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.

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Thursday, 5 May 2011

TWO FRENCH MYSTERIES OF THE ARACHNOLOGICAL KIND



Here are two arachnological anomalies - one very old but only very recently solved by me, the other very new and currently still unsolved. Both hail from France, and each involves a species of unusual or unexpected colouration, given its location. Neither of them has previously been documented in the cryptozoological literature, so any opinions and additional information would be most welcome.

THE WHITE SCORPION OF CETTE MOUNTAIN

That was the title of a short article penned by Emile Bonnet MPNS, which was published in June 1884 within a journal entitled The Naturalist’s World (vol. 1, no. 6, pp. 94-95). As I happen to own a copy of this particular volume, purchased by me during the late 1980s, I have scanned the relevant pages, which are reproduced below (please click scan in order to enlarge to readable size):



As can be seen, the scorpion in question is referred to by Bonnet as Scorpio montis sete (translating as ‘scorpion of Sete’s mountain’), but no such trinomial name exists today. Nor does any binomial, not even one that links monte and sete to yield montesete (in earlier days, some faux trinomials were created by splitting names that were subsequently joined back together to yield binomials).

Sete, or, precisely, Sète, is a seaside town within the Hérault department in Languedoc-Roussillon, southern France; it changed its name from Cette to Sète on 20 January 1928, and is built upon and around the mountain of Mont St Clair.

Over the years that have passed since purchasing the volume containing Bonnet’s article, I have made several attempts to track down any additional details regarding this mountain’s pallid but reputedly dangerous scorpion, and have contacted a number of arachnological experts concerning it, but all to no avail – until very recently.

Prior to then, the most informative response to my enquiries had come from Prof. John L. Cloudsley-Thompson, Professor Emeritus at London’s University College, who is a renowned authority on arachnids, as well as desert organisms and a range of other zoological specialities. Writing to me on 7 April 1990 after reading the copy of Bonnet’s article that I had sent to him earlier, Prof. Cloudsley-Thompson offered the following thoughts:

“Re Scorpio montis sete. This species is not cited in modern literature and is clearly not valid. The illustration shows a species of Buthus not Scorpio (slender claws), so B. occitanus must be the answer since it is the only buthid in France. It is venomous like all Buthidae but the same species in N. Africa is said to be much more dangerous. M. Bonnet was clearly exaggerating. I wonder whether the ‘white’ scorpion was actually a newly moulted individual whose cuticle had not yet hardened? I was once asked about a white earwig in a BBC nature programme and that must have been the answer in that case.”

Buthus occitanus (Álvaro Rodríguez Alberich – Wikipedia)

Buthus occitanus is known as the common yellow scorpion, on account of its widespread distribution in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, and its predominant colour. I agree entirely that a newly-moulted individual would be the likeliest explanation for a single specimen, but Bonnet described the Cette mountain scorpion as a discrete species rather than an individual, and referred to its colour as “a reddish white” rather than entirely white (or yellow, for that matter). What always baffled me most of all regarding this case, however, was Bonnet’s allegation that this scorpion “has been studied for a long time and numerous experiments have been made on its venom”, bearing in mind that there seemed to be no mention of it in the modern-day zoological literature.

The best chance of solving this mystery was to track down a copy of the publication by Dr Ange Maccary that was cited by Bonnet in his article. Unfortunately, Bonnet gave no bibliographical details other than the title, and, for a long time at least, Googling that did not call up any details.

Inevitably, with new crypto reports coming along on a regular basis, the baffling case of the white scorpion of Cette Mountain eventually slipped from my mind. But when, just a few days ago, I received the information that constitutes the second arachnological case documented here, I suddenly recalled Bonnet’s article, and decided to try yet another online search for information – and this time, finally, I achieved success!

Googling the first part of the title of Maccory’s publication was sufficient on this latest occasion not only to locate the full bibliographical reference to it, which is:

MACCORY, Ange (1810). Mémoire sur le scorpion qui se trouve sur la montagne de Cette, département de l’Hérault, son venin, et l’usage qu’on pourrait en faire en médecine. Froullé (Paris), Gabon ed. 48 pages

but also to confirm, via the following online source:

http://www.onem-france.org/scorpion/wakka.php?wiki=RegimeAlimentaire

that the Cette white scorpion, as suspected by Prof. Cloudsley-Thompson back in 1990, does indeed belong to the Languedoc-occurring species Buthus occitanus.

But one mystery surrounding this scorpion still awaits a solution – the unusual reddish-white colouration claimed by Bonnet for the Cette Mountain specimens, which is very different from the typical yellow hue for B. occitanus. Could it be, therefore, that Mont St Clair harbours a distinct colour variant of this species, which is confined to this specific location – and which, additionally, is more venomous than its normal-coloured congeners elsewhere in Languedoc?

