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TURNING UP LIKE A BAD BLENNY – A SMALL BUT DEADLY MIDDLE EASTERN MYSTERY FISH?

by on Sep.24, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Three (un)usual suspects as the identity of the Shatt-al-Arab’s venomous mystery fish – the Asian stinging catfish (top); the long-tailed moray eel (centre), and the bull shark (bottom) (public domain)
Yesterday, here on ShukerNature, I offered a blenny for your thoughts (click here). So today, I’m offering another one! You can thank me later.
The Shatt-al-Arab is a 120-mile-long river formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the southern Iraq town of Al-Qurnah. Flowing southwards, it constitutes the physical border of Iraq with Iran, and empties into the Persian Gulf. Many species of fish inhabit its waters, but one of them may be a notable species still unknown to science.
The Shatt-al-Arab river (public domain)
I first learnt of this small but potentially significant unidentified freshwater fish many years ago, when reading Dangerous To Man (1975), Roger Caras’s definitive book on creatures hostile to humans, but its mystery remains unsolved to this day. In his book, Caras included the following brief but very intriguing paragraph:
From Tehran comes a report of a diminutive black fish found in the Shatt al Arab River. It reputedly has killed twenty-eight people with a venomous bite. Death is said to be swift. No other information is presently available. (No other fish is known to have a venomous bite, and this report is at least suspect.)
What makes the above snippet so interesting (apart from the fact that except for my own researches into it and documentation of it in various of my books and articles, I have never encountered anything more about this creature anywhere) is Caras’s claim that it is its bite that is venomous and that no other fish is known to have a venomous bite. In contrast, a wide range of piscean species possess venomous spines, for instance, or toxin-secreting skin.
My copy of Dangerous To Man by Roger Caras (© Roger Caras; reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, Fair Use basis only)
But if we assume that such a fish does indeed exist, what could it be, and how can its reputedly venomous nature be explained? Various candidates can be selected from the many thousands of fish species already known to science, but none can offer a comprehensively satisfying solution.
When I originally read Caras’s report, the first candidate that came to mind, for several reasons, was the Asian stinging catfish Heteropneustes [formerly Saccobranchus] fossilis. This species does indeed inhabit the Shatt-al-Arab (though it is an imported rather than a native fish here, originating from Indochina). Moreover, it is often only around 4 in long (though it can grow up to 1 ft), it is definitely black in colour, and, of particular significance, it is known to be venomous. So far, so good.
Asian stinging catfish (public domain)
However, unlike the Shatt-al-Arab mystery fish, the Asian stinging catfish is venomous due not to a toxic bite but instead to a poison gland at the base of a spine on each of its two pectoral fins. This can yield an extremely painful but not fatal sting. Consequently, even if victims (or onlookers) were mistaken in assuming that this catfish had bitten them (unless perhaps it had done so in self-defence if they had been molesting it, but this would not have been a source of venom), they would not have died from its fin spines’ sting. Exit H. fossilisfrom further consideration.
A second candidate is the long-tailed or slender giant moray eel Strophidon sathete(aka Thyrsoidea macrura). Although typically marine, and distributed widely in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean, it is well known for entering estuaries and travelling considerable distances up rivers, including the Shatt-al-Arab. What is particularly interesting about this species in relation to the latter river’s mystery fish is that in a sense it can be said to have a toxic bite, albeit not in the usual convention.
Long-tailed (slender giant) moray eel (public domain)
True, its teeth do not actually secrete a toxin, via poison sacs, like those of venomous reptiles do. However, as a voracious carnivore the long-tailed moray eel will certainly have pieces of rotting flesh left over from previous meals and packed with pathogenic bacteria sticking to its teeth, just like crocodiles and carnivorous mammals like lions and tigers do. Consequently, a bite from this fish might well transfer some of those bacteria into the wound caused by its teeth, which in turn may lead to septicaemia developing, especially in someone with a less than robust immune system, such as a child, an elderly person, or someone recovering from a major illness. Even so, no known human fatalities resulting from a bite by this moray eel species are on record, and there is also the not-inconsiderable problem of size difference to reconcile, because it can attain a maximum length of up to 12 ft when fully grown (even its average length is over 2 ft). So this species can hardly be deemed ‘diminutive’, like the Shatt-al-Arab mystery fish. Don’t call us, S. sathete.
Nor can the bull shark Carcharhinus leucas be termed diminutive, bearing in mind that it averages 7.5 ft long. Unlike most sharks, this notably aggressive species is frequently found in freshwater habitats, including the Shatt-al-Arab River, and like those of moray eels its teeth are brimming with pathogenic bacteria from rotting meat still attached from earlier meals. So again, a bite from this fish, although not intrinsically venomous, might well lead to blood poisoning. And several human deaths caused by this fish attacking them have been confirmed here. But as even a new-born specimen is normally around 2.5 ft long, this species clearly has no bearing upon the identity of the Shatt-al-Arab mystery fish.
Bull shark (public domain)
As I researched further into this ichthyological puzzle, however, I made an unexpected breakthrough, by discovering that one crucial aspect of Caras’s account was fundamentally incorrect. Contrary to his statement, some fishes dopossess a genuinely venomous bite.
And one of these is the blackline fang blenny Meiacanthus nigrolineatus. Its lower jaw bears sizeable canine teeth that have grooved sides and venom-producing tissue at their base. These teeth enable it to produce a sufficiently unpleasant bite to deter all predatory fishes, large and small. In general appearance, it is relatively nondescript – no more than 3.75 in long, with a blue-grey head and foreparts, and the remainder of its body pale yellow. There is also a thin black stripe running lengthwise just beneath its dorsal fin, which earns it its common name.
Blackline fang blenny (© Akvariumugamyba at http://akvariumugamyba.lt/ – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)
Over 830 species of true blenny or blennioid are currently known to science, generally small in size and scaleless but many-toothed, and are of worldwide distribution. Most are marine fishes, as indeed is the blackline fang blenny, which is native to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez and Aqaba. However, there are freshwater species too (such as the well-known Salaria fluviatilis, which is native to rivers in several European countries as well as in Morocco, Algeria, Israel, and Turkey).
No human fatalities have been recorded with the blackline fang blenny, but what if the Shatt-al-Arab River is harbouring a still-undescribed, darker-coloured, but otherwise comparable freshwater relative that is capable of producing a more potent venom? If such a creature, known locally but attracting little notice from the outside, scientific world, is one day captured and formally identified, then our mystery fish will surely have been unmasked at last – turning up like the bad blenny that it is.
My special thanks to French ichthyologist Dr François de Sarre for very kindly sharing his own thoughts and comments with me regarding this fishy affair.
This ShukerNature blog article is adapted and expanded from my book Karl Shuker’s Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times.

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A BLENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS – HEUVELMANS’S MIDGET BLENNY (AS WAS), TO BE PRECISE

by on Sep.22, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Side view of the Caneva combtooth blenny (public domain)
True blennies (aka blennioids, to distinguish them from a range of other, only distantly-related fishes also frequently dubbed ‘blennies’) are generally small, elongate fishes superficially reminiscent of gobies and dragonets, but collectively belonging to six taxonomic families housed within the perciform suborder Blennioidei. Over 800 species are currently recognised, some of marine persuasion, some brackish, and some freshwater, but in recent times this number has decreased by one due to an unexpected taxonomic twist.
It all began in February 1986, when a new species of combtooth blenny was described by French ichthyologist Dr François Charousset in a paper published by the periodical Ezhegodnik Zoologicheskogo Muzeya Akademiia nauk SSSRand also in a version of it published by Clin d’Oeil, after two specimens had been collected by him in Mediterranean waters off Croatia’s Istrian coast (specifically in Istria’s Zelena Laguna). A small, yellow-headed blenny, just under 3 in long and commonly known locally as the midget, such a relatively unspectacular fish and its discovery would not normally be considered particularly remarkable or significant.
My collection of cryptozoology books authored by ‘the Father of Cryptozoology’, Dr Bernard Heuvelmans (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Yet the midget was noteworthy, because it epitomised the definition of a cryptozoological animal. Namely, a species (or subspecies) known to the local people sharing its domain, but whose existence has long remained unconfirmed by science. So it was with the midget, reported by the locals for several decades but eluding scientific detection until Charousset’s collection of the two Istrian specimens.
Accordingly, Charousset very appropriately christened this new combtooth blenny Lipophrys heuvelmansi – in honour of veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans, popularly called ‘the father of cryptozoology’ due to his seminal work in this emerging investigative science.
A male specimen of the Caneva combtooth blenny spawning, clearly displaying the very broad black facial stripe that mature males of this species develop as a secondary sex characteristic during the breeding season (public domain)
Unfortunately, however, that honour has now been rescinded for taxonomic reasons. In 2015, via a scientific paper published in the journal Naturalista Siciliano(series 4, vol 39, no, 2, pp. 97-103 – accessible online here), a four-strong team of Italian researchers that included marine ecologist Francesco Tiralongo and cryptozoological researcher Lorenzo Rossi closely compared the morphology of one of the midget’s two procured specimens (which had been preserved in alcohol in the Museum of Lausanne, Musée Cantonal de Zoologie) with that of a mature male specimen of the closely-related Caneva combtooth blenny Microlipophrys [formerly Lipophrys] canevae sampled in Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea during its species’ breeding season. The team could not find any taxonomically significant differences between the two fishes.
Growing up to 3 in long, M. canevae is native to the Mediterranean and also to the northeast Atlantic Ocean near Portugal, and for much of the year both sexes of this species exhibit a uniformly yellow head. During the breeding season, however, lasting from April to August each year, mature males develop as a secondary sex characteristic a very broad black stripe running centrally up their face, from the lower edge of the jaw upwards to the first ray of their dorsal fin – and of particular significance, this exactly matches the appearance of the face of the two Heuvelmans midget specimens, both of which just so happened to have been collected by Charousset in June. i.e. right in the middle of the breeding season for M. canevae.

