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SCRUTINIZING THE SHOEBILL – THE BIRD WORLD’S INCREDIBLE WHALE-HEADED KING

by on Aug.14, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A close-up of a taxiderm shoebill’s head, highlighting its extraordinary beak (left) and a vintage portrayal of a shoebill first published in 1901 (right) (© Dr Karl Shuker / public domain)
One of the bird world’s oddest-looking species is unquestionably Balaeniceps rex, whose scientific name translates as ‘whale-headed king’ – but as its head bears little resemblance to a whale, this is a somewhat strange name, even for as strange a bird as Balaeniceps. Standing up to 5 ft tall, its general appearance is that of a large, round-shouldered stork with slaty blue-grey plumage and an untidy crest, but distinguishing it instantly from any genuine stork is its enormous, grotesque beak.
Roughly 8 in long, with a sharply hooked tip, this incongruous structure greatly resembles a clog-like shoe, earning Balaenicepsa much more apt and more commonly used name – shoebill. Similarly, the Arabs call this bird Abu-markub, ‘Father of the shoe’.
Vintage illustration of the shoebill’s head (top) and a shoebill skull readily demonstrating its beak’s disproportionately huge size compared to the rest of its skull (bottom) (© Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten/Naturalis Biodiversity Center – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
A peculiar but characteristic behavioural attribute of the shoebill is its tendency to stand perfectly still for lengthy periods of times. Recalling this, several years ago a correspondent informed me that when she was a child visiting her first zoo, she saw what she initially assumed to be a statue of some strange dinosaur-bird, because it was completely immobile. Fascinated, she stood and looked at it unsuspectingly for a time – until, without warning and in best Talos tradition (fans of the classic Ray Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts from 1963 will know exactly what I mean here!), this ‘statue’ slowly turned its head until it was staring directly at her! Its steely gaze peering down its huge beak into her face totally petrified the poor little girl, who was convinced that she was about to be torn apart and devoured!
Happily, the shoebill is in reality a shy, inoffensive species, inhabiting the relatively inaccessible papyrus marshes and floating swamps of the Upper Nile and its central East African tributaries, where it uses its massive beak to catch and extract prey such as fish, water snakes, and frogs (possibly even small mammals, and young crocodiles too) from the surrounding vegetation. It was once believed that its shoe-like shape was a specific adaptation for scooping lungfishes out of the mud, but as lungfishes do not form this species’ principal diet, that idea seems unfounded – just as unfounded, it would appear, as many of the assumptions put forward over the years regarding this species’ taxonomic affinity to other birds.
Section from an 1870s chromatolithograph depicting a pair of shoebills in their natural swampland habitat (public domain)
Science first became aware of the shoebill in the early 1840s. In his Expedition to Discover the Sources of the White Nile, in the Years 1840, 1841 (1849), German explorer Ferdinand Werne reported that on 15 December 1840 his party saw a remarkable bird that seemed to them to be as large as a young camel, with a huge pelican-like beak, but lacking the pelican’s characteristic pouch. This was undoubtedly a shoebill; sadly, Werne was asleep at the time and his party was unwilling to wake him, so he never observed it himself.
Eight years later, however, German ornithologist-explorer Baron Johann W. von Müller was more fortunate, catching sight of two shoebills. Moreover, upon his return to base at Khartoum, Sudan, he saw a pair of dead specimens for sale offered by a slave-dealer. The price that he was asking was too high to interest Baron von Müller, but not long afterwards they were purchased by a traveller from Nottingham named Mansfield Parkyns, who brought them back to England when he returned with various other animal specimens collected during his African sojourn. These were studied by the eminent bird painter John Gould, who prepared a formal scientific description of the shoebill, presented on 14 January 1851 at a meeting of London’s Zoological Society and published later that year in its Proceedings. And in 1860, Britain’s first pair of living shoebills arrived at London Zoo, courtesy of Welsh traveller John Petherick.
Another pair of shoebills in their natural habitat, this time painted by okapi discoverer Sir Harry Johnston and published in 1902 (public domain)
Meanwhile, the controversy concerning this species’ relationship to other birds had begun in earnest. Gould had classified it as an aberrant, long-legged pelican; but other ornithologists did not agree with that, and tended to ally it either with the herons or with the storks. Today, the shoebill is generally categorised as the sole living occupant of its own family, discrete from both the herons and the storks. The reason for the phenomenal difficulty in satisfactorily classifying this bird rests with its anatomy and behaviour, which embrace a perplexing potpourri of features drawn from at least three different bird families – and two different orders.
Powder-downs are pairs of strange feathers that are never shed, but perpetually fray at their tips to yield a powder that the bird rubs into its other feathers. Herons have three pairs, and the shoebill has a single pair, but storks have none. Also in common with herons, the shoebill’s rear toe is held at the same level as its three forward-pointing toes (the rear toe is raised in storks); and when it flies, the shoebill tucks its head and neck backwards, like herons once again.
And a smile on the face of the shoebill? (photo by Sengkang – copyrighted free use)
Even so, whereas in herons the stapes (birds’ only middle-ear bone) is primitive in form, avian evolutionist Dr Alan Feduccia showed that it has an identical derived shape in the storks and the shoebill (Nature, 21 April 1977). Also agreeing with the storks: the shoebill’s middle toe is less than half the length of the tarsus (heel-bone), and it has no webbing between its toes (herons have a partial web between 2-3 of theirs). It displays the storks’ beak-clattering behaviour too.
Yet as if all of this were not already sufficient to demonstrate the shoebill’s transitional form and conduct, its skull exhibits certain features similar to those of a completely separate order of birds – Pelecaniformes, the pelicans. Furthermore, in true pelican style, it flies with its large beak resting on its breast. Indeed, in 1957 the detailed skeletal studies undertaken by former British Museum ornithologist Dr Patricia A. Cottam on the shoebill convinced her that Gould had been correct all along, that this enigmatic species really was most closely related to the pelicans. However, other researchers (notably Dr Joel Cracraft in the ornithological journal Auk, 1985) dismissed its similarities as examples of convergence, i.e. they reasoned that because the shoebill and the pelicans exist in similar habitats and have similar lifestyles, they have evolved into similar forms, even though they originate from separate ancestral stocks.
An exquisite engraving from 1860 depicting a pair of shoebills (public domain)
Then in February 1986 after having directly compared the shoebill’s DNA with that of herons, storks, and pelicans, researchers Drs Charles G. Sibley and Jon E. Ahlquist announced in Scientific Americanthat, contrary to all expectations, the shoebill’s DNA most closely matched that of the pelicans! They published further data in support of their finds during the 1990s. In 2001, extensive research involving DNA hybridisation as well as nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence analyses by a team headed by Dr Marcel van Tuinen added further support for the pelicans, the shoebill, and another enigmatic species called the hammerhead or hamerkop Scopus umbretta being of monophyletic (common) origin.
Comparable results were also obtained from a comprehensive osteological study by Frankfurt-based ornithologist Dr Gerald Mayr, published in 2003. Modern studies thus offer persuasive evidence for believing, as Gould had proposed over 160 years ago, that the shoebill is basically an aberrant pelican, and that its cranial affinities with pelicans signify direct kinship rather than deceptive evolutionary convergence.
Shoebills – not singular storks but peculiar pelicans, relatively speaking (public domain)
In recent years, the shoebill’s classification has also attracted attention because the results of more detailed genetic comparisons (notably the extensive phylogenomic study by Dr Shannon J. Hackett and a large team of co-workers – Science, 12 July 2008), involving many different avian genera and families, have required taxonomists to carry out a major overhaul of the contents of the avian orders Ciconiiformes and Pelecaniformes. These changes can be summarised as follows.
Traditionally, Ciconiiformes has contained the following families: Ardeidae (herons, egrets, bitterns), Balaenicipitidae (shoebill), Scopidae (hammerhead), Ciconiidae (storks), Threskiornithidae (ibises and spoonbills), and Phoenicopteridae (flamingos). Pelecaniformes, meanwhile, has contained Phaethontidae (tropic-birds), Fregatidae (frigate-birds), Sulidae (gannets and boobies), Anhingidae (anhingas or darters), Phalacrocoracidae (cormorants and shags), and Pelecanidae (pelicans). However, modern genetic studies have shown fairly convincingly that Pelecaniformes is polyphyletic, i.e. its families do not all originate from a single common ancestor, but in reality seem to constitute three entirely separate evolutionary lineages. One of these lineages consists of the tropic-birds, which therefore are now housed within their own separate order, Phaethontiformes. A second lineage comprises the gannets and boobies, cormorants and shags, anhingas, and frigate-birds. So these have all been grouped together within their own new order too, Suliformes. This means that only one original family remains within Pelecaniformes – the pelicans, constituting a third separate lineage.
Facing up to some taxonomic tribulations (© Leyo/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
However, genetic studies have also shown, somewhat unexpectedly, that within the order Ciconiiformes are certain families – namely, the herons, bitterns, and egrets; the shoebill; the hammerhead; and the ibises and spoonbills – that are more closely related to the pelicans than they are to the remaining ciconiiform families. In short, Ciconiiformes is also polyphyletic. Consequently, these pelican-allied families have now been removed from Ciconiiformes and placed alongside the pelican family within Pelecaniformes. And the flamingos have been allocated their own separate order, Phoenicopteriformes. This means that the only family now remaining in Ciconiiformes is the storks.
Having said that, however, some taxonomists believe that the New World vultures’ family, Cathartidae, and the extinct teratorns’ family, Teratornithidae, are actually more closely related to the storks than to the Old World vultures or any other birds of prey. Consequently, they have duly included Cathartidae and Teratornithidae alongside the stork family Ciconiidae in Ciconiiformes. Meanwhile, the shoebill is nowadays back to where it began when first formally described during the 1800s, as a member of the pelican order. However, it is seen, along with the hammerhead, as a taxonomic link between Pelecaniformes and Ciconiiformes.
Shoebill showing off its powerful pinions (© Pelican/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Even the shoebill’s fossil antecedents have stimulated taxonomic turmoil. Until its reclassification in 1980 by Dr Pierce Brodkorb as an ancestral shoebill (based upon the finding of a tarsometatarsus that revealed this taxonomic affinity), Goliathia andrewsi had been classed as an aberrant heron. It was first described in 1930 by Hungarian palaeontologist Dr Kálmán Lambrecht, following the discovery of an ulna bone dating from the early Oligocene, which had been obtained in the Jebel Qatrani Formation within Egypt’s Fayum Province. The only other widely-accepted fossil relative of the shoebill is Paludavis richae, with remains found in Tunisia and Pakistan, but these are more recent, from the Miocene.
Of cryptozoological interest is the shoebill’s implication in a very curious case of mistaken identity. From time to time, reports emerge from various remote regions of Central Africa describing alleged sightings of large, macabre-looking creatures soaring through the skies and bearing an impressive resemblance to those long-extinct flying reptilians, the pterosaurs. However, it is more than likely that many of these involve shoebills, as noted by zoologist Dr Maurice Burton (Animals, 18 February 1964 – click hereto read more about his comments on ShukerNature) and subsequently explored in greater detail by me within my books In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995) and Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors(2016) – click herefor coverage on ShukerNature of my books’ documentation. There is no doubt that this strange bird has a distinctly prehistoric appearance, especially when viewed in flight, and anyone unfamiliar with the striking spectacle of its huge, 8.5-ft wingspan and giant beak could certainly be forgiven for thinking that they had spied an aerial anachronism, a cryptic creature supposedly dead for more than 64 million years.
This ShukerNature blog article is adapted from my book The Menagerie of Marvels.
Awe-inspiring sight of a shoebill in flight (© Tom Tarrant/Wikipedia – CC BY SA.30 licence)

