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!

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

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

BIRDS OF LORE - INTRODUCING A SPECTACULAR NEW PUBLICATION DEVOTED TO FABULOUS ORNITHOLOGY!

Front cover of Birds of Lore (© Ryan Durney)

World mythology is brimming with legendary, fabulous birds and other avian entities of every conceivable kind, of which a few have become globally famous, such as the roc or rukh, the phoenix, the harpy, the simurgh, Garuda, and the Chinese feng-huang. The vast majority, conversely, have attracted far less attention, and in many cases have never even been the subjects of noteworthy illustrations.

Mboi tui (© Audrey Durney)

Happily, however, this sad situation is soon to change – thanks to a truly spectacular multi-contributor art project entitled Birds of Lore. It was conceived by award-winning, full-time freelance illustrator Ryan Durney from Austin, Texas, who has teamed up with his wife Audrey (also a degree-accredited, working illustrator) and a host of highly-talented guest artists, all of whom share a common desire to create, quite simply, the finest, most sumptuous bestiary of birds ever produced. And judging from the samples of their work from this major project that I have seen so far – a selection of which Ryan has very kindly permitted me to reproduce exclusively here in ShukerNature (thanks, Ryan!) – they are well on their way to accomplishing this heady goal.

Cu bird (© Audrey Durney)

Birds of Lore is being produced via the Kickstarter crowdfunding model (click http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2131320650/birds-of-lore for full details, including video interviews with its creators and samples of their exquisite artwork for it, and also if you wish to contribute financially to its creation), and its central theme is an extremely original, compelling one.

Kinnaree (© Wednesday Kirwan)

The book's narrator is a mystery-enshrouded figure known only as 'The Mythologist', who scours the world in search of every mythological bird or feathered entity ever reported. During his search, he describes each one via a short story that also contains all of the information on record concerning it.

The Chakora birds (© Ryan Durney)

However, he is frequently surprised to discover that these exotic species are not always as he had assumed them to be from their documented lore, and he often finds himself threatened by ferocious avian monsters. Fortunately, balancing out those dangers, he is sometimes lured by beautiful birds into other dimensions (some investigators have all the luck!).

The last harpy (© Ryan Durney)

From the last harpy (no longer bloodthirsty but now the melancholy prisoner of a royal family), and the wing-eared wila of Polish folklore (revealed to be a scornful force of Nature), to the peacock demon of Sri Lanka (inspired, incidentally, by my very own wall mask of this particular entity – click here to see it), and the tiny but decidedly creepy Chakora birds of Hindu legend that dwell in a pocket dimension, there can be no doubt that Birds of Lore will be the definitive illustrated work on mythological birds.

Sri Lankan peacock demon (© David Jernigan)

And thanks to Ryan recently encountering my ShukerNature post regarding it (click here) via a Mysterious Universe podcast, even Britain's extraordinary bat-winged monkey-bird is included – and here's Ryan's vibrant illustration:

Bat-winged monkey-bird (© Ryan Durney)

Moreover, Ryan has told me that he sees Birds of Lore as an extraordinarily beautiful work of art in its own right that he hopes everyone will want to keep on their bookshelf for a lifetime.

A spread of illustrated text from Birds of Lore (© Ryan Turney)

If it fulfils the promise shown by the exquisite examples from its pages included here, I for one will definitely retain it on mine, quite possibly under lock and key, to ensure no-one ever removes it from my sight!

Wila (© Ryan Durney)

As noted earlier, if you wish to contribute financially to the production of this stunning publication, and obtain all manner of exclusive rewards in return, please click here – but time is running out, so do it now, before this unique opportunity to become a part of Birds of Lore is gone forever!

Hercinia (© Audrey Durney)

And while you're reading through the updates re Birds of Lore there, I'd just like to mention that the final update, to be posted in a few days time, is a surprise pop-reference/myth cross-over. I'll just say two words: winged turtle – and leave you to guess the rest!

Jingwei (© Socar Myles)

Please note: all illustrations included in this ShukerNature post are © Birds of Lore, and must NOT be reproduced anywhere without written permission from Ryan Durney.

The wila's leonine companion (© Ryan Durney)

Friday, 24 August 2012

MYSTERY OF THE MINARET SKULL - A MISLAID BIGFOOT RELIC?



One day in August 1965, while backpacking in the vicinity of California's Minaret Mountains, retired physician Dr Robert W. Denton from Bishop, California, assisted a Mexican farm worker in hauling his mule out of a muddy bog at Hemlock Crossing near the bank of the San Joaquin River, and as the mule struggled free its flailing hooves uncovered a large bowl-shaped object in the mud. When Denton examined it, he found that it was a calvarium - the top and rear portion of a skull - which looked humanoid, but unusual in shape and size.

Dr Denton forwarded this odd calvarium to pathologist Dr Gerald K. Ridge at Ventura County General Hospital for examination. On 29 September 1965, Ridge replied, noting:

"[The calvarium]...turned into a rather interesting specimen largely by virtue of the unusual length of the skull as well as a very unusual development of the nuchal ridge [a bony cranial ridge or crest to which the jaw muscles are attached] in the occipital zone. This latter fact for a time had me thinking this must be the skull of some anthropoid species other than human, inasmuch as this amount of nuchal ridge development had not been observed by me."

