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.

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

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Friday, 12 August 2016

DREDGING UP SOME LIVING TRILOBITES?


Large-scale model of the 'Dudley bug' trilobite Calymene blumenbachii (© Dr Karl Shuker)

One of the best-known groups of fossil animal are the trilobites ('three-lobed'), this name deriving from the distinctive three-lobed structure of their body, which consists of the cephalon (head shield), the thorax, and the pygidium (tail shield). Ranging in size from a dinner plate down to a pea, they are famed for their segmented body form, numerous pairs of limbs, and extremely well-developed compound eyes.

Global but exclusively marine in distribution, this taxonomic class of arthropods was one of the earliest, with the first-known representatives in the fossil record dating back approximately 540-520 million years to the early Cambrian Period (though it is suspected that there may well have been earlier forms as yet unrepresented by documented fossils dating as far back as 700 million years, to the pre-Cambrian).

Beautiful illustration of trilobites from Système Silurien du Centre de la Bohême, by Joachim Barrande, 1852 (public domain)

Bearing in mind how zoologically familiar they are today and how their taxonomic identity as arthropods is indisputable, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the first trilobite fossils to attract notable scientific attention, during the 1700s, incited considerable controversy as to what type of creature they represented, resulting in some exceedingly bizarre notions being aired in all seriousness.

They were initially deemed to be ancient, three-lobed clam-like seashells (and were duly dubbed Concha triloba), because these particular trilobite fossils showed only the animals' dorsal side (thereby concealing the fact that trilobites actually possessed legs – lots of legs, in fact!).

Sentimentally priceless - a diverse selection of trilobite casts on a matrix slab bought for me by my late mother Mary Shuker during our first, very happy visit to Lyme Regis, Dorset (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Not everyone agreed with this identification, however, and offered various alternative but equally erroneous suggestions. The normally authoritative British zoologist Dr George Shaw (1751-1813), for instance, proposed that trilobites were fossil caterpillars, while some contemporaries opined that they were archaic centipedes, or (less preposterous) crustaceans.

The matter remained contentious until American palaeontologist Charles D. Walcott resolved it in a very convincing manner – by skilfully and painstakingly using a hacksaw to open up no fewer than 3,500 fossils of curled-up trilobites, thereby revealing the presence of their jointed legs, and, in turn, these hitherto-baffling beasts' true nature as arthropods.

Spectacular, life-like model of Bristolia bristolensis, a notably long-spined species of early Cambrian trilobite from the southwestern USA (© Andrew 'Trilobite' Scott – click here for a ShukerNature exclusive showcasing many other examples of Andrew's stunning artwork)

During the lengthy course of their evolution, the trilobites became exceedingly successful, yielding a vast diversity of species (some 17,000 are currently recognised) as well as body forms and lifestyles before decreasing markedly in the Devonian, and finally dying out completely around 252 million years ago (in the mass extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian) – or did they? There is no well-established reason why they should have done.

As a zoologist living in the West Midlands, England, I am very aware that one particular trilobite species, Calymene blumenbachii from the Silurian Period, is so abundant in the fossiliferous limestone quarries of Wren's Nest in the West Midlands town of Dudley that it is popularly known as the Dudley bug or Dudley locust, and even appears on the Dudley County Borough Council's official coat-of-arms. Naturally, therefore, I've been a fan of trilobites ever since childhood, and my fossil collection contains several specimens, but my interest in cryptozoology would subsequently yield an additional reason for my being fascinated by them.

Dudley bug trilobite, from James Geikie's Outlines of Geology, 2nd rev. edit, 1883 (public domain)

In the mid-1980s, I purchased veteran American cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal's classic book Searching For Hidden Animals (which had originally been published in 1980 in the U.S.A., but not until 1983 in the U.K.), and was delighted to find that it documented a wide range of lesser-known cryptids.

However, one chapter that obviously attracted my particular interest was tantalisingly entitled 'Living Trilobites?'. It included a discussion as to whether any representatives of these archaic arthropods might have survived the Permian mega-death and persisted in benthic anonymity on the ocean floor into the present day.

