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 28 November 2023


My very own giant dragonfly, chanced upon in a charity shop recently and now residing in my study (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This ShukerNature blog article of mine documents an entomological enigma of the cryptozoological kind that has long fascinated, me but which I've never previously blogged about. Namely, the extraordinary possibility that extra-large dragonflies, veritable giants in some cases, exist unrecognised by science in our modern-day world. Consequently, I have gathered here an exclusive selection of such reports for your perusal. First of all, however, I'd like to set the scene for them by presenting a couple of comparable examples plucked from traditional folklore and medieval fancy.



On 16 August 2015, I documented here on ShukerNature (and subsequently redocumented in expanded form within the first of my ShukerNature compendium books, ShukerNature Book 1: Antlered Elephants, Locust Dragons, and Other Cryptic Blog Beasts, 2019), a fascinating but thoroughly baffling centuries-old engraving illustrating a mysterious beast so bizarre in appearance that I dubbed it the locust dragon (click here to view my original blog article concerning it).

The original source of this specific engraving was a series of prints produced in Antwerp, Belgium, by Flemish engraver Nicolaes de Bruyn (1571-1656) in 1594 that depicted various flying creatures.

Although he is best known for his many biblically-themed engravings and his large engraved landscapes reproducing designs and paintings by other artists, de Bruyn produced approximately 400 works in total, including a number that featured animals.

Nicolaes de Bruyn's mystifying engraving from 1594, depicting a wide range of readily-identifiable insects, plus what can only be described as a truly bizarre 'locust dragon' (public domain)

The series containing the locust dragon was entitled Volatilium Varii Generis Effigies ('Pictures of Flying Creatures of Varied Kinds'), and was first published by Ahasuerus van Londerseel (1572-1635) of Amsterdam.

It was subsequently reissued (with van Londerseel's name neatly trimmed off!) by Carel Allard in 1663 (or shortly after – there are conflicting accounts concerning this detail).

My investigation of what the locust dragon might conceivably have been attracted a number of replies from readers, posted beneath my blog article, including one whose subject was entirely new to me and very intriguing.

Posted on 30 August 2015 by a reader with the memorable Google username Dracula van Helsing, it mentioned that de Bruyn's grotesque locust dragon reminded him of a legend from Cantabria, a region in northern Spain, concerning certain horse-like demonic dragonflies known as Caballucos (aka Caballitos) del Diablu ('little horses of the devil', despite being said to be at least as big as real horses!).

Giant model of a southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale, a very eyecatching species of slender-bodied dragonfly native to Britain and several countries across mainland Europe (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Here is Wikipedia's then-current entry on these very intriguing yet little-known mythical beasts, which has since been reworded somewhat and expanded (see also below), but was originally derived from Manuel Llano Merino's book Mitos y Leyendas de Cantabria, published in 2001:

On St John's Eve (June 23), when the people make bonfires to purify their souls, giant dragonflies appear amongst the ashes. These dragonflies - the Caballucos - are the souls of sinners, and they come to release their fury over a year's worth of sins with fire and terrifying screams.


The Caballucos del Diablu appear in a variety of colors, each one being the soul of a different sinner. The red horse was a man who lent money to farmers and then used dirty tricks to steal their properties; the white one a miller who stole many thousands of dollars from his master; the black one a hermit who played tricks on people; the yellow one a corrupt judge; the blue one an innkeeper; and the orange one a child who abused his parents.


Worryingly close to a giant damselfly! (© Dr Karl Shuker)


And here is this entry's present version, i.e. as of today, 28 November 2023:


On St John's Eve (June 23) at night; when the people make bonfires to purify their souls, horses (Percheron purebred) with damselfly wings [damselflies are slender-bodied dragonfly species], black manes and foaming mouths appear amongst the ashes. These stallions – the Caballucos – are the souls of sinners, damned to roam Cantabria for eternity, come to release their fury over a year's worth of sins, creating a rumbling explosion with fire accompanied by terrifying screams. 


The Caballucos del Diablu appear in a variety of colors, each one being the soul of a different sinner, as legends highlight. The red horse was a man who lent money to farmers and then used dirty tricks to steal their properties; the white one a miller who stole many thousands of dollars from his master; the black one a hermit who played tricks on people; the yellow one a corrupt judge; the blue one an innkeeper; and the orange one a child who abused his parents;[1] the green one a lord who possessed many lands and dishonoured plenty of young women. It is said that the Devil himself roams the streets riding the red fire-breathing steed, the sturdiest and most powerful who leads the raid, while other demons ride the rest. The force in their stomping is such that their horseshoes leave prints on rocks, as if they were freshly ploughed soil. They have gleaming eyes, and blow a strong wind with their nostrils to try impeding lovers from giving corsages to the girls. The huffs, as cold as winter, are strong enough to make leaves fall from trees and bushes. The horses’s food are shamrocks, with they eat tastefully, probably to prevent the seekers who come out at night from finding any. The Caballucos pounce on everyone they come across, the only things that repels them is a bunch of vervain that the person can carry along; the plant has to be collected the day before though, or should be placed next to St John’s fire, to which they won’t come near. The locals note that sometimes, after becoming worn out by the search, the Caballucos stop to rest and their saliva drips on the ground, and turns into gold ingots. Whoever takes them will be made extremely wealthy, but will descent straight to hell after death. 