In his letter, Ridge also revealed that he had shown the calvarium to two colleagues - Drs Jack Prost and Herman Bleibtreul (spelt 'Bleibtreu' in some accounts) - in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles campus). Both researchers were similarly surprised by the extent of nuchal ridge development exhibited by the calvarium. Nevertheless:

"Their conclusions were quite definitely that this is the calvarium of a young human, but that it represents that of an Indian [male], the remains very probably having been in the matrix or adjacent area for many, many years...with no indications of any medico-legal import."



Ridge had allowed Bleibtreul to retain the calvarium, but was given a receipt for it, and informed Denton that the two anthropologists had expressed an interest in ascertaining its precise provenance, in case it was an area that had not been investigated archaeologically in recent years. On 10 December 1965, Denton duly forwarded a map of the locality to Ridge - after which the promising case of the Minaret skull came to an abrupt, mystifying end.

In August 1973, while researching for his forthcoming book, Bigfoot (co-authored with B. Anne Slate), bigfoot investigator Alan Berry met Denton. Learning about the Minaret calvarium, he was both intrigued that Ridge had entertained the notion of it being from some form of anthropoid, and very surprised to hear that Denton had never received any reply or further information after posting off his map to Denton almost eight years earlier. Was it conceivable that this strange cranial portion had been part of a bona fide bigfoot skull?

Anxious to find out more, Berry elected to pursue the case himself, and began by contacting Ridge, but he too had not heard anything more about it. Moreover, enquiries made directly, as well as via an anthropologist colleague, to UCLA regarding the calvarium's current whereabouts also drew a complete blank. Clay A. Singer, a technician at the museum of UCLA's Department of Anthropology, attempted a thorough search of the records and collections for any clues, but again without success. As for Bleibtreul and Prost (both of whom had left UCLA by then): according to Berry's documentation of this very curious affair in Bigfoot (1976), neither of them claimed to have any memory of the calvarium.

When Berry mentioned to Bleibtreul that Ridge had obtained a receipt from him after leaving the calvarium with him back in September 1965, however, Bleibtreul was able to recollect it, and revealed that although a search had been planned at the site of its discovery for further relics, it had never actually taken place. As for the calvarium itself, Bleibtreul was convinced that it had indeed been catalogued and retained in UCLA's collections, and he promised to investigate the matter, but when he spoke with Berry again in May 1974 he announced that he had not succeeded in locating it.



Matt Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) is also interested in the peculiar history of the Minaret skull, after first learning about it in 1988 while attending UCLA as a student, and he raises some salient points regarding it on his website. Bleibtreul had revealed to Berry that although he and Prost believed the calvarium to be from an ancient native American, they were puzzled that it did not correspond with any known population from that area. Moreover, while conversing with Berry, Ridge had described this anomalous specimen as "a rather massive piece of bone of peculiar shaping".

Yet when Moneymaker queried UCLA anthropologist Professor Ted Rasmusen concerning how ancient native Americans and modern Americans compared, Professor Rasmusen revealed that for dietary reasons the former are normally smaller than the latter. He added: "It's possible for an ancient Indian to have a skull larger than a modern, six-foot-tall, Anglo Saxon male, but it's uncommon...not unknown, but very uncommon".

In view of this, the conclusion by Bleibtreul and Prost that the calvarium was from a young ancient Indian is somewhat mystifying - as is the calvarium's pronounced nuchal ridge. In any event, as Rasmusen also noted, it would be very difficult to ascertain an individual's race merely from a calvarium; such identifications normally require facial bones and teeth.

And what of the biggest mystery of all - the Minaret skull's current whereabouts? After speaking with a friend who had been a graduate student in UCLA's History Department and had spent one summer working in the off-campus museum annexe building at Chatsworth, California, Moneymaker considers this huge specimen-packed warehouse to be the likeliest locality for the cryptic calvarium. However, he concedes that it would be no easy task to persuade anyone to search through such an extensive array of material specifically for it.

Yet even if a portion of a bigfoot skull really does lurk unrecognised and uncatalogued within the museum collections of UCLA, it would certainly not be unprecedented. As I have revealed in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012), there are many case histories on record of a major new species having been 'discovered' not in the field but in some museum collection, following an alert, informed researcher's examination of a hitherto overlooked or misidentified specimen. Perhaps one day, therefore, history will repeat itself yet again, and divulge another zoological surprise.

Speaking of which...

Mock-up of dustjacket of a future book...? (Dr Karl Shuker/William Rebsamen)

Click here to watch a YouTube video uploaded by 4jaimeavalos on 23 August 2009 in which Dr Robert W. Denton recalls his discovery of the Minaret Skull back in 1965 and offers his opinions concerning this enigmatic object. Many thanks indeed to Kenneth Joholske for very kindly bringing the video to my attention!

All bigfoot/sasquatch illustrations included here are © William Rebsamen - thanks Bill!


This ShukerNature post originally appeared as a small section in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopaedia of the Inexplicable (Carlton: London, 1999). Have there been any further developments regarding its subject - the Minaret Skull - since then? If so, I'd be delighted to receive further information.


Holding a bigfoot footprint cast obtained in Washington State, 1982 (Dr Karl Shuker)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

THE TOP TEN PARANORMAL BEASTS IN BRITAIN - HORSE-MEN, HORNED CATS, AND OTHER HORRORS!

The Green Drive Beast (© Sam Shearon)


In modern times, Britain – reputedly the world’s most haunted country – has seen more than even its fair share of monstrous creatures reported, beasts assuredly more supernatural than natural. So here, in no particular order, is my own personal Top Ten paranormal terrors of the zooform kind (i.e. seemingly preternatural entities superficially resembling corporeal creatures). Encounter them at your peril!