Diagram from the paper of Tiralongo et al.(2015) illustrating the extreme similarity between Heuvelmans’s midget combtooth blenny (A, top) and a mature male specimen of the Caneva combtooth blenny collected during the breeding season (B, bottom) (© Tiralongo et al., 2015, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Consequently, taking this and all of the other morphological similarities fully documented by them in their paper into consideration, the team concluded that the two L. heuvelmansi specimens were nothing more than mature males of M. canevae. So, as these two species are apparently conspecific, and because M. canevaehad been formally named and described way back in 1880 (i.e. over a century before L. heuvelmansi), the team affirmed in accordance with the rules of nomenclatural precedence that L. heuvelmansi should be considered hereafter to be merely a junior synonym of M. canevae.
RIP Heuvelmans’s midget combtooth blenny.
My sincere thanks to Lorenzo Rossi for very kindly bringing his team’s revelatory paper to my attention recently.
A female Caneva combtooth blenny, lacking the black head stripe that mature males acquire during the spawning season (public domain)





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HERE’S NESSIE! – MY LOCH NESS MONSTER BOOK IS PUBLISHED!

by on Sep.16, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Here’s Nessie! A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness – my 24th book, now in print (© Dr Karl Shuker/CFZ Press)
It is all thanks to my mother Mary Shuker taking me as a child to the town of Walsall in the West Midlands, England, one afternoon during the late 1960s that I first learnt of the Loch Ness monster (LNM). For it was while we were browsing together that day in Walsall’s branch of the books and stationery shop W.H. Smith that Mom bought me a thoroughly amazing, captivating book entitled Stranger Than People.
Published in 1968, it was packed with lavishly-illustrated spreads documenting mysteries from the real world, the world of myths and legends, and the world of fiction (which included some wonderful, specially-written short stories). It is within the pages of this momentous, life-changing volume, one that profoundly influenced and nurtured what has become my lifelong interest in mysterious phenomena (especially of the cryptozoological and zoomythological kinds), that I first read about such diverse but fascinating subjects as the yeti, the colossus of Rhodes, Edgar Cayce and telepathy, werewolves and vampires, the kraken, giants, the minotaur, Von Kempelen’s chess player, mermaids, witches and witchcraft, ‘deathless’ warriors, aliens, trolls, zombies, leprechauns, feral children, Herne the hunter, Moby Dick – and, of course, Nessie, the Loch Ness monster (LNM).
With two wonderful, life-changing books – The Story of the Loch NessMonster and Stranger Than People; and with one wonderful, life-changing lady – my mother, Mary Shuker (© Dr Karl Shuker)
A few years later, moreover, during a visit to the Warwickshire, England, town of Stratford-upon-Avon (birthplace of William Shakespeare), Mom bought me my first LNM book, Tim Dinsdale’s The Story of the Loch Ness Monster (1973). An enthralling account of this Scottish mystery beast’s remarkable history, it was justifiably lauded as a Commended Title in the prestigious Times Educational Supplement Information Book Awards during that same year.
Needless to say, I was hooked – and have been in relation to this long-necked aquatic cryptid ever since – unlike Nessie, conversely, which continues to be just as evasive today as way back then, over 40 years ago now, but, equally, remains just as thought-provoking and enigmatic too.
Tim Dinsdale, to whom my book is dedicated (© Prof. Henry H. Bauer)
Indeed, the LNM is not only the premier mystery beast of the United Kingdom, it also vies with the bigfoot or sasquatch as the most famous one anywhere in the world. Little wonder, therefore, that during my many years as a cryptozoological researcher and writer I should have documented it and all manner of aspects relating to it in a wide range of publications.
Now, however, for the very first time and in direct response to popular demand, the vast majority of these previously disparate Nessie-themed writings of mine have finally been brought together, and in expanded, updated form whenever possible too, to yield my newly-published LNM compendium, covering a fascinating, extremely broad spectrum of pertinent topics.
Nessie, is this really you? Artistic reconstruction of what the LNM may look like, always assuming of course that such an entity actually exists! (© Connor Lachmanec)
The first two chapters set the scene by offering a comprehensive review of the history and controversies associated with this most contentious of aquatic cryptids. The others that follow them investigate such subjects as some of the most – and least – plausible taxonomic identities that have been proposed for it; the closely-linked traditional Scottish folklore of kelpies and other water-horses; a look at various Nessie-related hoaxes; an extensive survey of less familiar water monsters reported from other Highland lochs; some reviews of Nessie-related material; a hitherto-unpublished LNM sighting given to me by none other than leading Nessie researcher and eyewitness Tim Dinsdale shortly before his untimely death (and to whom my book is dedicated); Nessie and the noble hobby of philately; a retrospective devoted to the historic LNM conference staged by the International Society of Cryptozoology at Edinburgh’s Royal Museum of Scotland in 1987; the abiding paradox of the mystifying Pictish beast as intricately carved upon numerous ancient symbol stones by Scotland’s early ‘painted people’ the Picts; my very own tribute in verse to Nessie; an annotated, YouTube-linked listing of Nessie-themed songs and music videos; and much more too!
Supplementing these diverse subjects is an equally eclectic selection of illustrations – a dedicated Nessie gallery containing a dazzling array of spectacular full-colour LNM artwork, including a number of specially-commissioned, previously-unpublished examples – plus a wide range of text images, a delightful foreword by veteran Nessie researcher Prof. Henry H. Bauer, very comprehensive bibliography of non-fiction LNM books, a listing of current Nessie-themed websites, and a detailed index.
Smirnoff’s famous, fondly-remembered Nessie-themed magazine advertisement from the 1980s (© Smirnoff – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)
So without further ado, I hope that you enjoy my latest, 24th book, welcoming you to the sometimes decidedly weird yet always totally wonderful world of Nessie – the mystifying but ever-memorable monster of Loch Ness.
My book is available here on Amazon USA, and here on Amazon UK (the ‘temporarily unavailable’ notice on the latter site merely relates to its need to order more stock of it), as well as directly from the publisher, CFZ Press, here.
Peek-a-boo! – Styxosaurus plesiosaur (© Julian Johnson/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2DOT0 licence)
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RECALLING SHUKER’S LORICIFERAN – MY VERY OWN MINI-BEAST

by on Sep.07, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Caroline Gast’s exquisite illustration of Pliciloricus enigmaticus, a close relative of Shuker’s loriciferan P. shukeri (public domain)
Eleven years ago, I was very honoured to receive what must surely be the greatest personal accolade for any zoologist – a new species of animal was named after me. The creature in question is Shuker’s loriciferan Pliciloricus shukeri – but how and why did this come about, and what exactly is a loriciferan anyway?
Although these creatures are only tiny in size, from a taxonomic standpoint the discovery of loriciferans was one of the most significant events of the entire 20thCentury, because they added a totally new phylum to the officially recognised roster of animal life. Excerpted and expanded from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals(2012), here is their fascinating history, including the scientific debut in 2005 of P. shukeri.
My three books on new and rediscovered animals (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Loricifera – a Prediction Come True
Giving one’s name to an uncommonly ugly form of animal larva may not be everyone’s idea of obtaining scientific immortality, but it is nonetheless an effective way to achieve this – especially when that larva’s species is so utterly different from all others that a completely new phylumhas to be created to accommodate it.
Its story began in 1961 when, as a student at Washington‘s National Museum of Natural History, Robert Higgins predicted the existence of a remarkable little creature unlike any known to science at that time. By a sadistically ironic twist of fate, in May 1974 he actually found a real-life specimen of his hitherto-hypothetical creature – but failed to recognise it for what it was! Instead, he deemed it to be nothing more than a larval priapulid worm.
The following year, however, another specimen was found, this time by Danish zoologist Dr Reinhardt Møbjerg Kristensen, from the University of Copenhagen. Yet as bad luck would have it, the tiny animal was destroyed during its preparation for transmission electron microscopy. Happily, between 1976 and 1979 Dr Kristensen discovered some larvae, in shell gravel obtained from depths of 330-365 ft outside western Greenland‘s Godhavn Harbour. And finally, in April 1982, an adult turned up – completely by accident.
Ventral view of adult female loriciferan Nanaloricus mysticus (After R. M. Kristensen, 1983, ‘Loricifera, a new phylum with Aschelminthes characters from the meiobenthus’, Z. Zool. Syst. Evolutionsforsch., 21(3): 163–180)
Kristensen had obtained a huge sample of shell gravel from a depth of 83-100 ft during field work at the Marine Biological Station in Roscoff, France, and was in a hurry to examine the minute creatures living between the gravel particles, as this was his last day there before leaving for Denmark again. Consequently, instead of employing the usual sophisticated but somewhat protracted techniques for dislodging animals from the particles, lack of sufficient time spurred him to use a cruder but much quicker method – simply washing the gravel in freshwater.

The change in salt concentration experienced by the tiny marine organisms in the gravel shocked them into loosening their grip on its particles, and they could then be collected in the surrounding water. Among the creatures obtained in this way was an adult of Higgins’s postulated animal form, plus others from every stage in its life history. Shortly afterwards, specimens belonging to a slightly different species were obtained from Greenland gravel samples, using this same technique.

By now, Kristensen and Higgins had learnt about each other’s interest in these mysterious minute creatures, and had teamed up to work on them. They discovered that the individual (a larva) collected by Higgins in 1974 was indeed of the same group, but sufficiently different from Kristensen’s species to warrant separation within a new genus and family. As for the creatures in toto, true to Higgins’s expectations they required a brand new phylum. In 1983, Kristensen named it Loricifera, and formally described its first species, the Roscoff one, which he christened Nanaloricus mysticus.
Scanning electron micrograph of two Nanaloricus mysticus Higgins larvae; scale bar = 100 μm (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
A tiny creature, no more than 0.01 in long, with a fairly squat body and a head section bearing a collar of radiating spines, it leads a sedentary existence – quite unlike its free-swimming larva, whose striated, pear-shaped body has a rear pair of flipper-like appendages. Anatomically, the species combines features from several different phyla, but is characterised by a unique mouth, consisting of a long tube that can be retracted completely within the creature’s body in a manner not previously recorded from any other type of animal.
As for Higgins, although he did not have the honour of describing the first real-life species of his conjectured creature he was given an unusual consolation prize – ever afterwards, the basic larval type produced by loriciferans would be officially referred to in zoological parlance as the Higgins larva. Higgins’s reaction to this accolade was to comment: “I’m very pleased of course, even though it is such an ugly creature”. Twenty-two years after his student prognostication, his hypothetical animal was hypothetical no longer.
Incidentally, in 1986 Higgins was able to describe the species to which his lost specimen had belonged; its scientific name is Pliciloricus enigmaticus, and it was just one of eight new species that Higgins and Kristensen described within a single paper. The other seven species were: P. dubius, P. gracilis, P. orphanus, P. profundus, Rugiloricus carolinensis, R. cauliculus, and R. ornatus. In 1988, Kristensen described a notably important species, P. hadalis – the first loriciferan recorded from fine sediment (red clay), from a depth (27,082 ft) great enough to be included within the hadal bathymetric zone, and from the western Pacific.
Shuker’s loriciferan Pliciloricus shukeri; scale bar = 200 μm (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Loriciferans possess five distinct body regions – the mouth cone, consisting of a small terminal mouth; the head (introvert), containing the brain; the neck; and a trunk portion that is in turn divided into the thorax and the abdomen. The abdomen is surrounded by a series of plates yielding a corset-like or girdle-like arrangement known as the lorica (from which they derive their zoological name, and also the vernacular name ‘girdle wearers’), which is variously cuticular or highly folded in form. On their head, they bear several whorls of protective spines called scalids (earning them a second, rarely-used vernacular name – ‘brush-heads’), and because adult loriciferans can withdraw their head into their neck, and their neck in turn into their trunk, when they do so it means that their head is then entirely protected by the lorica laterally and the scalids dorsally (which stick outwards). Although they do possess a body cavity, it is not a true one lined completely by mesoderm tissue (i.e. a coelom), but is one that is only partly mesoderm-lined (i.e. a pseudocoelom). They entirely lack a circulatory system and a respiratory system, but they do possess a straight-through gut from proximal mouth to distal anus, and also a well-developed nervous system. The sexes are separate (males and females), each of which possesses a single pair of gonads.

