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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Friday 31 December 2021


A vintage hand-coloured(?) picture postcard depicting a Tijuana 'zebra', from my collection (Photo of this picture postcard © Dr Karl Shuker)

In 2004, when I visited the city of Tijuana in Baja California, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego in California, USA, I saw one of the famous 'Tijuana zebras' (aka zonkeys, but not to be confused with true zonkeys, which are zebra x donkey hybrids click here for a ShukerNature survey of zonkeys, zorses, and zeedonks). Needless to say, these eyecatching equids are not real zebras, but instead are donkeys humanely painted with stripes using women's hair dye to make them look like zebras for photo-opportunities popular with tourists – except with me, that is.

Bizarrely, I failed not only to take a single photograph of the one 'zebra' that I saw, but also to seize the opportunity of buying an official posed photo of me with it (my only excuse for such remiss behaviour being that back then, I didn't realise just how iconic and unique an aspect of Tijuana these animals are), and even today, over 16 years later, I still regret not doing so. Fortunately, I have at least been able to purchase online some excellent vintage picture postcards depicting various Tijuana 'zebras' from bygone decades, so these will have to suffice. One example from my collection opens this present ShukerNature blog article, and here's another one:

Also from my collection, a second vintage hand-coloured(?) picture postcard depicting a Tijuana 'zebra' (Photo of this picture postcard (Photo of this picture postcard © Dr Karl Shuker)

But when (and, above all, why!) did this decidedly strange tradition of painting stripes on donkeys in Tijuana begin? (Indeed, it is a tradition so intimately associated with this city that even its professional basketball team is named after these curious creatures – the Tijuana Zonkeys.)

Recollections may vary (as a certain majestic lady apparently once said about an entirely different matter…), but the majority of sources that I've read on the subject agree that it arose during or immediately prior to the World War 2 period of the 1940s. Ever since gambling in Mexico had been declared illegal, in 1935, the resulting closure of Tijuana's casino, hitherto a great tourist draw, had created a great void that somehow needed to be filled if tourists were to continue visiting the city, but how?

An unusual Tijuana 'zebra', inasmuch as its coat has not been whitened with powder, its stripes having been painted directly over its untreated coat's normal background colouration instead (© Broken Sphere/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Remembering that a pair of donkeys with carts that used to stand outside the casino had always been a favourite, frequently-photographed attraction, some of the city centre's enterprising youths hit upon the money-spinning idea of bringing in donkeys with richly ornamented carts that tourists could be photographed with, but this time for a fee.

Sure enough, they proved very popular and also very lucrative, becoming a common sight along Avenida Revolucíon (Revolution Avenue), extensively frequented by partying tourists, but there was one major problem. Back in the 1940s, standard everyday photography was almost exclusively of the black-and-white variety, which meant that Tijuana's predominantly unicoloured, monochromatic donkeys hardly showed up in the resulting photographs. If only there was a way to give these animals more visual contrast.

Two early b/w photos (the second one sepia-tinted) of Tijuana 'zebras' from 1944 (public domain)

There is much controversy concerning who originated the novel idea of painting black stripes on Tijuana's tourist-magnet donkeys to achieve the required level of contrast for photographic purposes, but, regardless of his identity, by the end of the 1940s Avenida Revolucíon was home to a number of these home-made zebras, and a new Tijuana tradition was duly born. Moreover, to optimize the level of contrast exhibited by them, the donkeys usually (though not always) have a white powder applied to their coats before the black stripes are painted on, as was the case with the individual that I saw (click here to view a short video on YouTube of a typical Tijuana 'zebra').

By the late 1970s, no fewer than 25 'zebras' with their owners could be encountered in Avenida Revolucíon, each with their own specific allocated spot for attracting tourist trade. Yet by the time of my visit in 2004, this number had decreased significantly, due in no small way to the precipitous fall in the number of tourists visiting from across the border in the USA since the dreadful events of 9/11. A decade later, moreover, according to a 2013 report issued by Washington D.C.'s National Public Radio, only three Avenida Revolucíon 'zebras' remained.

