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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Monday, 27 February 2012

WELCOME TO THE JOURNAL OF CRYPTOZOOLOGY - A NEW, PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL DEVOTED TO MYSTERY ANIMALS.




With the demise of Kraken and, in particular, Cryptozoology (published by the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology), there has been no peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to cryptozoology for quite some time. Consequently, the Journal of Cryptozoology is launched today to remedy this situation and fill a notable gap in the literature of cryptids and their investigation. For although some mainstream zoological journals are beginning to show slightly less reluctance than before to publish papers with a cryptozoological theme, it is still by no means an easy task for such papers to gain acceptance, and, as a result, potentially significant, serious contributions to the subject are not receiving the scientific attention that they deserve. Now, however, they have a journal of their own once again, and one that adheres to the same high standards for publication as mainstream zoological periodicals.

To that end, a distinguished peer review panel has been assembled, consisting of some of the world's most eminent zoologists and associated researchers in their respective fields. And I am honoured to have been invited by the journal's originator and publisher, CFZ Press, to become Editor - an invitation that I am delighted to accept.

It is planned that each volume of the Journal of Cryptozoology should contain at least four papers. These can be discussion or review articles concerning a given cryptozoological subject, research-related papers, or field reports. Details concerning the required presentation formats for these contributions can be found on the journal's inside back cover and are also included below.

Down through the decades, cryptozoology has been defined in different ways by different researchers, with some definitions much more restrictive than others. Consequently, it is important to make clear the definition – and therefore the scope of subjects available for papers – to which this journal adheres. For the purposes of relevance to this journal, a cryptid is a creature that is known to the local people sharing its domain (ethnoknown) but unrecognised by scientists. Such a creature may be any of the following:

1) A species or subspecies apparently unknown to science, including alleged prehistoric survivors (e.g. mokele-mbembe).

2) A species or subspecies presently unknown to science in the living state, but which is known to have existed in historical times and allegedly still persists today (e.g. thylacine).

3) A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as a natural occurrence in a location outside its scientifically-recognised current geographical distribution (e.g. puma in the eastern USA).

4) A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as an artificial occurrence (i.e. due to human intervention) in a location outside its scientifically-recognised geographical distribution (e.g. alien big cats in Britain).

5) An unrecognised non-taxonomic variant of a known species or subspecies (e.g. Fujian blue tiger; prior to its scientific recognition, the journal's logo creature, the king cheetah, was another example from this category).

In addition, papers dealing with fabulous, mythological beasts will be considered for publication in the journal if their subjects have direct relevance to cryptids (e.g. reviewing the similarity between a given lake monster from folklore and cryptids reported in that same lake in modern times).

Some cryptozoological researchers prefer to impose a lower size limit for cryptids, arguing that a crucial aspect of a cryptid's definition is that it should be of unexpected form. However, as I have revealed time and again in my various books documenting new and rediscovered animals, some very notable, unexpected cryptids were also very small. This is exemplified by Kitti's hog-nosed bat Craseonycteris thonglongyai, scientifically described in 1974 but already known to the local Thai people, and so dramatically different from all other bats that it required the creation of an entirely new taxonomic family to accommodate it – yet it is no bigger in size than a bumblebee. Consequently, although this journal is primarily interested with 'classic' cryptids, i.e. those of large or relatively large size, whose apparent continuing existence undiscovered by science is therefore particularly surprising, papers dealing with interesting, unusual, or potentially significant cryptids of smaller size will also be considered for publication.

Please note: unidentified animal-like (zooform) entities of an apparently paranormal nature, e.g. spectral Black Dogs, fall outside the scope of subjects with which this journal is concerned.

It is always exciting to be part of a major new development, and I believe that the Journal of Cryptozoology marks a major new development in the advancement and mainstream awareness of cryptozoology. I hope that you will too.


Consequently, I now wish to take this opportunity to make a formal call for papers for publication in the journal's inaugural volume, scheduled for publication later this year. Below are guidelines concerning requirements for the submission and presentation of manuscripts of papers to the Journal of Cryptozoology that must be adhered to by contributors.


All submissions must be original manuscripts not previously published elsewhere or submitted elsewhere simultaneously with submission to this journal. All submissions will be sent to two members of the journal's peer review panel for their opinions concerning content, clarity, and relevance to cryptozoology. Their comments will then be studied by the editor whose decision is final concerning whether or not the manuscript is published, subject if necessary to amendments by the author(s) if suggested by the reviewers. The copyright of all published papers belongs to this journal.