Prof. Roy P. Mackal and the UK hb 1st edition of his book Searching For Hidden Animals (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal/Cadogan Books)

As Mackal noted, many trilobites were shallow coastal dwellers (especially the later ones), yet no living trilobites from such localities have ever been discovered. Consequently, the only hope for modern-day survival is if "some forms adapted to a deeper, more obscure environment and there found refuge" - or if some that were already so adapted simply persisted. Should this scenario have indeed taken place, it could explain why no Cenozoic trilobite fossils have ever been found - because these would not be readily discovered or accessed on the ocean floor. But what about obtaining living specimens there?

Until reading Mackal's book, I hadn't been aware that the very first global marine research expedition, the voyage of HMS Challenger from 21 December 1872 to 26 May 1876, seriously believed that living trilobites might be dredged up from the ocean bottom. But although countless specimens that included representatives of over 4,000 hitherto-unknown animal species were indeed procured there, none of them were trilobites. Or, as worded in the authoritative Encyclopaedia Britannica's eleventh edition, published in 1911, the "faint hope" of finding such creatures was not realised.

HMS Challenger portrayed in an engraving from 1858 (pubic domain)

In reality, however, a few years before this expedition had even set out on its epic voyage of zoological discovery, a claim had been made that a living trilobite had already been obtained, and from a depth of 1,200 fathoms (7,200 ft). Moreover, this claim was actually believed for a time before the creature's true, non-trilobite identity was revealed. Another veteran cryptozoological chronicler, Willy Ley, who briefly reported the case in one of his many articles, didn't provide further details, but as noted by Mackal the timing and morphological similarities strongly suggests that the discovery in question was actually that of a certain Antarctic species of isopod crustacean (the taxonomic group which includes woodlice and sea slaters) that is astonishingly trilobite-like in outward appearance.

Brought to scientific attention in 1830, its first officially recorded specimen had actually been found inside the gut of a marine fish examined by American naturalist Dr James Eights while visiting the South Shetland Islands between Patagonia and Antarctica during the so-called 'Expedition of 1830'. Emphasising its remarkable morphological convergence, in 1833 Eights formally christened this memorable new species Brongniartia [now Ceratoserolis] trilobitoides. And it was indeed initially mistaken for one of these prehistoric arthropods by some observers, but it sports two pairs of antennae (a crustacean characteristic), whereas trilobites only had one.

Ceratoserolis trilobitoides from James Eights's 1833 description paper (public domain)

Other modern-day creatures that have often been mistaken for living trilobites are chitons and water pennies. Chitons (or polyplacophorans, to give them their formal zoological name) constitute a taxonomic class of molluscs characterised by their very distinctive shells, which are composed of eight separate but slightly overlapping plates, and afford these animals a superficially segmented appearance dorsally.

If a chiton is turned over, however, its ventral body surface is seen to be non-segmented and only possessing a single, typically-molluscan foot, in contrast to the many limb pairs possessed by trilobites. As for water pennies, these trilobite imposters are the larval stage of certain aquatic freshwater psephenid beetles, belonging to the genus Mataeopsephus.

19th-Century engraving of chitons (public domain)

Also superficially trilobite-like in outward dorsal appearance are both the larvae and the larval form-retaining adult females of lycid (net-winged) beetles belonging to the genus Platerodrilus, and which are therefore known colloquially as trilobite beetles (click here for a ShukerNature article featuring these distinctive insects). Native principally to tropical rainforests in India and southeastern Asia, some of them are brightly coloured.

Finally, the juvenile stage of those famous 'living fossils' known as xiphosurans or horseshoe crabs is termed a trilobite larva, once again because of its superficial similarity to genuine trilobites. Horseshoe crabs, incidentally, are the closest living relatives of another taxonomic group of iconic fossil arthropods – the eurypterids or sea scorpions.

Exquisite illustration by Ernst Haeckel from 1904 featuring trilobites, horseshoe crabs, and sea scorpions (© public domain)

Back in the 1980s, a bizarre story emanating from Australia briefly hit the news headlines, claiming that some trilobites had been found inhabiting Perth's storm drains. Not surprisingly, however, this was soon exposed as a hoax, featuring an old tyre that had been cut into the shape of a trilobite.