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A TRIO OF MEDITERRANEAN MYSTERY SNAKES

by on Aug.06, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A horned viper – the identity of Tunisia’s tantalizing taguerga? (public domain)
Many mystery serpents have been reported from remote, little-explored, inaccessible and/or inhospitable regions of the world – but not all. Down through the ages, a number of mysterious, unidentified forms have also been documented from various countries and islands lying on either side of the Mediterranean Sea, including the following thought-provoking threesome.
THE COLOVIA – A MEDITERRANEAN MEGA-SNAKE?
In various of his writings, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans referred to the alleged presence in the Mediterranean provinces within France, Spain, northern Italy, and Greece of an unidentified snake claimed by observers to be 9-12 ft long (and occasionally ever longer).
Other mystery beast investigators have also reported this serpentine enigma, which is often said to be dark green in colour, and in Italy is referred to as the colovia. One such snake was actually responsible for a traffic accident when it unexpectedly crossed a busy road near Chinchilla de Monte Aragón, in Spain’s Albicete Province, on 22 July 1969. Back in December 1933, a colovia was tracked down and killed in a marsh close to the Sicilian city of Syracuse, but its carcase was not preserved.
Eastern Montpellier snake (Barbod Safaei/released into the public domain)
If we assume that the colovia’s dimensions may well have been somewhat exaggerated or over-estimated by eyewitnesses, a plausible identity for it is the Montpellier snake Malpolon monspessulanus. Named after a city in southern France, this mildly-venomous rear-fanged colubrid is common through much of the Mediterranean basin. It is quite variable in colour, from dark grey to olive green, and can grow up to 8.5 ft long, possibly longer in exceptional specimens. Its presence has not been confirmed in Sicily nor anywhere in mainland Greece (its eastern subspecies, M. m. insignitus, deemed a separate species by some workers, occurs on a number of Greek islands, as well as on Cyprus), but these areas are certainly compatible with its survival.
So perhaps reports from there of unidentified colovia-type mystery snakes indicate that the Montpellier snake’s distribution range within Europe’s Mediterranean lands is even greater than presently recognised.
THE VIRGIN MARY SNAKES OF CEPHALONIA
Cephalonia is the largest of western Greece’s seven principal Ionian islands, lying in the Ionian Sea – which is in turn an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea. Every year on 16 August – known here as the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (the Virgin Mary) – the small southeastern village of Markopoulo hosts a Marian celebration, but its most famous, and mystifying, attendants are not of the human variety. Virtually every year for more than two centuries, during the fortnight leading up to this festival considerable numbers of snakes mysteriously appear at the foot of the Old Bell Steeple by Markopoulo’s Church of Our Lady, and just as mysteriously vanish again when the festival ends.
Their unusual behaviour has earned these serpents the local names of ‘Virgin Mary snakes’ and ‘Our Lady’s snakes’. This religious association is heightened by the small black cruciform mark that they allegedly bear on their heads and also at the forked tip of their tongues. They all appear to belong to the same single species, but which one this is does not seem to have been formally ascertained by herpetologists. However, they have attracted the attention and interest of several correspondents of mine, as first revealed in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth and now in greater detail here.

Four-striped snake (public domain)
According to one of them, Cephalonia chronicler Victor J. Kean, these snakes are non-venomous, are said to have “skin like silk”, and are popularly believed by the villagers to possess thaumaturgic powers. One plausible candidate is the four-striped snake Elaphe quatuorlineata, a non-venomous constricting species of colubrid that occurs on Cephalonia, and whose head can bear a variety of dark markings, especially in its bolder-marked juvenile form. Moreover, herpetologist Dr Klaus-Dieter Schulz has pointed out that this species is known to be associated with Christian traditions elsewhere in southern Europe, including the annual snake procession at Cucullo, Italy, in honour of St Dominic.
When he paid a visit to Markopoulo on 16 August one year during the mid-1990s, Alistair Underwood from Preston, in Lancashire, England, observed the Virgin Mary snakes congregating outside the Church of Our Lady, where they were freely handled by the local villagers, who even draped them fearlessly around their necks. The villagers also allowed them to enter the church, and to make their way towards a large silver icon of the Virgin Mary. Some websites that I have seen in which this ceremony is described (e.g. here) claim that the species in question is the European cat snake Telescopus fallax. This is a colubrid that is indeed native to Cephalonia and several other Greek islands too. Moreover, it is actually venomous, but because it is rear-fanged its venom is rarely injected in defensive biting, so it is not deemed to be a threat to humans.

19th-Century engraving of a European cat snake (public domain)
According to Cephalonian researcher Spyros Tassis Bekatoros, the only years in which the Virgin Mary snakes have not made an appearance at Markopoulo’s Marian festival are those spanning the German occupation of Cephalonia in World War II (during which period the occupying forces may have banned the Marian festival after learning about its ophidian participants), and the year 1953, when much of the island was devastated by an earthquake. This latter information may hold clues concerning the link between these snakes and the festival.
Although snakes are generally deaf to airborne vibrations (i.e. sounds), they respond very readily to groundborne ones. Consequently, Alistair Underwood suggested that the increased human activity and its associated groundborne vibrations during the Marian festival and its preceding preparations may explain the coincident appearance of the Virgin Mary snakes during those periods. If so, then the exceptional terrestrial reverberations that occurred during the 1953 earthquake would have greatly disturbed the snakes, disrupting their normal behaviour and obscuring the lesser vibrational stimuli emanating from human activity at the Marian festival that year.
THE HORNED TAGUERGA OF TUNISIA
In the first volume of his scholarly publication Exploration Scientifique de la Tunisie (1884), French archaeologist and diplomat Charles Tissot reported the alleged occurrence of a very sizeable Tunisian mystery snake known as the taguerga, which supposedly bears a pair of short but sharp horns on its head. Vehemently believed by the locals to be extremely venomous, this greatly-feared reptile is said to be as thick as a man’s thigh, and to attain a total length of 7-12 ft. It reputedly frequents the mountains of southern Tunisia’s Sahara region.
Horned viper (Patrick Jean, released into the public domain)
The locals consider taguergas to be specimens of the common horned viper Cerastes cerastes (a species that is indeed native to Tunisia) but which have attained an exceptionally venerable age and have continued growing throughout this abnormally-extended period of time, thus explaining their great size, as horned vipers do not normally exceed 3 ft long. Conversely, Dr Bernard Heuvelmans speculated that it may be a puff adder Bitis arietans, which sometimes bears horn-like scales upon its head. However, this species only rarely exceeds 5 ft long, and is not known to occur in Tunisia, although it is recorded from Morocco.


For an additional Mediterranean mystery snake, please click hereto access my ShukerNature blog article investigating the possible taxonomic identity of St Paul’s mystifying Maltese viper.
St Paul bitten by Malta’s alleged viper, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius, c1580 (public domain)

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A TRIO OF MEDITERRANEAN MYSTERY SNAKES

by on Aug.06, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A horned viper – the identity of Tunisia’s tantalizing taguerga? (public domain)
Many mystery serpents have been reported from remote, little-explored, inaccessible and/or inhospitable regions of the world – but not all. Down through the ages, a number of mysterious, unidentified forms have also been documented from various countries and islands lying on either side of the Mediterranean Sea, including the following thought-provoking threesome.
THE COLOVIA – A MEDITERRANEAN MEGA-SNAKE?
In various of his writings, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans referred to the alleged presence in the Mediterranean provinces within France, Spain, northern Italy, and Greece of an unidentified snake claimed by observers to be 9-12 ft long (and occasionally ever longer).
Other mystery beast investigators have also reported this serpentine enigma, which is often said to be dark green in colour, and in Italy is referred to as the colovia. One such snake was actually responsible for a traffic accident when it unexpectedly crossed a busy road near Chinchilla de Monte Aragón, in Spain’s Albicete Province, on 22 July 1969. Back in December 1933, a colovia was tracked down and killed in a marsh close to the Sicilian city of Syracuse, but its carcase was not preserved.
Eastern Montpellier snake (Barbod Safaei/released into the public domain)
If we assume that the colovia’s dimensions may well have been somewhat exaggerated or over-estimated by eyewitnesses, a plausible identity for it is the Montpellier snake Malpolon monspessulanus. Named after a city in southern France, this mildly-venomous rear-fanged colubrid is common through much of the Mediterranean basin. It is quite variable in colour, from dark grey to olive green, and can grow up to 8.5 ft long, possibly longer in exceptional specimens. Its presence has not been confirmed in Sicily nor anywhere in mainland Greece (its eastern subspecies, M. m. insignitus, deemed a separate species by some workers, occurs on a number of Greek islands, as well as on Cyprus), but these areas are certainly compatible with its survival.
So perhaps reports from there of unidentified colovia-type mystery snakes indicate that the Montpellier snake’s distribution range within Europe’s Mediterranean lands is even greater than presently recognised.
THE VIRGIN MARY SNAKES OF CEPHALONIA
Cephalonia is the largest of western Greece’s seven principal Ionian islands, lying in the Ionian Sea – which is in turn an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea. Every year on 16 August – known here as the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (the Virgin Mary) – the small southeastern village of Markopoulo hosts a Marian celebration, but its most famous, and mystifying, attendants are not of the human variety. Virtually every year for more than two centuries, during the fortnight leading up to this festival considerable numbers of snakes mysteriously appear at the foot of the Old Bell Steeple by Markopoulo’s Church of Our Lady, and just as mysteriously vanish again when the festival ends.
Their unusual behaviour has earned these serpents the local names of ‘Virgin Mary snakes’ and ‘Our Lady’s snakes’. This religious association is heightened by the small black cruciform mark that they allegedly bear on their heads and also at the forked tip of their tongues. They all appear to belong to the same single species, but which one this is does not seem to have been formally ascertained by herpetologists. However, they have attracted the attention and interest of several correspondents of mine, as first revealed in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth and now in greater detail here.