All manuscripts submitted should be one of the following three types of paper:

Discussion/Review article: Its subject should be a discussion or literature review of a given cryptozoological subject, and should not include original, unpublished research. It can be of 1000-3000 words in length, and can also include clearly labelled and numbered b/w photographs, artwork, tables, or maps, provided that the copyright of these falls into one of the following three categories:

(1) owned by the author(s);

(2) has been granted to them in writing by their copyright owner(s) - a copy of such permission will need to be submitted with the manuscript and artwork;

(3) expired, i.e. in the public domain.

The article should be preceded by a 200-word abstract, and should be divided into relevant subtitled sections. A reference list can be included at the end of the article; if so, this and the accompanying in-text citation style should correspond with the preferred version outlined below.

Research article: Its subject should be original research (but not fieldwork) conducted by the author(s). It should be of comparable length to or shorter than discussion/review articles, but with a minimum count of 1000 words. It can also include clearly labelled and numbered b/w photographs, artwork, tables, or maps, provided that the copyright of these falls into one of the three above-listed categories. The article should be preceded by a 100-word abstract, and its main text should be split into four sections – Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion. A reference list can be included at the end of the article; if so, this and the accompanying in-text citation style should correspond with the preferred version outlined below.

Field report: Its subject should be fieldwork conducted by the author(s). It should be of 1000-2000 words in length. It can also include clearly labelled and numbered b/w photographs, artwork, tables, or maps, provided that the copyright of these falls into one of the three above-listed categories. The article should be preceded by a 100-word abstract, and its main text should be split into four sections – Introduction, Description (in which the fieldwork undertaken is described), Results, Discussion (which should also include details of any future plans). A reference list can be included at the end of the article; if so, this and the accompanying in-text citation style should correspond with the preferred version outlined below.

Style of reference citation required:
All in-text citations should be: author(s) surnames, comma, year of publication, all in parentheses. If the cited reference has more than two co-authors, give only the first surname followed by et al. Examples: (Jones, 1987), or (Jones & Jones, 1987), or (Jones et al., 1987).

For books, the style required for the reference list should be: Author surname followed by given names with first (or legal) given name in full and others as initials, followed by the year of publication in parentheses, and a full stop/period. The title of the book should be italicised, with its principal words beginning with a capital letter, and should end with a full stop/period. The publisher's name should then be given, with the town or city of publication included in parentheses. If the book is co-authored by two authors, their names should be separated by an ampersand; if co-authored by more than two, all but the last name should be separated by commas, and the last name should be separated by an ampersand. Here are some hypothetical examples:

Smith, John C. (1987). The History of Cryptozoology. Jones & Son (London).

Smith, John C. & Jones, James A. (1987). The History of Cryptozoology. Jones & Son (London).

Smith, John C., Taylor, Paul B., & Jones, James A. (1987). The History of Cryptozoology. Jones & Son (London).

For journal articles, the style required for the reference list should be: Author surname followed by given names with first (or legal) given name in full and others as initials, followed by the year of publication in parentheses, and a full stop/period. The title of the article should not be italicised, and should not be capitalised (other than the first word). The title of the journal should be given in full, not abbreviated, with its principal words beginning with a capital letter, it should be italicised, and should end with a comma. Volume numbers should be given as figures, issue numbers also as figures (preceded by no.) but included in parentheses following the volume number (together with date of issue if relevant, and separated from issue number by a semi-colon), followed by a colon, and then the page numbers, given in full. If the article is in a newspaper, the town or city of publication in parentheses should follow the newspaper's title, and instead of volume numbers, the full date of publication will suffice, followed by the page number(s) if known. Here are some hypothetical examples:

Smith, John C. (1987). Investigation of an unidentified lizard carcase discovered in Senegal. Journal of Lizard Studies, 33 (no. 2; September): 52-59.

Smith, John C. (1987). Mystery cat on the loose in Wales. Daily Exclusive (London), 4 February: 23.

For online sources, if an author name is given, it should be presented in the same style as for books and articles, followed by the title of the source, which should adhere to the style format given above for a hard-copy journal article, followed by the complete URL, date of posting if given, and the date upon which it was accessed by the paper's author(s). Here is an example:

Shuker, Karl P.N. (2012). Quest for the kondlo – Zululand's forgotten mystery bird. http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com/2012/02/quest-for-kondlo-zululands-forgotten.html 21 February. Accessed 24 February 2012.

If no author is given, simply begin the reference with - , then give the article title, etc as above.


I look forward to receiving and evaluating your submissions. Please email them to me at my usual address - karlshuker@aol.com

Dr Karl P.N. Shuker, the Editor, the Journal of Cryptozoology, 27 February 2012.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

QUEST FOR THE KONDLO - ZULULAND'S FORGOTTEN MYSTERY BIRD

Artistic representation of the kondlo (William Rebsamen)


One of many little-reported cryptozoological birds in need of an identity is Zululand's mysterious kondlo - a large, black, fowl-like bird that incited a considerable conflict of opinion within the pages of the periodical African Wild Life during the early 1960s, yet which nowadays is all but forgotten.