Morphologically, loriciferans share affinities with two phyla of superficially worm-like creatures – the priapulids and the kinorhynchs, and have been traditionally grouped with them in a clade known as Scalidophora. More recently, however, molecular studies have promoted a closer taxonomic affinity between Loricifera and Nematomorpha (the latter phylum containing the horsehair worms).

In February 1992, I was delighted and honoured to learn from Dr Kristensen that in due course he would be naming a new species of loriciferan after me (at that time, he had nearly 70 undescribed species in his collection!), in recognition of the very significant contribution made to the zoological literature by my first book on new and rediscovered animals – The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993). He later informed me that ‘my’ loriciferan was currently the most interesting species known, because it is neotenous, i.e. its Higgins larval stage becomes sexually mature precociously, developing an ovary, so the post-larval stage is reduced. Also, it was the first loriciferan species known to possess a double secondary organ, and was markedly different from all previously-described Pliciloricus species, thereby requiring the diagnosis of the genus Pliciloricus to be amended accordingly.

Schematic diagram of the adult, type specimen of P. shukeri from Heiner and Kristensen, 2005 (© Drs Iben Heiner and Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Three specimens of Shuker’s loriciferan (one 210-μm-long adult, serving as the holotype or type specimen, and two smaller Higgins larvae, serving as paratypes) had been collected at BIOFAR (Benthic Investigation of the Faroe Islands) Station 627 on the Faroe Bank by the German research vessel Valdiviain 1990, and their species was formally described by Kristensen and fellow loriciferan researcher Dr Iben Heiner in 2005, when it was duly christened Pliciloricus shukeri. Quoting from their paper, the etymological derivation of this species’ name is as follows:
The name of this species epithet is in honor of Dr. Karl Shuker, a prominent expert in cryptozoology. The new species is dedicated to Dr. Shuker for his outstanding book “The Lost Ark, New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century”. In this book, the discovery of Loricifera received much credit as one of the major events of the 20th Century.
The full reference to the paper in which P. shukeri is formally named and described, and which should be accessed for the entire, highly-detailed morphological description of ‘my’ species, is:
HEINER, I. and KRISTENSEN, R.M. (2005). Two new species of the genus Pliciloricus (Loricifera, Pliciloricidae) from the Faroe Bank, North Atlantic. Zoologischer Anzeiger, 243(3): 121-138.
(The other new loriciferan species described by them in the above paper was P. leocaudatus, the ‘lion-tailed loriciferan’.)
Schematic diagram of one of the Higgins larva paratypes of P. shukeri from Heiner and Kristensen, 2005 (© Drs Iben Heiner and Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Currently, 26 species of loriciferan in eight genera have been described, but at least a hundred more have been discovered and are currently awaiting description. Indeed, with delicious irony in view of their only very recent arrival in the annals of zoological discovery, based upon the findings of studies conducted so far the loriciferans appear to be one of the most abundant groups of meiofauna in the deep sea (meiofauna being tiny organisms inhabiting the spaces between sediment particles and smaller in body size than macrofauna but bigger than microfauna), they have also been shown to occur in mud on shallower water, and they may actually be one of the dominant meiofauna groups .
Moreover, in April 2010 the existence of a trio ofloriciferan species inhabiting the sediments at the bottom of the L’Atalante basin in the Mediterranean Sea, over 10,000 ft deep, was formally documented in a paper (click here to access it) authored by a team of researchers that once again included Drs Kristensen and Heiner, and which was published in the scientific journal BMB Biology. This revelation was of great zoological notability, because these three loriciferan species (respectively constituting a new Pliciloricus species, a new Rugiloricusspecies, and a new Spinoloricus species) were the first multicellular organisms known to spend their entire lives in an anoxic or anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment.

They can achieve this remarkable feat because they utilise hydrogenosomes (or similar organelles) rather than mitochondria for providing energy. Less than 0.04 in (1 mm) long, these very specialised loriciferans undergo their life cycles in the total absence not only of oxygen but also of light.
Light microscopy image of the new species of anoxic Spinoloricus loriciferan, stained with Rose Bengal; scale bar = 50 μm (© Roberto Danavaro et al., 2010/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence)

Despite having been formally known to science for over three decades now, the loriciferans have clearly lost none of their capacity to surprise the zoological world!

My sincere thanks to Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen for most kindly making available to me for use in my writings his illustrations included here – and, above all else, for doing me the immense honour of naming a new species after me, something that I’d always dreamed about since a very small child but never expected to happen. Sometimes, dreams really do come true.
And who knows, perhaps one day a second, closely-related, but presently-unfulfilled dream of mine will also come true – that someone will also name a new species after my late mother, Mary Shuker (without whose love, guidance, and encouragement I would never have achieved anything, including writing The Lost Ark and my other books), so that her name will very deservedly live on, and that she will therefore continue to be remembered when I am no longer here to do so.  God bless you Mom, I love you and miss you so much.
Shuker’s loriciferan (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
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RECALLING SHUKER’S LORICIFERAN – MY VERY OWN MINI-BEAST

by on Sep.07, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Caroline Gast’s exquisite illustration of Pliciloricus enigmaticus, a close relative of Shuker’s loriciferan P. shukeri (public domain)
Eleven years ago, I was very honoured to receive what must surely be the greatest personal accolade for any zoologist – a new species of animal was named after me. The creature in question is Shuker’s loriciferan Pliciloricus shukeri – but how and why did this come about, and what exactly is a loriciferan anyway?
Although these creatures are only tiny in size, from a taxonomic standpoint the discovery of loriciferans was one of the most significant events of the entire 20thCentury, because they added a totally new phylum to the officially recognised roster of animal life. Excerpted and expanded from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals(2012), here is their fascinating history, including the scientific debut in 2005 of P. shukeri.
My three books on new and rediscovered animals (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Loricifera – a Prediction Come True
Giving one’s name to an uncommonly ugly form of animal larva may not be everyone’s idea of obtaining scientific immortality, but it is nonetheless an effective way to achieve this – especially when that larva’s species is so utterly different from all others that a completely new phylumhas to be created to accommodate it.
Its story began in 1961 when, as a student at Washington‘s National Museum of Natural History, Robert Higgins predicted the existence of a remarkable little creature unlike any known to science at that time. By a sadistically ironic twist of fate, in May 1974 he actually found a real-life specimen of his hitherto-hypothetical creature – but failed to recognise it for what it was! Instead, he deemed it to be nothing more than a larval priapulid worm.
The following year, however, another specimen was found, this time by Danish zoologist Dr Reinhardt Møbjerg Kristensen, from the University of Copenhagen. Yet as bad luck would have it, the tiny animal was destroyed during its preparation for transmission electron microscopy. Happily, between 1976 and 1979 Dr Kristensen discovered some larvae, in shell gravel obtained from depths of 330-365 ft outside western Greenland‘s Godhavn Harbour. And finally, in April 1982, an adult turned up – completely by accident.
Ventral view of adult female loriciferan Nanaloricus mysticus (After R. M. Kristensen, 1983, ‘Loricifera, a new phylum with Aschelminthes characters from the meiobenthus’, Z. Zool. Syst. Evolutionsforsch., 21(3): 163–180)
Kristensen had obtained a huge sample of shell gravel from a depth of 83-100 ft during field work at the Marine Biological Station in Roscoff, France, and was in a hurry to examine the minute creatures living between the gravel particles, as this was his last day there before leaving for Denmark again. Consequently, instead of employing the usual sophisticated but somewhat protracted techniques for dislodging animals from the particles, lack of sufficient time spurred him to use a cruder but much quicker method – simply washing the gravel in freshwater.

The change in salt concentration experienced by the tiny marine organisms in the gravel shocked them into loosening their grip on its particles, and they could then be collected in the surrounding water. Among the creatures obtained in this way was an adult of Higgins’s postulated animal form, plus others from every stage in its life history. Shortly afterwards, specimens belonging to a slightly different species were obtained from Greenland gravel samples, using this same technique.

By now, Kristensen and Higgins had learnt about each other’s interest in these mysterious minute creatures, and had teamed up to work on them. They discovered that the individual (a larva) collected by Higgins in 1974 was indeed of the same group, but sufficiently different from Kristensen’s species to warrant separation within a new genus and family. As for the creatures in toto, true to Higgins’s expectations they required a brand new phylum. In 1983, Kristensen named it Loricifera, and formally described its first species, the Roscoff one, which he christened Nanaloricus mysticus.
Scanning electron micrograph of two Nanaloricus mysticus Higgins larvae; scale bar = 100 μm (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
A tiny creature, no more than 0.01 in long, with a fairly squat body and a head section bearing a collar of radiating spines, it leads a sedentary existence – quite unlike its free-swimming larva, whose striated, pear-shaped body has a rear pair of flipper-like appendages. Anatomically, the species combines features from several different phyla, but is characterised by a unique mouth, consisting of a long tube that can be retracted completely within the creature’s body in a manner not previously recorded from any other type of animal.
As for Higgins, although he did not have the honour of describing the first real-life species of his conjectured creature he was given an unusual consolation prize – ever afterwards, the basic larval type produced by loriciferans would be officially referred to in zoological parlance as the Higgins larva. Higgins’s reaction to this accolade was to comment: “I’m very pleased of course, even though it is such an ugly creature”. Twenty-two years after his student prognostication, his hypothetical animal was hypothetical no longer.
Incidentally, in 1986 Higgins was able to describe the species to which his lost specimen had belonged; its scientific name is Pliciloricus enigmaticus, and it was just one of eight new species that Higgins and Kristensen described within a single paper. The other seven species were: P. dubius, P. gracilis, P. orphanus, P. profundus, Rugiloricus carolinensis, R. cauliculus, and R. ornatus. In 1988, Kristensen described a notably important species, P. hadalis – the first loriciferan recorded from fine sediment (red clay), from a depth (27,082 ft) great enough to be included within the hadal bathymetric zone, and from the western Pacific.
Shuker’s loriciferan Pliciloricus shukeri; scale bar = 200 μm (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Loriciferans possess five distinct body regions – the mouth cone, consisting of a small terminal mouth; the head (introvert), containing the brain; the neck; and a trunk portion that is in turn divided into the thorax and the abdomen. The abdomen is surrounded by a series of plates yielding a corset-like or girdle-like arrangement known as the lorica (from which they derive their zoological name, and also the vernacular name ‘girdle wearers’), which is variously cuticular or highly folded in form. On their head, they bear several whorls of protective spines called scalids (earning them a second, rarely-used vernacular name – ‘brush-heads’), and because adult loriciferans can withdraw their head into their neck, and their neck in turn into their trunk, when they do so it means that their head is then entirely protected by the lorica laterally and the scalids dorsally (which stick outwards). Although they do possess a body cavity, it is not a true one lined completely by mesoderm tissue (i.e. a coelom), but is one that is only partly mesoderm-lined (i.e. a pseudocoelom). They entirely lack a circulatory system and a respiratory system, but they do possess a straight-through gut from proximal mouth to distal anus, and also a well-developed nervous system. The sexes are separate (males and females), each of which possesses a single pair of gonads.