Four-striped snake (public domain)
According to one of them, Cephalonia chronicler Victor J. Kean, these snakes are non-venomous, are said to have “skin like silk”, and are popularly believed by the villagers to possess thaumaturgic powers. One plausible candidate is the four-striped snake Elaphe quatuorlineata, a non-venomous constricting species of colubrid that occurs on Cephalonia, and whose head can bear a variety of dark markings, especially in its bolder-marked juvenile form. Moreover, herpetologist Dr Klaus-Dieter Schulz has pointed out that this species is known to be associated with Christian traditions elsewhere in southern Europe, including the annual snake procession at Cucullo, Italy, in honour of St Dominic.
When he paid a visit to Markopoulo on 16 August one year during the mid-1990s, Alistair Underwood from Preston, in Lancashire, England, observed the Virgin Mary snakes congregating outside the Church of Our Lady, where they were freely handled by the local villagers, who even draped them fearlessly around their necks. The villagers also allowed them to enter the church, and to make their way towards a large silver icon of the Virgin Mary. Some websites that I have seen in which this ceremony is described (e.g. here) claim that the species in question is the European cat snake Telescopus fallax. This is a colubrid that is indeed native to Cephalonia and several other Greek islands too. Moreover, it is actually venomous, but because it is rear-fanged its venom is rarely injected in defensive biting, so it is not deemed to be a threat to humans.

19th-Century engraving of a European cat snake (public domain)
According to Cephalonian researcher Spyros Tassis Bekatoros, the only years in which the Virgin Mary snakes have not made an appearance at Markopoulo’s Marian festival are those spanning the German occupation of Cephalonia in World War II (during which period the occupying forces may have banned the Marian festival after learning about its ophidian participants), and the year 1953, when much of the island was devastated by an earthquake. This latter information may hold clues concerning the link between these snakes and the festival.
Although snakes are generally deaf to airborne vibrations (i.e. sounds), they respond very readily to groundborne ones. Consequently, Alistair Underwood suggested that the increased human activity and its associated groundborne vibrations during the Marian festival and its preceding preparations may explain the coincident appearance of the Virgin Mary snakes during those periods. If so, then the exceptional terrestrial reverberations that occurred during the 1953 earthquake would have greatly disturbed the snakes, disrupting their normal behaviour and obscuring the lesser vibrational stimuli emanating from human activity at the Marian festival that year.
THE HORNED TAGUERGA OF TUNISIA
In the first volume of his scholarly publication Exploration Scientifique de la Tunisie (1884), French archaeologist and diplomat Charles Tissot reported the alleged occurrence of a very sizeable Tunisian mystery snake known as the taguerga, which supposedly bears a pair of short but sharp horns on its head. Vehemently believed by the locals to be extremely venomous, this greatly-feared reptile is said to be as thick as a man’s thigh, and to attain a total length of 7-12 ft. It reputedly frequents the mountains of southern Tunisia’s Sahara region.
Horned viper (Patrick Jean, released into the public domain)
The locals consider taguergas to be specimens of the common horned viper Cerastes cerastes (a species that is indeed native to Tunisia) but which have attained an exceptionally venerable age and have continued growing throughout this abnormally-extended period of time, thus explaining their great size, as horned vipers do not normally exceed 3 ft long. Conversely, Dr Bernard Heuvelmans speculated that it may be a puff adder Bitis arietans, which sometimes bears horn-like scales upon its head. However, this species only rarely exceeds 5 ft long, and is not known to occur in Tunisia, although it is recorded from Morocco.


For an additional Mediterranean mystery snake, please click hereto access my ShukerNature blog article investigating the possible taxonomic identity of St Paul’s mystifying Maltese viper.
St Paul bitten by Malta’s alleged viper, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius, c1580 (public domain)

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THIS CRYPTID WORLD: A GLOBAL SURVEY OF UNDISCOVERED BEASTS – BOOK #31 IS NOW PUBLISHED!

by on Jul.30, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

This Cryptid World: A Global Survey of Undiscovered Beasts (© Dr Karl Shuker/Brian Rau/Herb Lester Associates)
I’m very happy to announce that This Cryptid World, my 31st book, is now published, and I’m equally excited to reveal that in terms of its format it is totally unlike any publication that I have ever been involved with before. This is because instead of being a conventional book or bookazine, it is a double-sided fold-out poster guide-book!
Scientists estimate that more than 90 per cent of nature’s species have yet to be discovered. With that in mind, this enthralling, unique cryptozoological publication asks you to set aside any scepticism, and allow it be your guide on a fascinating global tour of cryptids – creatures whose existence has yet to be formally substantiated by science.
Shocking desert worms, mystery cats, sea and lake monsters, man-beasts of many kinds, and countless other cryptids have been sighted across the globe, and reports continue. Some accunts seem credulous, others are more authoritative, yet all present us with the same question: can it be true?
This sumptuous fold-out double-sided poster guide with text by yours truly and illustrations by Brian Rau documents an extremely diverse range of mystery beasts, outlining their characteristics, location, and sightings, all illustrated and charted on a world map. Its large format works equally effectively as a fold-out guide-book or as a double-sided poster, and comes in its own very elegant bespoke folder together with an additional stand-up ‘tent’ postcard depicting a jackalope.
Available to order from all good bookstores, and directly from the publisher, Herb Lester Associates, in quantities or singly. NB – it is not currently available directly from Amazon (their required discount was felt to be too substantial).
A few of Brian Rau’s very stylish, diagrammatic cryptid illustrations featured on the reverse of my text and annotated world globe (© Dr Karl Shuker/Brian Rau/Herb Lester Associates)

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THIS CRYPTID WORLD: A GLOBAL SURVEY OF UNDISCOVERED BEASTS – BOOK #31 IS NOW PUBLISHED!

by on Jul.30, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

This Cryptid World: A Global Survey of Undiscovered Beasts (© Dr Karl Shuker/Brian Rau/Herb Lester Associates)
I’m very happy to announce that This Cryptid World, my 31st book, is now published, and I’m equally excited to reveal that in terms of its format it is totally unlike any publication that I have ever been involved with before. This is because instead of being a conventional book or bookazine, it is a double-sided fold-out poster guide-book!
Scientists estimate that more than 90 per cent of nature’s species have yet to be discovered. With that in mind, this enthralling, unique cryptozoological publication asks you to set aside any scepticism, and allow it be your guide on a fascinating global tour of cryptids – creatures whose existence has yet to be formally substantiated by science.
Shocking desert worms, mystery cats, sea and lake monsters, man-beasts of many kinds, and countless other cryptids have been sighted across the globe, and reports continue. Some accunts seem credulous, others are more authoritative, yet all present us with the same question: can it be true?
This sumptuous fold-out double-sided poster guide with text by yours truly and illustrations by Brian Rau documents an extremely diverse range of mystery beasts, outlining their characteristics, location, and sightings, all illustrated and charted on a world map. Its large format works equally effectively as a fold-out guide-book or as a double-sided poster, and comes in its own very elegant bespoke folder together with an additional stand-up ‘tent’ postcard depicting a jackalope.
Available to order from all good bookstores, and directly from the publisher, Herb Lester Associates, in quantities or singly. NB – it is not currently available directly from Amazon (their required discount was felt to be too substantial).
A few of Brian Rau’s very stylish, diagrammatic cryptid illustrations featured on the reverse of my text and annotated world globe (© Dr Karl Shuker/Brian Rau/Herb Lester Associates)

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MONSTERS, MINI-REVIEWS, AND MORE! WELCOMING ‘SHUKER IN MOVIELAND’, MY NEWEST BLOG

by on Jul.27, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The banner from my newest blog, Shuker In MovieLand (© Dr Karl Shuker)
On this spinning speck of cosmic dust that we call Planet Earth, if I’m known for anything it’s probably as a zoologist, media consultant, and author specialising in cryptozoology and animal mythology – at least that what it says on my website and also here on my ShukerNature blog! In addition, however, I’ve always had a passionate interest in the movies, watching and enjoying a diverse range of cinematic genres down through the decades that include (but are by no means confined to) monster movies, animation (especially Disney), musicals, science fiction, fantasy, classic comedies, super-hero franchises, and much more too. Such themes also characterise my TV viewing tastes.
During the isolating but very necessary Covid-19 lockdown measures that began in England during March 2020 and which meant spending virtually all of my time indoors at home, I found myself not only watching many more movies than I normally do but also preparing mini-reviews of them that I posted for fun on Facebook and elsewhere. To my surprise but great delight, these have attracted considerable interest, enthusiasm, and countless Likes from social media friends. So much so, in fact, that it has finally occurred to me that it might be worthwhile preserving them and adding to them in a blog of their own. There they will be permanently and readily accessible for reading by all interested online movie fans, together with various movie (plus a few TV) mini-reviews that I’d written and posted in earlier pre-Covid times, as well as those that I shall be writing in the future in what I hope will be a long-running ongoing series.
Risking an attack of the acklays – monstrous alien life forms from Star Wars, Episode 2, Attack of the Clones (© Dr Karl Shuker)
So here it is – Shuker In MovieLand – please click hereto access it directly. As noted above, its scope is the entire spectrum of film genres that are of interest to me, but prominent among these genres is monster movies, especially those featuring a cryptozoological plot (which is why I am posting about this new movie-based blog of mine here on ShukerNature). Consequently, I shall definitely be including on Shuker In MovieLand a sizeable, ongoing selection of mini-reviews of such films, both classic and obscure, box-office blockbusters and less successful but no less fascinating features, plus those that fit somewhere in between these diametric opposites. And here, as a taster of what is to come, is my first review of a cryptozoology-themed monster movie on my new blog. Moreover, I also plan to produce some crossover articles that will appear both here on ShukerNature and on Shuker In MovieLand, so that followers from both blogs can access and read them.
I hope that you will enjoy visiting this brave new world of mine in blog form, and browse through my movie contemplations, commendations, criticisms, witticisms (should you happen to find any!), and other assorted film-related fun and folderol. Also, please do feel free to post any thoughts and comments of your own beneath my mini-reviews, plus any relevant information that you would like to share concerning the movies under consideration. Last of all, but by no means least of all, please don’t forget to follow and subscribe to my new blog, because it will feel so lonely out here by itself in this big old bloggerverse if you don’t. Thank you kindly!
One is a black-hearted, totally merciless scourge of the Universe – and the other is the Predator… (© Dr Karl Shuker)