Obverse side of a stele (carved upright stone) from San Vicente de Toranzo (Cantabria), depicting a ridden Cabulluco del Diablu, and displayed at the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria, Spain (© Valdavia/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)


Yet although giant dragonflies of equine appearance would undoubtedly be eyecatching in their own right if such creatures ever existed in reality as opposed to mere mythology, they would not bear any tangible resemblance to the enigmatic entity upon which my locust dragon investigations have been focused.


Interestingly, what has been described by some writers as a four-legged, horse-headed dragonfly is also portrayed in the Luttrell Psalter, an English illuminated manuscript dating from c.1325-1340.


However, as can readily be perceived here, the illustration of this incongruous insect bears no resemblance to those of the locust dragon.


A four-legged, horse-headed dragonfly depicted in the Luttrell Psalter (public domain)

But that is still not all as far as controversial giant dragonflies or dragonfly-like mystery beasts of the decidedly daunting kind are concerned.



One of the fantastical lands visited by physician Dr Lemuel Gulliver in Jonathan Swift's famous satirical fantasy novel Gulliver's Travels (1726) is Brobdingnag, a remote, hitherto-unexplored peninsula of the western USA, whose human inhabitants and wildlife are all of gigantic proportions.

Accordingly, in real life the adjective 'Brobdingnagian' is often applied to anything of extraordinarily large size – and could therefore be definitely applied in relation to certain reports in the cryptozoology archives of supposedly real but unequivocally oversized dragonflies.

A painting of Gulliver being inspected by one of the giants of Brobdingnag – note the enormous wasp in the foreground! (public domain)

One of these was posted on Lon Strickler's Phantoms and Monsters website, and reads as follows:

Me and my younger brother saw a huge dragonfly spanning well over a foot and half long in Bolton, England in 2002. It must have been over an inch in diameter as well at the centre. I would have questioned myself but as it was witnessed by someone else too. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just me seeing things. Sometimes I think was it an RC [radio/remote-controlled] helicopter? But no way could it move with such swiftness, agility and silence especially with 2002 technology. I went to the Manchester museum and checked with the insect experts and they said it sounds like you’ve seen something from the prehistoric and that no species of dragonfly that exist today are that large. It’s not a giant bird but has anyone ever seen these massive dragonflies? I would love some confirmation some more witnesses across the world.

Two years after this sighting, two comparable ones were posted online in the forum of the Charles Fort Institute's website on the very same day, 25 July 2004. One of these was posted by someone I know personally, a well-respected naturalist named Oll Lewis. Here is his typically matter-of-fact account of his encounter, which took place in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales:

I have seen a large dragonfly before, I live near a large country park with 2 huge lakes and extensive reed beds so if there were an ideal place for dragonfly and damselfly spotting, that's it. The largest dragonfly I observed was in Cosmeston Lakes Country Park [and] had a wingspan of at least 1/2 a meter [50 cm] skimming over the surface of the lake about 3 metres from the bank. It was brownish yellow in colour and apart from its size quite unremarkable.

A view of Cosmeston Lakes National Park (© Nagezna/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

I subsequently learned from Oll that he had reported his sighting to a university-based entomology professor, who blithely discounted it. The longest-bodied dragonfly native to the UK is the golden-ringed dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii, whose slender elongate body can reach almost 8.5 cm long in adult females with fully-formed ovipositors, and whose wingspan can be as much as 10 cm, The largest UK dragonfly species in terms of wingspan is the emperor dragonfly Anax imperator, whose body averages around 8 cm long but its wingspan is up to 10.5 cm. However, these species' impressive dimensions still fall far short of those for the two mystery British specimens described above.

The second Charles Fort Institute forum report was posted by a contributor with the username laphip. Here it is:

When I was around nine years old me and my two sisters watched a dragonfly with a body about half a metre long circle around our backyard just above the height of our bungalow (in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). When we told our mom about it, she just said it must've been a toy plane shaped like a dragonfly. It looked quite naturally an insect to me, and it made no sound. Would a dragonfly of that size make or not make noise in flight? Can toy remote controlled planes be soundless?

Due to their rapid aerial movements and continual hawking, the size of these insects is notoriously difficult to gauge accurately, especially by eyewitnesses not familiar with them. So overestimation of size would not be difficult. Having said that, the above-noted mentions of remote/radio-controlled aircraft may well be relevant, especially in light of an unexpected but fascinating discovery that I made recently, and which I'll reveal later here.

