SOLVING THE RIDDLE OF THE SEA SCOPIUM – A FISHY TALE FROM EAST SUSSEX

by on Apr.06, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
Life restoration model of a Eurypterussea scorpion, exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution’s Hall of Fossils (© Ryan Somma/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The eurypterids or sea scorpions of prehistory are unquestionably among the most extraordinary, physically spectacular creatures known exclusively from the fossil record. They consist of a long-extinct group of arthropods – that incomparably diverse assemblage of invertebrates united morphologically (but no longer taxonomically within a single phylum) by their jointed limbs.  Including among their number the largest and most spectacular of all arthropods, attaining a total length of up to 8 ft in one species (Jaekelopterus rhenaniae), the sea scorpions were only distantly related to modern-day scorpions, as they were much more closely allied to the horseshoe crabs. They had reached their zenith of evolutionary of development by the late Silurian Period (approximately 420 million years ago) and had disappeared entirely from the fossil record by the close of the Permian (around 170 million years later), victims of the mass extinction that occurred at that time.

Most sea scorpions were generally elongate – commencing with a broad prosoma (the combined head and thorax) whose rounded head sported a distinctive pair of laterally-sited compound eyes and elongated mouth, and whose short thorax bore six pairs of limbs. One pair, the chelicerae, were jaw-parts (which attained an exceptional degree of development in Pterygotus species, resembling pincer-like grasping organs). The others were true legs (which in some species were so stout that they may have enabled these particular forms to walk on land).

Of those true legs, the most posterior pair was much larger and flatter than the rest, terminating in oval plates or paddles – undoubtedly constituting the principal swimming organs, but possibly serving as anchors too, or as scoops for digging up mud on the sea bottom where these creatures may have rested or hidden themselves. These wider legs earned the sea scorpions their scientific name – ‘eurypterid’ translates as ‘broad wing’, alluding to the wide paddles.

 
Examples of pterygotid eurypterids, size not to scale (© Junnn11/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The abdomen or opisthosoma was divided into two morphologically distinct sections. The forepart, known as the mesosoma, consisted of seven squat segments. The posterior part or metasoma consisted of five tapering cylindrical segments, the last of which bifurcated into two lobes – between which, concluding the sea scorpion’s morphological roll-call, arose a long pointed spine (or, in some species, a short flat plate) called the telson or tail.

During their evolution, the sea scorpions adapted to living in brackish waters too, and even entered freshwater. Indeed, based upon some exceptional eurypterid fossils unearthed during the 1980s at East Kirkton in West Lothian, Scotland, palaeontologists believe that certain sea scorpions might even have been terrestrial. And if their lineage has persisted into the present day, 245 million years of intervening evolution could have engineered many other changes too, yielding creatures quite different in form and lifestyle from their Permian predecessors.

But what has all of the above information on sea scorpions to do with the mystery creature under consideration in this present ShukerNature article? In reality, nothing at all, were it not for a very confusing similarity of names, which, until I investigated it, had prevented the true nature of the creature in question from being recognised for what it truly is. Happily, all will now be revealed, in the curious case of the East Sussex sea scopium.

 
Exquisite vintage illustration of a Eurypterus remipes sea scorpion from 1858 (public domain)

During early May 1986, Channel 4, a British television station, broadcast a little-known true-life film that had been made in 1972 and was entitled The Moon and the Sledgehammer. Its subject was the Pate family, whose home was situated deep in some woods near Newhaven in East Sussex, southern England, and whose patriarch was Old Man Pate – who recollected seeing a marine creature that he referred to as a ‘sea scopium’. According to his description, it “looks like an old ship’s sailing cloth in the water…They’re black…It’s got a head like a frog, but it’s all goldy colour round, and its eyes stick out a bit, bulge fashion…It was about 7-8 ft under the water”.

Pate had considered pulling it out of the sea to observe it more closely, but when he saw its large mouth, and realised that it was looking at him, he changed his mind. Afterwards, however, he regretted this, and in the film he announced plans to build a semi-submersible boat in which to look for the creature again. But what might it have been? Surely not a living sea scorpion??

Although the term ‘sea scopium’ naturally evokes images of eurypterids, there is a much simpler explanation available here. Pate’s account recalls a fish called the sea scorpion – Myoxocephalus scorpius. Up to 2 ft long and black when fully mature, also referred to as the shorthorn sculpin, and a member of the taxonomic family of fishes known as cottid sculpins, this is a large-mouthed, frog-faced lurker among stones and seaweed on rocky seafloor with mud or sand. It is found in the English Channel, and the Atlantic north of Biscay, as well as the Arctic basin including the Siberian and Alaskan coasts. True, the head of this species is not golden, but in the film Pate stated that the sun was shining down through the water, so this no doubt gave the creature’s head a golden sheen. Exit the ‘sea scopium’ from any further cryptozoological consideration.

Dorsal view of a sea scorpion of the shorthorn sculpin kind (© Genet/Wikipedia – CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Many years ago, in a report describing a new 3-ft-long species of Mixopterus sea scorpion, Norwegian palaeontologist Prof. Johan Kiaer recalled the thrill of its discovery:

I shall never forget the moment when the first excellently preserved specimen of the new giant eurypterid was found. My workmen had lifted up a large slab, and when they turned it over, we suddenly saw the huge animal, with its marvelously shaped feet, stretched out in natural position. There was something so lifelike about it, gleaming darkly in the stone, that we almost expected to see it slowly rise from the bed where it had rested in peace for millions of years and crawl down to the lake that glittered close below us.

No doubt cryptozoologists share a similarly dramatic dream – to haul up a living sea scorpion from the depths of the oceans or even from the muddy bottom of a very large freshwater lake. Certainly, there have been some claims of this nature made down through the years in relation to various unidentified aquatic mystery beasts. And who knows – somewhere out there, perhaps there really are some post-Permian, present-day eurypterids, indolently lurking in scientific anonymity? Yet if the terminological tangle disentangled here that had hitherto hindered the delineation of these palaeontological sea scorpions from their modern-day piscean namesake is anything to go by, however, this prospect seems no more likely than the resurrection of Kiaer’s fossilised specimen from its rocky bed of Silurian sandstone.

My sincere thanks to longstanding friend and crypto-colleague Sally Watts for kindly making available to me for personal viewing a copy of The Moon and the Sledgehammer after I’d mentioned reading a short, puzzling newspaper cutting referring to its sea scopium.

 
Lateral view of the shorthorn sculpin aka sea scorpion (public domain)

 

 

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UPDATING THE LOUISIANA GIANT SPIDERS SAGA

by on Apr.03, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

Last year, I posted a 2-part ShukerNature blog article of mine (click here and here to access it) concerning the alleged encounters during 2005 and 2007 by various Louisiana-based U.S. army personnel with some incredibly huge spiders. Unsurprisingly, it attracted a great deal of attention, especially as by all the fundamental laws of biophysics such creatures shouldn’t – couldn’t – exist. The information concerning these immense arachnids was provided to me by one of their reputed eyewitnesses, and he gave me full permission to publish all of it, on the sole condition that I did not make public his identity, which I have not done. Instead, I refer to him merely as Sgt S.

My 2-part article engendered a fair few comments from readers, some of which queried certain technical and military aspects of Sgt S’s testimony. As a result, I have recently received some additional information from him, not only addressing those queries but also providing further insights into the creatures that he and others allegedly encountered. Moreover, he has provided me with a series of truly startling, thought-provoking scale drawings that readily reveal the supposed sizes of those spiders alongside an average human. As noted above, the zoologist in me cries out that such creatures simply cannot be. Equally, however, Sgt S’s extensive, impassioned communications are ones that ostensibly originate from someone who was truly terrified and still patently haunted by what he claims to have seen.

As before, Sgt S has kindly granted me full permission to publish these updates under the same condition as before, that he remains anonymous, and to which I fully accede. Personally, however, I can see no feasible way via which the diametrically opposite, mutually exclusive disparity between the biological incongruity of the spiders and the apparent honesty of his belief in what he claims to have seen can be resolved. So I choose instead to present Sgt S’s additional information and scale drawings herewith without comment from me, but in the form of a new article that will serve as a publicly-available record of the latter data’s existence, which I feel needs to be done.

I received the first of Sgt S’s new emails to me just over a fortnight ago, on 14 March 2021, in which he stated: “I finally saw your blog postings of my accounts with the giant spiders at Fort Polk. Thank you so much for bringing this story to light and keeping my name out of it. After reading it all over again I remembered a few more details from the 2005 sighting, regarding the animals’ behavior that are significant enough to include”.

On 18 March, Sgt S. added:

I was so traumatized by these events that I became disassociated, as if this were too unbearable to think about or as if it happened to someone else. To be clear on the retelling of these parts of the story, I did not fully recall the entire play-by-play of events, as it was so hard to deal with, that I blocked it out trying not to think about it. I have not talked about it at all with anyone until writing about it with you, 15 years later. Now it haunts me to even see a large dog lose in the park as that is the general size of the creature’s torso, without the 6-inch venomous fangs and long creepy legs. I was finally able to talk about it with a friend from work who is very open-minded to this sort of thing and that helped me to decide to write these additional details. You have my permission to publish as agreed upon before.

I must discourage anyone from trying to get near one of these things, or even walking in their area as they are extremely dangerous, venomous, man-eating, ambush predators that can move with tremendous force and speed.

He then presented an extensive account, which he revised slightly during some subsequent emails. This is his finalised version. Be sure to check back to my previous 2-part article in order to set the scene and read in context what is now presented below:

 

2005 Sightings

Animal Type 1A

On the night of the first encounter in 2005, when I first saw this thing that I will label Type 1A, I could not believe what I was seeing. In the heat of the moment, I charged forward and used my M4 carbine weapon’s buttstock to smash Type 1A in the head repeatedly, swinging wildly with my weapon at its legs while kicking and screaming at it at the top of my lungs. The flashlight shining directly in its eyes illuminated the eye tube itself making it appear light blue. I can compare it to being in a dark room and shining a light into to the bottom of a clear glass bottle filled with clear viscous fluid or clear jelly. The eyes of course were outwardly convex and had no eyelids. Before I charged, Type 1A tilted its head to the side and around so I could see the light all the way inside its head and there were increasingly smaller rings inside the eye tube. I think the adrenaline from my fight or flight instinct kicked in when I saw it moving. Type 1A backed up and sprayed a mist of foul-smelling liquid at us from about 5 or 6 feet away. The pheromone-laced liquid came out from the animal’s mouth, (or likely from glands near its mouth) and initially fanned out like water from an automotive windshield wiper nozzle, before dispersing into a mist. It happened very suddenly while I was firing blank 5.56mm rounds in its face, so it may have been a defensive response. The scent was a mix of ammonia and strong animal musk, like the scent of a cat marking its territory but much more pungent. The smell was not as bad as Skunk spray but more of a wet, swampy undercurrent of stench. With the sound and flash from 30 blank rounds, Type 1A turned its back and fled very clumsily, tumbling into its own legs, and smashing into the trees and sticks on the wooded area and was feeling its way around trying to find a path to escape before it scampered out of sight. I believe these things cannot see very well like most spiders and instead follow their noses (or whatever olfactory organs a spider has).

After I cut SGT Becky loose from the thick threaded silk, I became entangled and stuck to the ground. While SGT Becky was screaming and running back to our tent, I was nauseated from the pungent spray and basically frozen in fear, unable to move my legs. I then changed magazines in my weapon and made a Morse code S.O.S signal by firing a three-round burst, followed with three separate single-round shots, finishing with another three-round burst. I did this pattern three times. I could still hear movement in the trees from the direction where Type 1A fled, so I frantically cut away blindly at the dirt trying to free myself until I could get up and run like the devil back to our tent. I was very disoriented, dizzy, and itchy on my exposed skin as was SGT Becky. In retrospect, I believe this was due to a neurotoxic effect on the inch-long bristles or hairs we found all over our uniforms that I believe were ejected from Type A1 in a defensive reflex. Common tarantulas are known to shoot bristles or urticating hairs from their abdomens, to ward off predators. The bristles were black, white, and tan. Some of these were collected in a zip lock bag but the senior leadership took these away with any other evidence.

Later when they asked me to describe what I saw, I recalled thinking Type 1A looked like an old, frail man. Its head was not covered in hair, but the face and fangs were covered in long, light-colored bristles. This gave it the appearance of a bald, bearded elderly man, with its long, thin legs giving it the appearance of frail, bony arms, and legs.

When the senior leadership arrived one of the soldiers recognized the scent on us and ordered his men to go get bottles of ammonia and Simple Green (a degreaser popular with the Army). He ordered us to wash our hands and faces with ammonia and warned us to burn our uniforms or wash them three or four times with the Simple Green to get the smell out, or … “she’ll come after you”. He did not elaborate further.

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 1A spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)


—-


Animal Type 2A

When everyone calmed down from all the excitement I headed back to my cot. SGT Becky returned from the Aid station under assistance as they had given her tranquilizers. She was removed from training the next day under a command referral due to her traumatized state. My tent mates began complaining about the musty smell on me, so I threw the scent-marked uniform in a laundry bag outside, next to the tent about 20 feet from the door. After I changed and made a coffee I started heading out to the showers and laundry, and stood just inside of the door frame, getting my eyes adjusted to the dark. I had a black shaving kit/ toiletry bag in my right hand outside the open door when I felt something hit the bag. There was a whitish, silver-dollar-sized material connected to a thick string against my black bag. As I turned it slightly to look, it was pulled away from me suddenly and with great force, smashing my wrist into the metal frame of the door and snatching it out of my hand. Just then another soldier leaving the portable toilets, about 40 feet perpendicular to the door, started gasping in silent screams, pointing at a dark mass, about the size of a man and low to the ground along the outer wall of the tent, where my laundry bag was (this [creature] I will label as Type 2A). He threw a plastic spit bottle at the shape on the ground, splashing tobacco spit all over Type 2A, and it turned in his direction making a hissing sound. Immediately I threw my hot coffee and canteen cup that I had in my other hand. Type 2A turned again now with its back to me and raised with its head topping off at about five feet from the ground. Its 2- to 3-inch-thick front and side legs then spread out, shaking menacingly in the air, spanning 6 or 7 feet in circumference! Type 2A’s back legs were dangling straight down like it was on its tiptoes and its abdomen was about 1 foot thick by 3 feet long. All this happened instantaneously, and in a split second, it leaped 50 or 60 feet horizontally away! (I suppose it could have run on its back legs but it covered 50 to 60 feet of distance in a split second!) It reached the edge of the “200 man” tent and without stopping it rounded the corner, crashing into another tent alongside ours. It clumsily clambered over the next tent ripping holes in the fabric then disappeared into the woods. Animal Type 2A was much darker in color, with a thicker coat of bristles, much thicker in body mass. Its abdomen was more elongated than bulbous, and its overall size was greater than a large man. I did not see its fangs as it was dark and quickly turned its back to me, but overall, it gave the appearance of an enormous tarantula. Someone found my bag the next day by the wood line and it was punctured, with the shaving cream can exploded and the other contents mangled. Again, the senior officers collected it and ordered us not to talk about the incident. The soldier who threw the spit bottle already had a phobia of spiders and this event so traumatized him that he could no longer speak intelligibly. He became so uncontrollably stressed that he was also removed from the training under command referral.