Morphologically, loriciferans share affinities with two phyla of superficially worm-like creatures – the priapulids and the kinorhynchs, and have been traditionally grouped with them in a clade known as Scalidophora. More recently, however, molecular studies have promoted a closer taxonomic affinity between Loricifera and Nematomorpha (the latter phylum containing the horsehair worms).

In February 1992, I was delighted and honoured to learn from Dr Kristensen that in due course he would be naming a new species of loriciferan after me (at that time, he had nearly 70 undescribed species in his collection!), in recognition of the very significant contribution made to the zoological literature by my first book on new and rediscovered animals – The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993). He later informed me that ‘my’ loriciferan was currently the most interesting species known, because it is neotenous, i.e. its Higgins larval stage becomes sexually mature precociously, developing an ovary, so the post-larval stage is reduced. Also, it was the first loriciferan species known to possess a double secondary organ, and was markedly different from all previously-described Pliciloricus species, thereby requiring the diagnosis of the genus Pliciloricus to be amended accordingly.

Schematic diagram of the adult, type specimen of P. shukeri from Heiner and Kristensen, 2005 (© Drs Iben Heiner and Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Three specimens of Shuker’s loriciferan (one 210-μm-long adult, serving as the holotype or type specimen, and two smaller Higgins larvae, serving as paratypes) had been collected at BIOFAR (Benthic Investigation of the Faroe Islands) Station 627 on the Faroe Bank by the German research vessel Valdiviain 1990, and their species was formally described by Kristensen and fellow loriciferan researcher Dr Iben Heiner in 2005, when it was duly christened Pliciloricus shukeri. Quoting from their paper, the etymological derivation of this species’ name is as follows:
The name of this species epithet is in honor of Dr. Karl Shuker, a prominent expert in cryptozoology. The new species is dedicated to Dr. Shuker for his outstanding book “The Lost Ark, New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century”. In this book, the discovery of Loricifera received much credit as one of the major events of the 20th Century.
The full reference to the paper in which P. shukeri is formally named and described, and which should be accessed for the entire, highly-detailed morphological description of ‘my’ species, is:
HEINER, I. and KRISTENSEN, R.M. (2005). Two new species of the genus Pliciloricus (Loricifera, Pliciloricidae) from the Faroe Bank, North Atlantic. Zoologischer Anzeiger, 243(3): 121-138.
(The other new loriciferan species described by them in the above paper was P. leocaudatus, the ‘lion-tailed loriciferan’.)
Schematic diagram of one of the Higgins larva paratypes of P. shukeri from Heiner and Kristensen, 2005 (© Drs Iben Heiner and Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
Currently, 26 species of loriciferan in eight genera have been described, but at least a hundred more have been discovered and are currently awaiting description. Indeed, with delicious irony in view of their only very recent arrival in the annals of zoological discovery, based upon the findings of studies conducted so far the loriciferans appear to be one of the most abundant groups of meiofauna in the deep sea (meiofauna being tiny organisms inhabiting the spaces between sediment particles and smaller in body size than macrofauna but bigger than microfauna), they have also been shown to occur in mud on shallower water, and they may actually be one of the dominant meiofauna groups .
Moreover, in April 2010 the existence of a trio ofloriciferan species inhabiting the sediments at the bottom of the L’Atalante basin in the Mediterranean Sea, over 10,000 ft deep, was formally documented in a paper (click here to access it) authored by a team of researchers that once again included Drs Kristensen and Heiner, and which was published in the scientific journal BMB Biology. This revelation was of great zoological notability, because these three loriciferan species (respectively constituting a new Pliciloricus species, a new Rugiloricusspecies, and a new Spinoloricus species) were the first multicellular organisms known to spend their entire lives in an anoxic or anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment.

They can achieve this remarkable feat because they utilise hydrogenosomes (or similar organelles) rather than mitochondria for providing energy. Less than 0.04 in (1 mm) long, these very specialised loriciferans undergo their life cycles in the total absence not only of oxygen but also of light.
Light microscopy image of the new species of anoxic Spinoloricus loriciferan, stained with Rose Bengal; scale bar = 50 μm (© Roberto Danavaro et al., 2010/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence)

Despite having been formally known to science for over three decades now, the loriciferans have clearly lost none of their capacity to surprise the zoological world!

My sincere thanks to Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen for most kindly making available to me for use in my writings his illustrations included here – and, above all else, for doing me the immense honour of naming a new species after me, something that I’d always dreamed about since a very small child but never expected to happen. Sometimes, dreams really do come true.
And who knows, perhaps one day a second, closely-related, but presently-unfulfilled dream of mine will also come true – that someone will also name a new species after my late mother, Mary Shuker (without whose love, guidance, and encouragement I would never have achieved anything, including writing The Lost Ark and my other books), so that her name will very deservedly live on, and that she will therefore continue to be remembered when I am no longer here to do so.  God bless you Mom, I love you and miss you so much.
Shuker’s loriciferan (© Dr Reinhardt M. Kristensen)
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THE CAMBODIAN ‘STEGOSAUR’ – AN ANACHRONISM FROM ANGKOR WAT?

