centimetres, others could be several kilometres long, and remain hidden on most occasions from humans by virtue of their ability to reflect infra-red light, thus rendering them invisible to our eyes – except if they change colour, thereby temporarily reflecting light within the electromagnetic spectrum’s visible section.

Yet even if critters are usually beyond our range of vision, their presence can still be detected, for according to Constable they can actually be photographed – using infra-red film and appropriate filters. In his books, he published a number of photos depicting supposed critters snapped by him in the skies above California’s Mojave Desert, and one of his acolytes, Richard Toronto, duplicated Constable’s attempts in this same locality during 1977, obtaining similar pictures. Their photos have never been exposed as hoaxes (though Kodak representatives have suggested that Toronto’s critters may be nothing more exciting than dirty fingerprints and drying spots), and show several different morphological types. These include fusiform entities, giant amoeboid blobs, huge bladder-shaped objects, gigantic discs, and even some with curiously reptilian ‘beaks’. Moreover, cine-films taken by Constable show that these objects change shape as they move through the sky, and are luminous.


IN SEARCH OF IDEOPLASMS

Another dedicated supporter of the sky beast theory was John Philip Bessor, whose own interest in such a concept was in no small way inspired by Kenneth Arnold’s historic sighting on 24 June 1947 of a phalanx of nine UFOs while flying a Callair aeroplane near Mount Rainier in Washington State, USA. What fascinated Bessor in particular concerning this encounter (which heralded the modern-day wave of UFO interest and sightings worldwide) was Arnold’s belief that what he had seen were: “…living organisms, sort of like sky jellyfish” – far removed from today’s popular spacecraft image for UFOs.

Kenneth Arnold holding a sketch of one of the UFOs sighted by him


Bessor later stated that, in his view, UFOs were a form of living creature (which he christened an ideoplasm) composed of a highly attenuated substance, enabling them to materialise or dematerialise at will, utilising telekinetic energy for propulsion. As would be echoed by Constable in relation to his critters, Bessor opined that these entities must be capable of becoming visible, invisible, and changing colour, all very rapidly. He even submitted his thoughts to the U.S. Air Force, and, remarkably, was informed by them that they considered his notion to be “one of the most intelligent theories we have received” regarding the possible nature and identity of UFOs.

Yet another theory of sky beasts, proposed during this same era of thought regarding UFOs, was that of Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki. Authoring a number of articles on this subject, she deemed it plausible that such entities were enormous, glowing, stratosphere-inhabiting creatures resembling gargantuan bladders of colloidal silicones, containing a central core of insubstantial matter but otherwise composed predominantly of pure energy. She claimed that they appeared spherical when stationary but became fusiform when moving, and so diffuse at higher levels as to appear virtually invisible.

In addition, hydrophone inventor John M. Cage, commenting upon how closely the pursuit of aircraft by UFOs resembled that of dolphins with ships, suggested that some UFOs may be sentient beings feeding upon negative electricity. And in his book The Circlemakers (1992), veteran psychical investigator Andrew Collins speculated that perhaps some cropfield circles may be created by energy released by biological UFOs when swooping downwards from the skies.

'Guiding Lights' – a painting of biological UFOs flying over a cropfield circle (Philippa Foster)



FOO FIGHTERS, ANGELS, AND OTHER MINI-SKY BEASTS

Not all sky beasts may be enormous and often invisible. Certain much smaller and more readily discernible (but no less perplexing), luminous, spherical entities are on record that may also be variations upon the fundamental sky beast theme. Take, for instance, the foo fighters.

Usually white or red in colour, and highly animate, these small balls of light (BOLs) were (in)famous during World War II for appearing on the outside of aeroplanes in flight and dancing around them, to the bewilderment of their pilots. At first, the Allies and the Axis powers each thought that foo fighters were a secret weapon developed by the other side to detract fighter pilots from their missions – until eventually it was realised that British, American, French, German, and Japanese pilots were all seeing them! The most mystifying aspect, however, was these BOLs’ apparent ‘intelligence’, because they would swiftly move out of reach if the pilots tried to swat them, but would tenaciously pace alongside if the planes tried to out-fly them, and behaved in what can only be described as a playful, even inquisitive manner. Consequently, veteran BOL investigator Vincent Gaddis boldly proposed that perhaps foo fighters were indeed sentient entities, composed of pure energy yet possessing a basic level of intelligence, and supported earlier claims that UFOs were comparable, albeit much bigger, life forms – a view also subscribed to by Constable.