A fossil trilobite species of familiar, non-extreme morphology (public domain)

Numerous deepsea collecting expeditions have been launched since Challenger, but none has ever procured any living trilobites, and yet some tantalising indirect (or, to be precise, ichnological) evidence for such creatures may have been recorded, which Mackal described as follows:

...in 1967, I was invited by Ralph Buchsbaum, professor of zoology at the University of Pittsburgh, to give a seminar on our researches at Loch Ness. During the social hour after the presentation one of his colleagues told me about experimental photography of the sea bottom that was in progress. He stated that photographs of fresh tracks identical to the Cruciana [sic – Cruziana], the fossilized trilobite tracks, had been obtained. He expressed the hope that traps could be lowered to catch whatever was making these highly suggestive tracks. As far as I know the nature of these tracks was never determined and nothing was ever trapped, because of a subsequent loss of funding for the project. The business of identifying sea-bottom trails and tracks is a tricky one and to infer living trilobites from a track is even more tricky. A marvelous collection of sea-bottom tracks and trails is presented in a book entitled The Face of the Deep by B. C. Heezen and C. D. Hollister. Only a tiny fraction of aquatic animal tracks have been identified, so that fertile ground for new discoveries is indeed abundant...Underwater photography of the ocean floor...appears to be a promising tool for future cryptozoological expeditions.

Cruziana from Portugal (public domain)

Cruziana is a famous trace fossil taking the form of elongate, bilobed burrows that are roughly bilaterally symmetrical. As noted in a 2010 Lethaia paper by Dr Stephen Donovan, many examples are believed to be the tracks or trails yielded by trilobites while deposit-feeding, but certain others are deemed not to be, because they were present in freshwater environments (where no trilobite fossils have so far been found) and/or were of Triassic date, by which time all trilobites were supposed to have died out. But were these ostensibly anachronistic tracks actually made by surviving post-Permian trilobites for which direct fossil evidence has simply not been found as yet?

Incidentally, two other types of trace fossil believed to have been created by trilobites are Rusophycus and Diplichnites. The former fossils are excavations featuring little or no forward movements, and have therefore been interpreted as traces left by trilobites while resting or in defence/protection mode. In contrast, the latter fossils are believed to be traces left by trilobites while walking upon the sediment surface.

Rusophycus trace fossil from Ordovician Period (public domain)

Mackal ended his living trilobites chapter on a somewhat pessimistic note, concluding: "While not impossible, it is most improbable that living trilobites still exist". After that, this fascinating prospect appeared to have vanished from the modern world just as surely, it would seem, as the trilobites themselves – which is why I was so startled, but delighted, by a certain comment allegedly made by a well-respected current scientist more recently.

On 24 June 2004, Yahoo! News released online a report concerning the receipt of a $600,000 start-up grant from the private Alfred Sloan foundation for a proposed 10-year international survey of the oceans' depths, at an estimated total cost of US $1 billion, to be funded by governments, companies and private donors, and officially dubbed the Census of Marine Life (CoML). As part of this grand-scale project, scientists led by researchers from the University of Alaska planned to use robot submarines and sonar to track down life forms in the Arctic Ocean's chilling deepwater domain, and expectations were that by the end of its decade-long course, the survey could easily have doubled the number of species known from this particular ocean.

Three-dimensional reconstruction of Drotops armatus, a very spiny species of Devonian trilobite from Morocco (public domain)

All very worthy indeed, but what caught my eye amid all of these statements was one attributed in the news report to none other than Dr Ron O'Dor, chief scientist of the multi-nation CoML. According to the report, whose exact wording is quoted here as follows, Dr O'Dor "speculated that Arctic waters might hide creatures known only from fossils, such as trilobites that flourished 300 million years ago". It would seem, therefore, that the notion of finding living trilobites has not been entirely discounted by scientists after all.

Happily, the CoML did indeed take place, this very ambitious project ultimately featuring scientists from more than 80 different nations, and releasing the world's first-ever census in 2010 – but no living trilobites were listed. Nevertheless, there is a notable precedent well worth mentioning here.