by on Aug.30, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The enigmatic Cambodian ‘stegosaur’ glyph at Ta Prohm, AngkorWat, with the external decorative plate motif clearly visible encircling its circle’s outer perimeter (© John and Lesley Burke)
Mystery creatures, and evidence in support of their existence, can turn up in the most unlikely places, but few can be as unexpected, surely, as Cambodia‘s centuries-old carving of an alleged stegosaurian dinosaur!
Stegosaurs constituted a taxonomic suborder of ornithischian (‘bird-hipped’) dinosaurs that existed from the mid-Jurassic Period to the early Cretaceous Period, i.e. approximately 170-120 million years ago. They lived predominantly in North America, Europe, and China, but at least one species is known from Africa, and possibly one from India too. Herbivorous and quadrupedal, the most famous morphological attributes of the stegosaurs were the double (occasionally single) row of very large, flat, upright plates running down the centre of their back, and the arrangement of long spikes (the so-called thagomizer) borne upon their tail. Proportionately, their head was very small relative to the rest of their body. Indeed, in the most famous genus, North America‘s Stegosaurus, their brain was only the size of a walnut whereas their body was the size of a van!
Whereas the last confirmed stegosaurs died out over 100 million years ago, one of Cambodia’s most beautiful edifices, the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, was created a mere 900 years or so ago, and forms part of the Angkor Wat temple complex, which collectively is internationally famous for being the largest religious monument in the world. Dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu by the Khmer King Suryavarman who built it during the early 12th Century, Angkor Wat did indeed begin as a Hindu temple, for the Khmer Empire and in what was then its capital, Yasodharapura, now Angkor, but by the end of that century it had been transformed into a Buddhist temple.
Ruined temples and giant overgrown tree roots at Ta Prohm, AngkorWat (public domain)
Like other temples from this time period and Angkor Wat complex, Ta Prohm is intricately adorned with images from Hindu and Buddhist mythology as well as many depictions of animals. These latter include numerous circular glyphs each containing the carving of some local creature – but Ta Prohm also has one truly exceptional glyph unique to itself. Near to one of this temple’s entrances is a circular glyph containing the carving of a burly quadrupedal beast ostensibly bearing a row of upright plates along its back – an image irresistibly reminiscent of a stegosaurian dinosaur!
This anomalous carving is very popular with local guides, who delight in baffling Western tourists by asking them if they believe that dinosaurs still existed as recently as 900 years ago and then showing this glyph to them. Could it therefore be a modern fake, skilfully carved amid the genuine glyphs by a trickster hoping to fool unsuspecting tourists? Or is it a bona fide 900-year-old sculpture? Having spoken to a number of people who have visited Angkor Wat and have viewed this glyph close-up at Ta Prohm, I am assured by all of them that it looks of comparable age to the other glyphs surrounding it, with no visible indications that it has been carved any more recently than any of the others there.
So how can this very intriguing, seemingly anachronistic depiction be explained? Some cryptozoologists cite it as proof that a stegosaurian lineage must have survived into modern times somewhere in this vicinity but has remained undiscovered by science (the notion that this carving may portray a living stegosaur appears to have been first promoted during the late 1990s, in a couple of books on Angkor Wat written by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques). Others have suggested that perhaps it was inspired by the temple’s architects having seen some fossilised stegosaur remains. And there also is the option that it is a stegosaur only by accidental design, i.e. that its plates are not a physical component of the creature, but merely background decoration inside the circle containing it, and that to associate them with the animal is therefore a mistake. Let’s consider each of these possibilities.
The Cambodian stegosaur glyph in close-up (© John and Lesley Burke)
If we ignore its plates, the rest of the creature does not actually look much like a stegosaur as depicted in palaeontological restorations, certainly not as depicted in modern restorations (i.e. in contrast to those dating from several decades ago, but which are still the ones commonly brought to mind by laymen who may not be familiar with up-to-date versions in palaeontological publications). In particular, its apparent lateral cranial horns are decidedly non-stegosaurian, and the stegosaurs’ distinctive, characteristic thagomizer is conspicuous only by its absence in this glyph. Also contrasting with fossil stegosaurs are its relatively large head and short tail – the reverse condition to that more commonly exhibited by the former dinosaurs.
Then again, if a stegosaurian lineage has indeed somehow persisted into modern times, such differences from fossilised stegosaurs as those noted above are certainly not so radical that they could not have arisen during the 100 million years or so of continuing evolution that will have occurred from the early Cretaceous to the present day. One only has to compare, for instance, the relatively unspecialised range of mammals or birds existing during the early Cretaceous to the vast morphological diversity of mammalian or avian forms alive today to see just how extensively evolution can modify outward morphology during that particular period of time.
However, if anything as dramatic as a living stegosaur does indeed exist (or has done until very recently) anywhere within the area of Cambodia, one might reasonably expect rather more pictorial evidence of such existence than a single small carving tucked away amidst a myriad of other animal carvings. Yet I am not aware of any comparable design anywhere else in Asian art. To my knowledge, there is no suggestion of stegosaurian creatures in Cambodian mythology or folklore either, nor, indeed, in that of any other corpus of Asian traditions (thus contrasting very markedly, for example, with the extensive native beliefs associated with the mokele-mbembe in the Congo). And there is certainly no documented physical evidence for such a creature’s reality – no preserved plates, skeletal remains, etc, described in any publication that I have ever encountered or seen any mention of during my researches.
Fossil skeleton of a Late Jurassic Chinese stegosaur, Tuojiangosaurus (© Ayca Wilson/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence)
Moreover, even fossil stegosaur remains so far disinterred in Asia are restricted to China (predominantly) and India (very controversially – much of these proved upon closer inspection to be derived from plesiosaurs instead!). This in turn reduces the likelihood that the ‘stegosaur’ glyph was carved 900 years ago by a local sculptor who had previously seen fossil remains of such a creature, unless (and which is certainly not impossible but unlikely) the sculptor had visited China and had seen such remains there?
Yet even if it does not represent a living contemporary (or a prehistoric fossil) stegosaur, might it conceivably depict some still-undiscovered modern-day animal that superficially resembles a stegosaur? If so, however, there do not appear to be any local sightings or lore on record concerning it
Another option is that it may be some local mythological creature (though I am unaware of any from this region of the world that match its appearance). Certainly, there is a varied mixture of the factual and the fictitious among the fauna depicted at Angkor Wat.
Scaly(?) ridge-backed mystery beast – a stylised pangolin? – depicted directly below the stegosaur glyph at Ta Prohm (© John and Lesley Burke)
Directly below the stegosaur glyph, for instance, is one portraying a mystifying unidentified quadruped with cross-hatching on its body that may be meant to represent scales, plus a distinct series of dorsal ridges that in this instance are definitely part of the animal. Its somewhat pointed head is reminiscent of that of a pangolin or scaly anteater, which could also explain the cross-hatching.
Yet unless the depiction as a whole is very stylised (particularly its dorsal ridges), it does not closely resemble a pangolin (or indeed any other real, whole creature) in other morphological respects. However, as suggested elsewhere by German cryptozoologist Markus Bühler, might it represent the head of a wild pig? There is certainly a degree of resemblance. Alternatively, it may be some type of mythological entity.
Oriental demon depicted directly below the putative pangolin glyph at Ta Prohm (© John and Lesley Burke)
Directly below that glyph, moreover, is one that portrays a typical Oriental demon, grinning maniacally at anybody spotting it there.
To my mind, however, by far the simplest and most plausible explanation for the enigmatic stegosaur glyph is that its resemblance to one of those plate-backed dinosaurs is an artefact – i.e. it is simply some form of local present-day known creature that has been carved with a plate-like decorative motif in the background, but which in turn has been wrongly associated directly with the creature. The reason that I favour this explanation is that such a motif can also be seen surrounding other carved animals of several different types enclosed within their respective glyph circles at Angkor Wat. These include birds, a water buffalo, deer, monkeys, and even mythological demons, as noted above (and in certain of these glyphs, moreover, the motif bears a resemblance to lotus leaves).
The stegosaur glyph (arrowed) in situ with other animal glyphs, including a water buffalo directly above it, an unidentified animal directly below it, and a mythological demon directly below that – click picture to enlarge it (© John and Lesley Burke)
Although the plates surrounding the alleged stegosaur do seem somewhat more well-defined (but might this indicate some very selective modern-day enhancement by a hoaxer seeking to enhance its superficial stegosaur appearance?), their general shape and size are much the same as those surrounding other carved animals. In addition, this same plate motif is also present encircling the outer perimeter of the glyph circles enclosing the carved animals, including that of the ‘stegosaur’, as readily seen in the photograph opening this present ShukerNature blog article.
Looking closely at the latter creature, its head in particular is shaped very like that of a rhinoceros, as has also been commented upon elsewhere by Markus Bühler and various others. Even its ‘cranial horns’ resemble the long pointed ears of such mammals. Conversely, its back seems more arched than is true of rhinos, but this discrepancy could merely be due to stylising, or once again may simply be a design artefact, the creature having been depicted in this unnatural, hardly life-like pose (for a rhino) simply in order for it to fit more readily inside its circular setting.
The Cambodian ‘moa’ carving at AngkorWat (public domain)
Incidentally, adapting the shape of an animal during its depiction in order to fit it more snugly within a designated space for it is an option that I have already explored elsewhere on ShukerNature (click here) in relation to a second anomalous Angkor Wat carving – the so-called Cambodian moa.
Returning to rhinos and the suspect stegosaur: on the latter creature’s body are indications of the skin pleats exhibited by Asian rhinos of the genus Rhinoceros (i.e. the great Indian R. unicornis and the Javan or scaled R. sondaicus, the latter of which definitely still existed in Cambodia 900 years ago, with the former possibly doing so too). Even the creature’s lack of a nasal horn is not an obstacle to identifying it as a rhino of this genus, because female Javan rhinos are sometimes hornless.
19th-Century chromolithograph of a very short-horned Javan rhinoceros exhibited at LondonZoo in 1877, showing its skin pleats (public domain)
Another line of speculation that has been proposed by some investigators is that the creature actually represents a very stylised portrayal of some form of lizard, suggestions having included a chameleon (though there is none in southeast Asia) or one of the several species of southeast Asian agamid known as mountain horned dragons Acanthosaura sp. However, any similarities between the carving and such reptiles seem far less apparent (if indeed present at all) to me than those readily visible between the carving and a stylised and/or modified-to-fit rhinoceros. Equally, whereas an even better fit for the creature’s ‘cranial horns’ than the pointed ears of a rhino would be the horns of a wild ox, the rest of the creature’s depiction is a better fit for a rhino than for an ox.
Of course, we shall never know for sure the intended taxonomic identity of the supposed stegosaur in this perplexing carving. However, it does seem much more likely to be a stylised depiction of some local known species rather than anything more radical. After all, it surely couldn’t have been based upon a sighting of a real-life stegosaur…could it?
Life-sized model of a Stegosaurus (© Dr Karl Shuker)
My sincere thanks to John and Lesley Burke for specifically seeking out and photographing for me the ‘stegosaur’ glyph at Ta Prohm in Angkor Wat during their visit to Cambodia in 2001.
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and enlarged from my forthcoming book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors…coming very soon.
 
If the Cambodian stegosaur were indeed real… – ‘Angkor’s Way’ (© Michael J. Smith)
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DREDGING UP SOME LIVING TRILOBITES?