Archive photo of foo fighters near airborne planes during World War II

Interestingly, foo fighters could not be detected by radar. Moreover, a kind of converse foo fighter has also been reported. Known as gizmos or angels, these objects are small, rapidly moving, and again display suspiciously sentient behaviour, sometimes even flying in small groups moving in precise formations. Yet whereas gizmos do show up on radar, and exhibit a very characteristic, idiosyncratic trace pattern readily distinguishable from birds, aircraft, insects, ionised air masses, and other known airborne objects, they are invisible to the human eye.

Are BOLs living entities? (Philippa Foster)


SERPENTS OF THE SKY

Very different from sky beasts, big or small, are sky serpents or sky fishes, spasmodically reported from all around the world. One of the most famous examples was the so-called ‘sky eel’ viewed by countless eyewitnesses during two successive nights in early September 1891 in the sky above Crawfordsville, Indiana. It was said to wriggle like a swimming fish, was white, luminous, and measured approximately 6 m long. Hovering around 100 m above the ground, but sometimes swooping even lower, it wheezed loudly and emitted hot air, but lacked any discernible head or tail. The Crawfordsville sky eel was subsequently 'explained' as a flock of killdeer (a species of plover).

A huge entity resembling a writhing serpent with yellow stripes was seen floating over a farm in Bonham, Texas, one day in June 1873. And in May 1888, a hissing counterpart was reported from Darlington County, South Carolina. Back in 1762, a twisting sky serpent was spied for six minutes as it illuminated from on high the Devon town of Bideford on 5 December. More recently, in March 1935, a Scandinavian sky serpent was reported over southern Norway and Denmark, and in December of that same year another one was witnessed twice in the sky above Cruz Alta, Brazil.

The most popular explanation for these is that they are meteorological phenomena known as fire drakes - on account of their fiery countenance and superficially dragonesque form - caused by charged particles accelerated in solar flares and diverted by the Earth’s magnetic field, so that they enter the upper atmosphere, yielding streams of wavering light. Nevertheless, in some reports the eyewitnesses were convinced that what they had seen was a bona fide living creature.

Sky dragon – merely a meteorological phenomenon, or something more?


STAR ROT, OR DEAD SKY BEASTS?

A mysterious phenomenon that has been recorded for centuries but never fully explained is star rot, also known as pwdre ser or gelatinous meteors. As its last-mentioned name suggests, often what appears to be a meteor or shooting star is seen streaming across the sky, then later, at the site where it is thought to have landed, samples of a strange jelly-like substance are found. Samples of this star rot that have been formally analysed have unmasked a diversity of identities, including various species of algae, fungi, slime moulds, and even the semi-digested remains of food regurgitated by birds. However, some samples have defied identification, and others have quite literally disappeared even as they were being collected, leaving behind nothing more than an odd smell or a greasy trace to verify their erstwhile existence.

Pwdre ser (CFZ)


Perhaps the most dramatic explanation for these more mystifying samples of star rot, as suggested by Bessor, is that they are actually the mortal remains of sky beasts that have died and plummeted downwards from their lofty abode in the sky to the ground far below, leaving nothing more than transient masses of jelly as corpses, with the earlier-spied streams of light in the sky the release of their dying bodies’ energy.


LEGLESS IN NEW GUINEA

When skins of New Guinea’s exotically-plumed birds of paradise were first brought back to Europe, in 1522, naturalists were very surprised to discover that they did not possess flesh, blood, bones, or feet. Consequently, they mistakenly deduced that these gorgeous, ethereal-looking, and seemingly near-weightless birds spent their whole lives permanently airborne, feeding upon an ambrosial diet of nectar and dew like feathered sylphs, descending earthward only to die. In reality, however, as they subsequently discovered, the reason for these birds’ insubstantial nature was that when preparing their skins for sale, the New Guinea natives routinely but with great skill removed all of their bodies’ fleshy parts, leaving only their feathers, wings, head, and beak!