Interestingly, this particular Tijuana 'zebra' was photographed in May 2004, i.e. just weeks before I visited Tijuana – so in view of how few specimens were still present by then, it could well be the very same animal that I saw there (public domain)

In an attempt to elicit increased interest and city pride in its faux zebras, a year later, in 2014, they were formally declared part of Tijuana's cultural heritage by the Cultural Heritage Council of the State of Baja California in northern Mexico. Nevertheless, its decision was revoked in 2017, following protests from animal-rights activists, with the unnamed federal judge responsible for this legal reversal ruling that because living entities are not real estate, they cannot be considered part of Tijuana's cultural heritage. That decision does not prevent those few 'zebras' still existing from continuing to ply their trade, via their owners, on Avenida Revolucíon, although the activists have stated that they would prefer life-sized fibre-glass replicas to be used, rather than the living animals themselves.

At present, the survival of Tijuana's longstanding tradition of its tourist-touting pseudo-zebras remains uncertain. I've never read or heard about any claims of their owners mistreating them, so as long as they are indeed well cared for and not stressed by exposure to tourists, it seems a shame if these celebrated equine ambassadors for Tijuana were to disappear from Avenida Revolucíon where they have brought such colour and unique appeal for so long.

(Top) A sepia-tinted b/w photo of a Tijuana 'zebra' snapped in 1949 (public domain); (Bottom) Something different, a Tijuana 'panda'! a Tijuana donkey painted to look like a giant panda instead of a zebra, snapped in 1960 (© owner unknown to me despite extensive online searches reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Finally: although the Tijuana 'zebras' are not cryptids, I can exclusively reveal here on ShukerNature a direct link between them and cryptozoology, courtesy of the delightful photograph presented below, which was snapped in 1974. Depicted with his family during a holiday in Tijuana, wearing the sombrero labeled Pancho, and aptly garbed in a striped sweater, the little boy sitting upon a Tijuana 'zebra' grew up to become one of today's most famous cryptozoologists. Any guesses as to his identity?

In fact, it's none other than my longstanding friend from Texas, Ken Gerhard, who very kindly emailed me this family photo for my article when I mentioned to him quite a while ago now that I was planning to blog about the Tijuana 'zebras' on ShukerNature. Thanks Ken! And now, at last, I've done so.

Ken Gerhard, sitting upon a Tijuana 'zebra' as a youngster with his family in 1974 during a holiday in Tijuana (© Ken Gerhard)


Thursday 30 December 2021


'St George and the Pterodactyl', a painting by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, 4 December 1873 (public domain)

It's been a while since I posted a 'Picture of the Day' on ShukerNature, so here is a particularly intriguing picture that has attracted a lot of interest among friends and readers ever since I first brought it to their attention in a Facebook post on 20 June 2017.

A small ink-and-wash drawing, presently housed in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, it was apparently completed on 4 December 1873 by English painter/sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894). He is of course most famous for his gigantic, scientifically groundbreaking sculptures of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that he created during the early 1850s to accompany the erection of the spectacular Crystal Palace in what became Crystal Palace Park, following this huge glass edifice's removal from its previous, original site in London's Hyde Park, where it had stood during the Great Exhibition of 1851.

For full details of these stupendous exhibits, which, unlike the palace itself, still survive today, please click here, here, and here, to read my comprehensive three-part ShukerNature article documenting their history and also that of their subsequent, ill-fated American counterparts, again created by Hawkins.

(Incidentally, the earlier date of 4 December 1868 also given by Hawkins for the drawing under consideration here, as written by him beneath its bottom edge alongside 4 December 1873, suggests that it may have begun as a design for a sculpture to be created as part of that never-completed American collection, but following the latter's tragic end was transformed by him into this drawing and seemingly completed in December 1873, as noted earlier.)

In addition to those monumental mega-sculptures, Hawkins also produced a sizeable body of natural history paintings and drawings, some of which again depicted prehistoric species, whereas others portrayed modern-day animals. Most of these were serious studies, but now and again he'd produce a rather more tongue-in-cheek illustration, of which 'St George and the Pterodactyl' is a particular case in point.