THE YELLOW STOWAWAY SPIDER OF BRUGES

The second of this ShukerNature article’s two mystery arachnids was brought to my attention on 30 April 2011 by 18-year-old Raphaël Marliere of Bordeaux. Here is Raphaël’s eyewitness account, reproduced here with his kind permission:

“My sighting took place approximately 8 years ago in Bruges, a northwestern suburb of Bordeaux.

“A foggy winter morning, my mother was driving me to school in her old Citroen car, when all of a sudden a big yellow spider came out of the right side ventilator, on my mother's side, that is. She was kind of surprised but kept on driving as the spider went down and disappeared under the dashboard, as mysteriously as she had appeared.

“The spider in question was bright yellow, somewhat reminiscent of a banana - even though true banana spiders aren't yellow at all - and had a legspan of about 3-4 cm. I thought it may have been a freak Olios argelasius or Cheiracanthium punctorium, because of its size, but Cheiracanthium has distinctive fangs that this spider didn't have and Olios possesses markings on the legs and abdomen that were not present on the spider I saw.

“I have been breeding native spiders for several years now and I've never seen anything like this again. The only other yellow European spider that I know of is Misumena vatia, but I have an adult female in my collection and it doesn't approach the size of the car's weirdo.

“What I thought was strange at the time was the fact that the spider actually came from the ventilator and didn't get out of the car or at least seek out an exit. I guess she might have entered the car via the outside ventilator just under the windshield, but if she took the same way to go out or died trapped in the car I'll never know, for we didn't find any - yellow or otherwise - dead spider in the car.”



Olios argelasius (http://digilander.libero.it/)

After reading Raphaël’s account, I conducted an online perusal of European yellow-coloured spiders, but I was unable to match his mystery spider with any native species. O. argelasius is a huntsman spider, but as noted by Raphaël, its description does not correspond with that of his spider. Also known as the yellow sac spider, C. punctorium has very prominent chelicerae that give a venomous bite similar in potency to a wasp sting, but it only measures 15 mm or so. Misumena vatia, a crab spider, is even smaller, with a maximum length of only 10 mm. Yellow specimens of the European garden or cross spider Araneus diadematus (which is up to 20 mm long) are sometimes encountered, but they always bear this species’ characteristic cross marking upon their opisthosoma (abdomen).

Cheiracanthium punctorium (www.biolib.cz)

Consequently, I can only conclude that it was a specimen of some non-native species that had somehow found its way into the car after having earlier escaped from captivity (a private collection, perhaps, or a local zoo, nature centre, or even a pet shop?), or from some produce container originating from overseas – large (and usually decidedly hairy!) spiders emerging from bunches of imported bananas in a supermarket are regularly reported in the media.

Nevertheless, it would be excellent to obtain a conclusive taxonomic identification of this spider, so I’d greatly value any suggestions.

2 comments:

  1. South America and the African Congo has reports of Tarantula like spiders measuring from 3 to 5 feet long in legspan. Thats scary. The size and power of the fangs and the volume of venom would make these lethal to man. These Arachnids prey on vertebrates and it could make a meal of a human baby. A regular size Goliath Tarantula 10 inches long is known to kill and eat a Ferdelance snake. Therophosid Tarantulas have venom that is fatal to small animals. Its not normally fatal to a healthy human adult. The Chinese Earth Tiger Tarantula is known to have killed a human baby and the Indian Ornamental Tarantula also has a semi lethal bite. These are just two of manu tropical species with very painful bites which cause serious sickness. Many of these tropical Tarantulas are bad tempered and bite readily and New World species are also able to fling their hairs which can cause intense itching and rashes. These animals are not harmless. Yet many people keep them as pets and even hold them. Some kinds of Tarantulas are beautifully colored. A few of them are friendly and docile such as the Pink Zebra Beauty Tarantula and the Pink Toe Tarantula. The Pink Zebra Beauty makes the best spider pet as it will allow humans to hold it without biting. Tarantulas are super ancient. They have probably existed before the Dinosaurs during the Paleozoic era probably as much as 405 million years ago during the Devonian period. They coexisted with Trilobites and Sea Scorpions! They probably preyed on Trilobites and the Dinosaurs may have sometimes been unlucky enough to feel their bite. Tarantulas are living fossils and are awe inspiring.

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  2. I find the reference to the Katipo of new Zealand very interesting as the venom as far as I'm aware has not been responsible for any deaths either than those are other than in those who have a allergic reaction to the venom.
    The bite from the spiders is about the equivalent of a severe the sting from a honey bee.
    These creatures are usually very retiring and avoid human contact and take a lot to provoke.
    They are normally found along the tide line at the beach most bites usually occur.

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