by on Aug.12, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Large-scale model of the ‘Dudley bug’ trilobite Calymene blumenbachii (© Dr Karl Shuker)
One of the best-known groups of fossil animal are the trilobites (‘three-lobed’), this name deriving from the distinctive three-lobed structure of their body, which consists of the cephalon (head shield), the thorax, and the pygidium (tail shield). Ranging in size from a dinner plate down to a pea, they are famed for their segmented body form, numerous pairs of limbs, and extremely well-developed compound eyes.
Global but exclusively marine in distribution, this taxonomic class of arthropods was one of the earliest, with the first-known representatives in the fossil record dating back approximately 540-520 million years to the early Cambrian Period (though it is suspected that there may well have been earlier forms as yet unrepresented by documented fossils dating as far back as 700 million years, to the pre-Cambrian).
Beautiful illustration of trilobites from Système Silurien du Centre de la Bohême, by Joachim Barrande, 1852 (public domain)
Bearing in mind how zoologically familiar they are today and how their taxonomic identity as arthropods is indisputable, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the first trilobite fossils to attract notable scientific attention, during the 1700s, incited considerable controversy as to what type of creature they represented, resulting in some exceedingly bizarre notions being aired in all seriousness.
They were initially deemed to be ancient, three-lobed clam-like seashells (and were duly dubbed Concha triloba), because these particular trilobite fossils showed only the animals’ dorsal side (thereby concealing the fact that trilobites actually possessed legs – lots of legs, in fact!).
A diverse selection of fossil trilobites on a slab (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Not everyone agreed with this identification, however, and offered various alternative but equally erroneous suggestions. The normally authoritative British zoologist Dr George Shaw (1751-1813), for instance, proposed that trilobites were fossil caterpillars, while some contemporaries opined that they were archaic centipedes, or (less preposterous) crustaceans.
The matter remained contentious until American palaeontologist Charles D. Walcott resolved it in a very convincing manner – by skilfully and painstakingly using a hacksaw to open up no fewer than 3,500 fossils of curled-up trilobites, thereby revealing the presence of their jointed legs, and, in turn, these hitherto-baffling beasts’ true nature as arthropods.
Spectacular, life-like model of Bristolia bristolensis, a notably long-spined species of early Cambrian trilobite from the southwestern USA (© Andrew ‘Trilobite’ Scott – click herefor a ShukerNature exclusive showcasing many other examples of Andrew’s stunning artwork)
During the lengthy course of their evolution, the trilobites became exceedingly successful, yielding a vast diversity of species (some 17,000 are currently recognised) as well as body forms and lifestyles before decreasing markedly in the Devonian, and finally dying out completely around 252 million years ago (in the mass extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian) – or did they? There is no well-established reason why they should have done.
As a zoologist living in the West Midlands, England, I am very aware that one particular trilobite species, Calymene blumenbachii from the Silurian Period, is so abundant in the fossiliferous limestone quarries of Wren’s Nest in the West Midlands town of Dudley that it is popularly known as the Dudley bug or Dudley locust, and even appears on the Dudley County Borough Council’s official coat-of-arms. Naturally, therefore, I’ve been a fan of trilobites ever since childhood, and my fossil collection contains several specimens, but my interest in cryptozoology would subsequently yield an additional reason for my being fascinated by them.
Dudley bug trilobite, from James Geikie’s Outlines of Geology, 2nd rev. edit, 1883 (public domain)
In the mid-1980s, I purchased veteran American cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal’s classic book Searching For Hidden Animals (which had originally been published in 1980 in the U.S.A., but not until 1983 in the U.K.), and was delighted to find that it documented a wide range of lesser-known cryptids.
However, one chapter that obviously attracted my particular interest was tantalisingly entitled ‘Living Trilobites?’. It included a discussion as to whether any representatives of these archaic arthropods might have survived the Permian mega-death and persisted in benthic anonymity on the ocean floor into the present day.
Prof. Roy P. Mackal and the UKhb 1st edition of his book Searching For Hidden Animals (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal/Cadogan Books)
As Mackal noted, many trilobites were shallow coastal dwellers (especially the later ones), yet no living trilobites from such localities have ever been discovered. Consequently, the only hope for modern-day survival is if “some forms adapted to a deeper, more obscure environment and there found refuge” – or if some that were already so adapted simply persisted. Should this scenario have indeed taken place, it could explain why no Cenozoic trilobite fossils have ever been found – because these would not be readily discovered or accessed on the ocean floor. But what about obtaining living specimens there?
Until reading Mackal’s book, I hadn’t been aware that the very first global marine research expedition, the voyage of HMS Challenger from 21 December 1872 to 26 May 1876, seriously believed that living trilobites might be dredged up from the ocean bottom. But although countless specimens that included representatives of over 4,000 hitherto-unknown animal species were indeed procured there, none of them were trilobites. Or, as worded in the authoritative Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s eleventh edition, published in 1911, the “faint hope” of finding such creatures was not realised.
HMS Challenger portrayed in an engraving from 1858 (pubic domain)
In reality, however, a few years before this expedition had even set out on its epic voyage of zoological discovery, a claim had been made that a living trilobite had already been obtained, and from a depth of 1,200 fathoms (7,200 ft). Moreover, this claim was actually believed for a time before the creature’s true, non-trilobite identity was revealed. Another veteran cryptozoological chronicler, Willy Ley, who briefly reported the case in one of his many articles, didn’t provide further details, but as noted by Mackal the timing and morphological similarities strongly suggests that the discovery in question was actually that of a certain Antarctic species of isopod crustacean (the taxonomic group which includes woodlice and sea slaters) that is astonishingly trilobite-like in outward appearance.
Brought to scientific attention in 1830, its first officially recorded specimen had actually been found inside the gut of a marine fish examined by American naturalist Dr James Eights while visiting the South Shetland Islands between Patagonia and Antarctica during the so-called ‘Expedition of 1830’. Emphasising its remarkable morphological convergence, in 1833 Eights formally christened this memorable new species Brongniartia [now Ceratoserolis] trilobitoides. And it was indeed initially mistaken for one of these prehistoric arthropods by some observers, but it sports two pairs of antennae (a crustacean characteristic), whereas trilobites only had one.
Ceratoserolis trilobitoides from James Eights’s 1833 description paper (public domain)
Other modern-day creatures that have often been mistaken for living trilobites are chitons and water pennies. Chitons (or polyplacophorans, to give them their formal zoological name) constitute a taxonomic class of molluscs characterised by their very distinctive shells, which are composed of eight separate but slightly overlapping plates, and afford these animals a superficially segmented appearance dorsally.
If a chiton is turned over, however, its ventral body surface is seen to be non-segmented and only possessing a single, typically-molluscan foot, in contrast to the many limb pairs possessed by trilobites. As for water pennies, these trilobite imposters are the larval stage of certain aquatic freshwater psephenid beetles, belonging to the genus Mataeopsephus.
19th-Century engraving of chitons (public domain)
Also superficially trilobite-like in outward dorsal appearance are both the larvae and the larval form-retaining adult females of lycid (net-winged) beetles belonging to the genus Platerodrilus, and which are therefore known colloquially as trilobite beetles (click herefor a ShukerNature article featuring these distinctive insects). Native principally to tropical rainforests in India and southeastern Asia, some of them are brightly coloured.
Finally, the juvenile stage of those famous ‘living fossils’ known as xiphosurans or horseshoe crabs is termed a trilobite larva, once again because of its superficial similarity to genuine trilobites. Horseshoe crabs, incidentally, are the closest living relatives of another taxonomic group of iconic fossil arthropods – the eurypterids or sea scorpions.
Exquisite illustration by Ernst Haeckel from 1904 featuring trilobites, horseshoe crabs, and sea scorpions (© public domain)
Back in the 1980s, a bizarre story emanating from Australia briefly hit the news headlines, claiming that some trilobites had been found inhabiting Perth‘s storm drains. Not surprisingly, however, this was soon exposed as a hoax, featuring an old tyre that had been cut into the shape of a trilobite.
A fossil trilobite species of familiar, non-extreme morphology (public domain)
Numerous deepsea collecting expeditions have been launched since Challenger, but none has ever procured any living trilobites, and yet some tantalising indirect (or, to be precise, ichnological) evidence for such creatures may have been recorded, which Mackal described as follows:
…in 1967, I was invited by Ralph Buchsbaum, professor of zoology at the University of Pittsburgh, to give a seminar on our researches at Loch Ness. During the social hour after the presentation one of his colleagues told me about experimental photography of the sea bottom that was in progress. He stated that photographs of fresh tracks identical to the Cruciana [sic – Cruziana], the fossilized trilobite tracks, had been obtained. He expressed the hope that traps could be lowered to catch whatever was making these highly suggestive tracks. As far as I know the nature of these tracks was never determined and nothing was ever trapped, because of a subsequent loss of funding for the project. The business of identifying sea-bottom trails and tracks is a tricky one and to infer living trilobites from a track is even more tricky. A marvelous collection of sea-bottom tracks and trails is presented in a book entitled The Face of the Deepby B. C. Heezen and C. D. Hollister. Only a tiny fraction of aquatic animal tracks have been identified, so that fertile ground for new discoveries is indeed abundant…Underwater photography of the ocean floor…appears to be a promising tool for future cryptozoological expeditions.
Cruzianafrom Portugal(public domain)
Cruziana is a famous trace fossil taking the form of elongate, bilobed burrows that are roughly bilaterally symmetrical. As noted in a 2010 Lethaia paper by Dr Stephen Donovan, many examples are believed to be the tracks or trails yielded by trilobites while deposit-feeding, but certain others are deemed not to be, because they were present in freshwater environments (where no trilobite fossils have so far been found) and/or were of Triassic date, by which time all trilobites were supposed to have died out. But were these ostensibly anachronistic tracks actually made by surviving post-Permian trilobites for which direct fossil evidence has simply not been found as yet?
Incidentally, two other types of trace fossil believed to have been created by trilobites are Rusophycus and Diplichnites. The former fossils are excavations featuring little or no forward movements, and have therefore been interpreted as traces left by trilobites while resting or in defence/protection mode. In contrast, the latter fossils are believed to be traces left by trilobites while walking upon the sediment surface.
Rusophycustrace fossil from Ordovician Period (public domain)
Mackal ended his living trilobites chapter on a somewhat pessimistic note, concluding: “While not impossible, it is most improbable that living trilobites still exist”. After that, this fascinating prospect appeared to have vanished from the modern world just as surely, it would seem, as the trilobites themselves – which is why I was so startled, but delighted, by a certain comment allegedly made by a well-respected current scientist more recently.
On 24 June 2004, Yahoo! News released online a report concerning the receipt of a $600,000 start-up grant from the private Alfred Sloan foundation for a proposed 10-year international survey of the oceans’ depths, at an estimated total cost of US $1 billion, to be funded by governments, companies and private donors, and officially dubbed the Census of Marine Life (CoML). As part of this grand-scale project, scientists led by researchers from the University of Alaska planned to use robot submarines and sonar to track down life forms in the Arctic Ocean‘s chilling deepwater domain, and expectations were that by the end of its decade-long course, the survey could easily have doubled the number of species known from this particular ocean.
Three-dimensional reconstruction of Drotops armatus, a very spiny species of Devonian trilobite from Morocco (public domain)
All very worthy indeed, but what caught my eye amid all of these statements was one attributed in the news report to none other than Dr Ron O’Dor, chief scientist of the multi-nation CoML. According to the report, whose exact wording is quoted here as follows, Dr O’Dor “speculated that Arctic waters might hide creatures known only from fossils, such as trilobites that flourished 300 million years ago”. It would seem, therefore, that the notion of finding living trilobites has not been entirely discounted by scientists after all.
Happily, the CoML did indeed take place, this very ambitious project ultimately featuring scientists from more than 80 different nations, and releasing the world’s first-ever census in 2010 – but no living trilobites were listed. Nevertheless, there is a notable precedent well worth mentioning here.
Pilina, a fossil monoplacophoran outwardly resembling modern-day Neopilina (public domain)
The monoplacophorans are a primitive taxonomic class of molluscs, whose youngest fossil species date from around 380 million years ago. On 6 May 1952, however, trawling off Mexico‘s western coast at a depth of almost 12,000 ft in dark, muddy clay, the Danish research ship Galathea hauled up 10 complete specimens and three empty shells of a small, seemingly unremarkable mollusc superficially resembling a limpet but which proved upon scientific examination to be a living monoplacophoran. This hitherto-unknown species was formally named Neopilina galatheae, since when further specimens of it, and of several additional modern-day species too, have been obtained (see my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, 2012, for full details).
Structurally, these living monoplacophorans are very different internally from their archaic fossil ancestors, so if living trilobites do exist, these too are likely to be highly evolved species. Nevertheless, the discovery of Neopilina and kin readily demonstrates that it is by no means impossible for invertebrates deemed by their fossil record to have died out in very far-distant prehistoric ages to be represented, in fact, by living species that have simply evaded scientific detection.
A classic late-1800s illustration of living trilobites by Heinrich Harder (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is adapted from my forthcoming book Still In Search of Prehistoric Survivors.