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CYNOCEPHALI AND OTHER DOG-HEADED DENIZENS OF LEGEND AND LORE

by on Jul.25, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

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A cynocephalus, as depicted on p. 22 of Monstrorum Historia (1642), written by Italian naturalist Ulisse Androvandi (public domain)
In medieval times, scholars firmly believed in the reality of all manner of extraordinary semi-human entities, supposedly inhabiting exotic lands far beyond the well-explored terrain of Europe. Prominent among these tribes of ‘half-men’ were the cynocephali or dog-headed people, popularly referred to by travellers and chroniclers. Their domain’s precise locality, conversely, depended to a large extent upon the opinion of the specific traveller or chronicler in question, as few seemed to share the same view.
CYNOCEPHALI FROM FAR-DISTANT SHORES
Among the many legendary feats romantically attributed to Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), was his successful battle against a 40,000-strong army of cannibalistic cynocephali after he had invaded India, sending them fleeing and howling in terror in his wake. Some, however, were not swift enough and therefore fortunate enough to escape Alexander’s merciless wrath, and were duly captured by him, their dismal fate being to be walled up alive beyond the mountain peaks at the furthest reach of the world.
Alexander the Great fighting cynocephali, painted by an unknown Flemish artist and dating from the late 15th Century (public domain)
A century earlier, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c.484-c.425 BC) had claimed that a race of Ethiopian dog-heads termed the kynokephaloi not only barked instead of speaking, but also could spew forth flames of fire from their mouths! Another Greek historian from this same time period, Ctesias, claimed that cynocephali existed in India.
According to the Roman naturalist and scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), the mysterious country of Ethiopia, which he mistakenly assumed was one and the same as India, was home both to the cynocephali and to the similarly dog-headed cynamolgi. Numbering 120,000 in total, the cynamolgi wore the skins of wild animals, conversed only via canine barks and yelps, and obtained milk, of which they were very fond, not from cows but by milking female dogs.
Cynocephali from the Andaman Islands, in a 15th-Century Book of Wonders (public domain)
Later authors also often stated that India and/or certain Asian island groups were populated by cynocephali. The 13th-Century Venetian traveller Marco Polo, who could never be accused of letting a good story slip by unpublicised, soberly announced that the Andaman Islands off Burma (now Myanmar) were home to a race of milk-drinking, fruit-eating (and occasionally human-devouring) dog-heads who engaged in peaceful trade with India.
During the early 15thCentury,, a travelling Italian missionary monk named Friar Odoric of Pordenone, writing in his Itinerarium (produced c.1410-1412),  relocated these entities to the nearby Nicobar Islands. In the previous century, conversely, the writings of Catalonian Dominican missionary/explorer Friar Jordanus had deposited them rather unkindly in the ocean between Africa and India.
Cynocephali of the Nicobar Islands, in the Itinerarium of Odoric of Pordenone (public domain)
Cynocephali living in India itself were also reported by 17th-Century English theologian and geographer Peter Heylyn. He travelled widely and write extensively during the reign of Charles I, the Interregnum, and the Restoration of Charles II.
Nor should we forget Sir John Mandeville, even though his (in)famous supposed journeys to incredible faraway lands in Africa and Asia during the 14th Century owe considerably more to imagination than to peregrination. In his tome Travels, he averred that a tribe of hound-headed people inhabited a mysterious island of undetermined location called Macumeran. Here, curiously, they venerated an ox, and were ruled by a mighty but pious king, who was identified by a huge ruby around his neck and also wore a string of 300 precious oriental pearls.
Cynocephalus in Mandeville’s tome The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (public domain)
There are even reports of cynocephali being seen, and shown, in Europe. For example, according to an entry and picture in the Tractatus de Signis, Prodigiis et Portentis Antiquis et Novis, Cod. 4417, folio 9v (1503), which was an illustrated script dealing with signs and miracles reported up to 1503, and produced by Austrian historian Jakob Mennel (c.1460-c.1525), a living captured cynocephalus had been brought before Louis the Pious (778-840 AD), King of the Franks and co-emperor with his father Charlemagne.
In addition, the Kiev or Spiridon Psalter, a very famous East Slavic illuminated manuscript produced in 1397 by Archdeacon Spiridon in Kiev, included among its more than 300 miniature illustrations a very striking, brightly-coloured depiction on folio 28r of two pairs of aggressive-looking cynocephali armed with spears and swords flanking at the centre of the picture a haloed human figure (Jesus?). This illustration can be seen at the end of the present ShukerNature blog article. Although Spiridon definitely wrote the text of the Kiev Psalter, at least some of its miniatures may have been added by others at later dates.
Louis the Pious witnessing the living cynocephalus brought before him, as pictured in Jakob Mennel’s Tractatus de Signis, Prodigiis et Portentis Antiquis et Novis (public domain)
CYNOCEPHALI OF THE CELTIC KIND
Less well known than the above-mentioned examples is the fact that dog-headed entities also feature in Celtic lore and mythology. As pointed out by Professor David Gordon White in his definitive book, Myths of the Dog-Man(1991), Irish legends tell of several cynocephalic people.
Perhaps the most notable of these legends concerns a great invasion of Ireland from across the western sea by a race of dog-headed marauders known as the Coinceann or Conchind, who were ultimately vanquished by the demi-god warrior Cúchulainn. Moreover, a tribe of dog-heads opposed King Arthur, and were duly fought by him (or by Sir Kay in some versions of this tale).
Myths of the Dog-Man, by Prof. David Gordon White (© Prof. David Gordon White/University of Chicago Press – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Irish legends also claim that St Christopher, a Canaanite who became the patron saint of travellers, was originally a giant cynocephalus, standing 5 cubits (7.5 ft) tall, who could only bark and howl, but prayed to God to grant him the power of speech so that he could defend Christians and spread the Christian word. God answered his prayer, and St Christopher later carried the infant Jesus safely across a swiftly-flowing river, possibly his most famous deed.
Interestingly, certain Byzantine iconography also depicts St Christopher as a cynocephalus. However, in his book Medieval Art: A Topical Dictionary(1996), Leslie Ross speculated that this perhaps resulted from confusion between the Latin words ‘cananeus’ (meaning ‘Canaanite’) and ‘canineus’ (meaning ‘canine’).
17th-Century depiction of St Christopher as a cynocephalus, at Kermira (Germir), in Cappadocia, Turkey (public domain)
Shetland folklore tells of a supernatural entity known as the wulver, which has the body of a man but is covered in short brown hair and has the head of a wolf. According to tradition, this semi-human being lives in a cave dug out of a steep mound halfway up a hill, and enjoys fishing in deep water. Despite its frightening appearance, however, the wulver is harmless if left alone, and will sometimes even leave a few fishes on the windowsill of poor folk. A similar wolf-man entity is also said to exist in Exmoor’s famous Valley of the Doones. Click herefor further information on ShukerNature concerning British dogmen.
DOG-HEADED DEITIES AND RULERS
Cynocephalic deities are not infrequent in mythology, but the most familiar example must surely be Anubis – ancient Egypt’s traditionally jackal-headed god of the dead, but now needing a taxonomic makeover, as the Egyptian jackal has lately been revealed to be a species of wolf, not a jackal at all. Originally, Anubis was the much-dreaded god of putrefaction, but in later tellings he became transformed into a guardian deity, protecting the dead against robbers, and overseeing the embalming process. His head’s form was derived from the canine scavengers in Egyptian burial graves during the far-distant age preceding the pyramids when graves were shallow and hence readily opened.
Statue of Anubis (© Dr Karl Shuker)
The Furies or Erinnyes – the terrifying trio of avenging goddesses from Greek mythology – were the three hideous daughters of the Greek sky god Uranus and Gaia (Mother Earth), consisting of Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. Although they are more commonly depicted wholly as women, in early traditions they were described as possessing canine heads, as well as leathery bat-wings, fiery bloodshot eyes, foul breath, and hair composed of living serpents (like the trio of gorgons). Their allotted task was to harangue and punish evil-doers, especially parent-killers and oath-breakers, but eventually they were transformed into the kinder Eumenides.
Another figure in Greek mythology who underwent a canine transformation, although this time in reverse, was Lycaon. This wicked, foolhardy king of Arcadia served up the roasted flesh of his own son, Nyctimus, to Zeus, in order to test whether the supreme Greek deity would recognise it. Needless to say, Zeus did, and as a punishment he changed Lycaon into a wolf. Interestingly, however, Lycaon is often portrayed not as a complete wolf, but rather as a wolf-headed man.
16th-Century engraving of Lycaon depicted as a cynocephalus (public domain)
REAL-LIFE CYNOCEPHALI
Zoologists seeking to nominate real animals as the inspiration for the legends of cynocephali generally offer two principal candidates. The first of these is the baboon, of which there are several species. The heads of these large monkeys are certainly dog-like.
Indeed, the yellow baboon is actually known scientifically as Papio cynocephalus. Moreover, the sacred baboon P. hamadryas is native to Ethiopia – source of the earliest cynocephalus myths. An alternative name for a third species, the olive baboon, is the anubis baboon, and it has the taxonomic name P. anubis.
A beautiful 19th-Century engraving depicting the olive or anubis baboon (public domain)
The second candidate is the indri Indri indri [once Indri brevicaudatus] – one of the largest modern-day species of lemur, and indigenous to Madagascar. Measuring over 3 ft, but only possessing a very short, inconspicuous tail (hence brevicaudatus), and often spied sitting upright in trees, this highly distinctive creature does look remarkably like a short dog-headed human.
The indri did not formally become known to science until 1768, when French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat arrived in Madagascar. Even so, when other, earlier travellers visiting this exotic island returned home to Europe and regaled their listeners with much-embellished accounts of their journeys, these may well have included exaggerated tales about the indri.
Indri illustration by Pierre Sonnerat, in Johann von Schreber’s series of tomes Die Saugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen (1775-92) (public domain)
Certainly, it would not take a sizeable stretch of the imagination to convert a dog-headed lemur into a fully-fledged cynocephalus – thus breathing life into a being that never existed in reality, yet which would be faithfully chronicled by a succession of relatively uncritical scholars for many centuries.Of such, indeed, are legends all too often born.

This ShukerNature blog article is expanded and updated from my book The Beasts That Hide From Man.