Its principal champion was Captain G.T. Court of Durban, South Africa, whose letter of December 1962 described the kondlo as a voiceless bird comparable in size and shape to a young female domestic turkey poult, with a feathered head and beak also resembling a hen turkey's. Its irises, beak, legs, and feet were red, but its plumage was glossy black, overlain with a greenish-blue sheen - all of which gave it a colouration reminiscent of the chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, a species of European crow. It did not seem to exhibit sexual dimorphism (morphological differences between the sexes).

Southern ground hornbill (Wikipedia)

During the series of interchanges published in African Wild Life, the southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri and the bald ibis Geronticus calvus were offered as putative identities, but both were vehemently rejected by Captain Court. His views were based upon personal experience of the kondlo - from many years of hunting, not only was he fully acquainted with every species of game bird in this region of South Africa, but in addition he had actually shot and eaten several specimens of kondlo. Consequently, he was readily able to differentiate between the ground hornbill, bald ibis, and kondlo.

Bald ibis (Althepal/Wikipedia)

Furthermore, quoting from a scholarly Zulu-English dictionary compiled by priest Father Alfred Bryant during many years of work here, Court pointed out that these three birds even had their own wholly separate local names. The ground hornbill was known as the tsingizi, the bald ibis was the xwagele, and the kondlo was only ever termed the kondlo.

According to Court, this mystifying bird occurred in groups of 4-8 on the grass-covered ridges of Mtonjaneni and Mahlabatini, and when it took to the air it flew low, in a manner resembling the flight of a guineafowl. Ominously, Court also noted that although once abundant, the kondlo seemed lately to be disappearing from its former haunts; his most recent sighting was in about 1956. Surely this species could be systematically sought and conclusively identified by ornithologists - always assuming that it hasn't already died out?

This ShukerNature blog post is excerpted from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable (Carlton Books: London, 1999).

Thursday, 16 February 2012

PREDATOR DEATHMATCH - MEET NICK MOLLOY AND HIS BATTLES OF THE BEHEMOTHS!



Over the years, I have penned a number of forewords to other writers' books, the vast majority of which have been, to varying extents, of a cryptozoological nature. However, in recent times there has been one very notable exception to this trend – Nick Molloy's superb book Predator Deathmatch. I soon discovered that not only was it unlike any book that I'd contributed a foreword to before, but it was unlike any book that I'd ever read before – and it thoroughly captivated me.

Consequently, as I'm sure that you'll enjoy this uniquely engrossing book just as much as I have done – and continue to do – here is my foreword to it, which explains precisely why I consider it so special, and why I feel certain that once you've bought it and read it you will too.

"Every so often - but nowhere near often enough! - a book is published whose premise is so entertaining and thoroughly original that it seems incredible no-one has thought of writing just such a book long ago. Predator Deathmatch fits this description perfectly. The basic idea is simplicity itself - who would win a battle between two seriously major predators?



"Each chapter pairs contenders from various ecosystems and time periods, setting up ‘fight to the kill’ matches between the polar bear and Siberian tiger, prehistory’s monstrous giant shark megalodon and a comparably formidable marine reptile of pliosaurian persuasion, the sperm whale and the giant squid, and so forth. Nick's vivid accounts of how he would expect these titanic slugfests to shape out make exciting reading, but what enhances his coverage immeasurably is the painstaking degree of factual research and provision of background pre- and post-fight information that he also provides.



"Moreover, whereas a welter of facts and figures might in the wrong hands be off-putting and even counterproductive to retaining the reader’s interest, thanks to Nick's deft, infectiously enthusiastic style of writing, laced throughout with scintillating flashes of dry humour, the very substantial body of data that he incorporates into each chapter actually serves to engage interest even further. The net result is a book that is near-impossible to put down once you have begun reading it – after initially planning to read just the first chapter to begin with, simply to gain a feel for its style and depth before reading further, I found myself reading the entire manuscript from cover to cover at a single sitting, and enjoying every page of it immensely. Adding even further to my pleasure were its spectacular illustrations by Anthony Wallis [reproduced here in this present ShukerNature blog post], which bring these mighty antagonists so vividly to life.



"So if you’ve ever wondered who would emerge victorious should a great white shark and a killer whale clash lethally in the high seas, or if T. rex and a primeval mega-croc experienced a truly fatal encounter, or if Komodo’s veritable dragon should somehow find itself assailing an anaconda of Pythonesque proportions, prepare for all of your questions – and many others that you hadn’t even got around to posing – to be answered within the pages of this superb book, where the gladiators of past and present, land and sea are only awaiting your private audience before commencing their deadly duels.