Golden ringed dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii, male (© Charles J Sharp/Wikipedi – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Another report, forwarded to me in 2001 by Strange Magazine's founding editor, the late Mark Chorvinsky, consists of a report e-mailed to him by correspondent Victor Engel. It reads as follows:

You may be interested in an expedition I plan on this summer. In May/June 1974 while driving through Mexico, I saw the largest dragonfly I've ever seen. At the time I estimated its wingspan at 14 inches. Since that time, I've not seriously searched for it again, but I have done some research. I've contacted dragonfly experts and other insect experts. The general consensus in the scientific community is that while there used to be dragonflies of that size, and, in fact, even larger, they don't, and cannot exist today. The reason cited for believing they cannot exist today is that the oxygen content of the atmosphere is too low to support the high metabolism required for the dragonfly to catch its prey. Then I got in touch with Dr Gilbert, of the University of Texas at Austin, who is doing research with imported fire ants and their parasitic phorid flies. He gave me two well thought-out lists. One was a list of all the reasons why such a dragonfly cannot exist. The other was a list of reasons why such an insect could possibly exist. Anyway, I'm so convinced at what I saw in the 70s that now I'm making a special trip just to find one again.

As Engel correctly mentions, back in ancient prehistoric times there were dragonflies – or, to be precise, dragonfly-resembling insects – that were even bigger than the size estimate offered by him for his Mexican mystery specimen. These veritable giants are known as griffinflies, in homage to those legendary winged monsters the griffins, Originally housed together with the true dragonflies and damselflies within the taxonomic order Odonata, griffinflies are nowadays housed in a separate, extinct order, Meganisoptera.

Griffinfly in prehistoric scene, vintage illustration (public domain)

Indeed, fossil remains of Meganeura monyi, a dragonfly that lived approximately 300 million years ago during the late Carboniferous Era in what is today France, indicate that it sported a spectacular wingspan of up to 29.5 in.

Moreover, Meganeuropsis permiana, living during the early Permian Era, sported a comparable wingspan, thereby making these the largest insect species, past or present, currently known to science.

Giant blue damselfly Megalopropus caeruleata (© Katja Schulz/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Today, conversely, the largest Odonata member is the giant blue damselfly Megalopropus caeruleata, a damselfly native to Central and South America, whose wingspan measures up to 7.52 in, and whose body length is up to 4.72 in. Hence Engel's specimen, if accurately estimated, would have a wingspan twice this.

In a JournalnewsOnline article of 15 February 2022, veteran mystery beast investigator Brent Swancer recalled being told by a supposed giant dragonfly eyewitness that he and a friend had been hiking together through Florida's famous Everglades National Park on a clear day when they saw what seemed at first to be a bird, but then they saw that it had four beating wings, not two, and that its metallic green body was very elongate, measuring over 1 ft long. Moreover, as they watched, the creature came close enough for them to discern the multi-faceted form of its eyes, as characteristically exhibited by the compound eyes of adult insects, hovering in front of them for a moment before it swooped off again, its flight entirely silent throughout.

Scale model of a griffinfly (© GermanOle/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

It is well known that the tracheal-based respiratory system of insects, whose internal network of minute cell-penetrating, air-transporting tubes is only capable of transporting oxygen over tiny distances, precludes these creatures from attaining the gargantuan sizes beloved of sci-fi movie makers, and even from those attained by the long-demised griffinflies, as the oxygen content of the atmosphere that existed way back in their time was much greater than it is today.

Bearing this in mind, therefore, what on earth – or anywhere else, for that matter! – can we say about the absolutely ginormous dragonfly lookalikes that a reader with the username PoeticsOfBigfoot posting to the cryptozoology website Cryptomundo on 28 June 2013 claimed to have observed over a lengthy period one evening in, fittingly, Texas?

Giant insects are more common in the Southwest than people realize. I saw huge dragonfly-like insects around sundown near Terlingua TX once. I estimate they were eight feet long or so, with about the same wingspan. They had some sort of long whip-like appendage at their posterior end, a little longer than their bodies, that arced upward. I saw three of them over a two-hour time span.

Confronted by a monster dragonfly sculpture of truly monstrous proportions in Wroclaw, Poland (© Piotr Przybyszewski/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

Male dragonflies do possess a pair of claspers at the tip of their most posterior abdominal segment, and females bear a single circus there, but these are nowhere near as long as the insects' bodies. So too did griffinflies, but with the same proviso. Moreover, for the respiratory reasons mentioned above, an 8-ft-long insect living today, most especially one as metabolically active as a fast-flying dragonfly, would be a physiological impossibility.

And even if it wasn't, such a spectacular, readily visible entity native to North America would assuredly have been discovered, described, and fully documented by science long ago. So although dragonflies are predatory, I wouldn't worry unduly about being dive-bombed any time soon by the terrorflies of Terlingua!

Unless, of course, this titanic trio had winged their way to Texas from Brobdingnag's secluded peninsula??? Gulliver's remarkable travels and his numerous hair-raising experiences during them had so transformed his personality that after he finally returned safely home, he became a recluse. After encountering monsters like these, can you blame him??