Crystal Palace Park's iconic dinosaur sculptures by Hawkins, depicted in Matthew Digby Wyatt's book Views of the Crystal Palace and Park, Sydenham, 1854 (public domain)

For instead of the titular saint battling the traditional reptilian dragon of mythology, in this very distinctive drawing Hawkins provided him with an erstwhile reptilian foe from antiquity. Moreover, it is one with which Hawkins was particularly familiar, given that he had created two pairs in life-sized sculptured form for the Crystal Palace Park, under the supervision of no less a palaeontological authority than Prof. Sir Richard Owen.

Namely, a pterodactyl – but no ordinary one, given its great size; as can be seen, it is virtually as big as St George's horse! As for its precise taxonomic identity: its toothy jaws have inspired attempts to categorise this depicted pterosaur as a species belonging to the genus Ornithocheirus, but I have not seen any unequivocal acceptance of this classification.

Speaking of St George's horse, this poor beast has problems of its own – keeping its hooves free from the flailing, grasping tentacles of a not-inconsiderable octopus lurking at the water's edge. As for the drawing's setting – this is believed to be Fingal's Cave, a large sea cavern on the uninhabited island of Staffa, in Scotland's Inner Hebrides group, as evidenced by the readily-visible columns of basalt of which Fingal's Cave is wholly composed.

For more details concerning this unusual painting by Hawkins, I recommend clicking here to access a fascinating article by historian Lydia Pyne, which examines its possible inspirations and symbolic interpretations.

Finally, as further evidence of Hawkins's occasional flights of artistic fantasy, here is another example. Signed by him with his initials, and dated December 1864, it consists of a very (melo)dramatic drawing (pen and black ink and wash) that depicts a group of equestrian prehistoric men doing battle with a veritable phalanx of pterosaurs! Truly a flight of fancy in every sense! (Incidentally, if anyone has additional details concerning this extraordinary drawing, or a better reproduction of it, I'd very much like to receive them – many thanks in advance.)

Hawkins's extraordinary drawing of some horse-riding early men battling a flock of pterosaurs, dated December 1864 (public domain)


Friday 24 December 2021


An adult rufous tinamou, depicted in a beautiful illustration from 1838 (public domain)

At the turn of the [19th] century, many tinamous, mainly Pampas hens, were introduced and raised as game birds in France, England, Germany, and Hungary. After this initial success, however, all attempts to settle tinamous in Europe in the wild have failed.

Alexander F. Skutch – ‘Tinamous’, in Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 7, Birds I

To aviculturalists, tinamous are well-known for being those nondescript, deceptively gallinaceous birds of the Neotropical Region that are in reality most closely related to certain of the giant, flightless ratites. Rather less well-known, conversely, is that at one time they seemed destined to become exotic new members of the English avifauna, as revealed here.

Tinamous are among the most perplexing and paradoxical of birds. Comprising some 40-odd species in total, and ranging in size from 8 in to 21 in, they closely parallel the galliform gamebirds in outward morphology, with small head and somewhat long, slender neck, plump body and short tail, sturdy legs, and rounded wings. Admittedly, their beak is generally rather more slender, elongate, and curved at its tip, and the tail is often hidden by an uncommonly pronounced development of the rump feathers, but in overall appearance they could easily be mistaken for a mottle-plumaged guineafowl, grouse, or quail (depending upon the tinamou species in question).

Even so, it would seem that their misleadingly gallinaceous morphology is a consequence of convergent evolution (i.e. tinamous filling the ecological niches in South and Central America occupied elsewhere by genuine galliform species, but having arisen from a wholly separate ancestral avian stock). For detailed analyses not only of their skeletal structure but also of their egg-white proteins and (especially) their DNA have all indicated that their nearest relatives are actually the ostrich-like rheas!

Rheas (public domain)

Nonetheless, the tinamous are nowadays classed within an entire taxonomic order of their own, Tinamiformes, because in spite of their ratite affinities they have a well-developed keel on their breast-bone for the attachment of flight muscles, and are indeed able to fly – although they are not particularly adept aerially. This is probably due to their notably small heart and lungs, which would seem to be insufficiently robust to power as energy-expensive an activity as flight. Equally paradoxical is the fact that although their legs are well-constructed for running, tinamous are not noticeably successful at this mode of locomotion either, preferring to avoid danger by freezing motionless with head extended, their cryptic colouration affording good camouflage amidst their grassland and forest surroundings.