Pilina, a fossil monoplacophoran outwardly resembling modern-day Neopilina (public domain)

The monoplacophorans are a primitive taxonomic class of molluscs, whose youngest fossil species date from around 380 million years ago. On 6 May 1952, however, trawling off Mexico's western coast at a depth of almost 12,000 ft in dark, muddy clay, the Danish research ship Galathea hauled up 10 complete specimens and three empty shells of a small, seemingly unremarkable mollusc superficially resembling a limpet but which proved upon scientific examination to be a living monoplacophoran. This hitherto-unknown species was formally named Neopilina galatheae, since when further specimens of it, and of several additional modern-day species too, have been obtained (see my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, 2012, for full details).

Structurally, these living monoplacophorans are very different internally from their archaic fossil ancestors, so if living trilobites do exist, these too are likely to be highly evolved species. Nevertheless, the discovery of Neopilina and kin readily demonstrates that it is by no means impossible for invertebrates deemed by their fossil record to have died out in very far-distant prehistoric ages to be represented, in fact, by living species that have simply evaded scientific detection.

A classic late-1800s illustration of living trilobites by Heinrich Harder (public domain)

This ShukerNature blog article is adapted from my forthcoming book Still In Search of Prehistoric Survivors.





Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A QUINTET OF QUAGGA PHOTOGRAPHS


A very attractive colourised version of one of the five known photographs of a living quagga (colourising © Michael/Flickr CC BY 2.0 licence)

The quagga Equus quagga quagga was formerly the southernmost subspecies of the plains zebra until its extinction in 1883 – a tragic loss resulting from its extermination via over-hunting in its native South African grasslands and scrublands domain by 1878, followed by the eventual deaths of the few specimens left in captivity. The very last of these specimens died in Amsterdam Zoo on 12 August 1883, this fateful day thus becoming the quagga's official extinction date. However, it remains famous even today for being the only semi-striped zebra – i.e. only its head, neck, and forequarters were striped, the remainder of its body and its legs entirely lacked any such markings.

For many years now, the Quagga Project in South Africa has been attempting to 'breed back' the quagga's distinctive outward appearance (phenotype) using individuals of the closely-related Burchell's zebra that exhibit reduced striping, and it has achieved some degree of success. Yet even if or when exact quagga lookalikes are indeed created, they cannot really be deemed 'true' quaggas, because there is currently no way of confirming whether their genetic make-up (genotype) is comparable with that of the original, real quaggas, or whether the genetic route taken in producing these facsimile quaggas is the same one that occurred naturally during the quagga's original evolution. Nevertheless, I still consider it a very worthwhile goal, because the sight of quagga-like animals re-inhabiting the lands where the original quagga once roamed would be nothing if not inspirational, so I sincerely hope that the Quagga Project will be fully successful in its ambition to re-create at least in outward form this very iconic animal. Please click here to visit the Project's official website for full details of its history and ongoing work.

Bred-back quagga-like zebras of the Quagga Project near Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, in South Africa (© Oggmus/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Meanwhile, during last weekend a lively debate took place on Facebook between some friends of mine, stemming from various incorrect information on this subject present in certain websites, which wrongly claimed that only one photograph depicting a live quagga existed, and that this specimen was from Amsterdam Zoo. Consequently, as the quagga has long been of great interest to me, now seems like as good a time as any for me to present the full, correct facts concerning this particular facet of its history.

Our visual knowledge of the quagga in the living state is based not upon one but upon five separate photographs. All of them in black-and-white format, these are currently the only known images obtained of a live quagga, and they all depict the same individual, which, moreover, was housed not at Amsterdam Zoo but at London Zoo. An adult mare, she was the second of three quaggas to be exhibited there, having been purchased by the zoo from animal dealer Carl Jamrach on 15 March 1851. She died on 15 July 1872, but her mounted skin is on display at Edinburgh's Royal Museum of Scotland, and her skeleton is housed in the USA at Yale University's Peabody Museum (it was purchased for the museum during the late 1800s by celebrated dinosaur fossil collector Othniel C. Marsh for the princely sum of £10).

And now, presented in decreasing order of familiarity and accompanied by what information (sometimes only very sparse) is known about each one, here is the quintet of famous – and not-so-famous – quagga photographs portraying her. As every one of them is well over a century old, all five of these photographs are in the public domain.