Fictional giant dragonfly with long whip-like posterior process like the three 8-ft-long Texas specimens (public domain)

Seriously, however, I have recently learned to my surprise but delight that giant radio-controlled dragonfly models not only exist but be readily purchased on certain websites – so might these fascinating fliers explain such sightings, including laphip's noted earlier here, especially if they were spied in dim light conditions? Then again, eyewitnesses of such creatures have often claimed that their flight was totally silent, thus suggesting that they weren't remote-controlled aircraft or drones after all.

In short, unless we dismiss all such reports as involving hoaxes, misidentifications of non-insect aerial creatures, or exaggerated size estimates of bona fide dragonflies, the mystery of these giant flying insects remains very much up in the air – as indeed do they!

For my expanded coverage of the locust dragon, be sure to check out  ShukerNature Book 1, whose front cover sports a gorgeous full-colour painting by longstanding friend and superb artist Anthony Walls, in which he portrays me with said locust dragon perching contentedly on my shoulder:



Tuesday 17 October 2023


The full wraparound cover of my brand-new, 34th book ShukerNature Book 3: Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Jungle Walruses, and Other Belated Blog Beasts (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publishing)

I'm very happy to announce today that my 34th book is now officially published, and as you can discern from its title – ShukerNature Book 3: Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Jungle Walruses, and Other Belated Blog Beasts it's a third compendium of my most significant ShukerNature blog posts, expanded and updated wherever possible, packed with colour and b/w illustrations, and 404 pages long.

If you have purchased either or both of my previous two (as I'm sure you have!!), you will know that ShukerNature Book 1 was devoted to creatures I'd blogged about that I referred to in its subtitle as cryptic. That is, not merely cryptozoological in most cases but also (indeed, especially) little-known, esoteric examples - from the likes of locust dragons, king hares, giant oil-drinking cathedral spiders, and Linnaeus's hellish fury worm, to medieval snail-cats, glowing lightbulb lizards, tizheruks, tsmoks, and many more offerings from the most obscure realms of unnatural history.

For ShukerNature Book 2, I concentrated upon creatures I'd blogged about that I referred to in its subtitle as monstrous. That is, straddling the often ill-defined borders between the mythological and the mundane, fantasy and fact, reverie and reality - such as living gorgons, bottled homunculi, fossil griffins, Lewis Carroll's mock turtle, Harry Potter's ambiguous amblypygid, and Doctor Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu, the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, Wisconsin's giant grasshoppers, South America's photographed but non-existent 'ape', and all manner of other fascinating if macabre curiosities and caprices from the shadowy hinterlands of darkest zoology.

My first two ShukerNature compilation books (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

For this present, third ShukerNature book, however, I elected to veer off into a very different direction when selecting its contents as drawn from my blog. I've been a professional cryptozoological researcher and writer for almost 40 years now, so, as you can imagine, I've covered a vast array of subjects during that lengthy period of time. Yet however many I do document, there are always countless others jostling for position on the literary sidelines, impatiently agitating to secure their place in a future book or article of mine. Of these, there are a number that I have fully intended to blog about for many years, but for a multitude of different reasons I have somehow never got around to doing so in spite of just how much they have always fascinated me. Equally, there are subjects that my many readers down through the years have persistently asked me to blog about but which again, inexplicably, I've never actually done so.

During the lengthy, enforced periods of social lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, however, I made a determined effort to rectify my previous procrastination concerning these undeservedly delayed subjects, by researching and blogging about as many of them as possible. Having now done so with a sizeable selection, it is these, therefore, that constitute the theme of this third ShukerNature book – which in turn safeguards them from the uncertainties of ongoing online existence by preserving them for all time in print.

They include such long-awaited topics as the awe-inspiring Crystal Palace dinosaur statues that I visited and photographed over a decade ago but never wrote up afterwards (but which are now the subject of my book's spectacular wraparound cover – the very first such cover that has ever graced any of my books), my personal (and undoubtedly controversial, iconoclastic, heterodox) views regarding the (in)famous Surgeon's Photograph reputedly depicting an unknown object in Loch Ness, the huge but mysterious animal head discovered in an ancient Egyptian boat, and the muddle of misidentification surrounding Lake Dakataua's aquatic migo.

Longstanding friend and awesome artist Anthony Wallis's stunning portrait of the Nandi bear that he prepared exclusively for inclusion in this latest book of mine – thanks Ant! (© Anthony Wallis)

Plus the Nandi bear specimen that was actually examined by two of the world's foremost scientists before it mysteriously vanished, the officially-impossible elephant hybrid whose existence proved all the experts wrong, the wry comedy of zoological errors enshrouding the huge but hysterical imperial flea, as well as an eclectic assemblage of jungle walruses, flying monkeys, hairless hyaenas, Koch's monstrous Missourium and horrid Hydarchos, Beebe's black-and-white mystery manta ray, the giant lizards of Papua, a tenacious tomb-shattering pterodactyl, and lots more too.

So many of these curious, charismatic subjects have been a long time coming, I freely confess – but now that they are finally here for you to read about and ponder over, I hope very much that, as with all the best things in life, you'll consider them well worth the wait. More details concerning my book can be found on its dedicated page here, in my official website.

As always, my new book can be ordered directly through Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and other online bookstores, or ordered via your local physical bookstore anywhere.