Cynocephali depicted in a miniature illustration on folio 28r of the Kiev Psalter, a medieval illuminated manuscript dating from 1397  – in close-up on left, in situ on right (public domain)

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MY REVIEW OF: WHERE THE LION TROD, BY C.H. KEELING

by on Jul.16, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

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The Bartlett Society’s republished edition of Clinton Keeling’s book Where the Lion Trod (photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
I first became friends with Clinton Harry Keeling (C.H. Keeling was how he styled himself when authoring publications) back in the 1990s, when I subscribed to his self-published magazine Mainly About Animals – a fascinating pot-pourri of unusual but always memorable wildlife subjects and trivia of the kind that for the most part had lately and tragically fallen between the cracks of mainstream zoological literature. Back in the 19th century, conversely, much data of this eclectic yet also esoteric nature resided in such famous publications as the venerable, long-vanished periodical entitled The Zoologist. Now, thanks to Clinton’s magazine, they could once again thrive in a veritable menagerie of natural history miscellanea, its contents written by Clinton and also a host of enthusiastic contributors.
‘Menagerie’ is a very apposite word to use here, because one of the most outstanding features of both Clinton and his periodical was the extraordinary wealth of knowledge that this man and his magazine encapsulated regarding the history of British zoos, animal parks, menageries, and travelling sideshows that exhibited animals down through the centuries. A self-taught zoologist  born in 1932 who went on to run his own zoological park, establish a highly successful and exceedingly popular wildlife education service lecturing in schools and generally accompanied by various of his exotic animals, Clinton spent a lifetime acquiring this specialized knowledge and enthusiastically disseminated it via innumerable articles published in countless periodicals, both scientific and popular-format.
Sharing his love for this selfsame subject, Clinton and I soon began corresponding on all manner of related themes, especially concerning the possible identity of certain mysterious creatures that had been displayed in such exhibitions at one time or another – and during our correspondence I learned that over the course of time he had self-published an extensive series of books compiling and preserving for future generations this priceless historical material that might otherwise be lost. Having said that, it may indeed have been preserved, but actually accessing it was another matter entirely, inasmuch as these uniquely precious books proved to be just as elusive as some of the controversial beasts documented within them. Consisting of nine volumes in all, among aficionados they were – and still are – fondly referred to as Clinton’s Where the… books, on account of their titles’ shared tag words. And so, beginning in 1984, they consisted of Where the Lion Trod, Where the Crane Danced (published in 1985), Where the Zebu Grazed (1989), Where the Elephant Walked (1991), Where the Macaw Preened (1993), Where the Penguin Plunged (1995), Where the Leopard Lazed (1999), Where the Peacock Screamed (2002), and Where the Camel Strode (2003 – just four years before Clinton passed away).
Once I learned of these works, I diligently sought them out both online and in physical bookshops far and wide, nationally and internationally – including at Hay-on-Wye, the world-famous ‘Town of Books’ on the English-Welsh border that at its height contained around 40 second-hand book shops, which I frequented many times each year, purchasing numerous books, but without ever spotting any of Clinton’s above-listed ones. Unsurprisingly, any spare copies that Clinton himself may once have owned were long gone, and so my search continued, and intensified – indeed, to a zoobibliophile like I am it became akin to finding the Holy Grail in printed form – but all to no avail. And then, last year, yet another online search by me made a sensational discovery – with permission granted by Clinton’s widow Pam, a British natural history society had actually republished the first of Clinton’s never-to-be-found ninesome and was planning to republish all of the remaining eight too!
The society in question was The Bartlett Society, named in honour of Abraham Dee Bartlett, the eminent 19th-Century superintendent of the Zoological Society of London’s gardens at Regent’s Park, devoted to studying yesterday’s methods of keeping wild animals, and founded in 1984 by none other than a certain C.H. Keeling! (Click hereto visit its website.) When I contacted the Society informing them of my longstanding friendship with Clinton but my hitherto fruitless search for his books and my passionate interest in reading and reviewing their recently published edition of Where the Lion Trod, they very kindly sent me a review copy. Suddenly, after more than two decades, my quest for the first – indeed, for any – of Clinton’s legendary Where the… books was at an end, as I found myself holding an exceedingly handsome A4-sized hardback book (RRP £24.95) with crimson covers and truly enthralling contents ensconced within its 146 pages.
Much has changed, especially with regard to zoological classification and animal husbandry, since Where the Lion Trod first appeared in 1984, but in order to preserve its original form and historical significance the Society has made what I feel to have been a wise decision, in that apart from correcting a few typos it has elected to leave the book’s content unaltered, so that it remains essentially the very same volume that Clinton wrote more than three decades ago. The only notable difference, and one that is definitely very useful to the modern-day reader, is the addition at the end of each of its 20 principal chapters by the book’s editor, John Adams, of an appendix containing a list of all of the animals referred to in it, plus some beneficial explanatory notes and updates where necessary. Each principal chapter is devoted to a different menagerie or zoological garden, arranged chronologically, beginning with the Tower of London Menagerie (c.1245-1832) in Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is Clinton’s own setting-the-stage introduction), and progressing chapter by chapter through such significant establishments as the Exeter ‘Change and Surrey Zoological Garden, Windsor Park, the first Liverpool Zoological Garden, the Manchester Zoological Garden, the first Edinburgh Zoological Garden, the Cardiff Zoological Garden, and so on, ending in Chapter 20 with the Maidstone Zoological Garden, which closed in 1959. An additional chapter, entitled Final Cogitations, provides a concise, thoughtful conclusion and in turn offers much food for thought as to what is still to come in the subsequent eight Where the… books.
The Bartlett Society’s edition of Clinton Keeling’s previously-unpublished book Ligers, Tigons and Other Hybrid Mammals(photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Within each of the principal chapters, the content is standard, consisting of the history of how the establishment came into existence, the most notable animals that it exhibited at one time or another, where these animals originated and what happened to them once the establishment finally closed, and as previously noted a list of these animals – which for me is an especially fascinating portion, because it invariably includes a number of mystifying creatures whose zoological identities remain uncertain or entirely unresolved. Like me, Clinton had always been interested in cryptozoology, the investigation of animals whose existence or identity has yet to be ascertained by mainstream science, and he was not averse to speculating that some of the most baffling beasts exhibited at some of these menageries and zoological parks might actually have been species then-unknown and possibly even still unknown to science. Indeed, I have previously documented in a ShukerNature article (click hereto access it) that some such beasts were the subject of an extensive communication sent to me by Clinton many years ago, in which he speculated that more than a century earlier some bona fide specimens of the Nandi bear – an infamously ferocious but formally unconfirmed Kenyan mystery mammal – may actually have been exhibited alive in Britain. Clinton was also very interested in hybrid animals, especially mammals, and referred to various examples that were exhibited in the establishments documented by him here. (Interestingly, he even wrote a book on this subject, Ligers, Tigons and Other Hybrid Mammals, pictured above, although it existed only in manuscript form until published by the Society in 2016, and is currently out of print – another Keeling book quest requires my undertaking, methinks!)
Last but by no means least, this already very sumptuous volume is made even more so by the addition of a series of exquisite reproductions of rare vintage illustrations of some of the zoos and their animals, scattered through the chapters. They serve very effectively, and evocatively, in conjuring these erstwhile establishments forth from the shadows of the distant (and sometimes not so distant) past, and breathing a visual life back into them, giving us a precious, seldom-seen glimpse of their heydays, as well as their triumphs, treasures, and tragedies.
I had planned to review this wonderful book some time ago, but as we all know only too well, 2020 has had other ideas as to what would be concentrating our minds and transforming our lives during the several past and likely many succeeding months, so my writings have fallen somewhat behind. Happily, however, I can now via this review wholeheartedly recommend The Bartlett Society’s well-presented and extremely welcome resurrection of Clinton’s first Where the… book, which I guarantee unreservedly will enthrall and entertain for a long time to come all readers with an interest in the history of zoological gardens in Britain and the vast array of extraordinary animals that they housed, often providing their astonished visitors with the very first views of their exotic species ever obtained on these shores.
I now await with bated breath the republication of Clinton’s remaining eight volumes – who knows what surprises and delights await within their all-too-long unseen contents? (Indeed, even as I write this, his second book, Where the Crane Danced, is due to be published soon by the Society and can be pre-ordered there – click here.) Whatever they do contain, I do know with certainty that Clinton would heartily approve of his researches being made available to new and old generations of readers alike. I feel very privileged to have been one of his many friends, and to have been able to review this first volume in the much-deserved renaissance of his greatest works.
Incidentally, I had originally planned to list and briefly examine here some of the still-contentious beasts of mystifying, zoologically-opaque nature exhibited at certain of the establishments documented in this delightful book, but that would spoil the fun for its readers. Consequently, I’ll leave them unconsidered, so that you can cogitate and reflect upon their putative identities for yourself when you buy it!
My sincere thanks to John Adams at The Bartlett Society for most generously providing me with a complimentary review copy of Where the Lion Trod.
Coming shortly – The Bartlett Society’s soon-to-be republished edition of Clinton Keeling’s book Where the Crane Danced(photograph © The Bartlett Society – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

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GIANT SPIDERS IN LOUISIANA? Part 2: TWO EVEN CLOSER ARACHNID ENCOUNTERS IN 2007