PHOTO #1

This is unquestionably the best known and also the best quality-wise of the five photographs of a living quagga – so much so that many modern-day variations of it have been created, including mock-sepia ones, fully colourised ones (like the beautiful example opening this present ShukerNature blog article), and even ones in which the quagga has been cut out of the original photograph and superimposed onto entirely different backgrounds.

According to Dr Philip L. Sclater, then Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), writing in 1901, the original b/w version of this photograph was prepared from a magic lantern slide produced by photographer Frederick York (1823-1903), most probably during summer 1870.


PHOTO #2

Almost as well known as Photo #1, this photograph was also prepared from a magic lantern slide produced by Frederick York, and at much the same time as Photo #1 too, i.e. probably during summer 1870.


PHOTO #3

This photograph was taken by Frank Haes (1832-1916) in 1864 and utilised by him in the production of a stereoscopic photo-card, to be viewed through a special instrument known as a stereoscope, which yielded a dramatic 3-D effect (similar to the effect produced by that very popular children's viewing device from the 1960s onwards called the View-Master – I still have mine!). The gentleman in the photo was a zookeeper, and the quagga was in one of the yards of the 1859 Equid wing of London Zoo's Antelope House, later demolished to make way for the Elephant and Rhinoceros pavilion.


PHOTO #4

Far less famous than the preceding three, this photograph was probably taken during the 1860s, and by a photographer whose name is apparently unrecorded. Only two original prints of it are known, one of which was discovered as recently as 1991 in Munich by Walter Huber; until then, the only known print was one housed in the collections of London's Natural History Museum. This particular quagga photograph has long intrigued me because the angle at which it was shot has rendered the quagga's legs sufficiently short and foreshortened its body to an extent that makes it look remarkably foal-like rather than the fully adult specimen that we know it to have been.


PHOTO #5

Photo #4 is often referred to as the least-known of the quagga quintet, but in my opinion this accolade should be bestowed upon Photo #5. For whereas Photo #4 has appeared in a number of publications and websites, Photo #5 has hardly appeared anywhere – indeed, until I uploaded this present article of mine onto my blog I had yet to see it anywhere online. As with Photo #4, it was probably taken during the 1860s, but again the identity of the photographer is presently unknown.


So there they are, five brief snippets of time from the life of a creature whose kind no longer exists thanks to our own species' bloodlust, but preserved for all eternity in the still silence of these photographs, captured in monochromatic majesty by the camera lens as surely and as securely as erstwhile insects are encapsulated within golden globules of amber.

In view of the (very) varying accuracy of information on this subject presently available on the internet, you can be reassured that this ShukerNature article's information was derived from two ultra-reliable, hard-copy sources, which also constitute two of my favourite publications.

My two information sources for this present ShukerNature blog article (© John Edwards / (© Errol Fuller/Bloomsbury)

One of these sources is a superb collection of vintage photographs in book form, which was compiled, written, and published by celebrated London Zoo historian and longstanding friend John Edwards, entitled London Zoo From Old Photographs 1852-1914. It was originally published in 1996, but in 2012 it was republished as a second edition containing many additional photos. Both editions include some scientifically valuable yet poignant photographs of several different animal forms (not only the quagga) that were formerly exhibited at London Zoo in the living state but which have since become extinct.

My other source, also written by a longstanding friend, is a magnificent, unique book entitled Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, authored by Errol Fuller, an acclaimed expert on extinct fauna. It was published in 2013, and is devoted entirely to documenting rare photographs of living creatures belonging to species or subspecies that later became extinct. Again, fascinating but exceedingly poignant, the photographs generating a depth of emotion that not even the greatest artworks depicting such creatures can elicit, because when we view such photos we are, in a very real sense, viewing these lost creatures' ghosts, traces of their former existence that have transcended death to remain visible long after the creatures themselves have vanished forever from our world.

Speaking of artwork, here are two of the finest quagga paintings based upon living specimens:

Quagga stallion in King Louis XVI's menagerie at Versailles, France, painted by Nicolas Marechal in 1793 (public domain)


Quagga stallion at London's Royal College of Surgeons, painted by Jacques-Laurent Agasse during the early 1800s (public domain)


And finally, here is one of the various mock-sepia versions of Quagga Photo #1 that I have encountered while browsing online:

Mock-sepia version of one of Frederick York's two London Zoo quagga photographs produced probably during summer 1870 (public domain)




Thursday, 4 August 2016

THE STOA, THE SUWA, AND THE WASHORIWE – A TRIO OF PREHISTORIC SURVIVORS FROM THE REAL 'LOST WORLD'?