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 2A spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)

In my first email to you on the 2005 event, I mentioned another soldier woke up to what he said looked like a bearded old man wearing large black goggles, looking at us at the base of our open tent door. To elaborate further on that event, that night of the first sighting I placed Army issue cots upright, lengthwise around my sleeping cot in a feeble attempt to protect myself with a wall around me. In the night I awoke to a loud metal banging sound at the rear tent door near where I was sleeping. But when several of us got up there was nothing to see. In the morning one of my upright cots was gone. I found it crumpled up in the field behind our tent with more sticky silk around it. I assume one of the spiders returned and spit silk at where their scent was coming from, catching an upended cot instead of me. The cots are made of sturdy aluminum intended for years of military use and not easily crumpled up by human hands.

After these incidents, the senior leadership came back and ordered me to surrender my boots and any clothing I wore when I was sprayed by Type 1A. I washed my equipment including my helmet, flashlight, and weapon with the Army-issued M295 Decontamination Kit (this is a charcoal powdered mitten that has a disgusting rotten fish oil smell). I also used the M295 kit on my head, face, neck, hands, and arms. I repeated this process a few times to get the smell off me and we sprayed the area down with Army issued STB, or super tropical bleach, (the M295 and STB are for chemical weapons defense). After the decontamination, a few showers, new uniforms, spraying down the tent area with STB, and pouring STB into the hole where Type 1A appeared, the creatures did not return. I was quietly praised for being a survivor and openly mocked for seeing something that was not there or feeling stressed about an event that never happened.

 

2007 Sighting

Animals Type 1B & Type 2B

I would like to label the 2007 daytime sighting of the large, light-colored trapdoor spider, Type 1B, and the night-time sighting of the gargantuan spider on the roof as Type 2B. [see Part 2 of my previous article here for details of Sgt S’s 2007 sighting.]

 

OBSERVATIONS

1. Nocturnal, occasionally diurnal.

2. Burrowing and tunneling.

3. Creates Trap Doors with silk feeder lines to capture and ambush prey. Alerted by vibrations.

4. Large venomous fangs, and potentially venomous tailhook/ stinger.

5. Spitting silk to capture prey from at least a 20’ distance.

6. Makes a hissing sound when agitated.

7. Urticating hairs with a neurotoxic effect.

8. Raises up and rattles its forelegs legs before jumping horizontally at high velocity to 50 or 60 feet.

9. Pheromone marking and hunting.

10. Inferior sight.

11. Superior olfactory senses.

12. Prey baiting.

13. Easily startled.

14. Returns to scent marked hunting of prey even when startled.

15. Follows scent marked prey over many miles and many days.

16. Moves silently under cover of darkness.

17. “Bags” prey in silk to carry off to burrows.

 

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 1B spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)


ASSUMPTIONS:

1. I assume the creatures were hunting after the scent marked on my clothes and body by Type 1A and Type 1B. I propose They may work communally or competitively going after each other’s scent marked prey.

2. Type 2A spit a sticky web hitting my bag and pulled it away from me, perhaps as a way of capturing prey from a distance, like the spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica.

3. I think it reacted to the liquids thrown at it like many common spiders do, by raising up and jumping away, albeit with extraordinarily terrifying force and speed. If I were in its path it would have undoubtedly taken me with it.

4. Animal Types 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B may all be the same species but different sex and at different life phases. I believe the lighter colored, smaller Types 1A and 1B are the males, as both male spiders are usually smaller, and each performed the scent-marking behavior. I believe Type 2A and Type 2B are the females. Both being larger, darker colored and followed the scent of Types 1A and 1B. One theory is that these are four different animals at two different life stages. Another could be that these are two animals that have enlarged from 2005 to 2007. These could be mated pairs.

5. I speculate that these things may have a long lifespan where they hibernate or have years of inactivity where they remain in their tunnels.

Sgt S concluded his testimony with the following telling comment contained in an email to me of 26 March 2021:

Putting together the scale drawings made me sick with anxiety. I feel nauseous just looking at them again. If I did not see it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe that venomous spiders as large as grizzly bears could actually be roaming around freely in the Louisiana woodlands. I don’t care if anyone else believes it to be honest because gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it either. Go ahead and jump off a tall building and try not to believe in gravity if you want. 

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 2B spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)

So there we have it, make of it all what we will, but undeniably fascinating.

 

I have already stated my personal opinion as a zoologist regarding the biological feasibility of such spiders, based upon what is currently known concerning arachnid anatomy and physiology. As for whether the U.S. Army would – or could – keep such extraordinary events a secret or alternatively endeavour to seek out and either capture or destroy anything as inimical as these arachnid entities, I am not a military man, so I have neither the theoretical knowledge nor the practical experience to answer such questions. Nor do I have any means of either confirming or discounting Sgt S’s testimony. Like so much evidence put forward in cryptozoology, it is entirely anecdotal, unsupported by any physical, tangible evidence. Nevertheless, in view of its detail and depth, I have decided to document it herewith, because I feel not to do so would be both judgmental and remiss, and might even mean that if there is other, independent evidence out there that could substantiate its claim, it might not be brought forward. But now it might, so now we must wait and see.

My sincere thanks to Sgt S for sharing his testimony with me and, as before, for most kindly permitting me to make it publicly available.

For further details concerning giant spider reports, be sure to click here to read a detailed survey on ShukerNature, and also check out the comprehensive chapter devoted to such creatures in my book Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History.


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UPDATING THE LOUISIANA GIANT SPIDERS SAGA

by on Apr.03, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

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

Last year, I posted a 2-part ShukerNature blog article of mine (click here and here to access it) concerning the alleged encounters during 2005 and 2007 by various Louisiana-based U.S. army personnel with some incredibly huge spiders. Unsurprisingly, it attracted a great deal of attention, especially as by all the fundamental laws of biophysics such creatures shouldn’t – couldn’t – exist. The information concerning these immense arachnids was provided to me by one of their reputed eyewitnesses, and he gave me full permission to publish all of it, on the sole condition that I did not make public his identity, which I have not done. Instead, I refer to him merely as Sgt S.

My 2-part article engendered a fair few comments from readers, some of which queried certain technical and military aspects of Sgt S’s testimony. As a result, I have recently received some additional information from him, not only addressing those queries but also providing further insights into the creatures that he and others allegedly encountered. Moreover, he has provided me with a series of truly startling, thought-provoking scale drawings that readily reveal the supposed sizes of those spiders alongside an average human. As noted above, the zoologist in me cries out that such creatures simply cannot be. Equally, however, Sgt S’s extensive, impassioned communications are ones that ostensibly originate from someone who was truly terrified and still patently haunted by what he claims to have seen.

As before, Sgt S has kindly granted me full permission to publish these updates under the same condition as before, that he remains anonymous, and to which I fully accede. Personally, however, I can see no feasible way via which the diametrically opposite, mutually exclusive disparity between the biological incongruity of the spiders and the apparent honesty of his belief in what he claims to have seen can be resolved. So I choose instead to present Sgt S’s additional information and scale drawings herewith without comment from me, but in the form of a new article that will serve as a publicly-available record of the latter data’s existence, which I feel needs to be done.

I received the first of Sgt S’s new emails to me just over a fortnight ago, on 14 March 2021, in which he stated: “I finally saw your blog postings of my accounts with the giant spiders at Fort Polk. Thank you so much for bringing this story to light and keeping my name out of it. After reading it all over again I remembered a few more details from the 2005 sighting, regarding the animals’ behavior that are significant enough to include”.

On 18 March, Sgt S. added:

I was so traumatized by these events that I became disassociated, as if this were too unbearable to think about or as if it happened to someone else. To be clear on the retelling of these parts of the story, I did not fully recall the entire play-by-play of events, as it was so hard to deal with, that I blocked it out trying not to think about it. I have not talked about it at all with anyone until writing about it with you, 15 years later. Now it haunts me to even see a large dog lose in the park as that is the general size of the creature’s torso, without the 6-inch venomous fangs and long creepy legs. I was finally able to talk about it with a friend from work who is very open-minded to this sort of thing and that helped me to decide to write these additional details. You have my permission to publish as agreed upon before.

I must discourage anyone from trying to get near one of these things, or even walking in their area as they are extremely dangerous, venomous, man-eating, ambush predators that can move with tremendous force and speed.

He then presented an extensive account, which he revised slightly during some subsequent emails. This is his finalised version. Be sure to check back to my previous 2-part article in order to set the scene and read in context what is now presented below:

 

2005 Sightings

Animal Type 1A

On the night of the first encounter in 2005, when I first saw this thing that I will label Type 1A, I could not believe what I was seeing. In the heat of the moment, I charged forward and used my M4 carbine weapon’s buttstock to smash Type 1A in the head repeatedly, swinging wildly with my weapon at its legs while kicking and screaming at it at the top of my lungs. The flashlight shining directly in its eyes illuminated the eye tube itself making it appear light blue. I can compare it to being in a dark room and shining a light into to the bottom of a clear glass bottle filled with clear viscous fluid or clear jelly. The eyes of course were outwardly convex and had no eyelids. Before I charged, Type 1A tilted its head to the side and around so I could see the light all the way inside its head and there were increasingly smaller rings inside the eye tube. I think the adrenaline from my fight or flight instinct kicked in when I saw it moving. Type 1A backed up and sprayed a mist of foul-smelling liquid at us from about 5 or 6 feet away. The pheromone-laced liquid came out from the animal’s mouth, (or likely from glands near its mouth) and initially fanned out like water from an automotive windshield wiper nozzle, before dispersing into a mist. It happened very suddenly while I was firing blank 5.56mm rounds in its face, so it may have been a defensive response. The scent was a mix of ammonia and strong animal musk, like the scent of a cat marking its territory but much more pungent. The smell was not as bad as Skunk spray but more of a wet, swampy undercurrent of stench. With the sound and flash from 30 blank rounds, Type 1A turned its back and fled very clumsily, tumbling into its own legs, and smashing into the trees and sticks on the wooded area and was feeling its way around trying to find a path to escape before it scampered out of sight. I believe these things cannot see very well like most spiders and instead follow their noses (or whatever olfactory organs a spider has).

After I cut SGT Becky loose from the thick threaded silk, I became entangled and stuck to the ground. While SGT Becky was screaming and running back to our tent, I was nauseated from the pungent spray and basically frozen in fear, unable to move my legs. I then changed magazines in my weapon and made a Morse code S.O.S signal by firing a three-round burst, followed with three separate single-round shots, finishing with another three-round burst. I did this pattern three times. I could still hear movement in the trees from the direction where Type 1A fled, so I frantically cut away blindly at the dirt trying to free myself until I could get up and run like the devil back to our tent. I was very disoriented, dizzy, and itchy on my exposed skin as was SGT Becky. In retrospect, I believe this was due to a neurotoxic effect on the inch-long bristles or hairs we found all over our uniforms that I believe were ejected from Type A1 in a defensive reflex. Common tarantulas are known to shoot bristles or urticating hairs from their abdomens, to ward off predators. The bristles were black, white, and tan. Some of these were collected in a zip lock bag but the senior leadership took these away with any other evidence.

Later when they asked me to describe what I saw, I recalled thinking Type 1A looked like an old, frail man. Its head was not covered in hair, but the face and fangs were covered in long, light-colored bristles. This gave it the appearance of a bald, bearded elderly man, with its long, thin legs giving it the appearance of frail, bony arms, and legs.

When the senior leadership arrived one of the soldiers recognized the scent on us and ordered his men to go get bottles of ammonia and Simple Green (a degreaser popular with the Army). He ordered us to wash our hands and faces with ammonia and warned us to burn our uniforms or wash them three or four times with the Simple Green to get the smell out, or … “she’ll come after you”. He did not elaborate further.

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 1A spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)


—-


Animal Type 2A

When everyone calmed down from all the excitement I headed back to my cot. SGT Becky returned from the Aid station under assistance as they had given her tranquilizers. She was removed from training the next day under a command referral due to her traumatized state. My tent mates began complaining about the musty smell on me, so I threw the scent-marked uniform in a laundry bag outside, next to the tent about 20 feet from the door. After I changed and made a coffee I started heading out to the showers and laundry, and stood just inside of the door frame, getting my eyes adjusted to the dark. I had a black shaving kit/ toiletry bag in my right hand outside the open door when I felt something hit the bag. There was a whitish, silver-dollar-sized material connected to a thick string against my black bag. As I turned it slightly to look, it was pulled away from me suddenly and with great force, smashing my wrist into the metal frame of the door and snatching it out of my hand. Just then another soldier leaving the portable toilets, about 40 feet perpendicular to the door, started gasping in silent screams, pointing at a dark mass, about the size of a man and low to the ground along the outer wall of the tent, where my laundry bag was (this [creature] I will label as Type 2A). He threw a plastic spit bottle at the shape on the ground, splashing tobacco spit all over Type 2A, and it turned in his direction making a hissing sound. Immediately I threw my hot coffee and canteen cup that I had in my other hand. Type 2A turned again now with its back to me and raised with its head topping off at about five feet from the ground. Its 2- to 3-inch-thick front and side legs then spread out, shaking menacingly in the air, spanning 6 or 7 feet in circumference! Type 2A’s back legs were dangling straight down like it was on its tiptoes and its abdomen was about 1 foot thick by 3 feet long. All this happened instantaneously, and in a split second, it leaped 50 or 60 feet horizontally away! (I suppose it could have run on its back legs but it covered 50 to 60 feet of distance in a split second!) It reached the edge of the “200 man” tent and without stopping it rounded the corner, crashing into another tent alongside ours. It clumsily clambered over the next tent ripping holes in the fabric then disappeared into the woods. Animal Type 2A was much darker in color, with a thicker coat of bristles, much thicker in body mass. Its abdomen was more elongated than bulbous, and its overall size was greater than a large man. I did not see its fangs as it was dark and quickly turned its back to me, but overall, it gave the appearance of an enormous tarantula. Someone found my bag the next day by the wood line and it was punctured, with the shaving cream can exploded and the other contents mangled. Again, the senior officers collected it and ordered us not to talk about the incident. The soldier who threw the spit bottle already had a phobia of spiders and this event so traumatized him that he could no longer speak intelligibly. He became so uncontrollably stressed that he was also removed from the training under command referral.