Their outward appearance is not the only parallel between tinamous and galliform species. On account of the relative ease with which these intriguing birds can be bagged, in their native Neotropical homelands tinamous have always been very popular as gamebirds - a popularity enhanced by the tender and very tasty (if visually odd) nature of their almost transparent flesh. Accordingly, it could only be a matter of time before someone contemplated the idea of introducing one or more species of tinamou into Great Britain as novel additions to its list of gamebirds – a list already containing the names of several notable outsiders, including the red-legged partridge Alectoris rufa and the common ring-necked pheasant Phasianus colchicus.

The concept of establishing naturalised populations of tinamou in Great Britain was further favoured by the great ease with which these birds can be raised in captivity, enabling stocks for release into the wild to be built up very rapidly. So in 1884 the scene was set for the commencement of this intriguing experiment in avian introduction – the brainchild of John Bateman, from Brightlingsea, Essex.

A captive rufous tinamou (© Bruno Girin/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The species that Bateman had selected for this purpose was Rhynchotus rufescens, the rufous tinamou or Pampas hen – a 16-in-long, grassland-inhabiting form widely distributed in South America, with a range extending from Brazil and Bolivia to Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. In April 1883, he had obtained six specimens from a friend, D. Shennan, of Negrete, Brazil, who had brought them to England from the River Plate three months earlier. Bateman maintained them in a low, wire-covered aviary with hay strewn over its floor, sited on one of his homesteads; and by June, they had laid 30 eggs, most of which successfully hatched - and half of these survived to adulthood.

In January 1884, naturalist W.B. Tegetmeier paid Bateman a visit, and became very interested in his plans to release tinamous in England; on 23 February 1884, The Field published a report by Tegetmeier regarding this. However, the first release had already occurred (albeit by accident), because during the summer of 1883 a retriever dog had broken through the wire-roof of Bateman's tinamou aviary, resulting in the death of four tinamous, and the escape of seven or eight others onto Bateman's estate and thence to the Brightlingsea marshes. Only a small number of tinamous had remained in captivity but these had increased to 13 by the time of Tegetmeier's visit. As for the escapees, Bateman recognised that they were in grave danger of being bagged by persons shooting in the area (thereby ending any chance that they would succeed in establishing a viable population). So in a bid to thwart this, he issued a handbill, drawing to the attention of local people the basic appearance and habits of tinamous, and his plans for their naturalisation in England. The handbill read:

The tinamou, or, as it is called by the English settlers on the River Plate, "Big Partridge," is a game bird, sticking almost entirely to the grass land; size, about that of a hen pheasant; colour when roasted, snowy white throughout. When flushed, he rises straight into the air with a jump…and then flies off steadily for about half a mile; he will not rise more than twice. Mr Bateman proposes, after crossing his stock with the tinamous in the Zoological Gardens, to turn them out on the Brightlingsea marshes, which are strikingly like the district whence they came, and he hopes that the gentlemen and sportsmen of Essex will give the experiment a chance of succeeding, by sparing this bird for the next few seasons, if they stray, as they are sure to do, into the neighbouring parishes, as they would supply a great sporting want in the marshland districts.

To supplement his captive stock, following Tegetmeier's visit Bateman obtained three more specimens of rufous tinamou from his friend Shennan, and also purchased three from London Zoo. In April 1885, he released 11 individuals onto the Brightlingsea marshes; these, together with l4 hatched from eggs, had increased to approximately 50 or 60 birds by September, according to a second, more extensive report by Tegetmeier (The Field, l2 September 1885).

A portrait of English naturalist W.B. Tegetmeier by Ernest Gustave Girardot (public domain)

Tegetmeier noted that throughout spring and early summer in Brightlingsea and parts of Thorington, the rufous tinamou's presence there could be readily confirmed by its very distinctive call, described as a musical 'ti-a-ú-ú-ú' in the case of the cock bird, and sounding unexpectedly similar to that of the blackbird Turdus merula. Illustrating this similarity is an entertaining anecdote contained in a letter to Tegetmeier from Bateman:

Mr Bateman, in his letter to me, states: “A passing gipsy bird-fancier hailed my keeper's wife, after listening attentively awhile, with 'That's an uncommon fine blackbird you've got there, missus,' alluding to the note.