Front and back cover from my much-read, greatly-treasured 1970s paperback edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic crypto-novel The Lost World (Cover illustration © Pan Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use Policy only basis)

It is not widely known, but when writing his famous novel The Lost World (published in 1912), in which dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other Mesozoic reptiles have survived into the present day amid a totally isolated realm present on the plateau at the summit of a very high tepui (a vertically-sided, flat-topped or table-topped mountain in South America), one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's inspirations was a real but still highly mysterious tepui known as Kurupira.

It was named after the curupira, a legendary Amazonian man-beast-like entity. This particular tepui stands 3,435 ft above sea level, and is situated on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border.

The curupira, as depicted in the painting 'O Curupira' by Manoel Santago, 1926 (public domain)

Conan Doyle had learnt about Kurupira from the famous, subsequently-lost explorer Lt-Col. Percy H. Fawcett. In 1908, he led an expedition to some great sandstone tepuis in Bolivia known as the Franco Ricardo hills .

There are more than 100 tepuis in South America, and at 9,220 ft above sea level Mount Roraima is the highest (and also the largest) in the Pakaraima chain on the borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Lieut-Col. Percy H. Fawcett (right) (public domain)

Although they did not encounter any prehistoric creatures, Fawcett and his team did receive various native reports of frightening monsters said to inhabit Kurupira and its environs by the local Waiká Indians who inhabit the jungle area around the vicinity of its base. It was Fawcett's recollections of these reports that provided Conan Doyle with further plot ideas during his novel's preparation,.

In particular, he was enthralled by Fawcett's tales of an exceedingly voracious bipedal reptile known to the Waiká as the stoa, which was investigated more recently by Czech zoologist Jaroslav Mareš, who documented some of his findings in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat ('The World of Mysterious Animals'), published in 1997. Mareš spent time residing at Kurupira's base during an expedition there in 1978 (sadly, their attempts to scale this tepui's steep sides proved unsuccessful), and he learnt about the Waiká Indians' belief in the stoa and other alleged monsters here.

My copy of Jaroslav Mareš's cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat ('The World of Mysterious Animals') (© Jaroslav Mareš/Littera Bohemica)

They described the stoa as measuring up to 25 ft long and superficially resembling a giant-sized caiman (several species of these South American freshwater alligator relatives are known, but all are of far smaller size). However, they also stated that it can be readily distinguished from such reptiles by way of the following major differences.

First and foremost of these was the very notable fact that the stoa is exclusively bipedal, moving entirely upon its two gigantic hind legs, because its front limbs are so short that it cannot stand upon them. Its jaws are much shorter than a caiman's too, but its head is taller, and it bears a pair of prominent horns above its eyes, which are somewhat reminiscent of those sported by the South American horned frogs Ceratophrys spp.

Horned frog Ceratophrys ornata (public domain)

The Waiká likened its body colouration to theirs too (i.e. green or golden-brown with darker markings), but its mouth is not as wide as that of these famously wide-mouthed frogs, and its skin is covered with hard, non-overlapping, tubercular scales. Above all, they affirmed that there is never any hope of escape if pursued by a stoa.

Moreover, Mareš revealed that this Indian account was confirmed by the missionaries from the Porto da Maloca settlement on the upper Rio Mapulau, located approximately 15 miles from Kurupira as the crow flies. However, they did not believe that the stoa is real. For them, it is just a part of Waiká mythology.

Artistic rendition of the possible appearance in life of the stoa, alongside a human for scale purposes (© Connor Lachmanec)

Mareš has also written three books specifically devoted to Kurupira and its mysteries - Hledání Ztraceného Světa ('In Search of The Lost World'), which documented his 1978 expedition and was published in 1992; Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira ('The Horror Named Kurupira'), published in 2001; and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství ('Kurupira: Sinister Secrets'), published in 2005. In the second of these three, Mareš mentioned meeting during spring 1997 at Boa Vista (capital of Roraima, Brazil's northernmost state) a Scottish gold-prospector whose real name Mareš has not publicly disclosed, referring to him instead only by the pseudonym 'Reginald Riggs'.