by on Jun.29, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A second spectacular giant spider illustration by Swedish artist and friend Richard Svensson – see Part 1 of this ShukerNature blog article for a previous one by him (© Richard Svensson)
In Part 1 of this online world-exclusive ShukerNature blog article of mine (click hereto read it), I documented a hitherto-unpublished alleged sighting of a giant spider in 2005 by an American soldier in Louisiana, as recalled to me by him via a series of emails. However, the soldier, whom I am referring to merely as Sgt S (not his real rank or initial), also had two further sightings of such creatures, and in much the same location, but this time in 2007. I ended Part 1 of this article by quoting a section from his email to me of 29 July 2019 concerning his 2005 sighting, but this same email also contained a full account of his two 2007 sightings, plus some thoughts by him concerning the possible lifestyle of these mega-spiders. So here are his 2007 account and thoughts:
2007 Sightings
During another pre-deployment training exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, within the Fort Polk Wildlife Management Area and centered at FOB Forge in the same area as the 2005 sighting, I briefly observed another giant spider in daylight hours and again at night. This one was different than the 2005 sighting as it was larger, with thicker legs and body, as well as a darker coloring. I attached a map depicting the approximate location of each sighting.
The first sighting was in the late afternoon when two other soldiers and I went for a run on Alligator Lake Loop, a wide dirt road between two wooded areas near Highway 469. One of the soldiers began suffering from heat exhaustion and sat down in the road. We moved her to the shade, and I ran for help. When I returned with the medics, they placed the patient on the truck, and we all started moving back when a Sergeant complained he stepped on something sticky. Immediately a batch of leaves on the embankment started moving. He and I both saw the head of a giant hairy spider pop up and back down. He wrote it off as a squirrel, but I clearly saw it pop up and move its head around then drop back down. It had two huge shiny black eyes each about three or four inches around. The head itself was bigger than one foot and looked like the head of a tarantula. It had thick hairy bristles all over it with large white or clear fangs which were only partially exposed, but with smaller horizontal pinchers facing each other at a small mouth about two or three inches each. Its coloring was a dark brown with light striped color variations giving it excellent camouflage for the area. It dropped back down into the leaves and essentially disappeared so when we asked if anyone else saw it, there was nothing to see but dry leaves and dirt. Everyone was heading back so we took off running and jumped on the medic truck. When we got back to the aid station, the Sergeant who stepped in the sticky spot had lost his running shoe. He went back later looking for the shoe but could not find it anywhere on that trail.
In the late afternoon, our Platoon Sergeant wanted to see how far we ran and exactly what happened, so we walked back to the same spot. At the location of the sighting, we were talking about the incident and heard leaves rustling and a light thud behind us. We turn around and the missing shoe was there behind us in the middle of the road that we just walked through. We were both astonished as we could not have missed a white shoe in the middle of a wide dirt road. The shoe was wet (on a hot, dry day on the dry dirt road) and it looked like it had been chewed on, with big holes in it. My Platoon Sergeant thought someone was playing tricks on us and angrily started yelling “Who’s out there? Show yourself?” We heard a loud hissing and clicking coming from the ground and the leaves on the embankment started shaking so naturally, we both took off running and screaming like banshees. Senior leadership ordered us not to say anything about it to anyone and cautioned everyone to stay in groups.
Louisiana giant spider, 2007 daytime sighting (plus earlier-described 2005 sighting), marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Later that week during the training exercises, I was positioned at an attic window of a fake wooden house in a staged village. Around midnight I saw an old buddy from basic training walking by and I stopped him to talk. I walked out on the roof and jumped down to catch up and have a cigarette. A few minutes later, while talking with my back to the house he suddenly got very scared, yelled and threw his cigarette lighter at the house, and ran away. When I turned around, I caught a glimpse of the giant spider walking away on the roof I was just standing on about 12 feet away. It was easily six feet around at the feet and the torso was roughly one foot thick by two feet long. I could see two claws at the end of the back feet. It was dark brown with light stripes. It looked very much like an enormous tarantula with thick legs about two inches around at the feet and three to four inches at the base. I threw rocks at it as it scurried away, and it scampered off the roof and disappeared into the darkness of the woods.
My old friend came back with his Commander and he was noticeably shaken, hyperventilating, and almost crying, completely out of character for him (he was later referred to mental health and I did not see him again after that night). I confirmed to the Captain what I saw and after conferring with senior leadership, once again they told us it wasn’t real, and if we talked about it, we would be ridiculed, and our careers jeopardized. As far as I know, nothing was put on record about the incidents.
This concludes my accounts of the giant spiders at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Louisiana giant spider, 2007 night sighting, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
My assumptions based on observations of the incidents:
1. The spider is rarely seen because it is nocturnal and burrowing, probably living in underground nests connected by spider-tunnels, it also moves extremely fast and retreats hastily when confronted.
2. It is an ambush Alpha predator, utilizing trapdoor-style burrows with draglines to detect prey. It makes thatched covers for these trapdoor burrows with sticks and leaves and its own silk. It may attack and consume humans if they are alone.
3.  It may scent mark its prey or deploy a chemical defense to ward off attackers.
4.  It may track or hunt by scent. (I believe the animal was able to find me on the roof of a building days later after encountering it a mile away. I believe this to be the case as I urinated in the wood line at both locations. Either that or it scent-marked me the two times I was there).
5. The sightings in 2005 and 2007 may have been the same species but different sex, as female spiders are often larger and different color than males.
6.  Military leadership may choose to keep a lid on the existence of such creatures to prevent public panic, destruction of morale, loss of training schedule and facilities as well as the loss of contracts and to avoid scrutiny of primary leadership if said creatures are responsible for missing persons.
7.  Local soldiers and cadre offer jokes about the creatures but also issue serious cautions to stay together in groups particularly at night because of actual missing person cases.
 Thank you for your time.
Louisiana giant spider, distance between 2005 and 2007 sightings, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
As can be imagined, faced with such an extraordinary yet so soberly-written and detailed an account I was nothing if not nonplussed, and responded to it with the following email of my own:
Since my previous email to you, I’ve read and re-read your two very detailed emails to me regarding the apparent giant spiders witnessed by you and others at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Based upon your descriptions, there can be little doubt that the creatures were indeed spiders, but I am at a loss to explain their size, as this is so much bigger than fundamental arachnid anatomy and physiology would normally embrace. The traps and trap-lids that you mention are certainly reminiscent of those created by trap-door spiders, and I also agree with your various conclusions at the end of your second email. How such sizeable spiders, even if nocturnal, could have succeeded in eluding scientific discovery, however, remains as perplexing to me as their size. What would be interesting and potentially enlightening in relation to such questions and mysteries would be to ascertain if others, perhaps including other servicemen, have also spoken of encountering such creatures. So with that in mind, and having already received your kind permission to do so, I shall indeed compile an article at some point, based upon your accounts, and see what it may elicit. There must surely be some historical precedents involved here, local people or those spending time in the area, such as fellow servicemen as noted earlier, must surely have stories of their own, and perhaps giving yours some publicity will encourage them to come forward with their testimonies.
Meanwhile, thank you once again most sincerely for kindly making your experiences known to me and for the amount of detail concerning them that you have presented – a fascinating read indeed.
On 6 August, I received a final email from Sgt S concerning his experiences:
Outstanding! Thank you Dr Shuker for all your efforts. I will offer you two more pieces of information that I recalled about the sightings. For the 2005 sighting, when the creature turned around to flee into the trees, it appeared to have something about the size of a basketball tied or stuck to its back legs, dangling separate from the body. I think this may have been a smaller captured prey that it carried off. I bring this up because it may answer why it’s evaded discovery, if it instinctually carries off its victims to multiple burrows.
Also, while inspecting the 2005 area a senior officer claimed he saw it and ordered everyone to withdraw from the area. He also ordered we remain silent on the issue or there would be serious concurrences.
In the 2007 incident, as the Platoon Sergeant and I turned to run away I felt something like water spray the back of my legs. Afterward other soldiers were complaining that I had a horrible musty smell about me and my clothing even though I was very routine with my personal hygiene. I believe the spider scent marked me allowing it to locate me inside the attic of a building a day later. My thought is that this highly predator[y] behavior has eliminated previous eye witnesses.
Thank you and good luck.
So there we have it – either a meticulously thought-out hoax or one of the most astonishing cryptozoological testimonies ever recorded! If the former, it is important that the full details as originally provided are documented so that they can be consulted if later retellings by others embellish or distort; if the latter, it goes without saying that as comprehensive a documentation as possible is essential in order to preserve an immensely significant mystery beast case.
Female Carolina wolf spider (© Noah J Mueller/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
The largest species of spider known to exist in much of North America is the Carolina wolf spider Hogna carolinensis, a burrow-digging species whose females, black in colour and larger than the males, measure up to 25 mm in body length – a far cry indeed from the colossi claimed by Sgt S. Of especial interest, however, is that his accounts of alleged giant spiders in Louisiana are not unprecedented. As I documented in a ShukerNature blog article of mine from 30 July 2014 dealing with alleged sightings of giant spiders (click hereto read it), and as also briefly alluded to by Sgt S in one of his emails to me, just such creature had indeed been reported from that very same American State, but almost 60 years before the first of Sgt S’s three encounters. Here is what I wrote about it:
One of the most startling giant spider reports comes from Leesville in Louisiana, USA. According to William Slaydon, it was here, while walking northwards along Highway 171 to church one cool night in 1948, that he, his wife, and their three young grandsons had spied a gigantic spider – hairy, black, and memorably described as “the size of a washtub”. It emerged from a ditch just ahead of them and crossed the road before disappearing into some brush on the other side. Not surprisingly, the family never again walked along that particular route to church at night!
Moreover, just a few days ago, on 25 June 2020, longstanding friend and fellow cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard briefly recalled on his public Facebook timeline an alleged giant spider reported in the Atlanta area, Georgia, by a firefighter. Ken stated that this eyewitness had claimed that the spider was 11 inches across (as big as a dinner plate), and that when he first saw it out of the corner of his eye he thought that it was a cat! Ken fully documented this report as follows in his book A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts (2016):
I was admittedly shocked when I was contacted by a man from College Park, Georgia, who described an encounter with a nightmare-sized specimen. The witness, Christopher Williams, has an impressive background, having worked as a fireman and EMT for the past fifteen years. As William tells it, he was mowing his grass early one summer morning a few years ago, and when he bumped his lawnmower into the side of a tall pine tree in his front yard, the impact caused something to move. Out of the corner of his eye, Williams detected something that was brown in color easing slowly up the tree. As he turned to look, he was horrified to realize that the object in question was in fact the father of all wolf spiders and in his own words was at least eleven inches long, “as big as a house cat.”
Immediately aware that he was looking at something that wasn’t supposed to exist, Williams backed up slowly and headed into the house in order to retrieve either his camera or cell phone. He was admittedly concerned that such a move could place him in danger, as it might motivate the enormous arachnid to pounce on him. By the time Williams returned a couple of minutes later with camera in hand, the thing had disappeared. All I can add to this perplexing mystery is that, despite the extraordinary nature of his claim, over the phone Williams came off as an impressively sincere and credible eyewitness.
Ken’s FB post recalling Atlanta’s mega-arachnid shortly afterwards received a response from a mutual FB friend, Kimberly Poeppey, who recalled two further reports of giant spiders in the USA, both of which were new to me, and she later added a few additional details on her own FB timeline following my request for any further information that she may have. According to one of these reports, a couple pulling up in their motor vehicle to their house’s open drive near the Everglades in Florida reputedly spied a puppy-sized spider squatting in the garage’s open doorway, but when they pulled up it wandered off into the bushes. Kimberly believes that this occurred within the past 20 years. In the second incident, two sewer operatives in New York City were working on a water line in a crawl space within an old building’s basement when in their flashlights’ beam many eyes shone back at them, and supposedly the beam further revealed that these eyes belonged to a huge spider, bigger than a rat! Kimberly believes that this occurred some time during the 1960s/1970s, and she recalls that the two operatives refused to go back in there afterwards.
Are the Everglades in Florida home to puppy-sized spiders? (public domain)
In over three decades of research into mystery animals of many kinds, I have read countless testimonies and spoken to numerous alleged eyewitnesses of unidentified beasts. During that very long period of time, I have gained no small degree of insight concerning the truthfulness or otherwise of such documents and persons. To my mind, drawing extensively upon this valuable experience, the accounts of Sgt S ring true, and the above-noted report from 1948 of just such a spider in the very same area of Louisiana lends anecdotal support if nothing else.
In addition, the following comments elicited from Facebook friend Willis Beyer on 25 June shortly after I posted Part 1 of this article to the Cryptozoology group on FB are well worth recording here. According to Willis:
Karl, seriously, after spending roughly five months training at Ft. Polk back in the summer of 1970, including time in the “bush” preparing for Vietnam duty, I wouldn’t be surprised at all that the soldiers actually saw a cryptid arachnid there.
Please understand that I am speaking of the place as it was then from half-century old memories, OK? But at that time, areas of the “bush” there that were used for pre-Vietnam training were the hottest, most humid, “jungliest” environment that I had ever spent time in. (I later found out that they were worse than some areas of the bush in Vietnam.) Insects, snakes (both poisonous and non-poisonous), lizards, bats, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, wild dogs, feral hogs, etc., abounded. A very large cryptid species of arachnid would have had plenty of available prey!
Consider this: A late good friend of mine, a Marine, spent two tours in the central highlands. Long story short, while he was there, two Marines from his outfit were taken by tigers, both at night, both from FOPs (forward observation posts). According to my friend, they were reported as KIA, but their families were never told the circumstances of their deaths, just that they had been killed.
Also, in my experience, the military didn’t actively pursue AWOLs, at least stateside. The usual response, unless the serviceperson in question had access to critical classified MOS info was, “they’ll eventually turn up”.
Needless to say, Willis’s comments corroborate very closely a number of the claims made by Sgt S in his extensive account. How to explain his giant spider reports from a strictly zoological perspective, conversely, is another matter entirely.
Life-sized model of a griffinfly ( GermanOle/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
This is because there are notable physiological constraints to consider when considering the likelihood of such creatures actually existing. As I noted back in my July 2014 ShukerNature article and also in my emails to Sgt S, some of today’s largest known spiders utilise a tracheal respiratory system comparable to that of insects, i.e. consisting of a network of minute tubes that carry oxygen to every cell in the body. However, this prevents such spiders and all insects from attaining huge sizes in the modern world, because the tracheae could not transport oxygen efficiently enough inside spiders or insects of giant stature. During the late Carboniferous and early Permian Periods, 300 million years ago, conversely, huge relatives of dragonflies known as griffinflies or meganisopterans did exist, but back in those primeval ages the atmosphere’s oxygen level was far greater than it is today, thereby compensating for the tracheal system’s inefficiency. 
In contrast to known species of large modern-day spider, smaller spiders employ flattened organs of passive respiration called book lungs rather than a tracheal system. Yet neither system is sufficiently competent to enable spiders to attain enormous sizes, based upon current knowledge at least. So if a giant spider does thrive in some secluded, far-off realm, let alone in Louisiana, it must have evolved a radically different, much more advanced respiratory system, not just a greatly enlarged body.
Coconut crab (© Whologwhy/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Interestingly, there is a notable precedent for the development of a truly novel respiratory organ among large land-dwelling arthropods, which I discussed as follows in my July 2014 ShukerNature article:
 The largest of all such species known to be living today is the coconut crab Birgus latro, which sports a body length of up to 16 in, a weight of up to 9 lb, and a leg span of more than 3 ft. Indigenous to various islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, despite being a crab it is exclusively terrestrial (it cannot swim and will drown if immersed in water for over an hour), and has evolved a unique respiratory organ known as a branchiostegal lung that enables it to exist entirely on land, and which developmentally can be seen as midway between gills and true lungs.