HORSE-MEN OF THE APOCALYPSE?

One late evening in 1994, the husband of correspondent Nicky Knott was driving home through King’s Lynn, Norfolk, down a lonely rural back road when he saw a large creature in a field to his right. As it moved closer, it seemed to be a horse, with equine body and four legs, but its observer was horrified to see that it had the face of a man! Terrified, Knott slammed his foot on the accelerator and sped away, and even though he was sure that the ‘thing’ was pursuing him he never once looked back till he reached home. Amazingly, this is not a unique case. Back in spring 1966, a creature fitting this same bizarre, man-faced, horse-bodied description was encountered in the road ahead as Margaret Johnson and her boyfriend John Farrell were driving past the estate of Lord Dillon in County Louth, Ireland, blocking their way for a couple of minutes and emanating palpable malevolence before abruptly vanishing. Could it have been a pooka – Ireland’s evil supernatural goblin horse?

Horse-man (Richard Svensson)


BEWARE OF BIG-EYES!

During the mid-1950s, writer Joan Forman had spent time teaching at the school in the Kentish village of Goodhurst. One early morning during the summer holidays, when few others were there, she had awoken from sleep in her room, alone within the school building’s oldest section, and was shocked to see a grotesque creature crouching on the floor to the left of her bed, glowing slightly in the darkness and gazing at her with what she considered to be an unblinking stare of outright evil and obscenity. It was about the size of a large cat or corgi dog, but its most striking feature were its huge eyes, which she likened to those of a nocturnal lemur. She lay there, rendered immobile by its seemingly mocking, revolting stare for some time, before, with the onset of dawn, it slowly faded away, and the intense coldness that until then had filled the room vanished with it. Years later, she learned that her successor at the school also witnessed this entity, but in a different bedroom.


A WEIRDLING CALLED WOLFIE

One of the weirdest creatures ever encountered in Britain was nicknamed Wolfie by the Lawson children who first saw it, but it was like no wolf – or anything else, for that matter – ever reported. The Lawson family lived in Abbey House, Cambridge, from 1904 to 1910, during which time Wolfie was spied on many occasions by the children, and even once at close range by their father as it sped down a corridor. According to their descriptions, Wolfie superficially resembled a very large, brown-furred, short-eared hare but with some notable additional attributes – always running on its hindlegs, sporting a pair of flipper-like front paws, and equipped with a long bird-like beak. Wolfie was mostly seen on the ground floor and at twilight, or in the drawing room when lit by lamplight, but even when not observed its presence was readily evinced by the distinctive pattering sound of its footsteps. Wolfie was also encountered by Charmian, the daughter of the Sharp family, who moved into Abbey House in 1920, and in 1947 a mysterious “tiny doggie” was reported in the kitchen by the young son of Celia Schofield, a friend of the then tenant. Although Wolfie did not seem to be malign in any way, its zoologically impossible form, if described accurately, indicates that this inexplicable entity must surely have been paranormal rather than corporeal in nature.

Wolfie (Richard Svensson)


THE VAMPIRE CATERPILLAR OF EDINBURGH

Some zooform phenomena, like Wolfie, seem so bizarre that they defy belief, let alone categorisation, yet their eyewitnesses vehemently affirm that they were real. Another notable example is the entity that Godfrey H. Anderson claimed to have spied on 23 November 1904 while walking along a street in Edinburgh, Scotland. Suddenly, he saw a grotesque 'something' rise out of the gutter and spring up at the throat of a horse. According to Anderson's description, cited in Creatures of the Outer Edge (1978) by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, the horse's weird attacker was:

"[a] vague black shape about four feet long and two and a half feet high...[it was shaped] like an hourglass and moved like a huge caterpillar."

The horse reared up in terror, and as it did so its assailant vanished.


LONDON’S HORNED DEMON CAT

One evening in October 1943 during a World War II bombing session inflicted upon London by German aircraft, air-raid volunteer Howard Leland took shelter inside a derelict house, but as he sat at the foot of its staircase he sensed a presence nearby. Shining his torch up the stairs, he was petrified to spy a huge tabby-striped cat sitting crouched at the very top, gazing down at him with demonic eyes – a cat whose skull sprouted a pair of sharp pointed horns! Rooted to the spot with fear, Leland could only watch as this monstrous entity leaped down into the room below, but it vanished before it landed, so that only its spine-chilling yowl echoed in the shadows. Leland consulted renowned clairvoyant John Pendragon, who placed his finger on the house’s precise location on a map, only for his mind to be filled with swirling images of hate-filled cats and an image of a man about to hang himself. Leland made enquiries about this house, learning that others had seen the horned cat, and, significantly, that it had once been inhabited by a practitioner of black magic, who had sacrificed several cats during one foul ritual, but had become deranged, hanging himself from the top of the staircase. Pendragon concluded that the giant horned cat was an elemental, conjured into being by the restless, fury-fuelled ghosts of the slain cats, and which may persist there indefinitely. For a full ShukerNature account of this scary (as opposed to scaredy!) cat, click here.

