Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Saturday 15 July 2017


Close-up of the so-called 'Locust of Kalisz' drawing, contained in the scrapbook album compiled and given by friends to General Joachim Daniel von Jauch as a birthday present sometime during the early 1750s (public domain)

Its many shortcomings and dark aspects notwithstanding, I have long considered the internet to be the greatest cabinet of curiosities ever assembled, a limitless repository replete with wonders and marvels of every conceivable – and inconceivable – kind, all awaiting uncovering and investigation by those with a mind to do so. Over the years, I have documented here on ShukerNature an extremely diverse array of my own cryptozoology-related discoveries made in this manner, of which the present one is just the latest in a very extensive and – at least for me, but I hope for you too – a thoroughly entrancing series with no end in sight, thankfully.

And so it was that while idly browsing last night through the vast virtual art gallery of online images that is freely available via Wikimedia Commons, I typed 'Cryptozoology' in its search engine bar, and instantly called up an entertaining selection of pictures appertaining to mystery beasts. As I browsed through them, I recognised every one with varying degrees of familiarity – until, that is, I came to the extraordinary drawing that opens this current ShukerNature article, and was immediately aware that I had never encountered it before.

As can be seen here, on Wikimedia Commons this drawing has been entitled 'Szarańcza z Kalisza', which translates from Polish as 'Locust of Kalisz', dates from no earlier than 1749, and is accompanied by the following description: 'Zmierzchnica trupia główka ze sztambucha generała Joachima Daniela Jaucha' (very loosely translated via Google Translate as 'the dreaded head of General Joachim Daniel Jauch on paper'). What can this weird insect be, who was Joachim Daniel Jauch, and what is their common history? Needless to say, my sense of cryptozoological curiosity was irresistibly stimulated, and so, in best Sherlockian response, the game was afoot!

The 'Locust of Kalisz' drawing with its bilingual caption inscribed below it - click to enlarge (public domain)

My first line of investigation was to translate the handwritten caption inscribed directly below the drawing itself. It was present in two separate languages, Old Polish and German, but the script was very faint in both, the ink having long since faded considerably. Happily, however, with great thanks to the much-welcomed translation skills of Facebook friend Miroslav Fismeister and one of his friends, Polish novelist Daniel Koziarski, for the Old Polish version and the much-appreciated assistance of German cryptozoological friend and colleague Markus Bühler for the German version, I am able to provide the following English translation:

The year 1749: A plague of locusts fell a mile from Kalisz, of which two were caught, one was held in Gniezno capital and the other in the OO. Reformation church in Kalisz. When taken in the hand, it was screaming like a bat, yellow foam was coming from its mouth, all of it was hairy, Death on the chest, two hairy legs, squirrel's teeth, etc.

Kalisz is a city in central Poland (and the oldest still existing anywhere in this country), and Gniezno is a city in central-western Poland that was this country's first capital city. Moreover, the OO. Reformation church in Kalisz was conceivably a Reformed Franciscan church and is apparently now the Church of the Holy Family there. Sadly, I currently have no information concerning the fate of the two captured specimens – were they preserved and retained somewhere, I wonder, or simply discarded? Hence I am treating this case as an investigation still in progress. However, combining the verbal description's details with the visual details present in the drawing did swiftly enable me to identify the insect. Albeit exhibiting considerable artistic licence and not a little inaccuracy, whereas the drawing clearly does not portray a locust it was evidently inspired by Acherontia atropos – the deathshead hawk moth, one of Europe's largest lepidopterans (click here for a ShukerNature blog article devoted to this morphologically and behaviourally distinctive species).

True, the characteristic thoracic marking resembling a skull and earning this particular moth its familiar English name was depicted ventrally rather than dorsally in this strange drawing, and in it the insect had been given a grinning human face sporting a decidedly Salvador Dali-esque upward-curving moustache, but this latter feature may have been intended as a whimsical adaptation of the moth's long thick antennae. Indeed, in overall appearance the depicted insect definitely seems to constitute a deliberately comical, humanoid caricature of A. atropos, which would explain why it was only given two legs (but ending in claws, like a moth's, rather than human feet), yet incorporating certain unequivocally Acherontian attributes too, such as the banding upon its rear wings, and its hairy body. Of particular relevance here is that the creature's alleged bat-like screaming – ostensibly nonsensical in relation to a moth – is actually a famous, characteristic feature of this particular moth species For it can emit a shrill, high-pitched squeaking sound, which is created by the moth's powerful inhalation of air into its pharynx, causing a stiffened flap called the epipharynx to vibrate very rapidly (click here for more details).