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A QUINTET OF QUAGGA PHOTOGRAPHS

by on Aug.09, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A very attractive colourised version of one of the five known photographs of a living quagga (colourising © Michael/Flickr CC BY 2.0 licence)
The quagga Equus quagga quagga was formerly the southernmost subspecies of the plains zebra until its extinction in 1883 – a tragic loss resulting from its extermination via over-hunting in its native South African grasslands and scrublands domain by 1878, followed by the eventual deaths of the few specimens left in captivity. The very last of these specimens died in Amsterdam Zoo on 12 August 1883, this fateful day thus becoming the quagga’s official extinction date. However, it remains famous even today for being the only semi-striped zebra – i.e. only its head, neck, and forequarters were striped, the remainder of its body and its legs entirely lacked any such markings.
For many years now, the Quagga Project in South Africa has been attempting to ‘breed back’ the quagga’s distinctive outward appearance (phenotype) using individuals of the closely-related Burchell’s zebra that exhibit reduced striping, and it has achieved some degree of success. Yet even if or when exact quagga lookalikes are indeed created, they cannot really be deemed ‘true’ quaggas, because there is currently no way of confirming whether their genetic make-up (genotype) is comparable with that of the original, real quaggas, or whether the genetic route taken in producing these facsimile quaggas is the same one that occurred naturally during the quagga’s original evolution. Nevertheless, I still consider it a very worthwhile goal, because the sight of quagga-like animals re-inhabiting the lands where the original quagga once roamed would be nothing if not inspirational, so I sincerely hope that the Quagga Project will be fully successful in its ambition to re-create at least in outward form this very iconic animal. Please click hereto visit the Project’s official website for full details of its history and ongoing work.
Bred-back quagga-like zebras of the Quagga Project near Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, in South Africa (© Oggmus/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
Meanwhile, during last weekend a lively debate took place on Facebook between some friends of mine, stemming from various incorrect information on this subject present in certain websites, which wrongly claimed that only one photograph depicting a live quagga existed, and that this specimen was from Amsterdam Zoo. Consequently, as the quagga has long been of great interest to me, now seems like as good a time as any for me to present the full, correct facts concerning this particular facet of its history.
Our visual knowledge of the quagga in the living state is based not upon one but upon five separate photographs. All of them in black-and-white format, these are currently the only known images obtained of a live quagga, and they all depict the same individual, which, moreover, was housed not at Amsterdam Zoo but at London Zoo. An adult mare, she was the second of three quaggas to be exhibited there, having been purchased by the zoo from animal dealer Carl Jamrach on 15 March 1851. She died on 15 July 1872, but her mounted skin is on display at Edinburgh‘s Royal Museum of Scotland, and her skeleton is housed in the USA at Yale University‘s Peabody Museum (it was purchased for the museum during the late 1800s by celebrated dinosaur fossil collector Othniel C. Marsh for the princely sum of £10).
And now, presented in decreasing order of familiarity and accompanied by what information (sometimes only very sparse) is known about each one, here is the quintet of famous – and not-so-famous – quagga photographs portraying her. As every one of them is well over a century old, all five of these photographs are in the public domain.
PHOTO #1
This is unquestionably the best known and also the best quality-wise of the five photographs of a living quagga – so much so that many modern-day variations of it have been created, including mock-sepia ones, fully colourised ones (like the beautiful example opening this present ShukerNature blog article), and even ones in which the quagga has been cut out of the original photograph and superimposed onto entirely different backgrounds.
According to Dr Philip L. Sclater, then Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), writing in 1901, the original b/w version of this photograph was prepared from a magic lantern slide produced by photographer Frederick York (1823-1903), most probably during summer 1870.
PHOTO #2
Almost as well known as Photo #1, this photograph was also prepared from a magic lantern slide produced by Frederick York, and at much the same time as Photo #1 too, i.e. probably during summer 1870.
PHOTO #3
This photograph was taken by Frank Haes (1832-1916) in 1864 and utilised by him in the production of a stereoscopic photo-card, to be viewed through a special instrument known as a stereoscope, which yielded a dramatic 3-D effect (similar to the effect produced by that very popular children’s viewing device from the 1960s onwards called the View-Master – I still have mine!). The gentleman in the photo was a zookeeper, and the quagga was in one of the yards of the 1859 Equid wing of London Zoo’s Antelope House, later demolished to make way for the Elephant and Rhinoceros pavilion.
PHOTO #4
Far less famous than the preceding three, this photograph was probably taken during the 1860s, and by a photographer whose name is apparently unrecorded. Only two original prints of it are known, one of which was discovered as recently as 1991 in Munich by Walter Huber; until then, the only known print was one housed in the collections of London‘s Natural History Museum. This particular quagga photograph has long intrigued me because the angle at which it was shot has rendered the quagga’s legs sufficiently short and foreshortened its body to an extent that makes it look remarkably foal-like rather than the fully adult specimen that we know it to have been.
PHOTO #5
Photo #4 is often referred to as the least-known of the quagga quintet, but in my opinion this accolade should be bestowed upon Photo #5. For whereas Photo #4 has appeared in a number of publications and websites, Photo #5 has hardly appeared anywhere – indeed, until I uploaded this present article of mine onto my blog I had yet to see it anywhere online. As with Photo #4, it was probably taken during the 1860s, but again the identity of the photographer is presently unknown.
So there they are, five brief snippets of time from the life of a creature whose kind no longer exists thanks to our own species’ bloodlust, but preserved for all eternity in the still silence of these photographs, captured in monochromatic majesty by the camera lens as surely and as securely as erstwhile insects are encapsulated within golden globules of amber.
In view of the (very) varying accuracy of information on this subject presently available on the internet, you can be reassured that this ShukerNature article’s information was derived from two ultra-reliable, hard-copy sources, which also constitute two of my favourite publications.
My two information sources for this present ShukerNature blog article (© John Edwards / (© Errol Fuller/Bloomsbury)
One of these sources is a superb collection of vintage photographs in book form, which was compiled, written, and published by celebrated London Zoo historian and longstanding friend John Edwards, entitled London Zoo From Old Photographs 1852-1914. It was originally published in 1996, but in 2012 it was republished as a second edition containing many additional photos. Both editions include some scientifically valuable yet poignant photographs of several different animal forms (not only the quagga) that were formerly exhibited at London Zoo in the living state but which have since become extinct.
My other source, also written by a longstanding friend, is a magnificent, unique book entitled Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, authored by Errol Fuller, an acclaimed expert on extinct fauna. It was published in 2013, and is devoted entirely to documenting rare photographs of living creatures belonging to species or subspecies that later became extinct. Again, fascinating but exceedingly poignant, the photographs generating a depth of emotion that not even the greatest artworks depicting such creatures can elicit, because when we view such photos we are, in a very real sense, viewing these lost creatures’ ghosts, traces of their former existence that have transcended death to remain visible long after the creatures themselves have vanished forever from our world.
Speaking of artwork, here are two of the finest quagga paintings based upon living specimens:
Quagga stallion in King Louis XVI’s menagerie at Versailles, France, painted by Nicolas Marechal in 1793 (public domain)
Quagga stallion at London‘s Royal College of Surgeons, painted by Jacques-Laurent Agasse during the early 1800s (public domain)
And finally, here is one of the various mock-sepia versions of Quagga Photo #1 that I have encountered while browsing online:
Mock-sepia version of one of Frederick York’s two London Zoo quagga photographs produced probably during summer 1870 (public domain)
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THE STOA, THE SUWA, AND THE WASHORIWE – A TRIO OF PREHISTORIC SURVIVORS FROM THE REAL ‘LOST WORLD’?

by on Aug.04, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Front and back cover from my much-read, greatly-treasured 1970s paperback edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic crypto-novel The Lost World (Cover illustration © Pan Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use Policy only basis)
It is not widely known, but when writing his famous novel The Lost World (published in 1912), in which dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other Mesozoic reptiles have survived into the present day amid a totally isolated realm present on the plateau at the summit of a very high tepui (a vertically-sided, flat-topped or table-topped mountain in South America), one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspirations was a real but still highly mysterious tepui known as Kurupira.

It was named after the curupira, a legendary Amazonian man-beast-like entity. This particular tepui stands 3,435 ft above sea level, and is situated on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border.

The curupira, as depicted in the painting ‘O Curupira’ by Manoel Santago, 1926 (public domain)
Conan Doyle had learnt about Kurupira from the famous, subsequently-lost explorer Lt-Col. Percy H. Fawcett. He had lately led an expedition to a much more famous tepui in the same region, Mount Roraima.