Mareš had previously met Riggs in 1978, during his above-mentioned expedition to Mount Kurupira. In his 2001 book, Mareš revealed that while Riggs was prospecting in the vicinity of Kurupira he had befriended a Waiká tribesman named Retewa, who supplied him with information concerning the stoa, another dinosaurian cryptid called the suwa, and a pterosaur-like beast termed the washoriwe.

Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira (2001) and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství (2005) (© Jaroslav Mareš)

According to Retewa (via Riggs), the stoa's most common prey are tapirs. Apparently, it conceals itself in dense forest close to a riverbank where these large horse-related ungulates bathe, then abruptly emerges to attack them when they arrive there. It will also devour capybaras, those sizeable pig-like rodents that occur here too. One account related by Retewa to Riggs concerned a reputed confrontation between some hunters from his village and a stoa that they inadvertently encountered while it was looking out for prey. They shot at it with their arrows, but they failed to penetrate its hard, scale-protected skin, and the enraged stoa killed several of them before the others fled.

In an attempt to explain both the origin of the Waiká's firm belief in the stoa and (as he also discovered during his investigations) the complete absence of any such belief among Indian tribes living further out from Kurupira, Mareš has cautiously offered the following thought-provoking theory. He suggests that if the stoa is indeed real, perhaps its species is normally confined entirely to this tepui's lofty isolated plateau, but that a single individual may very occasionally find its way into their ground-level territory via a crack or fracture leading down the tepui from its summit to its base, after which the Waiká live in great fear of it, even after its eventual death, thereby maintaining and reinforcing its presence in their minds and lore for another generation or so until the next accidental stoa visitation occurs.

Restoration of the possible appearance in life of Carnotaurus (© Lida Xing and Yi Liu/Wikipedia CC BY 2.5 licence)

As for what the stoa may be, taxonomically speaking, if it does truly exist: in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš noted that during the Cretaceous, South America was home to a taxonomic family of theropod dinosaurs known as the abelisaurids, which were bipedal, carnivorous, and, in some cases, extremely large. The most famous abelisaurid was Carnotaurus sastrei, which was up to 30 ft long, and as noted by Mareš it also happens to be potentially relevant to the stoa for two very different but equally intriguing morphology-based reasons. Firstly: dating from the late Cretaceous and disinterred in 1984 from the La Colonia Formation in Argentina's Chubut Province, its only recorded but exceptionally well-preserved fossilised skeleton shows that this particular abelisaurid species bore a pair of sharp pointed horns above its eyes, just like the stoa (Carnotaurus translates as 'flesh-eating bull'). Secondly: this skeleton is so well preserved that it reveals that the skin of Carnotaurus bore hard non-overlapping scales all over it, just like the stoa.

Coupled with the overall similarity in outward form and size between Carnotaurus and the stoa, these more specific, unexpectedly-matching features led Mareš to speculate as to whether this abelisaurid's lineage may have escaped the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous and has possibly lingered on through the Cenozoic Era into the present-day here in this very remote South American location, isolated atop a high tepui except for rare occasions when one might find its way down into the junglelands at Kurupira's base.

The still-classic (if scientifically-superseded) restoration of sauropods by Charles Knight, 1897 (public domain)

The stoa was not the only putative dinosaur of Kurupira spoken about by Retewa to Riggs. He also claimed that up on this tepui's plateau lives another very strange creature, known to the Waitá as the suwa, a picture of which he drew in the sand for Riggs to see, and a copy of which Riggs in turn drew in his diary, later seen by Mareš. The picture shows a bulky, long-necked, quadrupedal creature, which Riggs likened to a sauropod dinosaur or even a plesiosaur (however, its limbs were clearly portrayed in the drawing as legs, not flippers).

According to the Waiká, moreover, a third mystery creature, called by them the washoriwe, would sometimes swoop down from Kurupira's high summit into the jungle at its base, skimming through this Indian tribe's territory on huge wings that boasted a span of 20 ft or more. In addition, it bore a long bony backward-pointing crest upon its head, and sported a very long pointed beak.