"After all, who needs boxing and wrestling, or even cage fighting, when the greatest and most bloodthirsty marauders ever to stride this planet – like the bona fide colossi that they are, were, and remain – are ready to perform at your personal behest? So take your seat ringside, and don’t forget your popcorn!"

Predator Deathmatch is available from Amazon.com (click here), and from Amazon.co.uk (click here).


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

BEWARE OF THE CATIPOCE - THE CHESHIRE CAT'S PREFABULOUS COUSIN!

The dreaded Catipoce, as illustrated by Edward Ardizzone in James Reeves's Prefabulous Animiles (1957)


The Cheshire Cat, from Lewis Carroll's classic children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), may well be the literary world's most famous grinning felid - but it isn't the only one...

One of the earliest books that beckoned me down the often-thorny, frequently-meandering, but ever-beguiling pathway of cryptozoology is one that may not be very familiar to many (if, indeed, any) other cryptozoologists - but it definitely should be. It was a thoroughly enchanting book of original poetry by James Reeves (and illustrations by Edward Ardizzone), first published in 1957, and entitled Prefabulous Animiles.

Prefabulous Animiles (William Heinemann Ltd: London, 1957); the Catipoce is depicted at bottom left on the front cover

As its title suggests, it was filled with captivating verses on such wonderfully whimsically albeit totally fictitious monsters as the hippocrump, the chickamungus, the doze, and - my own personal favourite (evincing even at that tender age a particular interest in mystery cats) - the catipoce.

As revealed in a hilarious eight-verse poem, this was a fiendish female Cheshire cat doppelgänger that lured her hapless victims within reach of her lethal carrion-stained claws and 44 crooked teeth by virtue of her mesmerising, irresistible grin. Having said that, so ghastly is this sight that many have gone mad at the merest glimpse of it – always assuming that they haven’t already succumbed to her fatal sneeze!

Beware of the Catipoce! Two pages from her poem in Prefabulous Animiles, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Lurking at dusk in woods, cellars, barns, or even an uninspected loft, or crouched behind neglected rubbish dumps, sometimes only the catipoce’s horn-humped back is visible – until some unwary person treads close enough to witness this foul felid's rapacious grin:

THE CATIPOCE - by James Reeves

'O Harry, Harry! hold me close -
I fear some animile.
It is the horny Catipoce
With her outrageous smile!'

Thus spoke the maiden in alarm;
She had good cause to fear:
The Catipoce can do great harm,
If any come too near.

Despite her looks, do not presume
The creature's ways are mild;
For many have gone mad on whom
The Catipoce has smiled.

She lurks in woods at close of day
Among the toadstools soft,
Or sprawls on musty sacks and hay
In cellar, barn, or loft.

Behind neglected rubbish-dumps
At dusk your blood will freeze
Only to glimpse her horny humps
And hear her fatal sneeze.

Run, run! adventurous boy or girl -
Run home, and do not pause
To feel her breath around you curl,
And tempt her carrion claws.

Avoid her face; for underneath
That gentle, fond grimace
Lie four-and-forty crooked teeth -
My dears, avoid her face!

'O Harry, Harry! hold me close,
And hold me close a while;
It is the odious Catipoce
With her devouring smile!'

Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat has a lot to answer for!

Showing Edward Ardizzone’s marvellous Catipoce illustration in my much-treasured copy of James Reeves’s delightful book Prefabulous Animiles (Dr Karl Shuker)

Monday, 13 February 2012

IN THE PINK WITH AMERICA'S GIANT CRYPTO-SALAMANDERS



After posting the above photograph of a Chinese giant salamander Andrias davidianus on my Facebook wall a few days ago, it attracted such interest and such a variety of comments, including some on the subject of alleged giant mystery salamanders reported in North America, that it reminded me of the section on this very same subject that I had included in my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors back in 1995. Consequently, for those of you who may not have seen it, I am reprinting that section here (with a few slight amendments), plus some new illustrations and a brief update.


A 'DINOSAUR' CALLED PINKY

If there are any regions in North America with prospects (however slim) for concealing living dinosaurs, they must include the humid swamplands of Florida - especially as a creature reputedly akin to such animals has been reported from here on several different occasions.

On 10 May 1975, an outboard motor boat transporting five people on a fishing trip along Florida's 300-mile-long St Johns River experienced a close encounter at a spot between Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean with something very peculiar - and certainly not pretty - in pink! At around 10 am, one of the passengers, Brenda Langley, saw the head and neck of an extraordinary creature surface a mere 20 ft from their vessel, and shortly afterwards it was also spied by the other four passengers when they turned the boat around - to escape what seemed to be an oncoming storm, heralded by the arrival of some dark clouds.

