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).

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

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Tuesday 25 September 2018


Geoffroy's cat – the doubly-deceiving feline bête noire of British zoologist John Edward Gray; illustration from Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny's Voyage dans l'Amérique Méridionale, published in 1847 (public domain)

During the course of zoological history, mistakes have sometimes been made when recording the provenance of an animal specimen, often resulting in all manner of confusion and controversy. Fortunately, the mistake is generally nothing more dramatic than a wrongly-noted locality within a given country, or, more rarely, a wrongly-ascribed country. It is quite exceptional, however, for a specimen to be assigned to entirely the wrong continent. Nevertheless, this monumental error happened with both of the short-lived felid species documented here - and, to make matters even worse, it was the same well-respected zoologist who was responsible for having done so in each case!

On 11 April 1867, within a Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London paper, eminent British zoologist Dr John Edward Gray formally described and named several new species of felid, based upon specimens in the collection of the British Museum. One of these new species was Felis pardinoides, whose type specimen was the preserved skin and skull of a juvenile individual that had been received by the British Museum from the Zoological Society's own museum. According to its provenance label, it had been obtained in India by a Captain Innes. A small spotted cat, its head and body length was 19 inches, and its tail length was 9 inches.

This present ShukerNature blog article's principal personae dramatis - from left to right: John Edward Gray, Daniel G. Elliot, Edward Blyth, Philip L. Sclater (public domain)

Everything seemed perfectly straightforward and unremarkable concerning F. pardinoides – until 20 February 1872, that is, when the following revealing response to Gray's description, penned by fellow zoologist and cat specialist Daniel G. Elliot, was received by the PZSL and duly published:

In the 'Proceedings' of this Society for 1867, p. 400, Dr. Gray has described a Cat as Felis pardinoides, giving as its habitat India. The typical [i.e. type] specimen is evidently not an adult animal; and from its resemblance to F. geoffroyi [Geoffroy's cat, nowadays known scientifically as Leopardus geoffroyi], I felt certain, while examining it, that its habitat was not correctly given. During my late visit to Leyden I found another specimen of a Cat, almost precisely similar to Dr. Gray's type, marked as F. geoffroyi, and stated to have been brought from Patagonia, the native country of that species. This Leyden specimen (which is also that of a young animal) by the kindness of Prof. Schlegel I have been enabled to remove to London, and thus to identify with the so-called F. pardinoides. The young F. geoffroyi appears to differ from the adult in the larger size and somewhat different arrangement of the spots, those upon the sides, shoulder, and rump being, as Dr. Gray describes them, "varied with grey hairs in the centre, making them appear somewhat as if they were formed of a ring of smaller black spots." But the general colours of the animal, with its lengthened annulated tail, is precisely that of typical F. geoffroyi.

Suddenly, India's F. pardinoides had seemingly metamorphosed into the already-described F. geoffroyi from Patagonia – in South America! Gray, however, did not agree with Elliot's conclusion; and in a concise response published in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1874, he sought to distinguish various morphological and cranial differences between his species and Geoffroy's cat.

Geoffroy's cat (© Daf-de/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)

Clearly, Elliot's radical re-identification would only be conclusively accepted if a more mature F. geoffroyi specimen that was visibly conspecific with the lone F. pardinoides example were to be found and documented accordingly. Shortly after Gray's response was published, however, this is precisely what happened, and by none other than Gray himself, as he revealed in a second response published within a later issue of the very same journal for 1874:

The Bogotá Cat (Felis pardinoides, Gray).

In the 'Annals' for 1874, xiii, p. 51, I gave the reasons for differing from Mr. Elliot's opinion that the cat I named Felis pardinoides in the British Museum, received from the Zoological Society as coming from India, was the same as Felis Geoffroyi [sic]. At the same time I observed, "the Indian habitat has not been confirmed; and the species has a very South-American aspect."

The British Museum has received, from Mr. Edward Gerrard, a cat from Bogotá that I have no doubt is the same species as the typical specimen of Felis pardinoides; but it differs from it in being a nearly adult specimen, as is proved by the examination of the skull; and it has a more fulvous tint, and the fur is softer; but this may only depend upon the age and season in which it was killed.