  'Yes,' she replied.

  'Will you take five bob for him, missus?'

  'No; I won't.'

  'May I have a look?'

  'Yes; ye may.'

  'Well I'm blowed!’”

  As he well might be, seeing what he regarded as the note of a blackbird proceeding from a bird as large as a hen pheasant.

Summing up his report of 12 September 1885, Tegetmeier offered the following words of optimism:

I cannot conclude without congratulating Mr Bateman on the success of the experiment as far as it has yet proceeded. So much harm has been done by indiscriminate and thoughtless acclimatisation, that it is satisfactory to hear that one useful bird has a chance of being introduced under conditions in which other game birds are not likely to do well.

Of course, even if the threat to the tinamous' establishment from shooters could be prevented, there remained the problem of persecution from four-legged predators – most especially the fox, a major hunter of tinamous in their native New World homelands. Yet in his second report, Tegetmeier had dismissed the possibility that foxes would be a danger to them in England:

. . . there is no doubt that an English fox would not object to a bird that is as delicate eating as a landrail [corncrake Crex crex]. The young brood in Brightlingsea are, however, spared that danger, as the M.F.H. of the Essex and Suffolk hounds has, with that courtesy which always distinguishes the true sportsman, granted a dispensation for the season from litters of cubs in the parish.

Notwithstanding Tegetmeier's optimism, Brightlingsea's Neotropical newcomers proved to be no match for its indigenous vulpine vanquishers (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Tragically, however, Tegetmeier's expectation was not fulfilled; despite all precautions, the foxes triumphed very shortly afterwards, and the tinamous were exterminated. In less than a decade, Bateman's hopes for a resident species of tinamou in Britain had been promisingly born, had temporarily flourished, and had been utterly destroyed. (Moreover, as noted in this chapter’s opening quote, similar attempts at around the same time to introduce tinamous elsewhere in Europe also ultimately ended in failure, no doubt meeting much the same vulpine-vanquishing fate.) By 1896, the entire episode had been relegated to no more than the briefest of mentions in the leading ornithological work of that time. Quoting from A Dictionary of Birds (1894-6) by Prof. Alfred Newton and Hans Gadow:

What would have been a successful attempt by Mr. John Bateman to naturalise this species, Rhynchotus rufescens, in England, at Brightlingsea in Essex . . . unfortunately failed owing to the destruction of the birds by foxes.

A unique chapter in British aviculture was closed - or was it? In his Introduced Birds of the World (1981), John L. Long states:

It seems likely that a number of tinamous, other than the Rufous Tinamou, may have been introduced into Great Britain, but these attempts appear to be poorly documented.

The great tinamou Tinamus major, painted by Joseph Smit in 1895 (public domain)

An event that may have ensued from one such attempt featured a tinamou far from the Brightlingsea area, but sadly the precise identity of that bird is very much a matter for conjecture. On 20 January 1900, The Field published the following letter from J.C. Hawkshaw of Hollycombe, Liphook, Hants:

On Dec. 23 last, while shooting a covert on this estate, a strange bird got up amongst the pheasants and was shot. On examination it proved to be a great tinamu [sic], or, as it is sometimes called, martineta. As Christmas was near, I skinned it myself, with a view of preserving it until I could send it to be set up, and found it to be in excellent condition, with its crop full of Indian corn, which it had evidently picked up in the covert, where the pheasants were regularly fed. The keeper on whose beat it was killed said that he had constantly seen it feeding with the pheasants. If you would be kind enough to insert the above in your columns I hope that I may be able to discover whence this stranger had strayed.

As a footnote to that letter, the editors of The Field briefly referred to Bateman's experiment at Brightlingsea, but confessed that they were unaware of any similar trials in Surrey, Sussex, or Hants (Liphook was sited on the border of those three counties) that might explain the origin of the specimen reported by Hawkshaw.