Horned demon cat (Tim Morris)


A BONELESS TERROR

There are many British folktales telling of encounters with an eerie amorphous entity, animate and sinister, variously nicknamed ‘Boneless’ or simply ‘It’. One moonlit September night during the 1950s, however, railwayman John Davies was riding his motorbike back home to his cottage in Derbyshire’s Longdendale Valley when he saw what appears to have been a bona fide Boneless crossing the road not far ahead. Moments earlier, he had felt an uncanny, seemingly reasonless compulsion to brake, and as he did so he spied what looked like a huge black slug sliding across the road and up the moor, making a scraping noise as its massive but near-shapeless form moved along. Up closer, it looked a little like a massive whale, and even possessed an eye-like structure, and Davies later learnt that it had been seen by others. One such observer was a friend of Davies, who had seen it sliding across the valley below Ogden Clough, where it was also observed on a separate occasion by another of his friends. Both of them were convinced that whatever it was, it was definitely evil, and both had fled in panic after spying it.


THE LEVITATING WHITE DOG OF RICHMOND PARK

Phantasmal Black Dogs are widely reported in Britain; less familiar, conversely, but by no means unknown, are comparable reports of preternatural White Dogs, of which the following is certainly among the most remarkable on file. One evening during the early 1950s, a soldier was returning to his army camp, based inside London’s Richmond Park, when he was startled to see several deer running past him in a panic-stricken state. He was even more startled, however, when he saw that they were being pursued by an enormous pure-white dog with huge teeth – but which, instead of bounding across the ground like any typical earthbound dog, was racing through the air, about half a metre above the ground! For another ShukerNature post re White Dogs (aka Fairy Hounds in Celtic mythology), click here.

Richmond Park's levitating white dog (C. Martin)


A HARPY OF THE HIGHLANDS?

According to Highland legend, on the eve of the historic battle of Culloden in 1746, a hideous winged apparition called the skree appeared in the sky, emitting spine-chilling shrieks and hovering above a detachment of soldiers. It was said to resemble a monstrous bird but with a human head, black leathery wings, and burning red eyes – in other words, a Caledonian counterpart of the harpies from Greek mythology! Moreover, one of its claimed eyewitnesses was none other than Lord General Murray. Although this story is largely dismissed by historians, at least two additional skree appearances have been documented. One was on 22 May 1915, when this veritable bird of ill-omen appeared over Larbert railway station just as a major party of Royal Scots men and officers were about to board their train. So shocked were they by this grotesque entity that the men had to be forced to board at gunpoint by their officers; later that day, the train crashed, killing or injuring many of its passengers. Most recently, during summer 1993, a skree-like creature was reportedly spied on a mist-shrouded outcrop of rock by two lost hill walkers in Glencoe.


ON THE LOOSE IN LYTHAM ST ANNE’S

Highly-acclaimed graphics-fantasy artist Sam Shearon (click here to visit his spectacular artwork's Mister-Sam Facebook page) has long been interested in cryptozoology, but little expected that in 2005 he would have the chance to investigate a truly bizarre beast in his very own hometown of Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire. As I learnt from Sam when he kindly shared his files on this entity with me, it all began during late April 2005, in the town’s wooded beauty spot of Green Drive, when a mysterious snarling creature initially likened to a large collie with very big pricked ears, a sizeable mouth, light-coloured fur, and a strange lolloping gait was spied there. Other reports soon emerged, but descriptions of the beast became ever stranger, with one eyewitness comparing it with a surreal giant hare, and another describing it as “like a monster out of Doctor Who”! When word of this extraordinary creature reached Sam, he lost no time in interviewing a number of eyewitnesses, and then prepared a highly-detailed illustration of it, based upon their accounts, which appeared in media reports worldwide and is also reproduced here in this ShukerNature post with Sam's kind permission. He also established a dedicated website for documenting sightings. Suggestions as to what the Green Drive Beast might be as put forward by the general public ranged from a lost greyhound or an escapee wallaby to a mystery big cat, or even a far-from-home chupacabra! A number of wildlife experts were also consulted as to the creature’s likely identity, but were baffled, eventually suggesting that it may be a muntjac.

Reeves's muntjac (Margoz/Wikipedia)

Alternatively known as barking deer, muntjac are not native to Britain. However, escapee specimens from captivity of Reeves's muntjac Muntiacus reevesi (native to China) have established thriving populations in several regions of the country, and are notable for their large, fang-like canine teeth – an incongruous feature for deer. In general appearance, however, these small, elusive bambi-like animals display scant similarity to Green Drive’s mystery beast. Eventually, sightings and interest in the Green Drive enigma faded, but in September 2007 a very old, mange-ridden fox bearing a superficial resemblance to certain descriptions of the beast was captured there, reviving interest, and later being dubbed by the media as the correct explanation. Yet how a very sick, elderly fox found two years after the classic sightings of a much more vibrant, larger creature can be deemed to be one and the same as the latter is as mystifying as the beast itself. In any event, Sam’s stunning picture of the 2005 Green Drive Beast remains as vibrant testimony of its erstwhile existence, regardless of its identity.

The Green Drive Beast, clearly no muntjac! (© Sam Shearon)


A LAKE DISTRICT DEVA?

While visiting the Lake District, Cumbria, in June 1922, theosophist Geoffrey Hodson claimed to have witnessed an astonishing being that he believed to have been a deva or nature spirit. According to his description of what he had seen, it was an enormous bat-like entity, brilliant crimson in colour with a human face and burning piercing eyes that fixed themselves upon him as its wings stretched out over the mountainside, before sinking into the hillside and disappearing. It later reappeared before him, but now in much smaller form, this time standing a ‘mere’ 3-4 m high.