Exquisite 19th-Century illustration of a deathshead hawk moth (public domain)

But what about the description of the drawing assigned to it on Wikimedia Commons? Clearly "the dreaded head" means "the deathshead", referring to the eponymous moth species, but who was General Joachim Daniel Jauch? I soon discovered that he was General Joachim Daniel von Jauch (1688-1754), a German-born architect, civilian engineer, and military man, who had supervised the Baroque development of Warsaw, being responsible for the urban planning and designing or rebuilding of many of its new buildings, and he had also served in the Polish army as an artilleryman, steadily rising up through the ranks. But how was Jauch linked to the humanoid deathshead hawk moth drawing?

In spite of its very striking, memorable appearance, this enigmatic illustration conjured forth a surprisingly scant amount of information when utilising it as the focus of a Google Image-based internet search. However, I am nothing if not persistent (i.e. stubborn!), so eventually I unearthed sufficient details to flesh out its hitherto-opaque history. The drawing originated in a scrapbook-like album filled with all manner of artwork, which was seemingly compiled by some of Jauch's friends as a birthday present for him and presented to him during the early 1750s (precise year not known), i.e. not long before his death.

Containing over 150 exquisite drawings and other art, variously executed in pen-ink, sepia-ink, crayon, pencil, watercolour, and gouache, this unique and very beautiful leather-covered album can be viewed directly online at the website of the National Digital Library of Poland (Biblioteki Cyfrowej Polona), and the humanoid moth (aka Locust of Kalisz) with its accompanying handwritten bilingual caption can be found on p. 95 (click here to view this page and to access the entire album). The album's diverse artwork includes various architectural designs, sketches and graphics, scenes from mythology, antique sculpture studies, natural history illustrations, and portraits.

Page 95 from Jauch's album, showing the 'humanoid moth' (aka Locust of Kalisz) drawing in situ (public domain)

I also discovered a concise, excellent online article in Polish concerning this drawing (click here), in relation to which Google Translate once again came to my rescue by yielding a workable English version. Dated 11 March 2014, the article was written by Łukasz Kozak, an expert in relation to medieval times and editor at the National Digital Library of Poland, and had been posted on the latter's website. In it, he confirmed that the insect was indeed intended to be a deathshead hawk moth, and documented what I too have written about elsewhere regarding this species' unusual squeaking ability. However, he also provided some very welcome additional information concerning the background history of this intriguing case, including the following details.

As noted earlier, the album is filled with many images, which include numerous full-colour illustrations of plants and animals (such as rodents, birds, reptiles, and insects) that are generally portrayed in a very accurate, naturalistic manner. The artist responsible for these latter illustrations is believed to have been Fraulein de Naumann, as Łukasz had revealed during his own investigation of the moth drawing. She was probably the daughter of architect Johann Christoph von Naumann, who in turn was not only Jauch's predecessor at the architect office where he had worked but also his brother-in-law. Łukasz then went on to reveal the deathshead hawk moth as the species upon which the drawing had been based, and gave some interesting examples from fact and fiction previously unknown to me regarding how the eerie nature of its squeaking had terrified persons in the past who were unfamiliar with this osensibly unnatural ability, thus filling them with superstitious dread.

Łukasz also appears in a short online video in which he looks through Jauch's album, displays the moth drawing, and then discusses it. This video is embedded in an article written by him and first posted on the Newsweek Polska website on 11 February 2015, but unfortunately as he speaks only in Polish I was initially unable to obtain any information from it (click here to access the article and view the video). Happily, however, Katarzyna Bylok, the Polish girlfriend of fellow Fortean/mystery beast investigator Matt Cook, kindly viewed it for me earlier this evening, and the details concerning it that she passed onto me afterwards via Matt confirm that Łukasz was merely reiterating the details that he had previously presented in his March 2014 article. Many thanks indeed to Katarzyna and Matt for kindly assisting me regarding this.

Still of Łukasz Kozak from Newsweek Polska video (© Łukasz Kozak/Newsweek Polska – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational purposes only)

However, there are certain key issues related to this memorable drawing that remain unresolved - or do they?

Notable among these is why Fraulein de Naumann prepared such a surreal, unrealistic image anyway, bearing in mind that all of her other illustrations in the album were so life-like. Might it have been a humorous caricature of Jauch himself?

The following painting of Jauch was prepared in c.1720, and he is not portrayed in it with a moustache of any kind, but perhaps he grew and maintained one in later years?

General Joachim Daniel von Jauch, painted in c.1720, artist unknown (public domain)

Alternatively, could it have even been a comical representation of her own father, as she would have known that he and Jauch had worked in the same office? Or perhaps it was not based upon a real person at all, but was just a light-hearted doodle created in jest to add some merriment to the album, bearing in mind that it had been created specifically as a birthday present for him?