So who knows: if crustaceans (which are predominantly aquatic arthropods) can achieve this during evolution, maybe spiders (which are predominantly terrestrial anyway) have also achieved something analogous. Moreover, it has been suggested that perhaps some reports of so-called giant spiders are actually sightings of giant land crabs, but crabs are very different in appearance from spiders, due in no small way to their instantly visible chelae (pincers), and no such crabs are known to exist in any of the world regions from which giant spiders have been reported.
In any case, all of this is sheer speculation, and is likely to remain so – unless, as hoped for by Sgt S, someone should not only capture or kill a giant spider in Louisiana but also retain or preserve its body afterwards, and duly alert scientific attention to it. Only then will we know for certain that mega-arachnids really do exist, and, therefore, have indeed overcome all physiological constraints. Meanwhile, his remarkable story is now, at last, fully accessible to the public – so who can say what it may elicit at some stage in the future?
I wish to offer my most sincere thanks to Sgt S for contacting me and for so kindly permitting me to document fully here his very thought-provoking accounts; and as always to my exceedingly talented artist friend Richard Svensson for so kindly permitting me to utilise his awesome artwork in my writings.
In addition to the two parts of this article and my previously-referenced July 2014 article, for further reports of giant spiders presented here on ShukerNature please click here, here, and here.
Atlach-Nacha, the Spider God of Clark Ashton Smith’s primordial Hyperborea (© Richard Svensson)

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GIANT SPIDERS IN LOUISIANA? Part 2: TWO EVEN CLOSER ARACHNID ENCOUNTERS IN 2007