It’s not every day that you encounter a malevolent horse-man, a demonic horned cat, or a murderous vampire caterpillar in modern-day Britain, but as can be seen from the above accounts, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility either! So next time you’re out and about, keep your eyes open – sometimes, the unknown and the inexplicable can be a lot nearer than you think!

Sam Shearon, primary investigator of the Green Drive Beast (© Sam Shearon)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

MYSTERY OF THE VENEZUELAN POODLE MOTH - HAVE YOU SEEN THIS INSECT??

A furry mystery – the 'Venezuelan poodle moth' (© Dr Arthur Anker, aka artour_a/Flickr)


As cryptozoology enthusiasts will readily testify, just a few weeks ago the internet was awash with dazzling but highly deceptive photographs of black lions. Now, the latest animal photo to beguile and bewilder everyone online is this one.

On 21 August 2012, Facebook friend David Laslett drew my attention to the eyecatching and exceedingly interesting photograph opening this present ShukerNature blog post. He explained that the photo had lately appeared all over the internet, and was labelled as 'the Venezuelan poodle moth'. Yet in spite of this insect's memorable name and very unusual appearance, and although he had spent a considerable time online attempting to identify it, David had not been able to find out anything whatsoever concerning it, not even its scientific name – only ever more copies of this same photograph and the same name applied to its furry-limbed, white-winged subject.

Greatly intrigued, David asked me if I knew this moth's species and whether I could trace any information regarding it. And so, without further ado, and as Sherlock Holmes might well have said in such a situation, the game was afoot!

I love a challenge!!

It was a species that I'd never seen before, so I spent quite a time researching its photograph, its name, and its supposed provenance (Venezuela) online, but, just as David had reported, nothing! The photo had appeared on many websites recently, but with no additional details. Consequently, as someone who has exposed various hoax wildlife photographs in the past, such as those purportedly depicting genuine black lions (click here to see my investigation of those) and multi-headed cobras (click here for my investigation of those), I naturally began to wonder whether the poodle moth was the Photoshopped creation of a poodle-faker!

Larvae of the poodle moth?!! A pair of delightful dogerpillars, courtesy of Photoshop

Happily, however, I was proven wrong, because eventually I traced the photographer responsible for this enigmatic snapshot, and discovered that he was a bona fide zoologist called Dr Arthur Anker (or Art for short), from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, who had snapped this picture plus many additional (and equally breathtaking) photographs of Venezuelan insects and other wildlife while visiting Venezuela during the winter of 2008/9.

These photographs formed just one set of numerous spectacular images that Art has taken while visiting tropical rainforests and other exotic locations worldwide, and which he has placed in photosets on the Flickr website (his Flickr user name is artour_a).

His poodle moth photograph was snapped on 1 January 2009, and appears in his 'Venezuelan Gran Sabana' photoset (click here) and also in his 'Neotropical Moths' photoset (click here). However, he had not included a scientific name for it, merely 'Poodle moth, Venezuela', together with details of the camera and photo-settings used when taking this particular macro-photograph. These were: NIKON E8700, f/6.6, 1/4000 sec, 27.3mm, ISO 50.

When I emailed Art to ask if he knew this moth's species, he informed me that he did not, and he also revealed that no other zoologist he'd spoken to knew either. Indeed, no-one had even been able to name its genus! As for its common name, conversely, Art informed me that it was he who had thought up the apt and very memorable name of 'poodle moth' for it.

An 1853 engraving of tiger moths - familiar members of the family Arctiidae (Pierre Auguste Joseph Drapiez)

Conducting some more internet searches regarding this moth, which by now had seriously begun to fascinate and frustrate me in equal measure, I came upon a few sites claiming that it was actually the muslin moth Diaphora mendica, a member of the lepidopteran family Arctiidae, which also houses the familiar tiger moths and ermine moths. There are even photos of the muslin moth online that have been labelled as poodle moths. Yet although the muslin moth bears a superficial similarity to the poodle moth, it is less furry and, in any case, is exclusively Palaearctic in distribution.

One photo in particular that has been copied on a number of websites and labelled as the Venezuelan poodle moth is this one:

Muslin moth Diaphora mendica (© DrPhotoMoto/Flickr)

Happily, however, its original photographer, whose Flickr name is DrPhotoMoto, included within its description its species' correct identification as D. mendica (though he did also dub it as both the muslin moth and the poodle moth), and he noted that it had been snapped by him on 20 May 2009 in Richmond County, North Carolina.

But could Art's Venezuelan poodle moth be a related, Neotropical species? In fact, there are over 6000 Neotropical species within Arctiidae, so this is certainly a plausible possibility.

Nevertheless, here is where the trail goes cold, as I have been unable to uncover any further information appertaining to Venezuela's very perplexing little lepidopteran.

So: Do you know its scientific name, or at least the genus in which it belongs? Is it indeed a member of Arctiidae, or are its taxonomic affinities elsewhere? Could it even be a species still undescribed by science? Thousands of new insects are discovered every year in the South American rainforests, so it would be by no means unusual if Art's Venezuelan poodle moth proved to be one too.

If anyone can shed any light on the identity of this charming mystery moth, I'd love to hear from you. I will also pass on any details to Art, who has very kindly permitted me to prepare this ShukerNature blog post and include his singularly intriguing photograph in it – thanks, Art!