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 2A spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)

In my first email to you on the 2005 event, I mentioned another soldier woke up to what he said looked like a bearded old man wearing large black goggles, looking at us at the base of our open tent door. To elaborate further on that event, that night of the first sighting I placed Army issue cots upright, lengthwise around my sleeping cot in a feeble attempt to protect myself with a wall around me. In the night I awoke to a loud metal banging sound at the rear tent door near where I was sleeping. But when several of us got up there was nothing to see. In the morning one of my upright cots was gone. I found it crumpled up in the field behind our tent with more sticky silk around it. I assume one of the spiders returned and spit silk at where their scent was coming from, catching an upended cot instead of me. The cots are made of sturdy aluminum intended for years of military use and not easily crumpled up by human hands.

After these incidents, the senior leadership came back and ordered me to surrender my boots and any clothing I wore when I was sprayed by Type 1A. I washed my equipment including my helmet, flashlight, and weapon with the Army-issued M295 Decontamination Kit (this is a charcoal powdered mitten that has a disgusting rotten fish oil smell). I also used the M295 kit on my head, face, neck, hands, and arms. I repeated this process a few times to get the smell off me and we sprayed the area down with Army issued STB, or super tropical bleach, (the M295 and STB are for chemical weapons defense). After the decontamination, a few showers, new uniforms, spraying down the tent area with STB, and pouring STB into the hole where Type 1A appeared, the creatures did not return. I was quietly praised for being a survivor and openly mocked for seeing something that was not there or feeling stressed about an event that never happened.

 

2007 Sighting

Animals Type 1B & Type 2B

I would like to label the 2007 daytime sighting of the large, light-colored trapdoor spider, Type 1B, and the night-time sighting of the gargantuan spider on the roof as Type 2B. [see Part 2 of my previous article here for details of Sgt S’s 2007 sighting.]

 

OBSERVATIONS

1. Nocturnal, occasionally diurnal.

2. Burrowing and tunneling.

3. Creates Trap Doors with silk feeder lines to capture and ambush prey. Alerted by vibrations.

4. Large venomous fangs, and potentially venomous tailhook/ stinger.

5. Spitting silk to capture prey from at least a 20’ distance.

6. Makes a hissing sound when agitated.

7. Urticating hairs with a neurotoxic effect.

8. Raises up and rattles its forelegs legs before jumping horizontally at high velocity to 50 or 60 feet.

9. Pheromone marking and hunting.

10. Inferior sight.

11. Superior olfactory senses.

12. Prey baiting.

13. Easily startled.

14. Returns to scent marked hunting of prey even when startled.

15. Follows scent marked prey over many miles and many days.

16. Moves silently under cover of darkness.

17. “Bags” prey in silk to carry off to burrows.

 

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 1B spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)


ASSUMPTIONS:

1. I assume the creatures were hunting after the scent marked on my clothes and body by Type 1A and Type 1B. I propose They may work communally or competitively going after each other’s scent marked prey.

2. Type 2A spit a sticky web hitting my bag and pulled it away from me, perhaps as a way of capturing prey from a distance, like the spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica.

3. I think it reacted to the liquids thrown at it like many common spiders do, by raising up and jumping away, albeit with extraordinarily terrifying force and speed. If I were in its path it would have undoubtedly taken me with it.

4. Animal Types 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B may all be the same species but different sex and at different life phases. I believe the lighter colored, smaller Types 1A and 1B are the males, as both male spiders are usually smaller, and each performed the scent-marking behavior. I believe Type 2A and Type 2B are the females. Both being larger, darker colored and followed the scent of Types 1A and 1B. One theory is that these are four different animals at two different life stages. Another could be that these are two animals that have enlarged from 2005 to 2007. These could be mated pairs.

5. I speculate that these things may have a long lifespan where they hibernate or have years of inactivity where they remain in their tunnels.

Sgt S concluded his testimony with the following telling comment contained in an email to me of 26 March 2021:

Putting together the scale drawings made me sick with anxiety. I feel nauseous just looking at them again. If I did not see it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe that venomous spiders as large as grizzly bears could actually be roaming around freely in the Louisiana woodlands. I don’t care if anyone else believes it to be honest because gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it either. Go ahead and jump off a tall building and try not to believe in gravity if you want. 

 
Scale drawing showing a Type 2B spider alongside an average human (© Sgt S)

So there we have it, make of it all what we will, but undeniably fascinating.

 

I have already stated my personal opinion as a zoologist regarding the biological feasibility of such spiders, based upon what is currently known concerning arachnid anatomy and physiology. As for whether the U.S. Army would – or could – keep such extraordinary events a secret or alternatively endeavour to seek out and either capture or destroy anything as inimical as these arachnid entities, I am not a military man, so I have neither the theoretical knowledge nor the practical experience to answer such questions. Nor do I have any means of either confirming or discounting Sgt S’s testimony. Like so much evidence put forward in cryptozoology, it is entirely anecdotal, unsupported by any physical, tangible evidence. Nevertheless, in view of its detail and depth, I have decided to document it herewith, because I feel not to do so would be both judgmental and remiss, and might even mean that if there is other, independent evidence out there that could substantiate its claim, it might not be brought forward. But now it might, so now we must wait and see.

My sincere thanks to Sgt S for sharing his testimony with me and, as before, for most kindly permitting me to make it publicly available.

For further details concerning giant spider reports, be sure to click here to read a detailed survey on ShukerNature, and also check out the comprehensive chapter devoted to such creatures in my book Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History.


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SINGING THE PRAISES OF OUR NATIONS’ FEATHERED AMBASSADORS

by on Mar.30, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
A male doctor bird, Jamaica’s national bird, in Philip Henry Gosse’s book The Birds of Jamaica, 1849 (public domain) / Doctor birds (two males, one female), in John Gould’s tome A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Humming-birds, Vol. 2, 1861 (public domain)

Despite being a nation intimately associated with birdwatching and a love of all things ornithological in general, the United Kingdom, most surprisingly, is one of the very few nations on Earth that does not have an official national bird. True, several years ago a countrywide poll was held to decide which species should serve as our own representative, and revealed as its winner the robin Erithacus rubecula– a friendly, familiar species beloved of gardeners and Christmas card illustrators, and which has traditionally if unofficially occupied that very same role for untold years anyway. However, even this newsworthy poll failed to convince the powers-that-be to elect the robin formally as our nation’s feathered ambassador, and so, at least for now, the wait continues. Elsewhere around the world, conversely, is a vast array of national birds, chosen for many different reasons as their respective country’s much-loved avian symbol – from its links to its country’s beliefs or culture, or as an eyecatching example of its rich biodiversity, to the longstanding admiration that it has inspired among those people sharing its homeland, or even as a means of highlighting its modern-day rarity and need for conservation. So here, to demonstrate this eclectic variety, is a global twitching tour, highlighting some of the most distinctive national birds with fascinating facts explaining why they are so memorable.

 
European robin, painted by Frederick W Frohawk, 1907 (public domain)

Birds of prey have always been greatly admired as symbols of power, strength, intelligence, wisdom, and keen vision, so it is hardly surprising that they have also been popular choices as national birds. Perhaps the most famous example in this capacity is the bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, the national bird of the USA. One of the world’s several species of fish-eating eagle, and named after the adult bird’s characteristic white-plumed head (it is brown in juveniles), the bald eagle was officially adopted as the USA’s feathered representative on 20 June 1782, when the design of the Great Seal of the United States portraying a bald eagle grasping in its talons 13 arrows representing the 13 founding states plus an olive branch signifying peace was formally adopted by the Continental (Philadelphia) Congress, containing delegates from those states.

 
Bald eagle, hand-coloured engraving, 1840 (public domain)

Another country with a tradition of eagle imagery is Germany, and it too has an eagle as its generally-recognised national bird, but this time the golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos. Indeed, the magnificent plumage and stately poise of this species is so imposing that several other countries have also adopted it in this role, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Egypt, Mexico, and Scotland, although in Egypt and Scotland it is presently still in an unofficial capacity, rather like our robin. Moreover, the African fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, a close Old World relative of the bald eagle and sporting a very striking brown and white plumage, is so well-regarded on its native African continent that it is the official national bird of no fewer than four different nations – Namibia, South Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

 
Golden eagles (Wikipedia – public domain)

One of the most spectacular yet also one of the rarest of all eagles is the Philippine eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi. Originally dubbed the monkey-eating eagle as it is large and powerful enough to prey upon sizeable monkeys here, it was subsequently renamed the Philippine eagle and formally installed as its country’s national bird on 4 July 1995 by the then president Fidel V. Vamos. This was done in a bid to raise awareness regarding its critically endangered status, a result of longstanding habitat destruction, especially via widespread deforestation. Less than 1,000 individuals are currently thought to exist.

 
Philippine eagle, by Henrik Grönvold, 1910 (public domain)

Other powerful birds of prey declared as national birds include the harpy eagle Harpia harpyja in Panama, the white-tailed sea eagle or erne Haliaeetus albicilla (Poland), and the gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus (Iceland). Vultures may not seem the most photogenic or behaviourally refined of species to serve as national birds, yet they too clearly have their supporters, because the griffon vulture Gyps fulvus is the national bird of Serbia, and the mighty-pinioned Andean condor Vultur gryphus serves in this role for a quartet of major South American nations (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador). Smaller raptorial species are not overlooked either, with the peregrine Falco peregrinus representing Angola and the United Arab Emirates, the European kestrel F. tinnunculus Belgium, and the saker falcon F. cherrug Hungary and Mongolia.

 
Andean condor, 1800s engraving (public domain)

As for owls, back in classical times the little owl Athene noctua was the sacred bird of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, so in modern-day times it is the national bird of Greece. And the Aruba burrowing owl A. cunicularia arubensis represents the Caribbean island of Aruba. Perhaps the strangest of all birds of prey is the secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius, named after its straggly crest that has been fancifully likened to an untidy sheaf of quills that a secretary from bygone times might have placed behind one of his ears. This bizarre-looking species somewhat incongruously combines a hawk-like body with the lengthy legs of a stork, and is famed for its snake-killing abilities in its native Sudan where it is commemorated as that country’s national bird.

 
19th-Century painting of a secretary bird, from Dictionnaire Histoire Naturelle by Charles Orbigny (public domain)

Waterbirds are another popular choice for national birds. The mute swan Cygnus olorrepresents Denmark, and the whooper swan C. cygnus Finland, whereas more colourful feathered symbols include the American flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber for the Bahamas, the scarlet ibis Eudocimus ruber for Trinidad and Tobago, and the magnificent frigate bird Fregata magnificens (noted for the breeding male’s vivid scarlet, greatly-inflatable throat pouch) for not only the Pacific island nation of Kiribati but also the twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Its smaller but no less distinctive relative the great frigate bird F. minor does the honours for Nauru, and on account of their extraordinarily prehistoric appearance when seen high overhead in flight, frigate birds are regularly mistaken by unknowledgeable observers for living pterodactyls!

 
Adult male magnificent frigate bird, painting from The Birds of North America, 1903 (public domain)

Their impressive, imposing stature and noble mien no doubt explains why cranes and storks also include several national birds among their assemblage. Most celebrated of these is the blue crane Grus paradisea (aka the paradise or Stanley crane), representing South Africa. Its cultural links to this country include a longstanding tradition among the Xhosa people here, whereby the honour bestowed upon a man who had distinguished himself in battle was to be decorated with blue crane plumes placed in his hair by a chief during a special ceremony known as ukundzabela. Other African nations with a crane as their official symbol include Uganda (its national bird is the grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum) and Nigeria (the black crowned crane B. pavonina). The white stork Ciconia ciconia, a species beloved throughout Europe as the traditional bringer of babies according to fairytales and folklore, is the national bird in both Belarus and Lithuania, whereas the hammerhead or hamerkop Scopus umbretta, an odd stork-like but pelican-related species native to much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, is the national bird of Gambia, and is widely if erroneously claimed to induce lightning. And speaking of pelicans: the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis represents the Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis.

 
Blue, paradise, or Stanley crane, from A Monograph of the Cranes, 1897, by Frans Ernst Blaauw (public domain)

Many species of tropical bird have dazzling, multicoloured plumage exhibiting truly extravagant displays of feathered flamboyance, so it is little wonder that some of the most beautiful examples have been adopted by their homelands as national birds. Count Raggi’s bird of paradise Paradisaea raggiana, for instance, in which the adult male boasts a fiery explosion of long scarlet plumes with which to tempt and entreat dowdy brown females to mate with him when he dances before them during the breeding season, is the national bird of Papua New Guinea, whose tropical rainforests are home to many of the world’s 40-odd bird of paradise species.

 
19th-Century painting of an adult male Count Raggi’s bird of paradise, by John Gould (public domain)

Another series of bird species with feathers of the fantastically fabulous kind constitutes the peafowl and pheasants. The blue peacock’s famous eye-spotted tail-train when unfurled and held vertically to entice what he hopes are suitably bedazzled peahens is said to owe its distinctive ocellated patterning to the Greek goddess Hera (or Juno in equivalent Roman retellings). Distraught when the messenger god Hermes slew her loyal hundred-eyed watchman Argus at the behest of Zeus, she placed Argus’s eyes in the train of the peacock, and adopted it thereafter as her sacred bird. No doubt, therefore, she would be pleased to know that this very familiar species, Pavo cristatus, is honoured as India’s national bird. Turning to pheasants, the green pheasant Phasianus versicolor claims comparable prestige in Asia as Japan’s national bird, as does the Himalayan monal Lophophorus impejanus for Nepal, the Siamese fireback Lophura diardi for Thailand, and the confusingly-named grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum for Myanmar (the last-mentioned species is so-called because although it is a pheasant, it has spotted plumage whose markings recall the ocelli in the peacock’s train).

 
Himalayan monal, from A Century of Birds From the Himalaya Mountains, 1831 (public domain)

Parrots were always going to be sought after as national birds by tropical countries fortunate enough to be home to these vividly-plumed perennial favourites among aviculturalists and ornithologists alike, and sure enough, several species have indeed gained that exalted status. The largest, and gaudiest, is undoubtedly the scarlet macaw Ara macao, an animate tricolor of red, blue, and gold, representing Honduras but native to much of northern South America too. Several Caribbean island nations have their very own endemic amazon parrot species – large, brightly-coloured, and found nowhere else – so for reasons of national pride in their avifauna and also to highlight that these species are endangered in many cases, they have duly declared them as their national birds, as with the St Lucia parrot Amazona versicolor for St Lucia, the St Vincent parrot A. guildingii for St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the imperial parrot A. imperialis for Dominica. Nor should we forget the near-threatened Grand Cayman parrot A. leucocephala, the national bird of the Cayman Islands but also found in Cuba and the Bahamas.

 
St Lucia parrot, painted by Joseph Smit, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1875 (public domain)

The pink-plumaged hoopoe Upupa epops with huge black-and-white wings that bestow upon it the extraordinary guise of a giant butterfly when seen in flight is Israel’s national bird, and is intimately linked with biblical lore and legends. According to one such story, hoopoes once bore crests of solid gold, but they were so persecuted by hunters seeking their precious head plumes that they beseeched King Solomon to save them. So in response to their plea, he very kindly transformed their crests into normal feathers, which of course were of no interest to the hunters, and which they have thus borne ever since.