Thus ended the odd little history of India's non-existent F. pardinoides. What makes this such an ironic (and embarrassing) episode for Gray, however, is that he had already made an almost identical error only a short time earlier with another wrongly-labelled felid specimen, giving rise to the equally ephemeral species Pardalina warwickii - Warwick's cat.

Warwick's cat, illustrated by Joseph Wolf in 1867 (public domain)

As already noted, Felis pardinoides was one of several new cat species formally described and named by Gray in his PZSL paper of 11 April 1867. Another one (the very last in it, in fact) was Pardalina warwickii. In addition to his own short verbal description of this species' type specimen, Gray included the magnificent colour plate reproduced here, reconstructing its likely appearance when alive, and painted by celebrated wildlife artist Joseph Wolf. As for the specimen itself, Gray preceded his description of it with the following explanatory account of its mysterious history:

There is in the British Museum a Cat that was formerly alive in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, and was there called the Himalayan Cat, and which, in the 'List of Mammalia in the British Museum,' published in 1842, I called Leopardus himalayanus. This animal is figured, from the specimen at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, in Jardine's 'Naturalist's Library' as Felis himalayanus, Warwick. The figure is by no means a characteristic one. The Cat has not been brought from Himalaya by any of the numerous sportsmen and collectors that have searched that country. It is not known to Mr. Blyth [prominent 19th-Century zoologist Edward Blyth], nor to any other Indian zoologist to whom I have shown it; indeed Mr. Blyth states that he believes it to be a South American Cat.

The examination of the skull shows that it forms a group by itself; and in my paper, read at the last Meeting but one, I formed for it a genus under the name of Pardalina.

This enigmatic specimen, of supposed Himalayan provenance, had been obtained by a Mr Warwick, whom Gray duly honoured by naming its new species after him, but nothing more precise regarding its early history seems to be on record.

Two typical, golden-furred specimens (top and bottom left) of the African golden cat plus a specimen of this same species' grey-furred 'silver cat' morph (bottom right) (public domain)

Conversely, several years before Gray's 1867 PZSL paper had even been published, Warwick's cat had already begun inciting controversy regarding its taxonomic identity. In a PZSL paper of 1863, English zoologist Edward Blyth had deemed it possible that this unusual specimen was actually a silver cat Felis celidogaster – a species that he in turn considered to be conspecific with the fishing cat Felis viverrina. (In reality, the silver cat was subsequently shown to be nothing more than a colour morph of the African golden cat Caracal aurata.)

In stark contrast, Gray strongly disagreed with Blyth's classification of Warwick's cat, noting in his own PZSL paper of 1867 that its skull was very different from that of the fishing cat. In particular, he stressed the length of its brain case, the shortness of its face, and the convexity of its brow. As with F. pardinoides, however, it was not long after that latter paper had been published before the perplexing Pardalina was put under independent scrutiny, and Gray's statements were found to be very wanting in both the taxonomic and the zoogeographical departments.

Fishing cat (© Viksah626/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

In 1870, the Zoological Society's secretary, zoologist Philip L. Sclater, published a paper in its Proceedings that revealed the origin of Warwick's cat to have been far removed indeed from the Himalayas. In fact, it had been purchased alive from a Captain Hairby in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had originated either in Paraguay or in Patagonia! Once again, a supposed Asian cat had been shown to be of South American extraction – but that was not the end of the unfortunate parallels in erroneous documentation between Warwick's cat and F. pardinoides, because studies of the former's type specimen exposed it to be none other than another specimen of Geoffroy's cat!

Once again, therefore, in 1874, and in the very same volume of the very same journal in which he had recanted his opinion concerning the identity of F. pardinoides, Gray now did the same regarding Pardalina warwickii – reprising in his own defence his earlier statements concerning the absence of reports of such a cat in the Himalayan region and the craniological reasons why he deemed the specimen distinct enough to warrant its own genus. He also explained that because it was supposedly a Himalayan cat, he had never thought to compare it with specimens of Geoffroy's cat or, indeed, of any other South American felid.

Geoffroy's cat (© Greg Hume/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

But where did the notion come from that it had originated in the Himalayas anyway? This was Gray's answer:

When this cat was alive it was just the time that we began to receive fine skins of animals from the Himalayas; and there was an inclination of the dealers to give Himalaya as the habitat of animals of which they did not know whence they came, as animals from that country were interesting and fetched a good price...it has been suggested by Mr. Blyth and others that it may be an inhabitant of South America; but I have not seen any specimens from there.