Another photograph of Diaphora mendica, the muslin moth (© entomart/Wikipedia)


UPDATE: 28 August 2012

Since I posted this ShukerNature article documenting my investigation of it, the Venezuelan poodle moth has gone viral! Countless websites have reported it, and yesterday the following GrindTV Blog report, containing reference to mine, was majored by Yahoo:

http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/blog/34608/moth+that+looks+like+a+poodle+has+internet+abuzz+bizarre+photos/?fb_action_ids=4541382020406&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

And today, again containing reference to my ShukerNature article, the following online report was posted by NBC News!

http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/27/13510167-bizarre-poodle-moth-fascinates-and-frightens-the-masses-online?lite

Suddenly, this furry little insect has become one of the cutest critters on the planet!

Not only that, however, but at last we have a clearer idea of its taxonomic affinities, thanks to the following highly informative email that I received a few hours ago from Dr John E. Rawlins, Curator and Chair, Section of Invertebrate Zoology, Assistant Director of Research and Collections, Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, USA, and which Dr Rawlins has very kindly permitted me to include here:

"Here’s my vote/guess to ID the poodle moth. The antenna is distinctive.

Lasiocampidae: Artace or a related genus, probably not Artace cribraria (presumably North America to Argentina, but nobody has revised this group from Mexico south). There are more than a dozen described South American species of Artace, but their delimitation, validity, and even their generic placement is uncertain. It will take two things to solve this problem: a comprehensive revision of Artace and kin, plus an actual specimen of a genuine “Venezuelan poodle moth.”

Definitely NOT Lymantriidae or Arctiidae, but easily confused with some Megalopygidae, Limacodidae, even Dalceridae, and Cossidae.

Yes….it is cute.

Good luck, Karl, and have fun!"

Lasiocampidae contains the eggar or lappet moths, and includes such familiar and beautiful species as the oak eggar Lasiocampa quercus (native to the UK and continental Europe), and the dot-lined white Artace cribraria noted above by Dr Rawlins. They are also commonly termed snout moths, as in some species their unusually protuberant mouthparts can resemble a snout.

Oak eggar

Of course, as Dr Rawlins stressed in a second email to me today, the question of the poodle moth's specific identity remains tentative until a specimen can be obtained to examine or, better still, a living moth to observe. This is something, incidentally, that I have pointed out on numerous occasions and to numerous persons in relation to cryptozoology - without a physical specimen to study, it is both impossible and, quite frankly, ridiculous to attempt to classify or state with certainty what a cryptid is; we can only ever offer opinions as to what it may be.

Dr Rawlins also made some very pertinent, illuminating comments concerning why discovering the taxonomic identity of the Venezuelan poodle moth is so important, and which definitely bear repeating here:

"No problem, Karl; use information from me to do more of what you have been doing well - to increase an appreciation for biodiversity. It does matter what species of poodle moth this is!! If you thought the moth was cute, wait until you rear your first caterpillar!!!...You are doing good things in our world - keep doing them."

Thank you, Dr Rawlins! I shall definitely continue to do so!

The dot-lined white (al-ien/Flickr; and click here for more images of this species)


Monday, 20 August 2012

SOME OF MY FAVOURITE ANIMAL-RELATED VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE

'Angel of the Gods' unicorn painting (The Brothers Hildebrandt)


Over the years, I've watched countless videos on YouTube, including a very eclectic range of wildlife-related ones. So here, in no particular order, are thirty of what, for a wide variety of different reasons, are among my own particular favourites – I hope that you enjoy them too.


#1) Here is my all-time favourite animal video on YouTube:
Some people think that cats put on an act when humans are around, that in reality they're something quite different... If only we could catch them out - looks like someone finally has done just that! Watch this video and decide for yourself!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP3gzee1cps

#2) Everything comes to he who waits! Over 40 years ago, I saw a Western-style TV programme featuring a mysterious predatory 'monster' called a devil. Stirring my nascent cryptozoological interest, I was fascinated by it, and by its denouement - the 'monster' proved to be a huge wolverine, a creature I'd never heard of before. Until recently, I'd never been able to find out what that programme was, but I've now found it on YouTube! It was an episode called 'Forest Devil' from a show called 'The Monroes', which I've now watched again! Here's Part 1:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9q4qjulRiA&feature=related
And here is a ShukerNature post of mine concerning my long search to rediscover this elusive show.

#3) How tragic it is that such wonderful creatures as king cheetahs have no concept, no awareness, of just how beautiful and magical they are.
Then again, perhaps they do - after all, they are cats...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlFV2FOkxok

King Cheetah (Steve Jurvetson-Wikipedia)

#4) The definition of dogged persistence?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3d4YRNI81KA&NR=1

#5) Although this video presentation is rather different from the way in which I describe the discovery and lifestyle of Symbion pandora in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012), you just have to love it! A David Attenborough for future generations? You decide! Check it out at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm5G8iivcHk&feature=related

#6) Here is one of my all all-time favourite Walt Disney animation clips, from his peerless movie 'Fantasia' - this is the scene from the Pastoral section (music is from Beethoven's 'Pastoral Symphony') when the flying horses swoop down from the skies and land upon the water like equine swans, wonderful!! Apparently, Ray Harryhausen used this sequence as inspiration when choreographing the flight scene of Pegasus in 'Clash of the Titans'.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_EDBM1tOEo

Flying horses (Ezra Tucker)

#7) Who wants the X Factor when you can have the Aaaaaarhhh!!! Factor?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JBX13TOOrg