 
A family of hoopoes, painted by John Gould, 1837 (public domain)

Hoopoes are closely related to kingfishers, rollers, hornbills, and motmots, many of which are brilliantly-plumaged and as a consequence include several national birds among their number, such as the lilac-breasted roller Coracias caudatus for Botswana (and also unofficially for Kenya), the rhinoceros hornbill Buceros rhinoceros for Malaysia, the turquoise-browed motmot Eumomota superciliosa for El Salvador and Nicaragua, and the grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala for Cape Verde. Superficially similar to the Old World hornbills due to their comparably top-heavy beaks, but less closely related to them zoologically speaking, are the New World toucans, with the keel-billed toucan Rhamphastos sulfuratus serving Belize as its national bird.

 
Rhinoceros hornbills, in Daniel Giraud Elliot’s A Monograph of the Bucerotidæ, or Family of the Hornbills, 1882 (public domain)

However, the epitome of tropical birds as far as breathtakingly gorgeous plumage is concerned must surely be the trogons. Again distantly related to kingfishers, rollers, and hoopoes, and native to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, these typically thrush-sized birds resemble living jewels when spot-lit by shafts of bright sunlight filtering through the leafy canopy in their jungle domain. Inevitably, therefore, several of them have been adopted as national birds, such as the Hispaniolan trogon Priotelus roseigaster in Haiti, the Cuban trogon P. temnurus in Cuba itself, and the bar-tailed trogon Apaloderma vittatumin Malawi. However, the trogon par excellence – indeed, a leading contender for the world’s most beautiful species of bird – is the aptly-named resplendent quetzal Pharomachrus mocinno of Guatemala, whose history, both natural and national, makes fascinating reading.

 
Bar-tailed trogon, by John G. Keulemans, 1892 (public domain)

According to the ancient traditions of the Aztec nation, which formerly inhabited what is today Mexico (and which in turn formerly included present-day Guatemala within its borders), one of their principal deities, the sky god Quetzalcoatl, would sometimes appear to them in the form of a great airborne feathered serpent with bright emerald-coloured plumes. Today, it is believed that this curious legend arose from real-life observations by the Aztecs of the resplendent quetzal, because during the breeding season the green-plumaged male, which is normally no more than 1 ft long, grows a pair of exceptionally lengthy, elongate tail plumes, also green, but each measuring up to 3 ft long – and when it flies, these two streamer-like feathers extend horizontally behind it and undulate, so that it bears more than a passing resemblance to an extraordinary plumed snake in flight. Such a famous bird of legend has made an immense cultural impact upon Guatemala, one of several Central American countries where this spectacular bird exists (as well as in present-day Mexico) – so much so, in fact, that not only is it Guatemala’s national bird but it has given its name to this country’s currency too (100 centavos = 1 quetzal since the year 1925), as well as appearing upon both its national flag and its official coat of arms, and also upon its bank notes and many of its postage stamps.

 
Late 1800s chromolithograph portraying a pair of quetzals (public domain)

Also deserving of mention here is a veritable ‘quetzal in miniature’ that is itself a national bird – the doctor bird Trochilus polytmus, hailing from Jamaica. Indigenous to that island nation, this iridescent green-plumaged hummingbird is characterised by the male’s pair of extremely long ribbon-like tail feathers, which make a humming sound as it flies. There is speculation that because these feathers resemble the long silk tail-coats worn by doctors in olden days, this is why the species is called the doctor bird.

 
Delightful short video of two male doctor birds boldly perching on visitors’ fingers as they drink sugar water from bottles (© Conley Salmon/YouTube – inserted here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Of course, not all national birds are chosen for their dramatic appearance or links to mythology. Quite a few have been specifically selected for their basic ‘everyman’ appeal and popularity, familiar to everyone and loved by all. Italy has as its national bird the Italian sparrow, a cheeky little upstart that is abundant and instantly recognisable everywhere here. Long the subject of controversy as to its precise taxonomic status because it appears intermediate in form between the Spanish sparrow Passer hispaniolensis and the house sparrow P. domesticus, itwas formerly thought to be a hybrid of these two. Nowadays, however, it is often deemed to be a separate, valid species in its own right, albeit one that may indeed have originated via hybridisation between the two afore-mentioned species, and has been dubbed P. italiae, because this is where it predominantly occurs.

 
A pair of Italian sparrows, by John Gould, from The Birds of Europe, 1837 (public domain)

Other well known but visually modest avian groups with national birds among their membership are the wagtails (the white wagtail Motacilla alba being Latvia’s national bird), the crows (Bhutan’s is the common raven Corvus corax), swallows (the European or barn swallow Hirundo rustica represents both Austria and Estonia), thrushes (the common blackbird Turdus merula for Sweden, the redwing T. iliacus for Turkey), doves (mourning dove Zenaida macroura for the British Virgin Islands, zenaida dove Z. aurita for Anguilla, Grenada dove Leptotila wellsi for Grenada), and finches (Sinai rosefinch Carpodacus synoicusfor Jordan).

 
Adult male Sinai rosefinch, painted by Nicolas Huet, 1838 (public domain)

But perhaps the last word on national birds should be reserved for the most poignant example – namely, the species that represents the Mascarene nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. For alone of all such birds, it is no longer in existence, having been slaughtered for its meat more than three centuries ago, only for it afterwards to become an icon in its former island homeland. Today, its instantly recognisable form can be seen everywhere in Mauritius – decorating picture postcards, appearing in advertisements, reproduced as toys of every conceivable composition, and serving as the number one choice for countless visually-inspired souvenirs. And the name of this extinct, exterminated superstar? What else could it be? Raphus cucullatus – the dodo.

 
Dodo, 17th-Century Dutch illustration, colour-corrected (public domain)

 

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SINGING THE PRAISES OF OUR NATIONS’ FEATHERED AMBASSADORS

by on Mar.30, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
A male doctor bird, Jamaica’s national bird, in Philip Henry Gosse’s book The Birds of Jamaica, 1849 (public domain) / Doctor birds (two males, one female), in John Gould’s tome A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Humming-birds, Vol. 2, 1861 (public domain)

Despite being a nation intimately associated with birdwatching and a love of all things ornithological in general, the United Kingdom, most surprisingly, is one of the very few nations on Earth that does not have an official national bird. True, several years ago a countrywide poll was held to decide which species should serve as our own representative, and revealed as its winner the robin Erithacus rubecula– a friendly, familiar species beloved of gardeners and Christmas card illustrators, and which has traditionally if unofficially occupied that very same role for untold years anyway. However, even this newsworthy poll failed to convince the powers-that-be to elect the robin formally as our nation’s feathered ambassador, and so, at least for now, the wait continues. Elsewhere around the world, conversely, is a vast array of national birds, chosen for many different reasons as their respective country’s much-loved avian symbol – from its links to its country’s beliefs or culture, or as an eyecatching example of its rich biodiversity, to the longstanding admiration that it has inspired among those people sharing its homeland, or even as a means of highlighting its modern-day rarity and need for conservation. So here, to demonstrate this eclectic variety, is a global twitching tour, highlighting some of the most distinctive national birds with fascinating facts explaining why they are so memorable.

 
European robin, painted by Frederick W Frohawk, 1907 (public domain)

Birds of prey have always been greatly admired as symbols of power, strength, intelligence, wisdom, and keen vision, so it is hardly surprising that they have also been popular choices as national birds. Perhaps the most famous example in this capacity is the bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, the national bird of the USA. One of the world’s several species of fish-eating eagle, and named after the adult bird’s characteristic white-plumed head (it is brown in juveniles), the bald eagle was officially adopted as the USA’s feathered representative on 20 June 1782, when the design of the Great Seal of the United States portraying a bald eagle grasping in its talons 13 arrows representing the 13 founding states plus an olive branch signifying peace was formally adopted by the Continental (Philadelphia) Congress, containing delegates from those states.

 
Bald eagle, hand-coloured engraving, 1840 (public domain)

Another country with a tradition of eagle imagery is Germany, and it too has an eagle as its generally-recognised national bird, but this time the golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos. Indeed, the magnificent plumage and stately poise of this species is so imposing that several other countries have also adopted it in this role, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Egypt, Mexico, and Scotland, although in Egypt and Scotland it is presently still in an unofficial capacity, rather like our robin. Moreover, the African fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, a close Old World relative of the bald eagle and sporting a very striking brown and white plumage, is so well-regarded on its native African continent that it is the official national bird of no fewer than four different nations – Namibia, South Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

 
Golden eagles (Wikipedia – public domain)

One of the most spectacular yet also one of the rarest of all eagles is the Philippine eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi. Originally dubbed the monkey-eating eagle as it is large and powerful enough to prey upon sizeable monkeys here, it was subsequently renamed the Philippine eagle and formally installed as its country’s national bird on 4 July 1995 by the then president Fidel V. Vamos. This was done in a bid to raise awareness regarding its critically endangered status, a result of longstanding habitat destruction, especially via widespread deforestation. Less than 1,000 individuals are currently thought to exist.

 
Philippine eagle, by Henrik Grönvold, 1910 (public domain)

Other powerful birds of prey declared as national birds include the harpy eagle Harpia harpyja in Panama, the white-tailed sea eagle or erne Haliaeetus albicilla (Poland), and the gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus (Iceland). Vultures may not seem the most photogenic or behaviourally refined of species to serve as national birds, yet they too clearly have their supporters, because the griffon vulture Gyps fulvus is the national bird of Serbia, and the mighty-pinioned Andean condor Vultur gryphus serves in this role for a quartet of major South American nations (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador). Smaller raptorial species are not overlooked either, with the peregrine Falco peregrinus representing Angola and the United Arab Emirates, the European kestrel F. tinnunculus Belgium, and the saker falcon F. cherrug Hungary and Mongolia.

 
Andean condor, 1800s engraving (public domain)

As for owls, back in classical times the little owl Athene noctua was the sacred bird of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, so in modern-day times it is the national bird of Greece. And the Aruba burrowing owl A. cunicularia arubensis represents the Caribbean island of Aruba. Perhaps the strangest of all birds of prey is the secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius, named after its straggly crest that has been fancifully likened to an untidy sheaf of quills that a secretary from bygone times might have placed behind one of his ears. This bizarre-looking species somewhat incongruously combines a hawk-like body with the lengthy legs of a stork, and is famed for its snake-killing abilities in its native Sudan where it is commemorated as that country’s national bird.

 
19th-Century painting of a secretary bird, from Dictionnaire Histoire Naturelle by Charles Orbigny (public domain)

Waterbirds are another popular choice for national birds. The mute swan Cygnus olorrepresents Denmark, and the whooper swan C. cygnus Finland, whereas more colourful feathered symbols include the American flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber for the Bahamas, the scarlet ibis Eudocimus ruber for Trinidad and Tobago, and the magnificent frigate bird Fregata magnificens (noted for the breeding male’s vivid scarlet, greatly-inflatable throat pouch) for not only the Pacific island nation of Kiribati but also the twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Its smaller but no less distinctive relative the great frigate bird F. minor does the honours for Nauru, and on account of their extraordinarily prehistoric appearance when seen high overhead in flight, frigate birds are regularly mistaken by unknowledgeable observers for living pterodactyls!

 
Adult male magnificent frigate bird, painting from The Birds of North America, 1903 (public domain)

Their impressive, imposing stature and noble mien no doubt explains why cranes and storks also include several national birds among their assemblage. Most celebrated of these is the blue crane Grus paradisea (aka the paradise or Stanley crane), representing South Africa. Its cultural links to this country include a longstanding tradition among the Xhosa people here, whereby the honour bestowed upon a man who had distinguished himself in battle was to be decorated with blue crane plumes placed in his hair by a chief during a special ceremony known as ukundzabela. Other African nations with a crane as their official symbol include Uganda (its national bird is the grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum) and Nigeria (the black crowned crane B. pavonina). The white stork Ciconia ciconia, a species beloved throughout Europe as the traditional bringer of babies according to fairytales and folklore, is the national bird in both Belarus and Lithuania, whereas the hammerhead or hamerkop Scopus umbretta, an odd stork-like but pelican-related species native to much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, is the national bird of Gambia, and is widely if erroneously claimed to induce lightning. And speaking of pelicans: the brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis represents the Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis.

 
Blue, paradise, or Stanley crane, from A Monograph of the Cranes, 1897, by Frans Ernst Blaauw (public domain)

Many species of tropical bird have dazzling, multicoloured plumage exhibiting truly extravagant displays of feathered flamboyance, so it is little wonder that some of the most beautiful examples have been adopted by their homelands as national birds. Count Raggi’s bird of paradise Paradisaea raggiana, for instance, in which the adult male boasts a fiery explosion of long scarlet plumes with which to tempt and entreat dowdy brown females to mate with him when he dances before them during the breeding season, is the national bird of Papua New Guinea, whose tropical rainforests are home to many of the world’s 40-odd bird of paradise species.

 
19th-Century painting of an adult male Count Raggi’s bird of paradise, by John Gould (public domain)

Another series of bird species with feathers of the fantastically fabulous kind constitutes the peafowl and pheasants. The blue peacock’s famous eye-spotted tail-train when unfurled and held vertically to entice what he hopes are suitably bedazzled peahens is said to owe its distinctive ocellated patterning to the Greek goddess Hera (or Juno in equivalent Roman retellings). Distraught when the messenger god Hermes slew her loyal hundred-eyed watchman Argus at the behest of Zeus, she placed Argus’s eyes in the train of the peacock, and adopted it thereafter as her sacred bird. No doubt, therefore, she would be pleased to know that this very familiar species, Pavo cristatus, is honoured as India’s national bird. Turning to pheasants, the green pheasant Phasianus versicolor claims comparable prestige in Asia as Japan’s national bird, as does the Himalayan monal Lophophorus impejanus for Nepal, the Siamese fireback Lophura diardi for Thailand, and the confusingly-named grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum for Myanmar (the last-mentioned species is so-called because although it is a pheasant, it has spotted plumage whose markings recall the ocelli in the peacock’s train).

 
Himalayan monal, from A Century of Birds From the Himalaya Mountains, 1831 (public domain)

Parrots were always going to be sought after as national birds by tropical countries fortunate enough to be home to these vividly-plumed perennial favourites among aviculturalists and ornithologists alike, and sure enough, several species have indeed gained that exalted status. The largest, and gaudiest, is undoubtedly the scarlet macaw Ara macao, an animate tricolor of red, blue, and gold, representing Honduras but native to much of northern South America too. Several Caribbean island nations have their very own endemic amazon parrot species – large, brightly-coloured, and found nowhere else – so for reasons of national pride in their avifauna and also to highlight that these species are endangered in many cases, they have duly declared them as their national birds, as with the St Lucia parrot Amazona versicolor for St Lucia, the St Vincent parrot A. guildingii for St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the imperial parrot A. imperialis for Dominica. Nor should we forget the near-threatened Grand Cayman parrot A. leucocephala, the national bird of the Cayman Islands but also found in Cuba and the Bahamas.