Yet another theory that has been suggested by some writers online, including biologist Prof. Stanislaw Czachorowski in an article of 9 February 2014 dealing with the deathshead hawk moth (click here), and which would certainly explain why it differed so dramatically from the other wildlife illustrations, is also worth considering. Namely, that this drawing was in fact produced by Jauch himself, and was based not upon any sightings of his own but only upon secondhand descriptions or lurid folkloric accounts of the deathshead hawk moth (another reason for its stark inaccuracy), which he interpolated in a blank space on p. 95 of his album alongside the realistic illustrations of Fraulein de Naumann.

As for this drawing's comparably mystifying caption, what are the 'squirrel teeth' referred to in it when describing the moth, and what is the yellow foam seemingly regurgitated by the moth? The caterpillar of the deathshead hawk moth has sizeable mandibles that it will click together and even use to bite aggressors, so these could conceivably be likened to squirrel teeth; but the adult moth only has a slender nectar-imbibing proboscis. Might the phrase instead be a somewhat peculiar allusion to the moth's antennae? In fact, having viewed the following excellent close-up photograph of a deathshead hawk moth's face, the answer now seems clear to me. The 'squirrel teeth' are simply the two ridged, outer edges of the moth's proboscis, which do superficially resemble curved rodent teeth.

Face of a deathshead hawk moth, showing its ridge-edged proboscis (© owner presently unknown to me - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use educational basis only)

It is well known that the caterpillars of hawk moths will regurgitate the sticky (and sometimes toxic) content of their foregut if attacked; but because the mouthparts of caterpillars are very different from those of adult moths, could the latter accomplish such behaviour? Nevertheless, I do recall reading somewhere that certain adult moths will indeed perform this activity as a defence mechanism if need be, so perhaps the deathshead hawk moth is one such species.

Then again, if the drawing itself was intended only as a joke, a spoof, not as a realistic depiction of anything that may truly have appeared near Kalisz in 1749 (and in view of the moth's grinning moustachioed face, this seems ever more likely the more I reflect upon it), maybe the caption was composed in an equally tongue-in-cheek manner and should therefore be taken no more seriously than the drawing.

Equally mystifying is why the insect in the drawing was referred to as a locust, given that it looked nothing like one and was indisputably inspired by a deathshead hawk moth. However, the implication from the drawing's caption is that in 1749 a sizeable number of such insects appeared near Kalisz, and other Polish accounts concerning this incident that I have read online support that implication. Hence it seems plausible that the term 'locust' was being applied not literally but figuratively, an allusion to the large numbers of this insect that had appeared near the city that year.

A 19th-Century illustration of locusts (public domain)

Even so, this is still odd, because although I have read occasional accounts of veritable swarms of certain hawk moth species occurring in various localities down through the ages, I haven't read anything comparable relating specifically to the deathshead hawk moth. Having said that: in my ShukerNature article on this species (click here), I do refer to a singular incident in which approximately 300 specimens were attracted to a single beehive within a short period of time. The reason for this was that the deathshead has a great liking for honey, so much so in fact that some researchers have even suggested that its uncanny squeaking ability may actually be an attempt to impersonate the specific sound that a queen bee produces to keep her workers passive, and thence allow the moth to enter the hive and consume its honey without being attacked by the hive's worker bees. Consequently, in exceptional circumstances large numbers of deathsheads may indeed occur. So although I haven't been able as yet to trace any corroboration that is independent of the moth drawing, perhaps one such occurrence took place near Kalisz, Poland, during 1749.

Clearly there is still much to uncover regarding this fascinating case, but what I have provided here so far would already appear to be the most detailed account of it ever presented in English. So, now that its curious story is readily accessible to a much greater audience than before, perhaps additional details will be forthcoming from readers, to plug the gaps remaining in its history. Consequently, as I noted earlier here, I consider this article and investigation of mine to be a work in progress, so I would be extremely grateful to receive any supplementary information relating to it. And as is always true with my researches, all such submissions will be fully credited by me if utilised in updates to this article.

Incidentally, there is actually a Facebook page, in Polish, devoted to the humanoid moth drawing from Jauch's album – entitled 'Szarańcza z Kalisza', it contains various relevant posts and comments, plus a delightful animated GIF of this drawing, created by Mieszko Saktura. Click here to visit and Like its page (I have).

Polish postage stamp depicting the deathshead hawk moth (public domain)

And finally: for another ShukerNature blog article concerning an equally bizarre illustration of an alleged locust that clearly was nothing of the kind, be sure to click here and read all about the extraordinary locust dragon of Nicolaes de Bruyn from 1594.

The original, truly bizarre 1594 illustration by Nicolaes de Bruyn of an apparent locust dragon (public domain)

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