According to subsequent press reports of their encounter, quoted by mystery beast chronicler Mark A. Hall in Wonders (December 1992), Dorothy Abram likened it to "...a dinosaur with its skin pulled back so all the bones were showing...[and] pink. Sort of the color of boiled shrimp". She also noted that its head was at least the size of a man's, with a pair of snail-like horns bearing knob-like structures at their tips, there were flaps reminiscent of gills or fins hanging down from the sides of its head, its mouth turned downwards, its large eyes were dark and slanted, and its neck had protruded about 3 ft out of the water, revealing a seemingly serrated upper surface. Brenda Langley agreed with this description, and added that it was an ugly creature recalling pictures of dragons. Its behavioural activity had seemed to its eyewitnesses be one of inquisitiveness, returning their intrigued stares with an equal extent of keen observation during its 8-second appearance - after which it submerged so effortlessly that it did not even leave behind a ripple.

Pinky, as based upon a hypothetical pink hellbender (see later)

Soon to receive the inevitable nickname of Pinky, the St Johns River water beast attracted sufficient media interest to elicit accounts from several other people claiming sightings of just such a beast in this same area as far back as the mid-1950s. This, of course, is hardly an uncommon feature of cryptozoological cases receiving media exposure.

However, Mark Hall has good reason for believing in the validity of these earlier Pinky reports - because 20 years before the encounter of May 1975, he had seen newspaper accounts from various Jacksonville papers that described sightings of a similar creature and which themselves dated back a number of years.

Moreover, Hall discovered from an Argosy article written by cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson that during the 1960s, while bow-hunting along the St Johns River, biology student Mary Lou Richardson, her father, and a friend had all seen a very peculiar animal with a great flat head, a rather small neck, and (in Sanderson's own opinion) the overall appearance of a donkey-sized dinosaur. Four other groups of tourists independently saw it during that same day, and enquiries revealed that this animal was well known to local fishermen and hunters. In short, Pinky was far from being the cryptozoological newcomer that it had initially seemed.

Reconstruction of Thescelosaurus (Nobu Tamura/Wikipedia)

Taking his lead from Sanderson's view, Hall has very tentatively sought to reconcile the perplexing Pinky with an undiscovered, living species of hypsilophodontid dinosaur called Thescelosaurus - an 11-ft-long bipedal dinosaur the size of a small car, with five fingers on each hand and five toes per foot, a long stiff tail, and characterised by rows of bony studs set in the skin along its back that may have given it a somewhat uneven, serrated appearance. One of the last known dinosaurs, it lived during the very late Cretaceous of western North America, and was related to the larger, more familiar Iguanodon.

Personally, I very much doubt that we need nominate anything as dramatic as a living dinosaur when seeking to unveil Pinky's identity - at least not until we have surveyed reports describing prominently pink mystery beasts of a herpetological persuasion from elsewhere in the U.S.A., for such beasts have been recorded far beyond the St Johns River of Florida.


HORNS AND HELLBENDERS

Two centuries ago, for example, strange creatures referred to loosely as giant pink lizards were frequently reported from southcentral Ohio's Scippo Creek by the first white settlers here. Hall's book Natural Mysteries (1991) presents a detailed investigation of these animals, concluding that they could well be the larval form of some undiscovered giant amphibian.

They were said to be at least 3 ft long but generally averaged 6-7 ft, were invariably pink in colour, sported large horns ("like a moose", according to one very startled eyewitness, a young carpenter), and were always associated with water. When their habitat suffered a great drought some time before 1820 that dried out many streams and wells, and suffered additional devastation via a terrible fire, the outcome was their extinction. If we equate these animals' 'horns' with prominent, branching external gills, rather like those of the much smaller axolotl of Mexico, these 'pink lizards' could indeed have been larval salamanders - but their size far exceeds any known species in North America, or anywhere else.

Nature writer Herbert Sass was a much more recent observer of a pink mystery beast in North America. While boating in or around 1928 with his wife Marion on Goose Creek lagoon, near Charleston, Sass saw something moving under the water, and when he succeeded in lifting part of its heavy bulk up out of the water on an oar they saw that it was bright salmon-pink and orange in colour, as thick as a man's lower thigh, with a smooth tail, and a pair of short legs like those of an alligator or salamander. Within moments, however, their mysterious captive had slipped off the oar, and back into the water. A 2-ft-long portion of a large worm-like beast of similar colouration to Sass's creature was briefly spied by Ivan Sanderson and his wife Sabina during the early 1970s, amid the dense water vegetation in a pond created from an artificial swamp on their farm at Warren County, New Jersey.