Vintage engraving of 19th-Century sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's Crystal Palace studio in 1853, containing some of his completed prehistoric animal statues (public domain)



Friday 13 October 2023


A giant spider model owned by longstanding friend and fellow cryptozoology enthusiast Mike Playfair (© Michael Playfair)

In a trio of detailed ShukerNature blog articles posted by me during summer 2020 and spring 2021 (click here, here, and here to read them), I documented the fascinating if exceedingly startling series of claims that had been emailed to me by a United States soldier concerning the supposed presence of enormous spiders seen by him and others on several occasions during 2005 and 2007 at US army training areas at Fort Polk, Louisiana's Joint Readiness Training Center, where for several weeks back then he'd been stationed for complex field training.

As I discussed in my accounts, however, the fundamental physiological problems of such sizeable spiders even being capable of existing, let alone actually doing so, would seem sufficient reasons in themselves for discounting these claims out of hand. Yet the extent of detail provided by this self-alleged eyewitness (I do have a name for him on file but in deference to his request to remain publicly anonymous I have never revealed it) is such that I felt it warranted published coverage, if only to see if it elicited any independent, corroborating reports from anyone else.

Now, finally, after more than two years, it has done so, and not from some stranger either, but instead from a longstanding friend on Facebook – namely, veteran monster/mystery beast fan Rich Janusz from Connecticut.

My own giant spider model (© Dr Karl Shuker)

On 10 July this year, Rich sent me three private messages in swift succession on Facebook, and gave me his full permission to document them in a future ShukerNature article – thanks Rich! Due to pressing work commitments, however, I wasn't able to do so straight away, but I am doing so now, having combined his three messages together into a single continuous communication – so here it is:

I have read over the years your reports of giant spiders in the Fort Polk area. I will give you my wife's brother's account.

My wife's brother is an MP in the CT NG. Some years ago, he went to Fort Polk for training. He was training on the use of night vision goggles. They heard a rustling noise, and he swears that himself and his friend saw a spider at least as big as a trash can cover crawl across the trail that they were watching. He is not a bs artist by any means. He has told me this story several times and I believe him.

Sorry that I can't be more specific about dates, call it 2011 or 2012.

At first her brother laughed and said that they were campfire stories. Later he said we'll talk later, [and] a few weeks later he told me the story. Since then he has told it among family and friends. Plus, what was his reaction to the incident? Him and his friend debated going back the way they came, and decided to continue, but very cautiously at first, and then they practically ran through the exercise.

As indeed I would have done had I encountered at close range at night a spider the size of a dustbin lid (my UK-English translation of trash can cover!).

Giant spider sculpture in Ottawa, Canada (© Markus Bühler)

Needless to say, all of the issues of physiological improbability that I discussed previously in relation to my soldier correspondent's sightings claims apply equally here. Yet as I also noted previously, it is not inconceivable, surely, that some novel evolutionary advancement of the typical size-limiting spider respiratory system could yield spiders bigger than those presently known to science (though as there is currently no physical evidence of any kind to substantiate this, such a notion is presently wholly speculative).

Meanwhile, I'll be very interested to see whether this long-awaited, long-hoped-for first independent testimony to the putative reality of Fort Polk's reputed mega-spiders induces other reports of such creatures from this Louisiana location to emerge.

My thanks once again to Rich Janusz for so kindly permitting me to document his extremely interesting, thought-provoking information here.

Another view of my giant spider model (© Dr Karl Shuker)



Friday 29 September 2023


Tullimonstrum gregarium – my Tully Monster model, seen from below (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Down through the decades since it first attracted notable public and media attention during the early 1930s, Scotland's (in)famous Loch Ness Monster has inspired all manner of suggestions as to its possible zoological identity – always assuming, of course, that it actually exists in the first place!

But none, surely, can be any stranger than the little-known example revealed here, a veritable monster in its own right – and which also featured at much the same time, moreover, in one of the most extraordinary zoological hoaxes ever recorded, concerning a large and highly dangerous yet hitherto inexplicably-overlooked species of dancing worm!



In July 1966, based upon some fossils found in Illinois and dating back 280-300 million years, Dr Eugene S. Richardson Jr (1916-1983), Curator of Fossil Invertebrates from Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, fully described within that month's issue of the Field Museum's scientific Bulletin a new species of small, ostensibly inauspicious worm-like creature, but which has subsequently proved to be one of the most zoologically baffling beasts ever recorded by science. Not only that, it can also boast a couple of startling, unexpected links to cryptozoology, as will now be seen.

The official taxonomic name of this enigmatic little animal is Tullimonstrum gregarium, which Richardson had bestowed upon it a short time previously in the prestigious American weekly journal Science. However, it is commonly known colloquially simply as the Tully Monster, and in subsequent years it became so famous that in 1989 it was officially designated the State fossil of Illinois.