 
St Lucia parrot, painted by Joseph Smit, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1875 (public domain)

The pink-plumaged hoopoe Upupa epops with huge black-and-white wings that bestow upon it the extraordinary guise of a giant butterfly when seen in flight is Israel’s national bird, and is intimately linked with biblical lore and legends. According to one such story, hoopoes once bore crests of solid gold, but they were so persecuted by hunters seeking their precious head plumes that they beseeched King Solomon to save them. So in response to their plea, he very kindly transformed their crests into normal feathers, which of course were of no interest to the hunters, and which they have thus borne ever since.

 
A family of hoopoes, painted by John Gould, 1837 (public domain)

Hoopoes are closely related to kingfishers, rollers, hornbills, and motmots, many of which are brilliantly-plumaged and as a consequence include several national birds among their number, such as the lilac-breasted roller Coracias caudatus for Botswana (and also unofficially for Kenya), the rhinoceros hornbill Buceros rhinoceros for Malaysia, the turquoise-browed motmot Eumomota superciliosa for El Salvador and Nicaragua, and the grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala for Cape Verde. Superficially similar to the Old World hornbills due to their comparably top-heavy beaks, but less closely related to them zoologically speaking, are the New World toucans, with the keel-billed toucan Rhamphastos sulfuratus serving Belize as its national bird.

 
Rhinoceros hornbills, in Daniel Giraud Elliot’s A Monograph of the Bucerotidæ, or Family of the Hornbills, 1882 (public domain)

However, the epitome of tropical birds as far as breathtakingly gorgeous plumage is concerned must surely be the trogons. Again distantly related to kingfishers, rollers, and hoopoes, and native to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, these typically thrush-sized birds resemble living jewels when spot-lit by shafts of bright sunlight filtering through the leafy canopy in their jungle domain. Inevitably, therefore, several of them have been adopted as national birds, such as the Hispaniolan trogon Priotelus roseigaster in Haiti, the Cuban trogon P. temnurus in Cuba itself, and the bar-tailed trogon Apaloderma vittatumin Malawi. However, the trogon par excellence – indeed, a leading contender for the world’s most beautiful species of bird – is the aptly-named resplendent quetzal Pharomachrus mocinno of Guatemala, whose history, both natural and national, makes fascinating reading.

 
Bar-tailed trogon, by John G. Keulemans, 1892 (public domain)

According to the ancient traditions of the Aztec nation, which formerly inhabited what is today Mexico (and which in turn formerly included present-day Guatemala within its borders), one of their principal deities, the sky god Quetzalcoatl, would sometimes appear to them in the form of a great airborne feathered serpent with bright emerald-coloured plumes. Today, it is believed that this curious legend arose from real-life observations by the Aztecs of the resplendent quetzal, because during the breeding season the green-plumaged male, which is normally no more than 1 ft long, grows a pair of exceptionally lengthy, elongate tail plumes, also green, but each measuring up to 3 ft long – and when it flies, these two streamer-like feathers extend horizontally behind it and undulate, so that it bears more than a passing resemblance to an extraordinary plumed snake in flight. Such a famous bird of legend has made an immense cultural impact upon Guatemala, one of several Central American countries where this spectacular bird exists (as well as in present-day Mexico) – so much so, in fact, that not only is it Guatemala’s national bird but it has given its name to this country’s currency too (100 centavos = 1 quetzal since the year 1925), as well as appearing upon both its national flag and its official coat of arms, and also upon its bank notes and many of its postage stamps.

 
Late 1800s chromolithograph portraying a pair of quetzals (public domain)

Also deserving of mention here is a veritable ‘quetzal in miniature’ that is itself a national bird – the doctor bird Trochilus polytmus, hailing from Jamaica. Indigenous to that island nation, this iridescent green-plumaged hummingbird is characterised by the male’s pair of extremely long ribbon-like tail feathers, which make a humming sound as it flies. There is speculation that because these feathers resemble the long silk tail-coats worn by doctors in olden days, this is why the species is called the doctor bird.

 
Delightful short video of two male doctor birds boldly perching on visitors’ fingers as they drink sugar water from bottles (© Conley Salmon/YouTube – inserted here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Of course, not all national birds are chosen for their dramatic appearance or links to mythology. Quite a few have been specifically selected for their basic ‘everyman’ appeal and popularity, familiar to everyone and loved by all. Italy has as its national bird the Italian sparrow, a cheeky little upstart that is abundant and instantly recognisable everywhere here. Long the subject of controversy as to its precise taxonomic status because it appears intermediate in form between the Spanish sparrow Passer hispaniolensis and the house sparrow P. domesticus, itwas formerly thought to be a hybrid of these two. Nowadays, however, it is often deemed to be a separate, valid species in its own right, albeit one that may indeed have originated via hybridisation between the two afore-mentioned species, and has been dubbed P. italiae, because this is where it predominantly occurs.

 
A pair of Italian sparrows, by John Gould, from The Birds of Europe, 1837 (public domain)

Other well known but visually modest avian groups with national birds among their membership are the wagtails (the white wagtail Motacilla alba being Latvia’s national bird), the crows (Bhutan’s is the common raven Corvus corax), swallows (the European or barn swallow Hirundo rustica represents both Austria and Estonia), thrushes (the common blackbird Turdus merula for Sweden, the redwing T. iliacus for Turkey), doves (mourning dove Zenaida macroura for the British Virgin Islands, zenaida dove Z. aurita for Anguilla, Grenada dove Leptotila wellsi for Grenada), and finches (Sinai rosefinch Carpodacus synoicusfor Jordan).

 
Adult male Sinai rosefinch, painted by Nicolas Huet, 1838 (public domain)

But perhaps the last word on national birds should be reserved for the most poignant example – namely, the species that represents the Mascarene nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. For alone of all such birds, it is no longer in existence, having been slaughtered for its meat more than three centuries ago, only for it afterwards to become an icon in its former island homeland. Today, its instantly recognisable form can be seen everywhere in Mauritius – decorating picture postcards, appearing in advertisements, reproduced as toys of every conceivable composition, and serving as the number one choice for countless visually-inspired souvenirs. And the name of this extinct, exterminated superstar? What else could it be? Raphus cucullatus – the dodo.

 
Dodo, 17th-Century Dutch illustration, colour-corrected (public domain)

 

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CENTROPSAR AND SCLATER – THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF A NON-EXISTENT BIRD

by on Mar.29, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
A hand-coloured lithograph from the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London for 3 March 1874 by Joseph Smit, depicting the likely appearance in life of Centropsar mirus – if it had ever existed, that is… (public domain)

During the Victorian era in Britain, Dr Philip Lutley Sclater FRS (1829-1913) was one of the great and the good within the zoological community, having described countless new species (especially birds), and serving for no fewer than 42 years (1860-1902) as Secretary of the pre-eminent Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Yet not even the great and the good are immune from error or misjudgment on occasion, and Sclater was no exception to this merciless rule – as a pretty little bird from Mexico would emphatically demonstrate in 1874.

That was the year when Sclater officially described and named a new species (and genus) of very distinctive passerine (perching bird) on pp. 175-176 in the 3 March issue of the ZSL’s Proceedings. He dubbed it Centropsar mirus, and, as was the custom back in those days, listed its diagnostic morphological characteristics in Latin. His account was accompanied by a b/w sketch of the bird’s head, wing, and foot (see below), plus the beautiful full-colour plate that opens this present ShukerNature blog article, which had been produced by renowned Dutch zoological artist Joseph Smit and depicted the likely appearance in life of this eye-catching avian novelty.

 
The b/w sketch of the head, wing, and foot of C. mirus that was included within Sclater’s formal scientific description and naming of this ostensibly new species (public domain)

It had been brought to Sclater’s attention by much-travelled English ornithologist and zoological specimen collector Edward Bartlett, who had obtained a large collection of bird skins whose species had variously originated from western Mexico and Australia. Based upon the structure of its beak (slender, elongated, tapering to a point) and the specific nature of its short, rounded wings’ remiges or flight feathers (the third, fourth, and fifth of its primaries being the longest), Sclater readily recognized that the skin designated by him as the type (and only known) specimen of C. mirus was from an icterid.

Icterids constitute a morphologically diverse taxonomic family of birds wholly endemic to the New World, and include such familiar American species as the bobolink, meadowlarks, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, Baltimore and other orioles, troupial, and oropendolas (despite their common names, these meadowlarks, blackbirds, and orioles are unrelated to their respective Old World namesakes). Consequently, this meant that the C. mirus specimen must have originated in western Mexico, because there are no icterids of any kind in Australia.

 
Dr Philip Lutley Sclater (public domain)

Yet although this intriguing bird appeared to be an icterid, when its above-described icterid features were added to its small, weak, slender feet, straight elongated hind claw on each foot, and stiffened retrices (tail feathers) with attrite tips, these characteristics collectively differentiated it from all known icterid genera. This is why Sclater created a brand-new one in order to accommodate it. It is also why he chose mirus – ‘wonder’ – as its species name, to signify how surprised he had been by this bemusing little bird’s unheralded combination of features. So far, so good – until, that is, the newly-described Centropsar mirus came by virtue of Sclater’s PZSL account to the attention of a certain Dr Jean Cabanis (1816-1906), who was arguably Germany’s foremost ornithological expert at that time.

In 1853, Cabanis had personally founded one of the scientific world’s most prestigious periodicals devoted to birds, the Journal für Ornithologie, which he also edited for the next 41 years. Consequently, in 1874, published within Vol. 22, pp. 457-458, of his journal as a succinct but very revealing response to Sclater’s earlier pronouncement in the PZSL, Cabanis presented his own opinion regarding Centropsar. Although couched in studiously polite terms, his cloaked comments made uncomfortable reading, especially for Sclater.

 
Dr Jean Cabanis (public domain)

Translating from the German, Cabanis’s non-technical remarks were a triumph of silky suspicion:

Dr. Sclater has chosen the species name mirusvery aptly; that the bird which arouses the most lively interest is in fact “wonderful” and difficult to reconcile with our concepts of “natural” systematics. If it were not brought to science by such an eminently experienced ornithologist as Dr Sclater, one would be entitled to regard it as an artefact. From the description and the illustrations, however, no final judgment could be made, since an error could possibly also have been made.

Ouch!

Cabanis then considered the technical minutiae of its morphology, which evidently and understandably perplexed him, because Centropsar uniquely embodied characteristics drawn from two entirely separate taxonomic groups of bird. Clearly something was drastically amiss here, and Cabanis knew it. Yet as he had not examined this bird personally, he felt unable to say more, but his doubts had been clearly expressed for all to see. He ended his comments with a final, singularly prophetic one: “Surely the wonderful Centropsar will get its natural solution”.

 
A pair of adult Audubon’s orioles – belonging to the New World icterid family, and therefore unrelated to the Old World orioles (public domain)

It will come as no surprise to learn that once Sclater had read Cabanis’s ill-concealed challenge to his identification of the unique, taxonomically impossible Centropsarspecimen, he lost no time in re-examining it, but now in much closer detail, only to uncover the awful if inevitable truth. To his credit, however, Sclater put on a brave face and confessed all at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London shortly afterwards, with his mea culpa duly documented in the 1 June 1874 issue of the PZSL:

Mr. Sclater laid on the table the typical [i.e. type] specimen of his Centropsar mirus (P.Z.S. 1874, p. 176, pl. xxvi.), and made the following remarks:-

“My suspicions having been awakened as to this specimen by information received from Mr. E. Bartlett and by the criticisms of Dr. Cabanis (‘Journ. für Orn.’ vol. xxii, 1874, p. 458 [although Cabanis’s comments actually began on p. 457]), I have made a thorough reexamination of it.

“The result arrived at is that the supposed novelty is undoubtedly composed of parts of three other birds. The head, wings, and body are those of a female or immature Icterus, possibly I. auduboni [Audubon’s oriole, nowadays reclassified as a subspecies of the black-headed oriole I. graduacauda], though I have no specimen quite agreeing with it. To this have been added the worn tail of an Agelaeus gubernator [nowadays reclassified as Agelaius phoeniceus gubernator] or A. phoeniceus [the red-winged blackbird], and the legs of an Otocorys [nowadays renamed Eremophila, consisting of two species of Old World horned lark].

Centropsar mirus may therefore be removed from the ornithological category. Mr. E. Bartlett tells me that there were other fictitious specimens in the same collection.”

“Now he tells me!” may well have been the unspoken thought running through Sclater’s mind when he uttered that last confessional comment at the ZSL meeting!

 
A red-winged blackbird, belonging to the New World icterid family, and therefore unrelated to the Old World blackbirds (public domain)

So, the wonderful Centropsar had been unmasked not as a wonder at all, but merely as a heterogeneous humbug. It was a feathered Frankensteinian creation subtly stitched together with body parts from two different species of New World icterid plus an alaudid or true lark, i.e. collectively representing two entirely separate taxonomic families!

Yet to be fair, this composite skin must have been prepared with no small amount of skill in order for it to have fooled, at least on first sight, even as immensely experienced an ornithologist as Sclater, so we shouldn’t be too hard upon him. He wasn’t the first to have been tricked by a fine-feathered fraud, and he certainly won’t be the last!

 
Painted in 1891 by another acclaimed Dutch bird artist John G. Keulemans, and native to much of the northern hemisphere, this is a horned (shore) lark – a species of alaudid or true lark, and therefore unrelated to the icterids (public domain)

 

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RAT KINGS – A TANGLED TALE OF TANGLED TAILS

by on Mar.27, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
Vintage sepia photograph of a black rat, the species almost uniquely responsible for the surprising number of perplexing, tangle-tailed rat kings on record (public domain)

Among the most unusual but prized museum specimens are preserved aggregations of black rats Rattus rattus inextricably linked to one another by their tails – which are so thoroughly entangled that the rats have been unable to disentangle themselves and escape. A grotesque, tail-entwined aggregation of this type is termed a rat king or ‘roi de rats’. This is possibly a corruption of the French ‘rouet de rats’ – ‘rat wheel’ – as the tails when straightened out radiate outwards from the central uniting knot like the spokes of a wheel radiating out from the wheel’s central hub. Yet despite centuries of reports and occasional captures, the mystery of how their tails become so intertwined remains unsolved.

 

MORE THAN FOUR CENTURIES OF RAT KINGS

The earliest currently-documented record of a rat king dates from 1564, more than four centuries ago. It takes the form of a woodcut illustrating a poem in the monumental emblem book authored by renowned Hungarian scholar-historian Johannes Sambucus, entitled Emblemata cum aliquot nummis antiqui operis, Ioannis Sambuci Tirnaviensis Pannonii. The poem tells of a rodent-plagued man whose servant discovers seven rats with their tails inextricably tangled together, and this rat king (though not referred to by that term in the poem) is depicted as alive and in some detail within the engraving. The accuracy of the depiction shows that rat kings were known as far back as the 1500s, and suggests that it was based upon a specific example, though no written documentation of this example apparently exists.