Not only was this tinamou's origin a mystery, so too was its identity. No description of its appearance was given; the only clues to its species are the two common names, 'great tinamu' and 'martineta', applied to it by Hawkshaw. Ironically, however, these actually serve only to confuse the matter further, rather than to clarify it. The problem is that they have been variously applied to at least three completely different species. Both names have been applied to the rufous tinamou (as in Richard Lydekker's The Royal Natural History, 1894-96); but 'great tinamou' is also commonly used in relation to a slightly larger species, Tinamus major (native to northwestern and central South America, as well as Central America); and 'martineta' doubles as an alternative name for the elegant tinamou Eudromia elegans (inhabiting Chile and southern Argentina).

The elegant tinamou (© DickDaniels/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Was Hawkshaw's bird proof, therefore, of another attempt to introduce the rufous tinamou into Britain; or was it evidence of a comparable experiment with a different species? Perhaps its existence in the wild was wholly accidental, totally unplanned – simply a lone escapee from same aviary. Certainly, tinamous had been maintained in captivity in Britain, with no attempt made to release them for naturalisation purposes, by a number of different aviculturalists for many years before this event.

Today, even with such established exotica as flocks of ring-necked parakeets Psittacula krameri and golden pheasants Chrysolophus pictus surviving in widely dispersed areas of the U.K., it still seems strange to consider that had it not been for an all-too-formidable onslaught by the foxes of Brightlingsea just over a century ago, Great Britain may well have become home to an entire extra taxonomic order of birds – that short-legged relatives of rheas and ostriches would have become a common sight by now in the fields and marshlands of England, far removed indeed from their original Neotropical world.

This blog post was excerpted exclusively for ShukerNature from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.

Friday 17 December 2021


Barred grass snake (top) and female common adder (bottom); can these two species, very separate taxonomically, not only mate but also produce viable hybrid offspring? (public domain/public domain)

In England, the two most common species of snake are the barred grass or ringed snake Natrix helvetica (often referred to in southern England simply as the snake) and the European viper or common adder Vipera berus. Belonging as they do to two entirely separate, only distantly related taxonomic families (Colubridae and Viperidae respectively), it is hardly likely that these two snakes would ever come together even to mate, let alone produce viable hybrid offspring.

Yet there is a longstanding belief emanating from southern England's very sizeable New Forest that such crossbreeds can and do occur. According to H.M. Livens's book Nomansland: A Village History (1910), for instance:

It is affirmed throughout the [New] Forest that there is a casual hybrid between the [grass] snake and the adder, which, in consequence of being neither adder nor [grass] snake, is known as a Neither (pronounced nither). In colour it varies between those of its parents, sometimes showing a greater leaning to the one side, and sometimes to the other. In its proportions it runs closer to the adder than to the [grass] snake, being about 18 inches long; that is, rather longer than an adder but not quite so stout. The Neither is usually found on or near damp ground about the head of a bog. When attacked it will bite the stick as an adder does. A [grass] snake will not do this. Its bite is said to be venomous. It is not known to breed.

Heathland on Picket Hill, New Forest, Hampshire (© Richard New Forest/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

The New Forest is also home to Britain's third, rarest, and least-known native species of snake, the smooth snake Coronella austriaca. Yet, oddly, it is mentioned only very briefly, in passing, by Livens, claiming that it is rare here, when in reality it is found throughout the New Forest's extent. Moreover, its barred markings are reminiscent of both the grass snake's and the adder's, but it is so shy as to be seldom seen and remains very much a mysterious, enigmatic serpent here.

Consequently, I think it highly likely that the smooth snake is the true identity of Livens's alleged grass snake x adder hybrid, the neither. Even its favoured habitat of damp heath and bog compares well with that of the neither, as does its well known predilection for biting if antagonised or captured. True, the smooth snake is not venomous, but many non-venomous animal species are wrongly deemed to be through local superstition or ignorance, especially if, like the smooth snake, they are rarely-seen, elusive creatures - which would also explain why the neither is not known to breed.

In short, it would seem that the neither is an impossible snake rendered possible after all.

Is the implausible neither in reality the highly elusive, mysterious smooth snake? (© Piet Spaans/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)