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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Friday 20 January 2023


Artistic representation of a giant toad (© Richard Svensson)

Today is the 14th anniversary of my ShukerNature blog's official launch (20 January 2009), so now, almost 800 ShukerNature articles later, here is my latest one, to mark this auspicious occasion, and inspired by a fascinating news report that I read just a few hours ago.

The news report in question (which can be accessed directly here) reveals the recent discovery and capture in Queensland, Australia, of a truly gigantic specimen of cane toad Bufo marinus (=Rhinella marina). Weighing a colossal 2.7 kg/6 lb (six times that of normal specimens), and dubbed Toadzilla, it may be the biggest toad of any kind ever officially recorded (but keep my use of the word 'officially' in mind, for reasons to be revealed here shortly).

Native to South America and recognized to be the world's largest toad species, the cane toad was introduced into Australia during the 1930s in a bid to control sugar cane-devouring beetles here. Alarmingly, however, it ultimately proved itself as serious an ecological blight as its intended prey. This is due not only to its skin being toxic but also to various toxin-secreting glands on its back and especially to the pair of very sizeable parotoid glands sited on its warty skin's shoulders, which secrete a potent cardiac toxin called bufotoxin  - this highly deleterious suite of secretions collectively causing anything attempting to eat one of these toads to die a swift and usually certain death, including Australia's various native (and mostly endangered) marsupial carnivores, and even creatures as large as goannas (monitor lizards). To make matters worse, this toad also actively preys upon the smaller marsupial carnivore species, such as the shrew-like marsupial mice.

Moreover, because of its very effective deterrent against potential attackers, the cane toad has no predators here, causing its numbers to swell out of all proportion and thereby posing an increasingly severe threat to this island continent's unique indigenous fauna.

A cane toad, with its lethal pair of shoulder-sited toxin-secreting parotoid glands clearly visible (© Froggydarb/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Having said that, in recent times one native Australian species, the black-necked ibis Threskiornis molucca, has seemingly conceived a remarkable means of side-stepping the cane toad's hitherto unassailable defence mechanism – these ibises have been seen throwing toads in the air, which distresses them, thus inducing them to release their skin glands' toxic secretions, after which the ibises wipe the toads on wet grass or rinse them in a water source, washing off the poison from the toads' skin, and then repeat the entire process, until the toads' glands and skin are eventually drained of toxin, after which the ibises swallow the toads whole, with no resulting ill effects.

Certain other canny avians, such as crows and hawks, have learned to flip the toads onto their back and then devour their internal organs, leaving their lethal shoulder and back glands untouched. Who said that birds are bird-brained?! More information on toad-tackling birds here.

Anyway, as noted above, the cane toad is officially the world's largest species of toad. Unofficially, however, there may be reason to question this assumption, judging at least from certain intriguing reports contained in the cryptozoological archives.

The native Indian peoples inhabiting various tropical valleys in the Chilean and Peruvian Andes frequently report the existence there of a greatly-feared, giant form of toad called the sapo de loma ('toad of the hills'). It is said to be deadly poisonous and capable of preying upon creatures as large as medium-sized birds and rodents.

Taxiderm specimen of Blomberg's giant toad Bufo blombergi (© Markus Bühler)

Science has yet to examine a sapo de loma, but as I have pointed out in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012) and its two predecessors (The New Zoo, 2002, and The Lost Ark, 1993), there is a major precedent for discovering batrachian behemoths in South America. Rolf Blomberg (1912-1996) was a Swedish explorer, photographer, and writer, and in 1950 he was instrumental in bringing to scientific attention a hitherto-undescribed species of giant toad native to southwestern Colombia. He achieved this significant feat by capturing a huge specimen there that he brought back with him to his home in neighbouring Ecuador, and which became the type specimen of this spectacular new species – duly dubbed Bufo blombergi in his honour a year later. Blomberg's giant toad (aka the Colombian giant toad) can attain a total snout-to-vent length of up to 10 in, which is greater even than that of the heavier, more massively-built cane toad.

Incidentally, German cryptozoological correspondent Markus Bühler has informed me that while browsing through a series of yearbooks from the 1970s for Stuttgart's Wilhelma Zoo, he noticed that the 1971 volume mentioned the chance birth at the zoo some years earlier of hybrids between a female B. blombergi and a male B. marinus. They were apparently indistinguishable from the paternal species, but exhibited unusually strong growth – no doubt a result of hybrid vigour. Bearing in mind that they were crossbreeds of the world's longest toad species and the world's largest toad species, it is a great pity that the book did not contain any additional information concerning them, because they must surely have had the potential to become veritable mega-toads!

In any event, mindful of the relatively belated scientific discovery of Blomberg's giant toad, it would be rash to rule out entirely the possibility that a comparable species still awaits discovery in remote, rarely-visited Andean valleys not too far to the south of the latter species' distribution range.