Tullimonstrum representations in life (© Nabu Tamura/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

This very strange species derives both its binomial and its vernacular name from its fossils' discoverer, Francis J. Tully, an amateur fossil collector who in 1958 had found some specimens of it in the Mazon Creek formation, a series of fossil beds in Grundy County, northeastern Illinois, which had been a coastal estuary during the Late Carboniferous Period when Tullimonstrum had thrived. Unable to identify them, Tully took these mystifying specimens to the Field Museum, whose palaeontologists were equally puzzled, never having seen anything like them before.

However, further fossils of this archaic mystery mini-beast were subsequently discovered – so many, in fact, that their abundance inspired Richardson's eventual naming of it, because Tullimonstrum gregarium translates as 'common Tully monster'. Having said that, however, only one Tully Monster species is known, and only one very specific locality for it is known (the Essex biota section of the Mazon Creek fossil beds) – but what is not known at all, or at least not for certain, is what on earth, or in earth, Tullimonstrum actually is!

Tullimonstrum fossils (© Ghedoghedo/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

The reason why this ancient anomaly is so baffling is its morphology, which is so thoroughly bizarre that it has defied all attempts by researchers to categorise with any degree of satisfaction or confidence its singular species within any pre-existing taxon, not even one as elevated in the taxonomic hierarchy as a phylum.

Vermiform in basic body shape and measuring approximately 3-14 inches long, Tullimonstrum is characterized by some truly novel attributes. At its anterior end is a long slender proboscis terminating in a grasping, claw-like pair of jaws, each containing up to eight small, sharp tooth-like structures. Just behind the base of the proboscis is a thin transverse bar, at either end of which is a small round organ believed to be a camera-like eye, each containing melanosomes whose form and structure is consistent with such an identity for it. Further back still are paired structures that have been identified as gills, and its most posterior, tail-end body portion bears a pair of vertical fins resembling a spade in shape. In addition, and the principal reason for its having incited so much speculation as to its taxonomic identity, is the presence of what may be a rudimentary notochord or spinal cord.

Tullimonstrum reconstructed as a lamprey-like beast (© Entelognathus/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Every few years ever since its mid-1960s description, a new study of its fossils results in a new idea being proposed in the scientific literature as to what Tullimonstrum may be, only for this to be hotly disputed by opposing viewpoints.

The most recent published study and proffered opinion dates from as recently as April 2023, when a Japanese research team announced that their advanced 3-D imaging techniques had revealed that Tullimonstrum has segmentation in its head region which extends from its body – something that no known vertebrate lineage possesses. So in spite of possessing a putative notochord or spinal cord, Tullimonstrum was not, they believed, of vertebrate affinity.

Tullimonstrum reconstructed as an invertebrate (above), and as a vertebrate (below) (© Fossiladder 13/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Previous suggestions by earlier researchers, meanwhile, have ranged from this latter beastie being a basal vertebrate distantly related to lampreys, or an anomalocaridid-allied arthropod, to a specialized form of mollusc, a worm, a conodont, or a chordate but of non-vertebrate identity (like present-day tunicates).

As this present ShukerNature blog article is not concerned primarily with either the taxonomic or the palaeontological complexities and controversies relating to Tullimonstrum, however, I shall abstain from presenting any further considerations of these subjects here, and progress instead to what it is concerned with. Namely, two very surprising links between Tully's weird little worm from the far-distant past and cryptozoology in modern times.



Ever since the early 1930s, the Loch Ness Monster has always been a major source of cryptozoological contention, but this was especially true during the 1960s and 1970s, following Tim Dinsdale's shooting in 1960 of his short but iconic cine-film purportedly showing a very large, unidentified creature moving across and below the loch's surface. Numerous Nessie-themed books and articles appeared during this period, but one of the most unusual was undoubtedly The Great Orm of Loch Ness: A Practical Inquiry Into the Nature and Habits of Water-Monsters, authored by F.W. 'Ted' Holiday (1921-1979) and published in 1968.

Holiday had long been intrigued by Nessie and other aquatic mystery beasts, but whereas in a second book, The Dragon and the Disc (1973), he pursued a paranormal explanation for such entities (even linking them to UFOs), in The Great Orm of Loch Ness he adopted a more conventional approach, proposing a corporeal, zoological identity for Nessie. However, the specific creature that he nominated was decidedly unconventional.

Holding my copy of Holiday's book The Great Orm of Loch Ness (© Dr Karl Shuker/Faber & Faber – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Rather than any of the then-in vogue herpetological contenders (such as a giant newt or frog-like amphibian, a crocodilian reptile, or, most popular of all back in those times, a living modern-day species of plesiosaur), after receiving a copy of Richardson's 1966 paper from a fellow LNM investigator Holiday boldly proposed that the Loch Ness Monster was nothing less than a gargantuan present-day descendant of the Tully Monster!

Holiday postulated that Nessie's frequently-reported long slender neck was in reality the elongate proboscis of his proposed giant Tullimonstrum, that Nessie's front flippers were actually his latter hypothesised creature's transverse appendages, and that Nessie's posterior body region, sometimes likened by eyewitnesses to a finned tail, was in fact the latter's paired vertical tail fins. He also saw indications of two dorsal humps in various photographs and other illustrations of Tullimonstrum fossils that might explain Nessie's famous humps if present in a giant Tully Monster.