There are more than 100 tepuis in South America, and at 9,220 ft above sea level Mount Roraima is the highest (and also the largest) in the Pakaraima chain on the borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Lieut-Col. Percy H. Fawcett (right) (public domain)
Although they did not encounter any prehistoric creatures on Roraima, Fawcett and his team did receive various native reports of frightening monsters said to inhabit Kurupira and its environs from the local Waiká Indians who inhabit the jungle area around the vicinity of its base. It was Fawcett’s recollections of these reports that provided Conan Doyle with further plot ideas during his novel’s preparation.
In particular, he was enthralled by Fawcett’s tales of an exceedingly voracious bipedal reptile known to the Waiká as the stoa, which was investigated more recently by Czech zoologist Jaroslav Mareš, who documented some of his findings in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat (‘The World of Mysterious Animals‘), published in 1997. Mareš spent time residing at Kurupira’s base during an expedition there in 1978 (sadly, their attempts to scale this tepui’s steep sides proved unsuccessful), and he learnt about the Waiká Indians’ belief in the stoa and other alleged monsters here.
My copy of Jaroslav Mareš’s cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat (‘The World of Mysterious Animals‘) (© Jaroslav Mareš/Littera Bohemica)
They described the stoa as measuring up to 25 ft long and superficially resembling a giant-sized caiman (several species of these South American freshwater alligator relatives are known, but all are of far smaller size). However, they also stated that it can be readily distinguished from such reptiles by way of the following major differences.
First and foremost of these was the very notable fact that the stoa is exclusively bipedal, moving entirely upon its two gigantic hind legs, because its front limbs are so short that it cannot stand upon them. Its jaws are much shorter than a caiman’s too, but its head is taller, and it bears a pair of prominent horns above its eyes, which are somewhat reminiscent of those sported by the South American horned frogs Ceratophrys spp.
Horned frog Ceratophrys ornata (public domain)
The Waiká likened its body colouration to theirs too (i.e. green or golden-brown with darker markings), but its mouth is not as wide as that of these famously wide-mouthed frogs, and its skin is covered with hard, non-overlapping, tubercular scales. Above all, they affirmed that there is never any hope of escape if pursued by a stoa.
Moreover, Mareš revealed that this Indian account was confirmed by the missionaries from the Porto da Maloca settlement on the upper Rio Mapulau, located approximately 15 miles from Kurupira as the crow flies. However, they did not believe that the stoa is real. For them, it is just a part of Waiká mythology.
Artistic rendition of the possible appearance in life of the stoa, alongside a human for scale purposes (© Connor Lachmanec)
Mareš has also written three books specifically devoted to Kurupira and its mysteries Hledání Ztraceného Světa (‘In Search of The Lost World‘), which documented his 1978 expedition and was published in 1992; Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira(‘The Horror Named Kurupira’), published in 2001; and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství (‘Kurupira: Sinister Secrets’), published in 2005. In the second of these three, Mareš mentioned meeting during spring 1997 at Boa Vista (capital of Roraima, Brazil’s northernmost state) a Scottish gold-prospector whose real name Mareš has not publicly disclosed, referring to him instead only by the pseudonym ‘Reginald Riggs’.
Mareš had previously met Riggs in 1978, during his above-mentioned expedition to Mount Roraima. In his 2001 book, Mareš revealed that while Riggs was prospecting in the vicinity of Kurupira he had befriended a Waiká tribesman named Retewa, who supplied him with information concerning the stoa, another dinosaurian cryptid called the suwa, and a pterosaur-like beast termed the washoriwe.
Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira(2001) and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství(2005) (© Jaroslav Mareš)
According to Retewa (via Riggs), the stoa’s most common prey are tapirs. Apparently, it conceals itself in dense forest close to a riverbank where these large horse-related ungulates bathe, then abruptly emerges to attack them when they arrive there. It will also devour capybaras, those sizeable pig-like rodents that occur here too. One account related by Retewa to Riggs concerned a reputed confrontation between some hunters from his village and a stoa that they inadvertently encountered while it was looking out for prey. They shot at it with their arrows, but they failed to penetrate its hard, scale-protected skin, and the enraged stoa killed several of them before the others fled.
In an attempt to explain both the origin of the Waiká’s firm belief in the stoa and (as he also discovered during his investigations) the complete absence of any such belief among Indian tribes living further out from Kurupira, Mareš has cautiously offered the following thought-provoking theory. He suggests that if the stoa is indeed real, perhaps its species is normally confined entirely to this tepui’s lofty isolated plateau, but that a single individual may very occasionally find its way into their ground-level territory via a crack or fracture leading down the tepui from its summit to its base, after which the Waiká live in great fear of it, even after its eventual death, thereby maintaining and reinforcing its presence in their minds and lore for another generation or so until the next accidental stoa visitation occurs.
Restoration of the possible appearance in life of Carnotaurus (© Lida Xing and Yi Liu/Wikipedia CC BY 2.5 licence)
As for what the stoa may be, taxonomically speaking, if it does truly exist: in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš noted that during the Cretaceous, South America was home to a taxonomic family of theropod dinosaurs known as the abelisaurids, which were bipedal, carnivorous, and, in some cases, extremely large. The most famous abelisaurid was Carnotaurus sastrei, which was up to 30 ft long, and as noted by Mareš it also happens to be potentially relevant to the stoa for two very different but equally intriguing morphology-based reasons. Firstly: dating from the late Cretaceous and disinterred in 1984 from the La Colonia Formation in Argentina’s Chubut Province, its only recorded but exceptionally well-preserved fossilised skeleton shows that this particular abelisaurid species bore a pair of sharp pointed horns above its eyes, just like the stoa (Carnotaurus translates as ‘flesh-eating bull’). Secondly: this skeleton is so well preserved that it reveals that the skin of Carnotaurus bore hard non-overlapping scales all over it, just like the stoa.
Coupled with the overall similarity in outward form and size between Carnotaurus and the stoa, these more specific, unexpectedly-matching features led Mareš to speculate as to whether this abelisaurid’s lineage may have escaped the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous and has possibly lingered on through the Cenozoic Era into the present-day here in this very remote South American location, isolated atop a high tepui except for rare occasions when one might find its way down into the junglelands at Kurupira’s base.
The still-classic (if scientifically-superseded) restoration of sauropods by Charles Knight, 1897 (public domain)
The stoa was not the only putative dinosaur of Kurupira spoken about by Retewa to Riggs. He also claimed that up on this tepui’s plateau lives another very strange creature, known to the Waitá as the suwa, a picture of which he drew in the sand for Riggs to see, and a copy of which Riggs in turn drew in his diary, later seen by Mareš. The picture shows a bulky, long-necked, quadrupedal creature, which Riggs likened to a sauropod dinosaur or even a plesiosaur (however, its limbs were clearly portrayed in the drawing as legs, not flippers).
According to the Waiká, moreover, a third mystery creature, called by them the washoriwe, would sometimes swoop down from Kurupira’s high summit into the jungle at its base, skimming through this Indian tribe’s territory on huge wings that boasted a span of 20 ft or more. In addition, it bore a long bony backward-pointing crest upon its head, and sported a very long pointed beak.
Plateau on top of the tepui in The Lost World (1912) (public domain)
Waiká lore attests that this terrifying entity is the immortal forefather of all vampire bats. Yet whereas the immortal forefathers of all other creatures in their lore closely resemble their respective descendants (except for the much greater size of the forefathers), the long-beaked, bony-crested washoriwe bears scant resemblance to the short-faced, crestless vampire bats. Moreover, whereas these latter bats are strictly nocturnal, the washoriwe reputedly flies only during the daytime.
After highlighting these significant morphological and behavioural discrepancies in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš pointed out how, in stark contrast, the washoriwe seemed to be very similar in form and lifestyle to certain pterosaurs. He also commented upon the curious coincidence of how frequently the finding of complete, perfectly-preserved fossil pterosaurs by palaeontologists had occurred in this same region in modern times.
Prof. Challenger vs the pterosaurs in The Lost World (© Richard Svensson)
Might the Waiká’s belief in the washoriwe have been inspired, therefore, by their own possible finding of fossil pterosaur remains here from time to time? Or might it even be, as again pondered by Mareš, that the abundance of such remains in this region lends support to the possibility that a pterosaurian lineage has persisted here right into the present day, currently undiscovered by science but well known to the local Indians, who refer to these airborne prehistoric survivors as washoriwes?
When Mareš met Riggs in Boa Vista, Roraima (Brazil‘s northernmost state), during spring 1997, he learnt that, near a waterfall at Kurupira, Riggs had caught sight of a mysterious flying creature that Retewa had identified as a washoriwe. Moreover, in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš stated that other gold-prospectors in this same area have also claimed to have seen such creatures here, flying high above the jungle’s tree tops, and some have even sworn that they have been attacked by them.
Do pterosaurs swoop down to the ground from Kurupira’s plateau? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Yet amidst all of these claims of Mesozoic monsters alive and well and living in splendid isolation on Kurupira’s lofty plateau, there is a key question desperately needing to be asked. For even if we actually accept that a stoa may very occasionally find its way down from this tepui’s summit to its base, and that washoriwes might indeed sometimes wing their way down too, the very burly, quadupedal, sauropod-like form of the suwa unequivocally debars this cryptid from following suit – so how can the Waiká be aware of its existence? Interestingly, Riggs actually asked Retewa how his people could know what exists on the plateau at the top of Kurupira, but Retewa was unable to provide an answer. So perhaps – as surmised by the missionaries – all of their claims regarding monsters are truly based upon nothing more substantial than traditional Waiká mythology, with no foundation in reality.
Alternatively, could it be that at least in earlier days, some of the Waiká’s bravest warriors actually scaled Kurupira’s daunting height, explored its plateau, and then returned to their tribe back on the ground with stories (exaggerated or otherwise) of what they had seen there? And, if so, perhaps what they saw there was so terrifying that they have never returned, but the original eyewitness reports have been preserved in their tribal lore down through succeeding generations. Who can say?
Mini-poster for The Lost World, 1925 film (public domain)
I wish to take this opportunity to thank very sincerely my friend Miroslav ‘Mirek’ Fišmeister from the Czech Republic for so kindly translating into English for me all of the relevant passages regarding Kurupira and the stoa, suwa, and washoriwe from Mareš’s books. This has enabled me to present here the most extensive, accurate coverage of these cryptids ever produced in English.
Previously, the only English-language reports concerning them that I had been aware of, all of them online, were sparse, confused, and sometimes entirely inaccurate. The principal reason for this inaccuracy stemmed from the fact that a prehistoric monster called the stoa actually appears in Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, in which it is described as a warty-skinned, toad-like reptile, leaping on its hind legs, but larger than the largest elephant, and of frightful, horrible appearance.
The stoa as depicted in The Lost World film of 1925 (public domain)
This has inspired some erroneous online speculation, i.e. that there is no cryptozoological basis for the stoa, that it is entirely fictitious, a baseless invention of Conan Doyle for his novel. In reality, however, as I have now revealed here, it is the exact reverse that is true. Namely, that the stoa in his novel was directly inspired by reports of Kurupira’s cryptozoological stoa as told to him by Fawcett.
Yet another longstanding example of online cryptozoological confusion is finally elucidated and resolved.
This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively adapted from my forthcoming book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.

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CARL MEETS A BLUE DEVIL IN BELIZE

by on Jul.13, 2016, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post


Photograph of the elusive blue devil (© Carl Portman)
No, I haven’t spelt my name incorrectly in the title of this present ShukerNature blog article. The Carl referred to here is not me, but is instead arachnid expert Carl Portman, a longstanding friend of mine who has sought out rare and unusual invertebrates (especially spiders) in remote, exotic locations throughout the world. During one such search, moreover, he actually encountered a very remarkable, and beautiful, species that may still be scientifically undescribed and named. However, it does have a local name – the blue devil.
As he only made public for the first time quite recently, in an Animals and Men article (May 2015) for the CFZ, it was while visiting Black Rock in Belize during April 2014 that Carl first learnt about something that may be very special indeed. He was told about a certain cave situated high up in the mountainside that locals claimed was home to a magical kind of very large blue spider known as the blue devil. Although it sounded more likely to be folklore than fact, he decided to visit the cave, just in case, and after an arduous near-vertical climb accompanied by his wife Susan and a native guide called Carlos, he finally reached the cave’s opening and entered it. During a lengthy trek through its gloomy interior, they came upon quite a range of animals, including frogs, lizards, cave lice, tailless whip scorpions (amblypygids), bats, and some spiders too – but none of the blue devil variety.
Phrynus tessellatus, an amblypygid (public domain)
Reluctantly, they eventually decided to trek back to the entrance, but before they reached it, and to everyone’s amazement but delight, Carlos spotted one of these elusive, magical creatures – a blue devil! The size of Carl’s hand and indeed a brilliant, vibrant blue, it was possibly a species of wolf spider, and Carl swiftly snapped a few photographs of this spectacular arachnid before it vanished back into the cave’s stygian depths.
Despite being very knowledgeable and experienced regarding spiders, Carl had no idea of the blue devil’s species, and according to Carlos they are found only in this cave, nowhere else. Could it therefore be a dramatic new species? Only if a specimen is collected and subjected to scientific scrutiny can its taxonomic status be conclusively determined, but as I learnt from Carl in July 2015 during some personal communications with him on the subject of this very anomalous arachnid, he definitely hopes to return to study it, so an answer to the riddle of its identity may soon be forthcoming. Meanwhile, however, the blue devil of Belize remains a hidden, thought-provoking mystery.
A very striking, known species of blue spider – the  aptly-named cobalt blue tarantula Haplopelma lividum, from Myanmar and Thailand, which was formally described and named as a new species as recently as 1996 (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is a modified version of a news item that I wrote in 2015 for one of my Alien Zoo columns in Fortean Times, and my grateful thanks go to Carl Portman for very kindly permitting me to include his blue devil photograph.
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