An orange-coloured specimen of the Chinese giant salamander

Speculation concerning the existence in North America of giant salamanders might seem just as risky as speculation regarding the presence here of living dinosaurs - were it not for the indisputable fact that the United States is already known to harbour one species of giant salamander - the euphoniously-named hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. Up to 29 in long, it is most closely related to a pair of even larger species, native to Asia's Far East - the Japanese giant salamander Andrias (=Megalobatrachus) japonicus (up to 5 ft long), and the Chinese A. davidianus (up to 6 ft long, and the world's biggest salamander).

The samurai Hanagami Danjo no jo Arakage in Izumo stabbing a giant salamander, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

It is interesting to note that in his own report of his sighting, Sass described the creature that he briefly captured as a kind of giant hellbender, at least 5-6 ft long, because this grotesque species is also reminiscent of Pinky from Florida's St Johns River. Just like Pinky, the hellbender has a large flattened head, a long downward-curving mouth, loose folds of skin on its neck, and wrinkles along much of its body that could conceivably be mistaken for protruding bones during as brief a sighting as that of 10 May 1975. Moreover, the hellbender does indeed inhabit fast-flowing streams and rivers, and even in their well-aerated water it must still surface to gulp air every so often, because unlike various other salamanders it does not have external gills as an adult. And with a lifespan for this species of at least 30 years, a single specimen could have been responsible not only for the Pinky sighting of May 1975 but also for those predating it by more than 20 years.

Even its dissimilarities are not irreconcilable. Although the hellbender's official distribution range is from the Great Lakes through the eastern United States to Georgia and Louisiana, it would not be impossible for a population to remain undetected amid the little-traversed Florida swamplands. Interestingly, the concept of out-of-place giant salamanders has at least two notable if somewhat controversial precedents.

The hellbender

In or around 1939, a 25-30-in-long Andrias salamander was captured by a commercial fisherman in California's Sacramento River. Maintained alive for a time within a wooden trough suspended in the fisherman's own bathtub, it was examined by Stanford University herpetologist Dr George S. Myers, who felt that it differed in colouration from both of the two known modern-day species of Andrias. Thus, he speculated that although it could simply be an escapee from captivity, it may represent an unknown, native New World species - i.e. a relic from prehistoric times, when the zoogeographical range of the giant salamanders was much greater than its fragmented modern-day equivalent.

This latter identity, however, was challenged by Chico State College herpetologist Dr Thomas L. Rodgers, who announced that he too had inspected the Sacramento giant salamander, but had later learnt that it was in reality an absconded Chinese giant salamander called Benny - one of three A. davidianus specimens purchased by fish fancier Wong Hong somewhere in China. According to Charles Bjork, captain of the steamer Isleton, Benny had escaped while being transported through the straits on the way to Stockton Harbour. Even so, this does not explain the sighting of what was described by eyewitnesses as the "head of a gigantic lizard" emerging from the Sacramento River - in 1891.

19th-Century engraving of a Japanese giant salamander viewed underwater

Nor can it counter the longstanding belief that a deep lake in California's Trinity Alps is home to giant salamanders 5-9 ft long. Attorney Frank L. Griffith claimed to have spied five of them and even to have hooked one in the 1920s - due to its great size, however, he was unable to haul it out of the water. His story attracted Dr Rodgers's interest, who visited the lake four times hoping to see these beasts. Despite denouncing Myers's idea regarding the Sacramento specimen, he speculated that they may be a relict population of Andrias, but all that he found were some Dicamptodon salamanders - none more than 1 ft long.

Other searches have taken place since then, whose participants included in 1960 the Texan millionaire Tom Slick, a keen amateur cryptozoological investigator, but as no specimen of Andrias or the hellbender has so far been found here, the case for their existence remains unproven. Yet in view of its secretive, principally nocturnal lifestyle, it would not be too surprising for populations of hellbenders outside the species' known distribution range to have escaped detection, especially in little-explored swamps or high mountain lakes.

The extra-large size of some of North America's unidentified salamander-like beasts (pink or otherwise) is not a problem either, when seeking to identify them as hellbenders. Although the largest recorded specimens are under 3 ft, formerly there may have been much larger ones, whose greater size rendered them up as targets for early Western settlers eager to test their shooting capabilities upon these inoffensive, sluggish beasts. Record-size specimens of many different species have elicited similar attention from hunters in the past, the systematic killing of such specimens bringing about an eventual decrease in their species' average size (the gradual reduction in average total length of the much-hunted European giant catfish or wels Silurus glanis over the past century exemplifies this trend). In remote areas little-frequented by man, however, some reclusive giant specimens could still thrive, undisturbed.