Poor Dr Gray – whereas some people superstitiously believe it to be black cats or white cats that bring bad luck, in his case it was most definitely Geoffroy's cat!

Exquisite painting from 1883, depicting coat pattern variation in Geoffroy's cat (public domain)

Indeed, it is fortunate that Oscar Wilde's formidable literary creation, Lady Bracknell, was both fictitious and unassociated with feline systematics – otherwise, in her usual terrifyingly acerbic manner, she might well have observed: "To misplace one cat may be regarded as a misfortunate. To misplace two looks like carelessness."!!

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.

Monday 10 September 2018


In addition to the 26 books that I have written myself and seen published (#26 is due out shortly), I have also acted as a consultant and/or contributor to a further 18 – click here to access a (currently) complete listing of all of my books.

I am delighted to announce that the latest volume with which I have been involved in the dual capacity of consultant and contributor will be published next month but can already be pre-ordered on Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and elsewhere. It is entitled Guinness World Records: Wild Things, and here is a taster of what to expect:

Whether it's the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the deadliest, or just the downright weirdest, Guinness World Records: Wild Things turns the spotlight on the best of the beasts! From gentle giants to killer bugs, powerful predators to cunning prey, and backyard wildlife to species on the brink, the animal kingdom is crawling with record-breakers.

Spread featuring an interview with Steve Backshall - click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)

Wild Things is your ultimate guide to nature's super-star animals. There's a special chapter all about prehistoric record-breakers too. Unearth which ancient animals ruled over the real Jurassic world, from the tallest dinosaur and the dino with the most powerful bite to the largest flying creature ever to soar Earth's skies with a wingspan the size of an F-16 jet!

You'll also hear from zoology experts and some of the biggest conservation stars including Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall, the Irwin family, and Deadly 60's Steve Backshall (who supplies a foreword too). In exclusive interviews, they share their standout wildlife experiences, favourite record-breaking animals, plus top tips for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.

Ready to find out where the real wild things are and the records that they hold? Then it's time to unleash the wildest GWR book yet!

My profile in GWR: Wild Things's Introduction - click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)

Full details can be found on this book's dedicated page here on my official website, which also contains direct clickable links to its page on the US and UK Amazon sites.

Also, don't forget to check out on my website its companion volume, GWR: Amazing Animals, published last year and once again featuring me as both its consultant and a contributor, which is packed throughout with fascinating record-breaking animal stars of the domesticated kind!

And click here to read about GWR: Amazing Animals on ShukerNature.

Thursday 6 September 2018


A winged manticore with a decidedly scorpionesque sting-tipped tail, depicted on the front cover of Piers Anthony's novel A Spell For Chameleon – one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels, and the first in Anthony's exceedingly popular, long-running Xanth series (© Del Rey Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational purposes only)

Quite apart from its mane in the male, the lion Panthera leo is also set apart morphologically from all other cat species, at least officially, by virtue of a remarkable characteristic of its tail. Not only does it terminate in a hairy tassle-resembling tuft, but sometimes concealed within that tuft is a thorn-like spine that measures just a few millimetres long.

This unexpected structure's function, if indeed it has one, is unknown, as is that of the hairy tuft. Known variously as a thorn, spine, prickle, or caudal claw, it is not present when a lion cub is born, but develops when the cub is around five months old, and is readily visible two months later.

Lion showing the very distinctive tufted tail-tip that is peculiar to this species among felids (© Rufus46/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Click here (then scroll down to the end of this zoo news report) to view a close-up photograph of a leonine caudal claw, normally hidden by the hairy tuft at the tip of the lion's tail. This particular caudal claw is sported by an adult South African lion named Xerxes at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington State, USA.