 
The 1564 woodcut illustrating a living rat king composed of 7 specimens (public domain)

Since then, more than 60 specimens have been recorded, spanning the time period 1612-2005, though at least 18 of them are of dubious authenticity (some rat kings have been fraudulently created as unusual – and expensive! – souvenirs for the unwary traveller or curio collector). Furthermore, despite being associated with superstitions that their discovery is a portent of the plague and other evils, several rat kings are greatly-prized exhibits in various museums.

 
Rat king, diagrammatic representation (© Di (they-them)/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence)

Intriguingly, most reported rat kings are of German origin, though why this should be is unclear (unless German writers took greater pains to chronicle any such anomalous finds in their own country than writers of other nationalities have done regarding rat kings found in theirs?). The single most comprehensive source of rat king information is Martin Hart’s book Rats, which devotes an entire and very extensive chapter to the subject (once again, moreover, Hart is German, and his book was originally published in German, with an English translation appearing in 1982).

 
Rat king, early 1700s engraving (public domain)

Space considerations obviously prevent me from covering within this present ShukerNature blog article every single rat king on record, but a representative selection, including the most dramatic and unusual cases, appear in the following review.

 

A RAT KING REVIEW

The first on the total list of specimens on record is a nine-rat example that was discovered on 20 March 1612 behind a partition in a loft in Danzig (now Gdansk), Poland, by a local professor. All of the rats were adult, appeared well-fed, and were alive when found. Its details were included in a letter from the professor to a colleague in Basle, Switzerland. This was followed 71 years later by the finding of a six-rat king in Strasbourg on 4 July 1683; these rats were all juveniles.

 
Strasbourg rat king from 1683 (public domain)

A very remarkable example was the 18-rat king discovered on 12 or 13 July 1748 by miller Johann Heinrich Jäger at Grossballhausen (also spelt ‘Gross Ballheiser’) in Germany, when it fell from between two stones underneath his mill’s cogwheels. Strangely, a famous, beautifully-executed copper engraving of this very noteworthy rat king depicts it with only nine rats present (unless, perhaps, the other nine are hidden beneath the nine portrayed?).

 
Copper engraving depicting a 9-rat version of the 18-rat Gross Ballheiser rat king from July 1748 (public domain)

Also controversial in terms of its visual portrayal is the rat king discovered in Erfurt, Germany, in 1772. For whereas in his book Hart lists it as a 12-rat king, a detailed engraving of this example dating back to the early 1800s portrays it as containing only ten rats – but also with a very stylised, unnatural-looking knot. Consequently, this picture may have been intended merely as a general rat king representation, rather than as a specific depiction of the Erfurt example.

 
Illustration depicting a 10-rat version of the 12-rat Erfurt rat king from 1772 (public domain)

On 11/12 January 1774, an amazing 16-rat king was found in a windmill at Lindenau, Germany, with all of its rats still alive. After they had been killed, the king was subsequently displayed in Leipzig, and it proved to be a very popular attraction.

 
Illustration of the Lindenau rat king from January 1774 (public domain)

Even more extraordinary was the discovery made during December 1822 at the village of Döllstadt in eastern Germany, when some threshers on a farm found two separate rat kings within a hollow beam in a barn roof attic. In both of these kings, the rats were all adult, alive, and apparently healthy. One of the kings consisted of 28 rats, the other consisted of 14 rats. The threshers killed all of them with their threshing flails and then, after great difficulty, the rats in each king were separated. Of particular interest, as originally noted by a forester who witnessed the rats’ separation, is that the tail of each freed rat clearly bore the impression of the tails of the other rats in its king, thus demonstrating how tightly their tails had been entwined.

 
The veritable rat emperor discovered at Buchheim, Germany, in May 1828, now preserved in the Mauritanium at Altenburg, Germany (© Altenburg Mauritanium/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

The most spectacular, monstrous rat king on record, however, was discovered inside the chimney of a miller named Steinbruck at Buchheim, Germany, in May 1828. Incredibly, it contained no less than 32 rats, although they were probably not adults, which were hairless, desiccated, and inescapably bound to one another by their Gordian-knotted tails. This exceptional rat king – indeed, a veritable rat emperor! – is today a much-valued specimen in the Mauritianum, a natural history museum in Altenburg, Germany.

 
Close-up of the rat king found in 1894 (1895 in some accounts) at Dellfeld, Germany, housed in Musée zoologique de la ville de Strasbourg, France (© Edelseider/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Another preserved rat king can be found in Strasbourg Museum. This is a ten-rat example, whose rats were all juveniles and discovered in a frozen condition under a bale of hay during April 1894 in Dellfeld, Germany. Three of the rats had bite marks, indicating that they may have been bitten by others in the king, or had been attacked in their defenceless state by free rats.

 
Rat king from Ruderhausen, found in 1907 (© Markoz/Wikipedia – copyrighted free use)

Yet another, more recent preserved example is the rat king discovered in 1907 at Ruderhausen, near Germany’s Harz Mountains. It resides today in the collections of Göttingen’s Zoological Institute. Indeed, this institute may once have possessed a second rat king too, obtained in the very same year, because a number of sources of rat king information list a specimen formerly held at this establishment that was reputedly found in January 1907 at the village of Capelle, near Hamm, Westphalia, in Germany, and brought to scientific attention by the local pastor, called Wigger. If these sources are correct, however, it must have since been lost, as no such specimen exists today.

 
Exquisite depiction of the New Zealand rat king (© Andy Paciorek)

A rat king consisting of eight juveniles has been on public display for several decades in a jar of preserving fluid at New Zealand’s Otago Museum. Sometime during the 1930s, it fell down onto the ground, alive, from the rafters of the company shed of Keith Ramsey Ltd on Birch Street, Otago – followed swiftly by a parent rat that defended them vigorously. The rats’ tails were bound together not only by one another but also by horse hair, which is used as nesting material by rats.

 
Rat king found at Vendée, France, in 1986, now preserved at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Nantes, France (© Selbymay/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

In February 1963, a seven-rat king was found by farmer P. van Nijnatten partly concealed under a pile of bean sticks in his barn at Rucphen, in North Brabant, Holland. In the hope of uncovering its secret, after its rats (all adults) had been killed this king was x-rayed, revealing some tail fractures and signs of a callus formation – all indicating that the knot of tails had occurred quite some time ago.

 
Rat king from Châteaudun, France, found in November 1889; now housed at Châteaudun Museum (© Selbymay-Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

More recent still is the rat king found by some gamebird rearers on 10 April 1986 in the municipality of Mache near Aizenay Vendée, France, and now preserved in alcohol at the natural history museum at Nantes. This king was originally composed of 12 rats, but three subsequently became detached, and it is the resulting 9-rat version that is preserved. The only other preserved French rat king is one that was discovered in November 1889 at Châteaudun and duly presented to its museum where it is still retained today; photographs of it show that it contains six rats, but I have read reports testifying that there were seven originally.

 
Rat king from Saru, Estonia, found in 2005, now housed at the University of Tartu’s Natural History Museum (© Ivo Kruusamägi/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Most recent of all, however, is an Estonian rat king, consisting of 16 rats, nine or so of which were still alive when the king was discovered alive by farmer Rein Kõiv on 16 January 2005, squeaking loudly upon the sandy floor of his shed in the village of Saru. Kõiv killed them all, and on 10 March 2005 the king was taken to the Natural History (Zoological) Museum at the University of Tartu, where it was preserved in alcohol and is now on display. Prior to this, however, two of the rats had been eaten by a predator and a third had been thrown away by Kõiv himself. Two other Estonian rat kings have been reported, both during the 20th Century, but neither of them was preserved.

 

A KNOTTY PROBLEM

A number of explanations for the formation of rat kings have been offered. One of the most popular is that if rats huddle together for warmth in damp or freezing surroundings, with their tails pressed against one another, their tails become sticky and soon adhere to or become frozen against one another, becoming ever more entangled and fixed as the rats thereafter strive to pull free. However, if this were indeed the correct explanation, being such a frequent, commonplace scenario it would surely engender far more examples of rat kings than have been documented so far?

 
Rat king from Limburg, Netherlands, found in unknown circumstances during 1955, now housed at the Natural History Museum of Maastricht, Netherlands (Vassil – public domain)

Another notion is that a rat king is actually a single litter whose members’ tails became entangled while the rats were still in their mother’s uterus. If this were true, however, it seems highly unlikely that they would survive to adulthood, as they would be unable to obtain much food, yoked together in this manner. Yet most rat kings on record feature adult specimens, and ones that are often healthy when found.

 
A 10-specimen rat king at the Strasbourg Museum (public domain)

Equally intriguing is why all but three of these murine kings feature black rats Rattus rattus. There is none involving the much more common brown rat R. norvegicus, but this may be due to the fact that the brown rat’s tail is shorter, thicker, and less flexible than that of the black rat. Indeed, the only rat exception to the black rat rule is an Indonesian king consisting of ten young Asian field rats R. brevicaudatus, discovered on 23 March 1918 in Buitenzorg (aka Bogor), Java. In addition, a single king composed of house mice Mus musculus has been recorded (documented in a Russian book dealing with mice and rats). So too has one field mouse king, consisting of several juvenile long-tailed field mice Apodemus sylvaticus, found at Holstein, Germany, in April 1929.

 

SQUIRREL KINGS

However, not all rodent kings involve rats or mice. At least 17 naturally-occurring squirrel kings have also been recorded (certain cruel, vile cases of squirrels having been forcibly tied together via their tails by human sadists are also known, tragically). Yet the concept of bushy-tailed squirrels becoming entwined together in this way seems even more incongruous than that of rats.

A seven-squirrel king was discovered in a South Carolina zoo on 31 December 1951. Tragically, however, two of its members were dead, a third was dying, and its four other members could only be separated by cutting off their tails above the knot. Curiously, two other squirrel kings have been found here over the years, and all during cold snowy weather, implying that the squirrels had huddled together for warmth.

 
Video of the successful rescue and separation of five juvenile squirrels constituting a living squirrel king, their tails having become stuck together via tree sap (© Guillaume Dutilh/YouTube)

A king containing six young squirrels was spotted by schoolgirl Crystal Cresseveur in a hedge outside her home in Easton, Pennsylvania, on 24 September 1989. Although they were eventually rescued, their tails could not be disentangled. A five-squirrel king (two members of which were albinos) fell out of a tree by Reisterstown Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, on 18 September 1991, but these were successfully separated as their tails were linked to one another only indirectly, with sticky tree sap, tangled hair, and nest debris. In Europe, at least two kings of red squirrels Sciurus vulgarishave been recorded – one in August 1921, the other on 20 October 1951 (which was later preserved).

In July 1997, what looked at first like a huge hairy spider was spotted under a tree in Brantford, in Ontario, Canada, but a closer look revealed that it was actually a squirrel king, composed of five young squirrels whose tails were braided together right up to their bases. They were taken to a vet, Cathy Séguin, who freed them, but she feared that the loss of circulation that their tails had suffered would result in part of each tail dying.

 

CAT KINGS

Analogous to rat kings, mouse kings, and squirrel kings is the even more obscure phenomenon of cat kings. Here, however, it is the umbilical cords of kittens in newborn litters that are tangled and intertwined, not their tails. Such curiosities are extremely rare, but at least a dozen have been documented in the scientific literature.

 
The Rennes cat king from 1937 (public domain)

Perhaps the best known is the cat king recorded in October 1937 at Rennes, in Brittany, northwestern France. It consisted of a litter of eight small kittens, seven of which (males and females) were held closely together via their entangled umbilical cords. Indeed, the entanglement was so complex that even the left hind legs of two of the kittens had become bound up to one another. The kittens in this cat king were discovered dead, but it is not known whether their cords’ complicated intertwining had occurred before the litter’s birth or afterwards.

 
Engraving of the cat king reported in 1841 (public domain)

A cat king recorded in 1841 consisted of five unborn kittens whose entwined umbilical cords were still fixed to their mother’s placenta. This shows that such entanglement can indeed occur while the kittens are still in the womb. The earliest cat king known to me is a five-kitten specimen from 1683, found in Strasbourg, France.

 
Report of the Strasbourg cat king from 1683 – click to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)

Today, the mystery of how rat kings are formed remains exactly that – an unresolved anomaly whose reality has spanned centuries but whose secret still awaits disclosure. Some sceptics have cynically suggested that the phenomenon is simply a hoax, that the knotting together of the tails of rats in a king is clearly the result of deliberate human activity.

The Dellfeld rat king, on display at the Musée zoologique de la ville de Strasbourg, France (© Edelseider/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Bearing in mind, however, that most of the rat kings on record were discovered when their rats were very much alive and often still in good health (albeit hungry and frightened), and that the tail knots were exceedingly complex, all that I can say in response to these sceptics is that they have certainly never attempted to tie the tails together of several (not to mention 18 or 32!) live, healthy rats. If they were ever brave (or foolish) enough to try to do so, their cynicism would very swiftly vanish – along, quite possibly, with several of their fingers!

 
Report of the Strasbourg rat king from 1683 – click to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)

 

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book A Manifestation of Monsters.


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IS THIS MYSTERIOUS PAINTING A PORTRAIT OF THE NUNDA?

by on Mar.23, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Close-up of an extremely distinctive big cat that looks very like native descriptions of a Tanzanian mystery felid known as the nunda or mngwa, as depicted in a mysterious painting recently encountered and purchased by longstanding Facebook friend Maxine Pearson (© Maxine Pearson)

In a previous ShukerNature blog article (click hereto access it), I documented one of the most ferocious mystery beasts ever recorded – an East African mystery big cat (morphologically but not necessarily taxonomically) that was reported from coastal Tanzania during the first half of the 20th Century, and known variously as the nunda or mngwa. It was blamed for the bloodthirsty slaughter of several locals during two separate outbreaks of killings, but was never captured. A few fur samples were obtained, but tragically they were not retained for formal scientific examination. According to eyewitness descriptions, however, this rapacious cryptid was described as being a cat the size of a donkey, and leaving behind leopard-like footprints the size of a lion’s, but readily delineated from both leopards and lions by virtue of its most unusual pelage. This was said to be grey in colour and brindled in pattern, i.e. marked with streaks and possibly some spotting too, as brindled animals often exhibit spots among the streaks and stripes.

No known species of cat fits this description in toto. The nearest is the grey, sometimes spotted morph of the African golden cat Caracal (=Profelis) aurata, but at only twice the size of a typical domestic cat, this species is far smaller than the nunda, and surely therefore could not inflict the terrible wounds or attack humans with such overwhelming ferocity as described for the nunda. However, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans speculated that perhaps the nunda constituted a hitherto-undiscovered giant version of this species, which would be a truly belligerent beast to encounter.