#8) Released by Cornell University, and filmed in 1956 in Mexico, this truly historic footage is the only known film of an imperial woodpecker Campephilus imperialis, the world's largest species but now presumed extinct.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0OCd6b1aXU&feature=related

Imperial woodpeckers (John L Ridgway)

#9) It's official! Frank & Louie the Janus cat (a cat with two faces) has gone global. Here is an Associated Press video re him on YouTube, celebrating his achievement in becoming (by miles!) the longest-surviving Janus cat ever!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--qHTGbAM6A&feature=youtu.be

#10) Read by Ron Perlman (who starred as the Beast, Vincent, in the cult fantasy TV show 'Beauty and the Beast'), 'This Is The Creature There Has Never Been' is probably the most beautiful poem ever written about the fabled unicorn. The poet was Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzKSxYo0YJE

Unicorn painting (Johfra Bosschart)

#11) 'Paradise', produced by the National Film Board of Canada - one of the most beautiful works of avian animation ever created, and including within it a truly sublime rendition of 'The Lonely Shepherd', performed on the panpipes by Gheorghe Zamfir.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQVYX1mAxu4

#12) Tomorrow, jumping over the hurdles at the Grand National! Next week, jumping over the Moon! :-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18UPCJdt08k

#13) A silent testimony to the appalling tragedy of extinction. The world's last thylacine or Tasmanian wolf Thylacinus cynocephalus, reduced from a vibrant, fascinating, and truly unique species of wonder to a sad, pale celluloid ghost, doomed for an eternity to pace up and down in impotent despair, trapped forever inside the prison of these few pitiful frames of film.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odswge5onwY

The thylacine

#14) This feline segment is from the animated film 'Allegro Non Troppo' and features 'Valse Triste' ('Sad Waltz') by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. If you don't shed a silent tear or two, you aren't human!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8Oc_J1Lu-o

#15) Who needs a cartoon kung fu panda when you can have a real-life kung fu bear? Many thanks indeed to Facebook friend Scoobert Mills for alerting me to this wondrous video!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFTZl6MruUM&feature=fvsr

#16) Ever wanted your very own five-headed cobra? Of course you have! Well, here's how to get one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_czlKY0jDK4&feature=related

A Photoshopped 12-headed cobra

#17) One of the most popular animal videos ever uploaded onto YouTube - let's hear it for the sneezing panda!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzRH3iTQPrk&feature=related

#18) Here's something you don't see every day - a black panther and a white panther, the latter being extremely rare:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mpuz76CUkvY

#19) Known to the native people of Vietnam's Annamite mountains but formally discovered by science as recently as 1992, the saola or Vu Quang ox Pseudoryx nghetinhensis is totally unlike any other species and is probably the greatest crypto-mammalogical discovery since the okapi in 1901. Tragically, however, it may also be the most endangered. Check out this video re an enigmatic, fascinating species:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL9NTQQyPM8

Saola postage stamps from Vietnam (World Wide Fund for Nature)

#20) Did Michael Jackson invent the moonwalk? I don't think so! Check out the mate-attracting dance of the male manakin bird:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-wtO7pjJKk&feature=player_embedded

#21) Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSTZDRvagek&feature=player_embedded

#22) Another (very) fishy video on YouTube - one eel of a video, in fact! lol Check it out at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSpGYQM7Os4&feature=player_embedded

#23) If you think that lions and tigers are big, you ain't seen nothin' yet! This is what results from a lion x tigress liaison - meet the liger:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD6vpheUoPE

Hercules the liger - the world's biggest living cat of any kind (Barry Bland/Barcroft Media)

#24) Here's the music hall song from 1924, complete with its original sheet music's front cover, that gave the Lake Okanagan monster its modern-day nickname, Ogopogo:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQE8T6Ip6Ic

#25) In my book Dragons: A Natural History (1995), I retold the famous story of the dreaded Lambton Worm of County Durham. There is also a traditional song on this same subject, entitled 'Whisht Lads', and here's a great version of it, sung in dialect, on YouTube. Check it out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DdTdPislQs

The Lambton Worm

#26) Seriously cute or what?!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUmK_ftWpU0

#27) One of the most famous dog videos ever: From the British BBC TV show 'That's Life' back in the 1970s, meet Prince the talking dog – well, he can say 'Sausages' anyway!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IMOSN0WYvg

#28) Here's a fascinating non-YouTube Swedish video of a winged cat, posted back in 2008. If anyone can speak Swedish, I'd greatly welcome any info regarding what the narrator is saying about this cat. Check it out at:
http://hd.se/webb-tv/2008/05/07/kolla-katten-har-vingar/#

A very different kind of winged cat!

Okay, two very tenuous wildlife-related links now, but...