The most detailed coverage concerning caudal claws in lions that I have ever seen is an article originally published in Part 2 of the volume for 1832 of the now long-bygone journal Proceedings of the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London (it was subsequently republished in January 1833 within vol. 2, no. 7, of the third series of the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science). Not only does this fascinating if nowadays exceedingly little-known report document the then-recent description of one such specimen by H. Woods to the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London, it also provides a detailed history of how such oddities were first brought to scientific attention and early thoughts as to what their function may be. In view of its scientific significance, therefore, I am reproducing this hitherto-obscure article in its entirety below:

WOODS, H., 'On the Claw of the Tip of the Tail of the Lion (Felis leo, L.)', Proc. Comm. Sci. and Corres. Zool. Soc. London, pt 2: 146-148 (1832) – please click pages to enlarge them for reading purposes (public domain)

Although caudal claws are widely claimed to be sported only by the lion, I have encountered occasional reports of thorny-tailed tigers and leopards too (indeed, two such examples from leopards are briefly mentioned in the above-reproduced 1832 article). Although I have never seen an illustration of a caudal claw from either of these two latter species, the tail tip of such an animal must look very unusual – for as these species lack the lion's hairy tail tuft, the thorn of a thorny-tailed tiger or leopard would be visible, and may therefore resemble a scorpion-like sting!

In turn, such a bizarre image inevitably inspires speculation and theorising as to whether the sight of so oddly-equipped a big cat may have helped shape the legend of the fearsome if wholly fictitious manticore (click here to access my ShukerNature coverage of the manticore).

Close-up of the tufted tail-tip of a lion (public domain)

If so, then what might surely be dubbed 'the littlest manticore' is a certain domestic cat documented as follows by a Mr R. Trimen within a letter published on 3 March 1908 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London:

My cat (pale grey with ordinary narrow black stripes much broken up into short streaks and spots) presents the remarkable peculiarity of a long spur or claw-like horny excrescence at the very tip of its tail. This appendage is firmly seated quite at the extremity of the last vertebra; its base appears to be expanded, and is covered all round by an elevation of the skin. It projects posteriorly in the line of the tail, is rather slender, gradually tapering, almost straight for about two-thirds of its length, and thence moderately curved downward to its moderately acute tip. In length it is nearly 7 lines [1 line = 1/12th of 1 inch], and more than a third projects beyond the surrounding fur. The colour of this spine or spur is dull reddish-brown varied with dull ochry-yellowish, here and there crossed by some broken, thin, whitish lines.

The cat in question is a female, small, but rather thick in body; the limbs are all rather short and the feet small, but the tail is noticeably long and broad with long dense fur. I am informed by the donor that it was born at Witney, near Oxford, and is now between seven and eight months old. I have endeavoured, with the kind aid of the donor, to ascertain from the original possessor of the animal whether any kitten of the same litter, or the mother, or other known relation, exhibited the peculiar appendage or any traces of it; but without success.

I may add that I have found the cat unexpectedly sensitive to any handling of the caudal claw, however gentle; she first endeavours to jerk her tail away, then gives a mild vocal remonstrance, and if the handling is continued employs her paws to stop it.

Perhaps this cat's tail thorn or caudal claw was a deformed supernumerary caudal vertebra whose exposed site rendered it vulnerable to being caught against objects as the cat moved, causing the flesh surrounding it to be abnormally sensitive to pain.

Mystery Animals of Ireland by Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan (© Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan/CFZ Press)

What may have been either a large domestic tabby or, more remarkably, a bona fide Irish wildcat (itself a feline cryptid of no little controversy that I documented comprehensively in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World, 1989), was encountered during the 1940s or 1950s by the uncle and father of Pap Murphy in a shed at the end of the uncle's house on the Mullet, an island in northwest County Mayo, as documented by Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan in their book Mystery Animals of Ireland (2010). Entangled in some fishing nets, the cat had growled at the men, who subsequently killed it. Examining its body, they were surprised to discover that it possessed a very sharp nail-like structure, possibly bony in composition, at the end of its tail.

It would be interesting to discover if any additional cases of 'domestic manticores' have been recorded.

Exquisite vintage engraving of a lion showing its characteristic tufted tail-tip – Plate 81 from General Zoology, or Systematic Natural History, by George Shaw, with plates engraved principally by Mr Heath; published in 1800 (public domain)

Finally: I have succeeded in tracking down a copy of the original article by German naturalist Prof. Johann F. Blumenbach that was extensively referred to in the above-reproduced 1832 article re H. Woods's description of the young Barbary lion's caudal claw. Blumenbach's article had been published in 1823 within the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal.

Accordingly, for the sake of completeness, I am reproducing it in its entirety below:

BLUMENBACH, Johann F., 'Art. VI. – Miscellaneous Notices in Natural History. 4. On the Prickle at the Extremity of the Tail of the Lion', Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, vol. 8, no. 16: 266-268 (1823) – please click pages to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.