 
My three books on mystery cats (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Tellingly, moreover, as I pointed out in my mystery cat books, locals have claimed that despite its huge size, the nunda does not roar like a Panthera big cat (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar), but actually purrs, like what are collectively known taxonomically as the small cats, and which include the African golden cat among their number. In addition, the African golden cat is so notoriously elusive that it has actually been dubbed by mammalogists as Africa’s least known felid (click herefor more details), so of all cats native to this continent, it may well possess the greatest potential for unveiling unexpected, unsuspected attributes.

Over the years, a number of artists have sought to depict Tanzania’s monstrous mystery cat, of which the following example is probably the best known:

 
Cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen’s vivid representation of an attacking nunda (© William M. Rebsamen)

Very recently, moreover, what may be a hitherto-undocumented and truly spectacular painting of a nunda was discovered in the most unexpected of circumstances. Now, by kind permission of its discoverer (and purchaser), longstanding Facebook friend Maxine Pearson, here for your cryptozoological consideration via this ShukerNature world-exclusive is that truly remarkable and extremely beautiful painting, together with the sparse details currently available regarding it. Consequently, Maxine and I very much hope, kind readers, that you will be able to assist us in uncovering further information relating to it.

I first learned of this painting’s existence on Sunday 21 March 2021, when I received a short message on Facebook from Maxine, enclosing the close-up of the cat in the painting that opens this present ShukerNature article, plus a close-up of the artist’s signature, and the following information:

Jon Downes [of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, based in Devon, UK] said he thinks this may be a mngwa. I just got it from some charity auction. It’s in oils. The painter’s name [is] below although I don’t know him. Any thoughts?

When I looked at the close-up photograph of the cat, I was certainly very intrigued, and could readily see why Jon thought that it might be a mngwa (aka nunda – I prefer the latter name, as it’s easier to say!), and I replied to Maxine stating this. I asked if she could provide me with any additional details regarding the painting and any further photographs of it, which she very kindly did. I’m incorporating the most significant of those photos (which she snapped using her Samsung mobile phone) throughout this article, and here are the additional details:

Maxine lives in London, but the auction at which she won this painting was held next to the garrison at Eastbeach, Shoeburyness, in southeast Essex, England, by a Southend-based animal charity named Charlie Boys Angels (see details concerning it given at the end of this ShukerNature article), of which she is a member. Charlie Boys Angels helps homeless people with dogs, and as one of its means of raising funds for this very deserving cause it holds an auction every month. After winning the painting with a bid for £15, Maxine received it from Charlie Boys Angels about a week ago, and was quite surprised to discover how large it was, measuring approximately 4 ft across by just under 3 ft tall. The identity of the person who donated this painting to the auction is currently unknown, but Maxine has promised to ask the charity if they know, so I may be able to add this detail here at a later date.

 
Close-up of the artist’s signature, visible at the bottom right-hand corner of the painting – click photo to enlarge it for viewing purposes (© Maxine Pearson)

Also currently unknown is the identity of the artist who painted it. As seen in the above close-up photograph of the artist’s signature, his/her surname may be ‘Peters’, and the “’05” inscription next to it indicates that it was painted in 2005. However, Maxine is not totally certain that Peters is indeed what the signature reads as, and even if it is, Peters is a very common name, meaning that without additional information it would be exceedingly difficult to track the artist down. I have tried both a Google Image search and a Tineye Reverse Image search in the hope of discovering this painting online, but without success.

Interestingly, as seen here, when the painting is photographed in its entirety the colouration of the cat varies depending upon the painting’s location. When Maxine photographed it by a window, the light from the window shining upon it rendered the cat very dark, so that it almost resembled a black panther (i.e. melanistic leopard), with its markings not particularly distinct. When the painting was placed on the floor, however, away from the direct light shining through the window, the cat was much lighter, with grey fur and very distinctive markings, and Maxine informed me that this latter appearance is the painting’s normal one.

 
Maxine’s painting when photographed by a window (© Maxine Pearson)

 
Maxine’s painting when photographed on the floor (© Maxine Pearson)

So what could Maxine’s mystifying cat be? Its build and face are those of a big cat, by which I mean a species belonging to the genus Panthera, and most closely resemble a leopard’s or jaguar’s. Its coat colouration and pattern, conversely, are fundamentally different from those of a leopard or jaguar. Instead of sporting the leopard and jaguar pelage’s typical golden background colouration, Maxine’s cat is uniformly grey. And instead of displaying the leopard’s familiar rosette markings (also exhibited by the jaguar, but which additionally sports a central spot within each rosette that is lacking in the leopard’s coat pattern), the pelage of Maxine’s cat consists of a heavy mottling of single polka dots, not arranged into rosettes, but which in places merge together to yield streaks and short stripes, especially on the limbs and dorsal region.

Close-up of the painted cat’s limbs, revealing merged spots (© Maxine Pearson)

I noted earlier here that the only known African cat that possesses a pelage similar to that of Maxine’s mystery cat is the spotted grey morph of the African golden cat – a polymorphic species that exists in a range of different coat colours and patterns, including unspotted red, gold, grey, and black, plus spotted red, gold, and grey. Although most common and widely distributed in West Africa, it is now known to exist in Central and East Africa too.

For morphological comparison purposes, here are two African golden cat skins, the left-hand one representing its spotted grey morph, the right-hand one its spotted golden morph.

 
The skin of a spotted grey specimen of African golden cat (left) and the skin of a spotted golden specimen of African golden cat (right) (public domain)

And here is a close-up of the fur patterning of Maxine’s mystery cat as depicted in the painting:

Close-up of the depicted mystery cat’s fur patterning (© Maxine Pearson)

As you can see, there is certainly a resemblance.

To see what a spotted grey specimen of the African golden cat looks like in life, click hereto view a photograph of one such animal that was snapped using a trail cam during a study of this elusive species’ ecology and conservation by Laila Bahaa-el-din as part of her 2015 PhD in the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. And click hereto download the entire paper containing this photo. You will see straight away, however, that whereas their coat colour and patterning are similar, the golden cat’s head is very different in both shape and markings to that of Maxine’s cat, which, as already noted here, is leopardine or jaguarine.

 
Close-up of the leopard-like or jaguar-like face of the mottled mystery cat depicted in Maxine’s enigmatic painting (© Maxine Pearson)

Equally, it is its unique combination of leopard/jaguar-like head and grey mottled pelage that distinguishes this portrayed cat from any felid on record from anywhere outside Africa too.

So how do we explain this painting? Is it an attempt by someone with cryptozoological knowledge to depict the likely appearance in life of the nunda? Or might it portray some exceedingly rare, freak version of the leopard or jaguar, both of which are well known for the great variation of their coat colour and patterning? Yet I have never seen an example of either in which the rosettes have broken up into single or merged spots (although I have seen in both species the opposite extreme, where the rosettes have merged to yield an extraordinarily beautiful, striking pelage adorned with stripes and swirls greatly resembling that of the cheetah’s rare king cheetah variant). Another option is that it constitutes some exotic big cat hybrid, of which a wide range have been bred in captivity. I know of a female jaglion (jaguar x lioness hybrid) named Jahzara, born at Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada, on 9 April 2006, whose pure-bred jaguar father Diablo was melanistic and she has inherited his dark coat, but her markings are still rosettes, not polka dots (click here for full details). Or is it simply a portrayal of a fantasy felid, not based upon any real specimen but originating entirely from the artist’s own imagination? At this stage, we simply do not know, but it is certainly most intriguing that the cat that it depicts should so closely recall a documented mystery cat from the same continent.

If anyone reading this ShukerNature article has any knowledge concerning this painting’s origin and/or artist, or any thoughts that they would like to offer regarding the possible identity of the cat depicted in it, please post them below this article – Maxine and I would be very interested to read them!

My sincere thanks indeed to Maxine Pearson for so very kindly sharing her wonderful discovery and photographs of it with me, and for permitting me to document it here.

 
A close-up of the flank markings of Maxine’s mystery cat as depicted in the painting (© Maxine Pearson)

 

CHARLIE BOYS ANGELS: Here is a description of what this very worthy charity is all about, quoted from their official Facebook page (click here to visit it):

Charlie Boys Angels support homeless and vulnerable individuals with their animals in the Southend and surrounding areas of Essex by providing essential items, access to free veterinary treatment and support to find pet friendly accommodation.

This page was set up to help us get our name out there and the fantastic work that we do and is dedicated in memory of a beautiful white staffie called Charlie Boy, let us tell you his story…

Charlie Boy and his owner were sadly made homeless back in November 2016 and it was around this time that this group was founded to help him with a skin complaint. Tragically in January 2017, they were both attacked on the street Charlie Boy jumped up to protect his owner and was fatally stabbed, he died a short time later.

After his death, our group and the local community was filled with heartfelt memorials for this brave boy who had sacrificed his life for his human so it was then that it was decided that we would continue our work in his memory to help others just like them who are homeless and vulnerable with their animals and also those without.

We provide:

– Animal items such as food, blankets, treats, collars, leads, coats, toys, flea & worm treatment etc.

– Clothing items such as Jackets, Jumpers, Hats & Scarves, Gloves etc.

– Help to find pet friendly accommodation

– Help towards the cost of vet treatment

– Foster Care in Emergency Situations

We want to prevent this tragic incident from ever happening to anyone else in the future and so far we have achieved this, making sure that everyone we work with are safe and have everything they need to look after their companions.

4 years into our work, we have now joined in partnership with the Aspirations Program whose mission is to empower individuals on their journey of recovery from the harmful effects of active addiction – working together to make a difference to people’s lives.

We do not receive any government grants and rely solely on support from the public and fundraising to help us continue the work that we do and keep our vet treatment free and accessible to those who need it the most. We have our current Facebook pages including our fundraising page.

We will add link into the comments below for ease.

We also have our wish lists on Amazon, again we will place a link below. Please share this post as it’s extremely difficult to arrange fundraising at this time due to current restrictions.

If you wish to kindly make a donation towards the work we do, you can do so by Bank Transfer directly to the below details as unfortunately we no longer have access to a PayPal account – all donations are so greatly appreciated.

Account Name: Charlie Boys Angels

Sort Code: 20-19-97

Account Number: 90007625

Reference: Donation

 Thank you most sincerely for reading this – Karl.

 

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IS THIS MYSTERIOUS PAINTING A PORTRAIT OF THE NUNDA?

by on Mar.23, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Close-up of an extremely distinctive big cat that looks very like native descriptions of a Tanzanian mystery felid known as the nunda or mngwa, as depicted in a mysterious painting recently encountered and purchased by longstanding Facebook friend Maxine Pearson (© Maxine Pearson)

In a previous ShukerNature blog article (click hereto access it), I documented one of the most ferocious mystery beasts ever recorded – an East African mystery big cat (morphologically but not necessarily taxonomically) that was reported from coastal Tanzania during the first half of the 20th Century, and known variously as the nunda or mngwa. It was blamed for the bloodthirsty slaughter of several locals during two separate outbreaks of killings, but was never captured. A few fur samples were obtained, but tragically they were not retained for formal scientific examination. According to eyewitness descriptions, however, this rapacious cryptid was described as being a cat the size of a donkey, and leaving behind leopard-like footprints the size of a lion’s, but readily delineated from both leopards and lions by virtue of its most unusual pelage. This was said to be grey in colour and brindled in pattern, i.e. marked with streaks and possibly some spotting too, as brindled animals often exhibit spots among the streaks and stripes.

No known species of cat fits this description in toto. The nearest is the grey, sometimes spotted morph of the African golden cat Caracal (=Profelis) aurata, but at only twice the size of a typical domestic cat, this species is far smaller than the nunda, and surely therefore could not inflict the terrible wounds or attack humans with such overwhelming ferocity as described for the nunda. However, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans speculated that perhaps the nunda constituted a hitherto-undiscovered giant version of this species, which would be a truly belligerent beast to encounter.

 
My three books on mystery cats (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Tellingly, moreover, as I pointed out in my mystery cat books, locals have claimed that despite its huge size, the nunda does not roar like a Panthera big cat (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar), but actually purrs, like what are collectively known taxonomically as the small cats, and which include the African golden cat among their number. In addition, the African golden cat is so notoriously elusive that it has actually been dubbed by mammalogists as Africa’s least known felid (click herefor more details), so of all cats native to this continent, it may well possess the greatest potential for unveiling unexpected, unsuspected attributes.

Over the years, a number of artists have sought to depict Tanzania’s monstrous mystery cat, of which the following example is probably the best known:

 
Cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen’s vivid representation of an attacking nunda (© William M. Rebsamen)

Very recently, moreover, what may be a hitherto-undocumented and truly spectacular painting of a nunda was discovered in the most unexpected of circumstances. Now, by kind permission of its discoverer (and purchaser), longstanding Facebook friend Maxine Pearson, here for your cryptozoological consideration via this ShukerNature world-exclusive is that truly remarkable and extremely beautiful painting, together with the sparse details currently available regarding it. Consequently, Maxine and I very much hope, kind readers, that you will be able to assist us in uncovering further information relating to it.

I first learned of this painting’s existence on Sunday 21 March 2021, when I received a short message on Facebook from Maxine, enclosing the close-up of the cat in the painting that opens this present ShukerNature article, plus a close-up of the artist’s signature, and the following information:

Jon Downes [of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, based in Devon, UK] said he thinks this may be a mngwa. I just got it from some charity auction. It’s in oils. The painter’s name [is] below although I don’t know him. Any thoughts?

When I looked at the close-up photograph of the cat, I was certainly very intrigued, and could readily see why Jon thought that it might be a mngwa (aka nunda – I prefer the latter name, as it’s easier to say!), and I replied to Maxine stating this. I asked if she could provide me with any additional details regarding the painting and any further photographs of it, which she very kindly did. I’m incorporating the most significant of those photos (which she snapped using her Samsung mobile phone) throughout this article, and here are the additional details:

Maxine lives in London, but the auction at which she won this painting was held next to the garrison at Eastbeach, Shoeburyness, in southeast Essex, England, by a Southend-based animal charity named Charlie Boys Angels (see details concerning it given at the end of this ShukerNature article), of which she is a member. Charlie Boys Angels helps homeless people with dogs, and as one of its means of raising funds for this very deserving cause it holds an auction every month. After winning the painting with a bid for £15, Maxine received it from Charlie Boys Angels about a week ago, and was quite surprised to discover how large it was, measuring approximately 4 ft across by just under 3 ft tall. The identity of the person who donated this painting to the auction is currently unknown, but Maxine has promised to ask the charity if they know, so I may be able to add this detail here at a later date.