#29) Did you know that 'Dance of the Cuckoos' - the Laurel and Hardy theme tune - actually had words? Well it did, as I've now discovered, thanks to the following video, in which the song is sung by Al Bowlly, who sounds amazingly similar to Stan Laurel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHNPKkvcK38

#30) This is one of my all-time favourite TV themes – 'The Lightning Tree', sung by The Settlers, which was the theme to the early 1970s children's programme, Follyfoot. Although it was mainly about the horses at a stable and the stable's owners and stable-hands, what I chiefly watched it for was the totally awesome motorbike chop ridden by rebel character Ron Stryker, which had the highest ape-hangers I've ever seen on any bike! Anyway, here's 'The Lightning Tree':
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqwJoEGyGMY&feature=related

Christian Rodska as Ron Stryker from 'Follyfoot', riding that seriously cool motorbike! (Front cover of an issue of Look-In magazine, the junior TV Times)


Here are two non-wildlife videos, but which appeal to me for diametrically opposite reasons – terror and laughter:

More supernatural than natural history, but a video classic all the same:
Does anyone remember this British public information film from the early 1970s? Entitled 'Dark and Lonely Water', it was shown to try and stop children playing near potentially dangerous water, where they may fall in and drown, and as a kid it was one of the most frightening things I ever remember seeing on TV. It certainly did the trick, though, as I kept well away from such areas!! lol. And in case you're wondering, yes, the voice of the spectre was indeed that of actor Donald Pleasance. Prepare to be petrified:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg6IVUvVsAs

Entirely unrelated to wildlife, but it made me laugh, so that's good enough to include this final video here!
Here's the inimitable musical satirist Tom Lehrer in a vintage clip from Michael Parkinson's TV chat show in the UK, performing one of his most (in)famous songs - 'I Got It From Agnes':
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDeRYmB4t6Q&feature=related


And finally:

Me being interviewed on TV for Fortean Times (Dr Karl Shuker)

Here's yours truly, straight off the motorbike and onto the small screen, for a Fortean Times interview on mystery cats, filmed in the centre of Birmingham, England, with, very aptly, a stone sphinx in the background. But look out for the real star of this video, a certain scene-stealing pigeon... Enjoy!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUkh-a7rPNQ&feature=relmfu


Frank and Louie, the world's longest-lived Janus cat (see Video #9), who will be 13 years old in September 2012 (Marty Stevens)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

THE AFRICAN CRESTED RAT - KICKING UP A STINK OVER SKUNK IMPERSONATION

19th-Century colour painting of the type specimen of one of Africa's most amazing rodents - Lophiomys imhausi, the African crested (maned) rat


Everyone thinks that their pet is special, but the following one really was, at least as far as cryptozoology is concerned - because it became the type specimen of a species of rodent hitherto unknown to science but which was so dramatic in form that an entirely new taxonomic family was created in order to accommodate it. And the name of this radical rodent? The African crested rat, also known as the maned rat, whose remarkable nature is not confined to its appearance but also embraces an equally extraordinary talent for interspecific impersonation. Intrigued? Then read on...

Returning home to Europe in 1866 after spending some time on the Mascarene island of Reunion, traveller M. Imhaus stopped off at Aden for a few hours. While there he met a man with a most interesting pet - a large rodent of very distinctive appearance, belonging to a species completely unknown to science. Of stout build with small head and short limbs but long bushy tail, it was principally blackish-brown in colour, but its forehead and the tip of its tail were white, and its flanks each bore a lengthy horizontal strip of pale brown, edged with white and with a white stripe running along its centre. This strip was separated by a type of furrow from the notably long dark hairs borne upon the middle of the animal’s back, and also upon its tail, which were erectile, capable of yielding a very odd-looking mane or crest.

The pelage colouration and pattern of Lophiomys instantly differentiates it from all other rodents (picture source unknown to me)

Imhaus bought the man’s pet, and took it to France’s Garden of Acclimatisation in the Bois de Boulogne, where it thrived for about 18 months upon a diet of maize, vegetables, and bread, and slept during the day. After its death, its body attracted the attention of acclaimed zoologist Prof. Alphonse Milne-Edwards, whose studies of it uncovered sufficient anatomical idiosyncrasies to warrant the creation for its species of a brand new taxonomic family, Lophiomyidae.

In his description of this radically new rodent, published in 1867, Milne-Edwards named it Lophiomys imhausi - ‘Imhaus’s maned rat’. Distributed from Kenya in eastern Africa northwards as far as Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, and measuring up to 21 in long (females are larger than males), its closest relatives appear to be the murids (mice, rats, etc), with which it is nowadays classed by some authorities as a distinct subfamily, Lophiomyinae.

African crested or maned rat — an accomplished skunk impersonator (Kevin Deacon/Wikipedia)

A sluggish, generally slow-moving animal, undoubtedly the most distinctive feature of this species is its erectile mane of hair, which has a very important function. The maned rat has few enemies - and little wonder. When challenged by a would-be predator, it raises its mane, and instantly ‘transforms’ into a surprisingly convincing replica of one of the most feared medium-sized mammals of Africa - a long-furred relative of the weasels known as the zorilla or striped polecat Ictonyx striatus.

Although only distantly related to the New World skunks, the zorilla is extraordinarily similar to them, due not only to its vivid black and white fur, but also to its deadly propensity for ejecting streams of unutterably foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands at anything foolish enough to approach it too closely. So dreaded and dreadful is its malodorous arsenal that if a zorilla approaches a lion kill, the lions will back away and wait impatiently but impotently at a safe distance until the little zorilla has eaten its fill and departed. Not for nothing is it referred to by many tribes as ‘Father of the Stenches’!

Zorilla — Africa’s ‘Father of the Stenches’ ((c) Chris & Mathilde Stuart/Stuart-On-Nature)

Thus, by impersonating this Dark Continent untouchable, the relatively harmless maned rat (it does have a strong bite) is assured of similar immunity from most would-be assailants. If, however, it does fail to convince, it can actually exude a very toxic glandular secretion that is sufficiently potent to kill a dog if swallowed.

This ShukerNature post is an excerpt from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited: From Singing Dogs To Serpent Kings (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2007).

19th-Century engraving depicting a pair of zorillas