Even the distinctive pink colour of most of the strange creatures reported here does not oppose a hellbender identity. Albinism is not uncommon among salamanders, and albinistic specimens normally exhibit a pink sheen due to the presence of blood coursing through their blood vessels beneath the outer skin layer. In the hellbender, the skin's supply of blood vessels is particularly pronounced - this extensive vascularisation enables the animal to obtain much of its oxygen requirements by direct absorption through its skin from the surrounding water of its aquatic domain. Hence an albinistic hellbender would be conspicuously pink. And because the genetics of albinism in salamanders (as in many other animals) are such that albino salamanders can only yield more albinos, all-pink populations would rapidly arise.

An unequivocally pink-coloured Chinese giant salamander (Zoological Society of London)

In contrast, Mark Hall mentioned that the pink colour of these mystery beasts could be due to their diet, as with the pink plumage of flamingos. This latter situation, however, is a very specific one, and there is no evidence to suggest that a similar phenomenon occurs in salamanders - whereas pet albino (and also leucistic) axolotls, for example, are often fed upon bright-red tubifex worms and various pink crustaceans, they never acquire the pigmentation of their prey.

Overall, therefore, a hellbender identity for the pink mystery beasts is the most satisfactory explanation available. Even so, there is still the matter of the Scippo Creek beasts' bizarre moose-like horns to resolve, because hellbenders have no such structures - when adult, even their gills are internal. Consequently, if the Scippo creatures' 'horns' are actually large external gills these animals would much more closely resemble a giant form of axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum - the best-known of the Mexican neotenic forms belonging to the tiger salamander complex.

Leucistic axolotls (as confirmed by their dark eyes) at Vancouver Aquarium (ZeWrestler/Wikipedia)

Under standard conditions, most salamanders metamorphose normally from the gilled larval salamander into the true adult, reproductive form. In the case of the axolotl, however, and especially if the pools in which it thrives are low in iodine, this metamorphosis is often halted, and the animal retains its larval form throughout its life, but nonetheless acquires the capability to reproduce and is thus said to be neotenic.

A neotenic, extra-large version of the hellbender might thus explain the pink mystery beasts of Scippo, but no such specimens have so far been formally documented. Moreover, not only are neotenic salamanders exclusively aquatic, but if they are lifted out of the water their gills flatten against their neck, thereby relinquishing their antler-like form.

And in any case, what of Pinky - with its very different, snail-like horns, and noticeably large eyes? Hellbenders have no such horns, and their eyes are very small. Could Pinky's horns be breathing tubes? If so, a hellbender with snorkels and protruding eyes is clearly taxonomically separate from the known species - so although a thriving Thescelosaurus dinosaur abroad in North America remains highly unlikely, the possibility of an unknown species of giant salamander lurking amid its vast swamplands may be worth further investigation.


UPDATE

Since writing the above section in 1995, I have encountered a number of photographs, such as those included here, which confirm that pink giant salamanders can and do exist. True, these are of the Chinese species (which, as Dr Darren Naish noted here in a Tetrapod Zoology post for 3 December 2010 on these amphibians, is more variable morphologically than is often realised), but their existence substantiates the likelihood that pink hellbenders, for the reasons already presented here, could also arise.

Moreover, American cryptozoologist Dale Drinnon has lately speculated that perhaps an unknown, giant form of one of North America's mudpuppies or waterdogs Necturus spp. may be responsible for some of the reports documented here. True, unlike the hellbender mudpuppies retain their external gills into adulthood as a normal occurrence, but these wholly aquatic salamanders are less than 1.5 ft long, so a giant form would require a proportionately greater increase in size than would be true for the hellbender.

A mudpuppy, showing its external gills

In 2008, veteran American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman conducted a search for Pinky in and around Florida's St Johns River, details concerning which can be found here.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF NEW AND REDISCOVERED ANIMALS - FEATURED IN THE GUARDIAN

The proud father with his latest progeny! (Dr Karl Shuker)


It's always encouraging to learn that one of your books has made the pages of a leading newspaper.

So I'm very pleased to discover that my latest book, The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Coachwhip Publications: Landisville, 2012), has appeared today in London's Guardian newspaper, as one of the titles featured in Ian Paulsen's long-running 'Birdbooker Report' book reviews column (today's was #209).

Check it out here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/grrlscientist/2012/feb/12/1


Thursday, 2 February 2012

THE CRYPTIC KROW - MYSTERY REPTILE, BUT BURGLAR'S FRIEND!

Mr Nice – the bestselling autobiography of Howard Marks

I've said it many times before, but it still bears repeating – reports of mysterious animals can turn up in the most unexpected places. For example: you're hardly likely to discover a report of an extraordinary, unidentified reptile in the autobiography of a major convicted drug smuggler, right? Wrong!