Tullimonstrum as a lamprey-like beast (© PaleoEquii/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Speaking of which, he pondered whether the small specimens of this extraordinary fossil creature so far discovered were only immature examples, and that perhaps there were full-sized (i.e. Nessie-sized) specimens still awaiting scientific discovery:

Moreover, it is by no means impossible that sections or parts of much larger Tully monsters may even now be reposing in museum basements awaiting identification.

Fifty-five years have passed since Holiday wrote those optimistic words, but as yet, however, no such specimens have come to light. Nor is that the only major issue with Holiday's attempts to identify the Loch Ness Monster with the Tully Monster. The sad but simple truth is that he had misunderstood the true nature of certain key aspects of the latter's morphology, which inevitably had led his proposals badly astray.

Loch Ness (public domain)

For instance, in his book he referred to the most anterior jawed portion of Tullimonstrum as its head, whereas in reality it is nothing more than the terminal jaws of this creature's long proboscis – and which Holiday misrepresented as its neck. Similarly, he did his best to identify the transverse bar behind the base of the proboscis as a pair of locomotory paddles, when in reality the pair of fleshy lobes at the two ends of this bar are believed to be visual organs, because they appear to contain some form of retinal structure. And what he envisaged as humps along its back appear to be nothing more than artifacts caused by the flattening of the fragile Tullimonstrum specimens during their fossilization.

Of course, one might suggest in Holiday's defence that by not being a zoologist or palaeontologist he could be forgiven for drawing such erroneous conclusions. Unfortunately, however, this defence falls by the wayside when we discover that his book also includes as an appendix the full text of Richardson's July 1966 Bulletin paper describing Tullimonstrum, in which its body regions' anatomy and functions are accurately documented by Richardson. In addition, Holiday had even corresponded directly with Richardson regarding his proposal that Nessie was a giant Tully Monster (but regarding which Richardson had in turn expressed grave misgivings to him). Consequently, Holiday had no excuse for his own highly inaccurate assumptions regarding these same matters.

Tullimonstrum, the Tully Monster – but evidently not the Loch Ness Monster (© Tim Morris)

Holiday had long believed that Nessie was some form of giant worm – hence the title of his book, the word 'orm' being an archaic version of 'worm'. This latter term is in turn sometimes applied not merely in zoology to limbless elongate invertebrates of the earthworm and outwardly similar kind, but also in western mythology to dragons that fit that same description, i.e. elongate and limbless, such as the famous Lambton worm and Laidly worm. This therefore explains why his second book, linking Nessie to UFOs, was entitled The Dragon and the Disc.

Holiday also considered the Tully Monster to be a worm, but one of a uniquely plesiosaurian shape:

Tully's monster did one great thing. It firmly demonstrated that wormlike animals with the appearance of a plesiosaurus did once exist.

Typical plesiosaurian representation of Loch Ness Monster (© Richard Svensson)

If so, this could explain not only Nessie's shape when seen by eyewitnesses but also why it wasn't seen more often, i.e. on a regular basis. For if Nessie were indeed a worm, it could therefore absorb oxygen from the loch's water directly through its body's outer layer (epidermal respiration, like frogs and salamanders can often do), not needing to surface on a frequent basis in order to inhale air into its lungs like a mammal or reptile would need to do. Accordingly, Holiday concluded his personal identification of Nessie as a giant undiscovered modern-day Tully Monster with the following bold statement:

No-one knows whether the Orm of Loch Ness is a form of Tullimonstrum; but, talking most unscientifically, I would bet my shirt that it is.

Sadly, however, I think that my above account of how and why his understanding of Tullimonstrum is seriously flawed, and, as an inevitable consequence, his conclusion that a giant version of this species does indeed explain Nessie is wholly wayward, proffers more than sufficient evidence to suggest that Holiday would have certainly lost his shirt!



At much the same time that Holiday was seeking with fervor but ultimate futility to link the Tully Monster to the Loch Ness Monster, Tullimonstrum was also hitting the cryptozoological headlines for a very different yet no less memorable reason.

On 1 September 1966, after reading a report in the East African Standard (a very well known newspaper in what was then British East Africa) concerning the discovery and Richardson's recent scientific description of Tullimonstrum, a retired army Lieutenant-Colonel named R.G.L. Cloudesley, from Nairobi in Kenya, wrote an extraordinary letter to Richardson, in which he made the following potentially exciting claim. The relevant portion reads as follows:

In 1926 having been seconded to the Kings (now Kenya) African Rifles from the Indian Army, I was in northwestern Kenya dealing with some border incidents. Passing through the administrative centre of Lodwar on my return journey, I took the opportunity of calling upon Mr. A. M. Champion, then D. C. Turkana Dis­trict. In addition to being a keen shikar, Champ­ion was a naturalist of the first rank, and during the two evenings I passed in his company he regaled me with many a fascinating yarn about the fauna of the area. Among these was one about a remarkable worm reputed to live in the swamp country to the southeast. The local tribes­men told fantastic stories about its dancing and giving milk, if I remember correctly. Such nonsense aside, Champion did give me a descrip­tion of the creature which he had obtained from various natives (he never succeeded in getting a specimen) and this curiously enough has remained in my memory when much else has been forgotten. His account agreed remarkably well with the illustration of your "Tully Monster," even to the "paddles" and the long snout. Your mention of sharp teeth, incidentally, does agree with a Turkana tale that the creature bites. On this account they are deathly afraid of it, believing that it is poisonous. But then nearly all natives believe everything of the creeping or crawling kind to be venomous.