Plateau on top of the tepui in The Lost World (1912) (public domain)

Waiká lore attests that this terrifying entity is the immortal forefather of all vampire bats. Yet whereas the immortal forefathers of all other creatures in their lore closely resemble their respective descendants (except for the much greater size of the forefathers), the long-beaked, bony-crested washoriwe bears scant resemblance to the short-faced, crestless vampire bats. Moreover, whereas these latter bats are strictly nocturnal, the washoriwe reputedly flies only during the daytime.

After highlighting these significant morphological and behavioural discrepancies in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš pointed out how, in stark contrast, the washoriwe seemed to be very similar in form and lifestyle to certain pterosaurs. He also commented upon the curious coincidence of how frequently the finding of complete, perfectly-preserved fossil pterosaurs by palaeontologists had occurred in this same region in modern times.

Prof. Challenger vs the pterosaurs in The Lost World (© Richard Svensson)

Might the Waiká's belief in the washoriwe have been inspired, therefore, by their own possible finding of fossil pterosaur remains here from time to time? Or might it even be, as again pondered by Mareš, that the abundance of such remains in this region lends support to the possibility that a pterosaurian lineage has persisted here right into the present day, currently undiscovered by science but well known to the local Indians, who refer to these airborne prehistoric survivors as washoriwes?

When Mareš met Riggs in Boa Vista, Roraima (Brazil's northernmost state), during spring 1997, he learnt that, near a waterfall at Kurupira, Riggs had caught sight of a mysterious flying creature that Retewa had identified as a washoriwe. Moreover, in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš stated that other gold-prospectors in this same area have also claimed to have seen such creatures here, flying high above the jungle's tree tops, and some have even sworn that they have been attacked by them.

Do pterosaurs swoop down to the ground from Kurupira's plateau? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Yet amidst all of these claims of Mesozoic monsters alive and well and living in splendid isolation on Kurupira's lofty plateau, there is a key question desperately needing to be asked. For even if we actually accept that a stoa may very occasionally find its way down from this tepui's summit to its base, and that washoriwes might indeed sometimes wing their way down too, the very burly, quadupedal, sauropod-like form of the suwa unequivocally debars this cryptid from following suit – so how can the Waiká be aware of its existence? Interestingly, Riggs actually asked Retewa how his people could know what exists on the plateau at the top of Kurupira, but Retewa was unable to provide an answer. So perhaps – as surmised by the missionaries – all of their claims regarding monsters are truly based upon nothing more substantial than traditional Waiká mythology, with no foundation in reality.

Alternatively, could it be that at least in earlier days, some of the Waiká's bravest warriors actually scaled Kurupira's daunting height, explored its plateau, and then returned to their tribe back on the ground with stories (exaggerated or otherwise) of what they had seen there? And, if so, perhaps what they saw there was so terrifying that they have never returned, but the original eyewitness reports have been preserved in their tribal lore down through succeeding generations. Who can say?

Mini-poster for The Lost World, 1925 film (public domain)

I wish to take this opportunity to thank very sincerely my friend Miroslav 'Mirek' Fišmeister from the Czech Republic for so kindly translating into English for me all of the relevant passages regarding Kurupira and the stoa, suwa, and washoriwe from Mareš's books. This has enabled me to present here the most extensive, accurate coverage of these cryptids ever produced in English.

Previously, the only English-language reports concerning them that I had been aware of, all of them online, were sparse, confused, and sometimes entirely inaccurate. The principal reason for this inaccuracy stemmed from the fact that a prehistoric monster called the stoa actually appears in Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, in which it is described as a warty-skinned, toad-like reptile, leaping on its hind legs, but larger than the largest elephant, and of frightful, horrible appearance.

The stoa as depicted in The Lost World film of 1925 (public domain)

This has inspired some erroneous online speculation, i.e. that there is no cryptozoological basis for the stoa, that it is entirely fictitious, a baseless invention of Conan Doyle for his novel. In reality, however, as I have now revealed here, it is the exact reverse that is true. Namely, that the stoa in his novel was directly inspired by reports of Kurupira's cryptozoological stoa as told to him by Fawcett.

Yet another longstanding example of online cryptozoological confusion is finally elucidated and resolved.

This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively adapted from my forthcoming book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.