 
Close-up of the artist’s signature, visible at the bottom right-hand corner of the painting – click photo to enlarge it for viewing purposes (© Maxine Pearson)

Also currently unknown is the identity of the artist who painted it. As seen in the above close-up photograph of the artist’s signature, his/her surname may be ‘Peters’, and the “’05” inscription next to it indicates that it was painted in 2005. However, Maxine is not totally certain that Peters is indeed what the signature reads as, and even if it is, Peters is a very common name, meaning that without additional information it would be exceedingly difficult to track the artist down. I have tried both a Google Image search and a Tineye Reverse Image search in the hope of discovering this painting online, but without success.

Interestingly, as seen here, when the painting is photographed in its entirety the colouration of the cat varies depending upon the painting’s location. When Maxine photographed it by a window, the light from the window shining upon it rendered the cat very dark, so that it almost resembled a black panther (i.e. melanistic leopard), with its markings not particularly distinct. When the painting was placed on the floor, however, away from the direct light shining through the window, the cat was much lighter, with grey fur and very distinctive markings, and Maxine informed me that this latter appearance is the painting’s normal one.

 
Maxine’s painting when photographed by a window (© Maxine Pearson)

 
Maxine’s painting when photographed on the floor (© Maxine Pearson)

So what could Maxine’s mystifying cat be? Its build and face are those of a big cat, by which I mean a species belonging to the genus Panthera, and most closely resemble a leopard’s or jaguar’s. Its coat colouration and pattern, conversely, are fundamentally different from those of a leopard or jaguar. Instead of sporting the leopard and jaguar pelage’s typical golden background colouration, Maxine’s cat is uniformly grey. And instead of displaying the leopard’s familiar rosette markings (also exhibited by the jaguar, but which additionally sports a central spot within each rosette that is lacking in the leopard’s coat pattern), the pelage of Maxine’s cat consists of a heavy mottling of single polka dots, not arranged into rosettes, but which in places merge together to yield streaks and short stripes, especially on the limbs and dorsal region.

Close-up of the painted cat’s limbs, revealing merged spots (© Maxine Pearson)

I noted earlier here that the only known African cat that possesses a pelage similar to that of Maxine’s mystery cat is the spotted grey morph of the African golden cat – a polymorphic species that exists in a range of different coat colours and patterns, including unspotted red, gold, grey, and black, plus spotted red, gold, and grey. Although most common and widely distributed in West Africa, it is now known to exist in Central and East Africa too.

For morphological comparison purposes, here are two African golden cat skins, the left-hand one representing its spotted grey morph, the right-hand one its spotted golden morph.

 
The skin of a spotted grey specimen of African golden cat (left) and the skin of a spotted golden specimen of African golden cat (right) (public domain)

And here is a close-up of the fur patterning of Maxine’s mystery cat as depicted in the painting:

Close-up of the depicted mystery cat’s fur patterning (© Maxine Pearson)

As you can see, there is certainly a resemblance.

To see what a spotted grey specimen of the African golden cat looks like in life, click hereto view a photograph of one such animal that was snapped using a trail cam during a study of this elusive species’ ecology and conservation by Laila Bahaa-el-din as part of her 2015 PhD in the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. And click hereto download the entire paper containing this photo. You will see straight away, however, that whereas their coat colour and patterning are similar, the golden cat’s head is very different in both shape and markings to that of Maxine’s cat, which, as already noted here, is leopardine or jaguarine.

 
Close-up of the leopard-like or jaguar-like face of the mottled mystery cat depicted in Maxine’s enigmatic painting (© Maxine Pearson)

Equally, it is its unique combination of leopard/jaguar-like head and grey mottled pelage that distinguishes this portrayed cat from any felid on record from anywhere outside Africa too.

So how do we explain this painting? Is it an attempt by someone with cryptozoological knowledge to depict the likely appearance in life of the nunda? Or might it portray some exceedingly rare, freak version of the leopard or jaguar, both of which are well known for the great variation of their coat colour and patterning? Yet I have never seen an example of either in which the rosettes have broken up into single or merged spots (although I have seen in both species the opposite extreme, where the rosettes have merged to yield an extraordinarily beautiful, striking pelage adorned with stripes and swirls greatly resembling that of the cheetah’s rare king cheetah variant). Another option is that it constitutes some exotic big cat hybrid, of which a wide range have been bred in captivity. I know of a female jaglion (jaguar x lioness hybrid) named Jahzara, born at Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada, on 9 April 2006, whose pure-bred jaguar father Diablo was melanistic and she has inherited his dark coat, but her markings are still rosettes, not polka dots (click here for full details). Or is it simply a portrayal of a fantasy felid, not based upon any real specimen but originating entirely from the artist’s own imagination? At this stage, we simply do not know, but it is certainly most intriguing that the cat that it depicts should so closely recall a documented mystery cat from the same continent.

If anyone reading this ShukerNature article has any knowledge concerning this painting’s origin and/or artist, or any thoughts that they would like to offer regarding the possible identity of the cat depicted in it, please post them below this article – Maxine and I would be very interested to read them!

My sincere thanks indeed to Maxine Pearson for so very kindly sharing her wonderful discovery and photographs of it with me, and for permitting me to document it here.

 
A close-up of the flank markings of Maxine’s mystery cat as depicted in the painting (© Maxine Pearson)

 

CHARLIE BOYS ANGELS: Here is a description of what this very worthy charity is all about, quoted from their official Facebook page (click here to visit it):

Charlie Boys Angels support homeless and vulnerable individuals with their animals in the Southend and surrounding areas of Essex by providing essential items, access to free veterinary treatment and support to find pet friendly accommodation.

This page was set up to help us get our name out there and the fantastic work that we do and is dedicated in memory of a beautiful white staffie called Charlie Boy, let us tell you his story…

Charlie Boy and his owner were sadly made homeless back in November 2016 and it was around this time that this group was founded to help him with a skin complaint. Tragically in January 2017, they were both attacked on the street Charlie Boy jumped up to protect his owner and was fatally stabbed, he died a short time later.

After his death, our group and the local community was filled with heartfelt memorials for this brave boy who had sacrificed his life for his human so it was then that it was decided that we would continue our work in his memory to help others just like them who are homeless and vulnerable with their animals and also those without.

We provide:

– Animal items such as food, blankets, treats, collars, leads, coats, toys, flea & worm treatment etc.

– Clothing items such as Jackets, Jumpers, Hats & Scarves, Gloves etc.

– Help to find pet friendly accommodation

– Help towards the cost of vet treatment

– Foster Care in Emergency Situations

We want to prevent this tragic incident from ever happening to anyone else in the future and so far we have achieved this, making sure that everyone we work with are safe and have everything they need to look after their companions.

4 years into our work, we have now joined in partnership with the Aspirations Program whose mission is to empower individuals on their journey of recovery from the harmful effects of active addiction – working together to make a difference to people’s lives.

We do not receive any government grants and rely solely on support from the public and fundraising to help us continue the work that we do and keep our vet treatment free and accessible to those who need it the most. We have our current Facebook pages including our fundraising page.

We will add link into the comments below for ease.

We also have our wish lists on Amazon, again we will place a link below. Please share this post as it’s extremely difficult to arrange fundraising at this time due to current restrictions.

If you wish to kindly make a donation towards the work we do, you can do so by Bank Transfer directly to the below details as unfortunately we no longer have access to a PayPal account – all donations are so greatly appreciated.

Account Name: Charlie Boys Angels

Sort Code: 20-19-97

Account Number: 90007625

Reference: Donation

 Thank you most sincerely for reading this – Karl.

 

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ON THE TRAIL OF NEW GUINEA’S STRIPED FELINE MYSTERY BEASTS

by on Mar.21, 2021, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

 
Spectacular figurine portraying the possible appearance in life of the Queensland tiger or yarri if real and constituting an extant species of thylacoleonid; owned by Australian cryptozoologist Rebecca Lang, it was created by Sean Cooper and constructed/painted by Jeff Johnson (© Rebecca Lang/Sean Cooper/Jeff Johnson)

There are no native marsupial or eutherian felids living in New Guinea – or are there?

The Queensland tiger or yarri is a large, striped, cat-headed mystery beast long claimed (but still not confirmed) to exist in this region of Australia, and some cryptozoological researchers have speculated that if it does indeed exist, this exceedingly elusive creature may conceivably be a living species of thylacoleonid or marsupial lion, officially believed to have become extinct many millennia ago (see my three mystery cat books for more details). Referring to this feline cryptid in their book The Wild Animals of Australasia (1926), Albert S. le Souef and Henry Burrell included the following tantalisingly brief snippet:

We have had a striped carnivorous animal described from Northwest Australia, and Lord Rothschild states, from native reports, that a similar animal exists also in New Guinea.

 
Lord Walter Rothschild (public domain)

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, eminent British zoologist Lord Walter Rothschild FRS (1868-1937) amassed a truly immense personal museum of natural history specimens (the largest ever owned by a private individual), and he sponsored many naturalists and collectors to scour the world (including New Guinea’s vast little-explored jungle realms) in search of more. These searches in turn led to the scientific discovery, and subsequent formal description by Rothschild, of many important new animal species. His museum subsequently formed the basis of what is now the Natural History Museum of Tring in Hertfordshire, England which is the repository of much of the vast collection of bird specimens owned by London’s Natural History Museum.

Over the years, I’ve read a fair few of Rothschild’s papers and books, but so far I have yet to uncover in any of his publications the source of the above-quoted information attributed to him by le Souef and Burrell. So if any reader happens to know this source, I’d be very grateful indeed to receive details.

Moreover, Rothschild’s rumoured riddle is not the only feline cryptid (indeed, not even the only striped feline cryptid) reported from New Guinea. I know of at least two others, very different from one another morphologically, but equally memorable – albeit once again for very different reasons.

 
Are there striped (possibly even marsupial) feline cryptids awaiting formal discovery in New Guinea? (© Connor Lachmanec aka TheMorlock)

I documented the first of these latter two in my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012). On 11 November 2011, Australian cryptozoological researcher Malcolm Smith’s internet blog, Malcolm’s Musings, contained a fascinating post in which he reported that one of his neighbours, Esther Ingram, who had been born to missionary parents in New Guinea, once observed an apparent mystery cat at close range there when revisiting this great island mini-continent as an adult. Her sighting occurred one evening during December 1999/January 2000 at a distance of only 20 yards away when the creature emerged from some jungle and crossed the road ahead while she and her father were being driven by her foster-brother in the Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). According to Esther’s description as recorded by Smith, the creature was:

…very solidly built, and the headbody length was about five feet. Both Esther and her father were amazed at how huge it was…Esther, in particular, made an attempt to study as many details as possible. (Remember, it was very close.) The basic colour was white, with ginger “trimmings” on the tail and ears. Pale gingery, vertical stripes, not terribly well delineated, appeared on the sides, but they did not extend to the back, or dorsal surface, which was completely pale. She specifically noted that the forepaws were catlike, rather than (say) hoofed like a goat’s. She didn’t get a glance at the rear paws. The tail was ginger and very long, hanging to the ground. I enquired about bushiness etc, to establish a comparison with a dog’s. She said it was a bit coarser or fluffier than the body, but not much. On the body itself, the fur was smooth. The head was broad, short, flattish, and definitely catlike. It did not protrude like a dog’s. The ears were ginger, mottled with white, and hung down. They were not as long as a spaniel’s, but they were definitely long and rounded, and gave every indication of being naturally floppy. It was this feature which amazed both of them (and me as well, as it doesn’t sound anything like a cat’s). Esther also thought she saw whiskers.

Very intrigued by Esther’s account, Smith contacted Australian mammalogist Dr Tim Flannery, an expert on New Guinea fauna, and asked his opinion as to what she may have seen. Dr Flannery deemed it likely that her mystery beast had been a tree kangaroo, but Esther, born and raised in New Guinea and regularly returning there for visits as an adult, was very familiar with the appearance of such animals, and did not agree with this identification of the creature that she had seen. Could it have been the New Guinea version of the Queensland tiger as claimed by Rothschild?

 
Issued jointly in 1996 by Indonesia and Australia, a philatelic First Day Cover featuring on its left-hand side an illustration of the dingiso – a very distinctive species of black-and-white tree kangaroo native to New Guinea’s Indonesian western half, yet which remained undiscovered and undescribed by science until as recently as the 1990s (© Indonesian Postal Service/© Australian Postal Service – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

With no known large-sized mammalian predators other than imported canine forms, such as the nowadays exceedingly rare New Guinea singing dog, ecologically speaking it would not be inconceivable for an elusive feline cryptid to thrive here, plentifully supplied with wallabies, tree kangaroos, possums, rodents, bird life, and other potential prey species. How ironic it would be if the Queensland tiger, or something very like it, was ultimately discovered not in Australia but instead in its more mysterious northern neighbour, New Guinea.

The third of this latter island’s reported feline cryptids is more famous, but for all the wrong reasons. Supposedly referred to locally as the moolah, it is just one of several very remarkable beasts that were said to exist here by Captain J.A. Lawson in his notorious book Wanderings in the Interior of New Guinea (1875). According to Lawson, he had landed here in 1871, and among his truly extraordinary alleged discoveries were the world’s highest mountain (dubbed by him Mount Hercules, and far taller than Everest, yet which could be climbed in just a day!), very large monkey-like ape-men, enormous herds of deer and buffalo numbering in their thousands, the world’s tallest tree, flightless birds resembling ostriches or emus, and, his pièce de resistance, the moolah, a specimen of which he supposedly shot and which was ostensibly one and the same as India’s Bengal tiger! Here is Lawson’s description of his freshly-killed moolah:

This animal was formed exactly like the Indian tiger, nor was it inferior in size; but it was a much handsomer creature. It was marked with black and chestnut stripes, on a white, or nearly white, ground. Its length from the nose to the root of the tail was seven feet three inches.

 
The opening headlines and accompanying sketch from an extensive article (click here to access it) recalling the Munchhausenesque history of Captain J.A. Lawson that appeared in Sydney’s Sunday Heraldnewspaper on 23 August 1953 (© Sunday Herald, Sydney – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial fair use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On fundamental zoogeographical grounds alone, however, Lawson’s claims regarding the existence in New Guinea of the moolah and the other creatures listed above were arrant nonsense. Yet, incredibly, for some years afterwards they were widely accepted as gospel, until continued explorations of New Guinea finally confirmed the entire content of Lawson’s book to be fictional – indeed, a veritable Munchausenesque satire on the whole concept of Victorian exploration – rather than anything remotely factual.

As for the true identity of the mysterious Captain himself, this has never been conclusively established. However, the most popular suggestion is that Lawson was actually Robert H. Armit (1844-?), a lieutenant in the Royal Navy with experience as an assistant surveyor in Australian waters, and later Honorary Secretary of the New Guinea Colonising Association.

In any event, for those of you who may have heard about Lawson’s New Guinea tiger but not known of its history, you can at least rest assured now that there is no longer any need to mull over the moolah!

 
Indian tigers frequenting the forests of New Guinea?? I don’t think so!! (public domain)


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