I hardly dare to suggest that a relation of your extinct "Monster" still survives in one of the remotest parts of East Africa, but it might just be worthwhile to pursue the matter.

Tullimonstrum fossil (© James St John/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Turkana is a northwestern county in Kenya, famous for the discovery there of various significant fossil hominid remains.

Unsurprisingly, Richardson was very interested in Cloudesley's letter, but even before he had chance to reply to it he received a second letter of note, dated 13 September 1966, this time from Purshottan S. Patel of Nakuru, a town situated about 100 miles northwest of Nairobi. Patel informed Richardson that something like Tullimonstrum may actually be existing in Turkana's lakes, as he'd been told by relatives of a strange form of dancing worm that lived in these watery expanses.

The long-extinct Tullimonstrum gregarium – but was there a living Tully Monster species of terpsichorean tendency awaiting scientific discovery in the lakes of Turkana? (© Stanton F. Fink/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

Not long afterwards, Richardson received a third letter, dated 8 September 1966, from Joseph N. Ngomo, an intermediate school teacher from Nakuru, who informed him that after his class had read the Standard newspaper's report concerning Tullimonstrum, several of his pupils had claimed that they'd been told of a similar-sounding creature from their fathers. Ngomo included in his letter a note written by one such pupil, a boy named Akai, which stated that these worms are known locally as the ekurut loedonkakini, swim and "wave hands" during the full moon, give milk, and possess a bite fatal to humans.

By now, Richardson was sufficiently intrigued by these ostensibly independent yet closely corroborating communications to suggest to his colleagues at the Field Museum that an expedition in search of Turkana's tantalising dancing worms might be justified, because if they did turn out to be a living Tullimonstrum species this would obviously be a very momentous zoological discovery. First of all, however, a note requesting any additional information regarding these creatures was prepared by the Museum and duly published in the Newsletter of the East African Natural History Association – but none was forthcoming.

3D model of Tullimonstrum gregarium as a vertebrate (© Петр Меньшиков-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

In early 1967, while the proposed expedition was still at the planning stage, Richardson was visited by a former colleague, palaeontologist Dr Bryan Patterson (1909-1979), now a professor at Harvard University but previously Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Chicago Field Museum. Patterson had recently conducted some field work in Kenya and stated that he actually knew the uncle of Richardson's second correspondent, Patel. However, Patterson also stated that he'd never heard of dancing worms at Turkana, and seemed highly amused by the whole subject – as well he might be.

For it subsequently transpired that Cloudesley, Patel, Ngomo, and Akai did not exist – they had all been created, and their communications written, by none other than Patterson himself, as a prank with which to fool his friend Richardson, and which had clearly succeeded very successfully!

Fake photograph of Dr Bryan Patterson and a shot Tullimonstrum (public domain)

Happily, Richardson took it all in good spirit after receiving the truth from Patterson in a Christmas 1968 letter that also included a humorous hoax photograph in which Patterson was posing in full field regalia holding a rifle and a supposed shot specimen of a sizeable Tullimonstrum. Indeed, after cancelling his planned expedition to search for it, Richardson even prepared a short book entitled The Dancing Worm of Turkana, publishing it in 1969 under the pseudonym E. Scumas Rory. In it, he reproduced all four of the principal fake communications sent to him by Patterson, and also briefly referred to a second missive that he'd received from 'Patel', plus several additional ones sent to him by various other correspondents.

Additionally, Richardson revealed in this book that F.W. Holiday had written to 'Cloudesley' for information, but had never received a reply (for obvious reasons now!). Moreover, Richardson even contributed an introduction to the book under his own name, together with some fine illustrations under his Rory pseudonym, and nowadays this literary curiosity is a highly-collectable publication in its original hard-copy format (several websites contain downloadable public-domain pdf versions of it).

The Dancing Worm of Turkana, front cover (public domain)

In short, even though the dancing worms of Turkana never existed, they are immortalized in print, meaning that their impact, albeit transitory, upon the zoological world will also live on!

Finally: the name 'E. Scumas Rory' seems so unlikely, even contrived, that I cannot help but wonder whether in reality it is a clever anagram, but I've been unable to discover one from it. So if any anagram aficionados are reading this article, perhaps they would like to see whether they can extract one – and, if anyone does, I'd greatly welcome details!

An ekurut loedonkakini or Turkana dancing worm, biting a man – sketch by 'E, Scumas Rory' (public domain)