Moreover, there are also claims among the Mapuche people relating to a supposedly immense species of toad indigenous to various lakes, lagoons, and irrigation channels in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina. Known as the arumco ('big water frog') in Argentina and the vilú in Chile, it is said to measure up to 3 ft long. One such creature, dwelling in a lake, reputedly devoured a horse that was attempting to wade across, but whether this story is true or merely native folklore or hyperbole remains unresolved.

Unidentified newspaper article published on 11 August 1987, p. 11, regarding the mystery Wuhan giant toads (or frogs?) please click picture to enlarge for reading purposes (source unknown to me despite many searches for information concerning this article – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

However, it does remind me of a comparable report that emerged from China. A team of nine scientists from Peking (now Beijing) University, led by 58-year-old biologist Prof. Chen Mok Chun, travelled to some very large, deep mountain pools (one of which is named Bao Fung Lake) near Wuhan in China's Hubei Province during August 1987 in order to film the area and its wildlife. While setting up their television cameras, however, they were allegedly treated to an exhibition of local wildlife far beyond anything that even their wildest imaginations – or worst nightmares – could have conceived.

In full view of the scientists, three huge creatures supposedly rose up out of one of these pools and moved towards the pool's edge nearest to them. Their stunned eyewitnesses likened these grotesque monsters to giant toads or frogs, with greyish-white skins, mouths that were said to be about 6 ft wide, and eyes "bigger than rice bowls".

According to Prof. Chen, they silently watched the scientists for a short time. Then one of them opened its huge mouth and swiftly extended an enormous tongue, estimated at 20 ft long, which it wrapped around the cameras on tripods. As it promptly engulfed the tripods, its two companions let forth some eldritch screams, and then all three monsters submerged, disappearing from view. The delayed-shock reaction experienced by the scientists was so great that one of them dropped to his knees and was physically sick, according to Chinese reports, summarised in various overseas media accounts, including an unidentified American newspaper report included here (if anyone can identify its source, please let me know, thanks!)

This incident seems so utterly incredible that one would surely feel justified in dismissing it entirely as a hoax of the sensationalist supermarket tabloid kind – were it not for the fact that the eyewitnesses in question were all trained scientists, including a major name in Chinese biological research, and all from the country's leading university. Moreover, reports of such creatures being sighted in this same locality by local fishermen date back at least as far as 1962.

Finally: included here for no reason whatsoever other than I happen to like it is a bizarre sculpture from the late 1800s of a hook-beaked, warty-skinned, rabbit-eared frog – or toad! (© Markus Bühler)

For more information concerning mega-toads, not to mention mega-frogs too (and click here for one such example of the latter category of amphibian cryptid as documented by me on ShukerNature), be sure to check out my book A Manifestation of Monsters.

Wednesday 4 January 2023


Vintage illustration from 1792 of a male specimen of Struthio camelus, the African ostrich – but is this species alive and well and living in Australia too? (public domain)

During summer 1970, dingo hunter Peter Muir found and photographed some strange two-toed tracks in the spinifex (a spiny-seed grass) desert area near Laverton, Western Australia. Local aboriginals claimed that they were from an ogre-like monster – the tjangara or spinifex man.

Emu (© Donald Hobern/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence)

Scientists initially assumed that these were merely tracks of the common Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, but swiftly retracted this view – because emus leave three-toed versions. Only one known creature produces two-toed tracks like those at Laverton – Struthio camelus, the African ostrich!

Close-up of ostrich foot showing its fundamentally two-toed format – its very small third toe is too short to leave any noticeable impression in footprints (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Yet the concept of ostriches living wild in Australia is by no means ludicrous – far from it. Small populations of feral (run-wild) ostriches still persist north of Adelaide, South Australia, for instance, descended from specimens released by ostrich farmers after World War I, when the feather market collapsed.

Ostriches were formerly maintained in captivity on Australian farms for their once highly-valued plumes (© Dr Karl Shuker)

As the ostrich is a desert-hardy bird that can travel great distances in short periods of time, in 1971 veteran American zoologist and cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson suggested in a short Pursuit article that some ex-farm specimens may not only have survived and bred but also have discreetly extended their range across the intervening desertlands into Western Australia, and thence to Laverton.  (Incidentally, it is known that ostriches were released in Western Australia before 1912, but these 'officially' died out without establishing a population.)

Female ostrich (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This would offer a plausible explanation for the mystery of the two-toed tracks and their unseen originator(s) – aptly dubbed by Australian wags 'the abominable spinifex man'. Indeed, if the Laverton environs were not so sparsely populated, the existence of ostriches there may have been confirmed by now.

Vintage curio photograph of an ostrich-drawn cart (public domain)

This ShukerNature article is excerpted from my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003).