First published in 1996 but soon becoming a runaway international bestseller that has since been reprinted many times, Mr Nice is the autobiography of Howard Marks (its title referring to 'Donald Nice', one of Marks's numerous pseudonyms), whose eventful criminal history is described as follows on the back cover of the 1998 paperback edition published by Vintage:

"During the mid 1980s Howard Marks had forty-three aliases, eighty-nine phone lines and owned twenty-five companies trading throughout the world. At the height of his career he was smuggling consignments of up to thirty tons of marijuana, and had contact with organisations as diverse as MI6, the CIA, the IRA and the Mafia. Following a worldwide operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, he was busted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison at Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana. He was released in April 1995 after serving seven years of his sentence."

Poster for the 2010 biopic 'Mr Nice', starring Rhys Ifans as Howard Marks

Tucked away amid Marks's recollections of his memorable life of crime, however, is a fascinating but highly unexpected snippet of cryptozoological interest, which reads as follows:

"I had been advised by Raoul to visit Murray Hill Station [in Pakistan] on the borders of Kashmir, a few hours' drive from Islamabad. Foreigners were not allowed to rent cars, so I made a private arrangement with a local taxi-driver who spoke a little English. We were driving on poor roads through the foothills of the Himalayas. I saw and smelt fields of marijuana. A large, five-foot-long, prehistoric-looking lizard ambled across the road in front of us and disappeared into a marijuana bush. The taxi screamed to a halt, and the driver pointed and yelled, 'Krow! Krow!'

"'What is it?' I asked.

"'It is Krow, Mr Nice, burglar best friend.'

"'I don't understand.'

"'You want to come to my brother cousin, Mr Nice? I will show you.'

"'Yes, please,' I said, well in the mood for arbitrary adventures with burglars' friends and brother cousins.

"We took a track off the road, drove for miles, and stopped outside an old, meandering group of dusty yellow buildings. An old man dressed in colourful rags came out through a hole in the wall and grunted at the taxi-driver.

"'This is Mohammed, Mr Nice. He is pleased to meet you, Mr Nice.'

"The two babbled away in some unknown tongue and beckoned me into a walled courtyard full of Krows of all sizes. At a signal from Mohammed, one of the Pakistani workers caught hold of a large Krow by its tail, body-slammed it against the high wall, and let go. The Krow stuck to the wall. The Pakistani climbed up the vertical Krow as if it was a ladder. I could see why the Krow was the burglar's best friend but still found it hard to imagine housebreaking with a giant lizard...

"Back at the Holiday Inn, Islamabad, Raoul came round. He confirmed the existence and uses of the Krow."


How surreal is that?! But what could the Krow be?

Its ability to adhere so readily to walls immediately calls to mind the geckos, but there is certainly no known species of gecko that attains a length of 5 ft (the largest, a 'mere' 2 ft long, is Delcourt's giant gecko Hoplodactylus delcourti, known only from a single taxiderm specimen of probable New Zealand origin, and believed to be one and the same species as a reputedly mythical New Zealand lizard known to the Maori people as the kawekaweau).

Delcourt's giant gecko (Markus Bühler)

Such dimensions are much more compatible with a species of monitor (varanid), but how proficient are these lizards' wall-gripping abilities, especially while someone is climbing all over them?! And is their nature placid enough for anyone to risk doing this, even if such lizards could grip walls tightly enough to remain in place?

Is there anyone out there who can shed any light on this thoroughly perplexing herpetological mystery? If so, please send in details!

Oh, just one other thing: if by any chance you happen to own a large lizard as a pet, please don't try this at home!


UPDATE - 24 August 2013

Tonight I read the following fascinating snippet on the Wikipedia page for the Bengal or common Indian monitor Varanus bengalensis, which may well have relevance to the mystery of the krow:

"Monitors are among the most intelligent of reptiles, and can be domesticated and trained to a limited extent, though they are not the most docile of pets. They have strong claws they use for climbing; and a popular legend has it that Shivaji's general, Tanaji Malusare [Shivaji being the 17th-Century founder and sovereign of the Maratha Empire), used a pet monitor with a rope tied around its belly as an aid to climbing the walls of the Sinhagad fort in the Battle of Sinhagad. (This use of monitor lizards was fairly prevalent in western India: a Maratha family, Ghorpade, took its name from individuals who specialized in training and using monitors for this purpose.)"

Judging from this information, the krow may indeed be a species of varanid after all, conceivably even this very same one. Another cryptozoological mystery solved?

A Bengal monitor lizard (Yogesh Khandki/Wikipedia)