by on Jun.29, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A second spectacular giant spider illustration by Swedish artist and friend Richard Svensson – see Part 1 of this ShukerNature blog article for a previous one by him (© Richard Svensson)
In Part 1 of this online world-exclusive ShukerNature blog article of mine (click hereto read it), I documented a hitherto-unpublished alleged sighting of a giant spider in 2005 by an American soldier in Louisiana, as recalled to me by him via a series of emails. However, the soldier, whom I am referring to merely as Sgt S (not his real rank or initial), also had two further sightings of such creatures, and in much the same location, but this time in 2007. I ended Part 1 of this article by quoting a section from his email to me of 29 July 2019 concerning his 2005 sighting, but this same email also contained a full account of his two 2007 sightings, plus some thoughts by him concerning the possible lifestyle of these mega-spiders. So here are his 2007 account and thoughts:
2007 Sightings
During another pre-deployment training exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, within the Fort Polk Wildlife Management Area and centered at FOB Forge in the same area as the 2005 sighting, I briefly observed another giant spider in daylight hours and again at night. This one was different than the 2005 sighting as it was larger, with thicker legs and body, as well as a darker coloring. I attached a map depicting the approximate location of each sighting.
The first sighting was in the late afternoon when two other soldiers and I went for a run on Alligator Lake Loop, a wide dirt road between two wooded areas near Highway 469. One of the soldiers began suffering from heat exhaustion and sat down in the road. We moved her to the shade, and I ran for help. When I returned with the medics, they placed the patient on the truck, and we all started moving back when a Sergeant complained he stepped on something sticky. Immediately a batch of leaves on the embankment started moving. He and I both saw the head of a giant hairy spider pop up and back down. He wrote it off as a squirrel, but I clearly saw it pop up and move its head around then drop back down. It had two huge shiny black eyes each about three or four inches around. The head itself was bigger than one foot and looked like the head of a tarantula. It had thick hairy bristles all over it with large white or clear fangs which were only partially exposed, but with smaller horizontal pinchers facing each other at a small mouth about two or three inches each. Its coloring was a dark brown with light striped color variations giving it excellent camouflage for the area. It dropped back down into the leaves and essentially disappeared so when we asked if anyone else saw it, there was nothing to see but dry leaves and dirt. Everyone was heading back so we took off running and jumped on the medic truck. When we got back to the aid station, the Sergeant who stepped in the sticky spot had lost his running shoe. He went back later looking for the shoe but could not find it anywhere on that trail.
In the late afternoon, our Platoon Sergeant wanted to see how far we ran and exactly what happened, so we walked back to the same spot. At the location of the sighting, we were talking about the incident and heard leaves rustling and a light thud behind us. We turn around and the missing shoe was there behind us in the middle of the road that we just walked through. We were both astonished as we could not have missed a white shoe in the middle of a wide dirt road. The shoe was wet (on a hot, dry day on the dry dirt road) and it looked like it had been chewed on, with big holes in it. My Platoon Sergeant thought someone was playing tricks on us and angrily started yelling “Who’s out there? Show yourself?” We heard a loud hissing and clicking coming from the ground and the leaves on the embankment started shaking so naturally, we both took off running and screaming like banshees. Senior leadership ordered us not to say anything about it to anyone and cautioned everyone to stay in groups.
Louisiana giant spider, 2007 daytime sighting (plus earlier-described 2005 sighting), marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
Later that week during the training exercises, I was positioned at an attic window of a fake wooden house in a staged village. Around midnight I saw an old buddy from basic training walking by and I stopped him to talk. I walked out on the roof and jumped down to catch up and have a cigarette. A few minutes later, while talking with my back to the house he suddenly got very scared, yelled and threw his cigarette lighter at the house, and ran away. When I turned around, I caught a glimpse of the giant spider walking away on the roof I was just standing on about 12 feet away. It was easily six feet around at the feet and the torso was roughly one foot thick by two feet long. I could see two claws at the end of the back feet. It was dark brown with light stripes. It looked very much like an enormous tarantula with thick legs about two inches around at the feet and three to four inches at the base. I threw rocks at it as it scurried away, and it scampered off the roof and disappeared into the darkness of the woods.
My old friend came back with his Commander and he was noticeably shaken, hyperventilating, and almost crying, completely out of character for him (he was later referred to mental health and I did not see him again after that night). I confirmed to the Captain what I saw and after conferring with senior leadership, once again they told us it wasn’t real, and if we talked about it, we would be ridiculed, and our careers jeopardized. As far as I know, nothing was put on record about the incidents.
This concludes my accounts of the giant spiders at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Louisiana giant spider, 2007 night sighting, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
My assumptions based on observations of the incidents:
1. The spider is rarely seen because it is nocturnal and burrowing, probably living in underground nests connected by spider-tunnels, it also moves extremely fast and retreats hastily when confronted.
2. It is an ambush Alpha predator, utilizing trapdoor-style burrows with draglines to detect prey. It makes thatched covers for these trapdoor burrows with sticks and leaves and its own silk. It may attack and consume humans if they are alone.
3.  It may scent mark its prey or deploy a chemical defense to ward off attackers.
4.  It may track or hunt by scent. (I believe the animal was able to find me on the roof of a building days later after encountering it a mile away. I believe this to be the case as I urinated in the wood line at both locations. Either that or it scent-marked me the two times I was there).
5. The sightings in 2005 and 2007 may have been the same species but different sex, as female spiders are often larger and different color than males.
6.  Military leadership may choose to keep a lid on the existence of such creatures to prevent public panic, destruction of morale, loss of training schedule and facilities as well as the loss of contracts and to avoid scrutiny of primary leadership if said creatures are responsible for missing persons.
7.  Local soldiers and cadre offer jokes about the creatures but also issue serious cautions to stay together in groups particularly at night because of actual missing person cases.
 Thank you for your time.
Louisiana giant spider, distance between 2005 and 2007 sightings, marked out by Sgt S on Google map (© Google Maps – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
As can be imagined, faced with such an extraordinary yet so soberly-written and detailed an account I was nothing if not nonplussed, and responded to it with the following email of my own:
Since my previous email to you, I’ve read and re-read your two very detailed emails to me regarding the apparent giant spiders witnessed by you and others at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Based upon your descriptions, there can be little doubt that the creatures were indeed spiders, but I am at a loss to explain their size, as this is so much bigger than fundamental arachnid anatomy and physiology would normally embrace. The traps and trap-lids that you mention are certainly reminiscent of those created by trap-door spiders, and I also agree with your various conclusions at the end of your second email. How such sizeable spiders, even if nocturnal, could have succeeded in eluding scientific discovery, however, remains as perplexing to me as their size. What would be interesting and potentially enlightening in relation to such questions and mysteries would be to ascertain if others, perhaps including other servicemen, have also spoken of encountering such creatures. So with that in mind, and having already received your kind permission to do so, I shall indeed compile an article at some point, based upon your accounts, and see what it may elicit. There must surely be some historical precedents involved here, local people or those spending time in the area, such as fellow servicemen as noted earlier, must surely have stories of their own, and perhaps giving yours some publicity will encourage them to come forward with their testimonies.
Meanwhile, thank you once again most sincerely for kindly making your experiences known to me and for the amount of detail concerning them that you have presented – a fascinating read indeed.
On 6 August, I received a final email from Sgt S concerning his experiences:
Outstanding! Thank you Dr Shuker for all your efforts. I will offer you two more pieces of information that I recalled about the sightings. For the 2005 sighting, when the creature turned around to flee into the trees, it appeared to have something about the size of a basketball tied or stuck to its back legs, dangling separate from the body. I think this may have been a smaller captured prey that it carried off. I bring this up because it may answer why it’s evaded discovery, if it instinctually carries off its victims to multiple burrows.
Also, while inspecting the 2005 area a senior officer claimed he saw it and ordered everyone to withdraw from the area. He also ordered we remain silent on the issue or there would be serious concurrences.
In the 2007 incident, as the Platoon Sergeant and I turned to run away I felt something like water spray the back of my legs. Afterward other soldiers were complaining that I had a horrible musty smell about me and my clothing even though I was very routine with my personal hygiene. I believe the spider scent marked me allowing it to locate me inside the attic of a building a day later. My thought is that this highly predator[y] behavior has eliminated previous eye witnesses.
Thank you and good luck.
So there we have it – either a meticulously thought-out hoax or one of the most astonishing cryptozoological testimonies ever recorded! If the former, it is important that the full details as originally provided are documented so that they can be consulted if later retellings by others embellish or distort; if the latter, it goes without saying that as comprehensive a documentation as possible is essential in order to preserve an immensely significant mystery beast case.
Female Carolina wolf spider (© Noah J Mueller/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
The largest species of spider known to exist in much of North America is the Carolina wolf spider Hogna carolinensis, a burrow-digging species whose females, black in colour and larger than the males, measure up to 25 mm in body length – a far cry indeed from the colossi claimed by Sgt S. Of especial interest, however, is that his accounts of alleged giant spiders in Louisiana are not unprecedented. As I documented in a ShukerNature blog article of mine from 30 July 2014 dealing with alleged sightings of giant spiders (click hereto read it), and as also briefly alluded to by Sgt S in one of his emails to me, just such creature had indeed been reported from that very same American State, but almost 60 years before the first of Sgt S’s three encounters. Here is what I wrote about it:
One of the most startling giant spider reports comes from Leesville in Louisiana, USA. According to William Slaydon, it was here, while walking northwards along Highway 171 to church one cool night in 1948, that he, his wife, and their three young grandsons had spied a gigantic spider – hairy, black, and memorably described as “the size of a washtub”. It emerged from a ditch just ahead of them and crossed the road before disappearing into some brush on the other side. Not surprisingly, the family never again walked along that particular route to church at night!
Moreover, just a few days ago, on 25 June 2020, longstanding friend and fellow cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard briefly recalled on his public Facebook timeline an alleged giant spider reported in the Atlanta area, Georgia, by a firefighter. Ken stated that this eyewitness had claimed that the spider was 11 inches across (as big as a dinner plate), and that when he first saw it out of the corner of his eye he thought that it was a cat! Ken fully documented this report as follows in his book A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts (2016):
I was admittedly shocked when I was contacted by a man from College Park, Georgia, who described an encounter with a nightmare-sized specimen. The witness, Christopher Williams, has an impressive background, having worked as a fireman and EMT for the past fifteen years. As William tells it, he was mowing his grass early one summer morning a few years ago, and when he bumped his lawnmower into the side of a tall pine tree in his front yard, the impact caused something to move. Out of the corner of his eye, Williams detected something that was brown in color easing slowly up the tree. As he turned to look, he was horrified to realize that the object in question was in fact the father of all wolf spiders and in his own words was at least eleven inches long, “as big as a house cat.”
Immediately aware that he was looking at something that wasn’t supposed to exist, Williams backed up slowly and headed into the house in order to retrieve either his camera or cell phone. He was admittedly concerned that such a move could place him in danger, as it might motivate the enormous arachnid to pounce on him. By the time Williams returned a couple of minutes later with camera in hand, the thing had disappeared. All I can add to this perplexing mystery is that, despite the extraordinary nature of his claim, over the phone Williams came off as an impressively sincere and credible eyewitness.
Ken’s FB post recalling Atlanta’s mega-arachnid shortly afterwards received a response from a mutual FB friend, Kimberly Poeppey, who recalled two further reports of giant spiders in the USA, both of which were new to me, and she later added a few additional details on her own FB timeline following my request for any further information that she may have. According to one of these reports, a couple pulling up in their motor vehicle to their house’s open drive near the Everglades in Florida reputedly spied a puppy-sized spider squatting in the garage’s open doorway, but when they pulled up it wandered off into the bushes. Kimberly believes that this occurred within the past 20 years. In the second incident, two sewer operatives in New York City were working on a water line in a crawl space within an old building’s basement when in their flashlights’ beam many eyes shone back at them, and supposedly the beam further revealed that these eyes belonged to a huge spider, bigger than a rat! Kimberly believes that this occurred some time during the 1960s/1970s, and she recalls that the two operatives refused to go back in there afterwards.
Are the Everglades in Florida home to puppy-sized spiders? (public domain)
In over three decades of research into mystery animals of many kinds, I have read countless testimonies and spoken to numerous alleged eyewitnesses of unidentified beasts. During that very long period of time, I have gained no small degree of insight concerning the truthfulness or otherwise of such documents and persons. To my mind, drawing extensively upon this valuable experience, the accounts of Sgt S ring true, and the above-noted report from 1948 of just such a spider in the very same area of Louisiana lends anecdotal support if nothing else.
In addition, the following comments elicited from Facebook friend Willis Beyer on 25 June shortly after I posted Part 1 of this article to the Cryptozoology group on FB are well worth recording here. According to Willis:
Karl, seriously, after spending roughly five months training at Ft. Polk back in the summer of 1970, including time in the “bush” preparing for Vietnam duty, I wouldn’t be surprised at all that the soldiers actually saw a cryptid arachnid there.
Please understand that I am speaking of the place as it was then from half-century old memories, OK? But at that time, areas of the “bush” there that were used for pre-Vietnam training were the hottest, most humid, “jungliest” environment that I had ever spent time in. (I later found out that they were worse than some areas of the bush in Vietnam.) Insects, snakes (both poisonous and non-poisonous), lizards, bats, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, wild dogs, feral hogs, etc., abounded. A very large cryptid species of arachnid would have had plenty of available prey!
Consider this: A late good friend of mine, a Marine, spent two tours in the central highlands. Long story short, while he was there, two Marines from his outfit were taken by tigers, both at night, both from FOPs (forward observation posts). According to my friend, they were reported as KIA, but their families were never told the circumstances of their deaths, just that they had been killed.
Also, in my experience, the military didn’t actively pursue AWOLs, at least stateside. The usual response, unless the serviceperson in question had access to critical classified MOS info was, “they’ll eventually turn up”.
Needless to say, Willis’s comments corroborate very closely a number of the claims made by Sgt S in his extensive account. How to explain his giant spider reports from a strictly zoological perspective, conversely, is another matter entirely.
Life-sized model of a griffinfly ( GermanOle/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
This is because there are notable physiological constraints to consider when considering the likelihood of such creatures actually existing. As I noted back in my July 2014 ShukerNature article and also in my emails to Sgt S, some of today’s largest known spiders utilise a tracheal respiratory system comparable to that of insects, i.e. consisting of a network of minute tubes that carry oxygen to every cell in the body. However, this prevents such spiders and all insects from attaining huge sizes in the modern world, because the tracheae could not transport oxygen efficiently enough inside spiders or insects of giant stature. During the late Carboniferous and early Permian Periods, 300 million years ago, conversely, huge relatives of dragonflies known as griffinflies or meganisopterans did exist, but back in those primeval ages the atmosphere’s oxygen level was far greater than it is today, thereby compensating for the tracheal system’s inefficiency. 
In contrast to known species of large modern-day spider, smaller spiders employ flattened organs of passive respiration called book lungs rather than a tracheal system. Yet neither system is sufficiently competent to enable spiders to attain enormous sizes, based upon current knowledge at least. So if a giant spider does thrive in some secluded, far-off realm, let alone in Louisiana, it must have evolved a radically different, much more advanced respiratory system, not just a greatly enlarged body.
Coconut crab (© Whologwhy/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Interestingly, there is a notable precedent for the development of a truly novel respiratory organ among large land-dwelling arthropods, which I discussed as follows in my July 2014 ShukerNature article:
 The largest of all such species known to be living today is the coconut crab Birgus latro, which sports a body length of up to 16 in, a weight of up to 9 lb, and a leg span of more than 3 ft. Indigenous to various islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, despite being a crab it is exclusively terrestrial (it cannot swim and will drown if immersed in water for over an hour), and has evolved a unique respiratory organ known as a branchiostegal lung that enables it to exist entirely on land, and which developmentally can be seen as midway between gills and true lungs.

So who knows: if crustaceans (which are predominantly aquatic arthropods) can achieve this during evolution, maybe spiders (which are predominantly terrestrial anyway) have also achieved something analogous. Moreover, it has been suggested that perhaps some reports of so-called giant spiders are actually sightings of giant land crabs, but crabs are very different in appearance from spiders, due in no small way to their instantly visible chelae (pincers), and no such crabs are known to exist in any of the world regions from which giant spiders have been reported.
In any case, all of this is sheer speculation, and is likely to remain so – unless, as hoped for by Sgt S, someone should not only capture or kill a giant spider in Louisiana but also retain or preserve its body afterwards, and duly alert scientific attention to it. Only then will we know for certain that mega-arachnids really do exist, and, therefore, have indeed overcome all physiological constraints. Meanwhile, his remarkable story is now, at last, fully accessible to the public – so who can say what it may elicit at some stage in the future?
I wish to offer my most sincere thanks to Sgt S for contacting me and for so kindly permitting me to document fully here his very thought-provoking accounts; and as always to my exceedingly talented artist friend Richard Svensson for so kindly permitting me to utilise his awesome artwork in my writings.
In addition to the two parts of this article and my previously-referenced July 2014 article, for further reports of giant spiders presented here on ShukerNature please click here, here, and here.
Atlach-Nacha, the Spider God of Clark Ashton Smith’s primordial Hyperborea (© Richard Svensson)

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