Greater bird of paradise – scientifically named Paradisea apoda ('footless') in recognition of the erstwhile, erroneous belief that these birds genuinely lacked feet and were permanently airborne


MYSTERY OF THE RODS

Often cited as examples of atmospheric creatures, rods are cylindrical objects, often just a few centimetres long but sometimes much bigger, with wings or a rapidly-undulating lateral membrane. These enigmatic objects cannot be seen with the naked eye but have frequently been photographed and filmed, their most notable researcher, José Escamilla, having done so many times. Likened by believers in their status as unknown life forms to flying centipedes, rods have been dismissed by sceptics as camera artefacts, digital distortions, and known, living creatures such as insects or even birds. Arguments have raged for years, but in May-June 2005, research staff at China’s Tonghua Zhenguo Pharmaceutical Company provided a satisfactory solution. Setting up huge collecting nets, they filmed many rods flying inside them, but when they then inspected these nets’ contents, all that they found were moths and other insects. Subsequent investigation revealed that their filmed rods were artefacts – normal insects ‘transformed’ into rods by an optical illusion resulting from their video camera’s slow recording speed. It is now believed that what is happening is that when a fast-flying insect such as a moth is filmed by video equipment, its wings move too rapidly to produce a clean image. Instead, a time-lapse of its wings occurs, which yields the mysterious wings or undulating membrane of the rod, with the rod itself being the time-lapsed body of the flying moth. If so, and it certainly seems the most plausible explanation, we can spare the rod from any further consideration as a bona fide cryptid of any kind, let alone one of sky beast relevance or affinity.

A selection of rod types


SKY BEASTS ON JUPITER?

In 1977, Cornell University astrophysicist Dr E.E. Salpeter and eminent astronomer Prof. Carl Sagan published a paper in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement outlining their thoughts on the possible presence of life on Jupiter, and the likely forms that it may take, existing amidst this gargantuan gas planet's clouds. They concluded that much of whatever life might indeed reside there may well parallel the ecology of Earth's ocean fauna - yielding Jovian equivalents to our plankton, fishes, and larger fish-eating marine predators (turtles, sharks, etc), and which the two scientists have termed sinkers, floaters, and hunters respectively.

A fractal picture of space jellyfish

Salpeter and Sagan postulated that they could be enormous sac-like organisms, filled with helium, and propelling themselves through the planet's atmosphere by controlled expulsion of this gas from their bodies. However, they did not consider these airborne balloon-like beasts to be wholly conjectural. In fact, they suggested that the presence of such creatures (perhaps even attaining a total diameter of many miles in the case of the Jovian 'hunters') may explain the frequent occurrence over the planet of clearly-perceived areas of red colouration.

The two scientists hoped that this prospect could be examined by the close-up cameras that would be focused upon Jupiter by the U.S.'s Mariner 11 and 12 space probes after their launch later in 1977, but no evidence to support the existence of these (or any other) Jovian life forms was found. Even so, the ideas of Salpeter and Sagan remain plausible relative to the likely nature of life on that huge gaseous world, should any truly exist there. Back in 1971, moreover, the scenario of colossal sky jellyfishes on Jupiter had been the basis for one of Arthur C. Clarke's most famous science-fiction stories, 'A Meeting With Medusa'.

'A Meeting With Medusa' – Arthur C. Clarke

More recently, in 2005, the concept of a carnivorous species of space jellyfish invading Earth and causing havoc was the basis of a decidedly strange Japanese science-fiction film, 'Dogora'.

'Dogora'



FINAL THOUGHTS: SKY BEASTS AS STRATOSPHERIC FISHES?

If a pebble is thrown into a pool, its fishes and other occupants flee in all directions, but soon venture back to see what had caused the disturbance. Several sky beast investigators claim that the same principle explains sightings of UFOs. Sometimes they are coming down towards earth to feed upon energy released by energy-releasing sources such as TV transmitters, power stations, etc. In addition, and again like aquatic creatures, which migrate to deeper levels to avoid weather-related disturbance at the water surface, perhaps the sky beasts migrate vertically downwards to avoid bad weather in higher atmospheric strata. On other occasions, however, could their appearances at lower levels be due to simple curiosity regarding disruptions to their airy kingdom caused by those pesky terrestrial creatures known as Homo sapiens sending all manner of strange objects skyward? As I noted in Dr Shuker’s Casebook:

"For millions of years, the upper reaches of the sky have remained sacrosanct from contact by the realms of land and sea below. Here, according to the sky beast theory, these metrically vast but materially insubstantial entities have evolved in supreme isolation, unsullied and undisturbed by events on Earth. Since the early 20th Century, however, aeroplanes have roared on silver wings through the sky beasts’ cathedrals of clouds, rockets have surged relentlessly upwards like volleys of scorching arrows, and nuclear explosions have spewed forth their deadly emissions in bilious contempt upon the once-immaculate roof of the world. Is it any wonder, therefore, as argued by Cage and the Countess, that UFO sightings are increasing? The sky beasts are cautiously venturing down, to discover what is happening in the frenetic zones far beneath their own languid kingdoms of air and space."

Sky beasts (Tim Morris)