CONTINENT-SWAPPING WITH THE BOGOTA CAT AND WARWICK’S CAT

by on Sep.24, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Geoffroy’s cat – the doubly-deceiving feline bête noire of British zoologist John Edward Gray; illustration from Alcide Dessalines d’Orbigny’s Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale, published in 1847 (public domain)
During the course of zoological history, mistakes have sometimes been made when recording the provenance of an animal specimen, often resulting in all manner of confusion and controversy. Fortunately, the mistake is generally nothing more dramatic than a wrongly-noted locality within a given country, or, more rarely, a wrongly-ascribed country. It is quite exceptional, however, for a specimen to be assigned to entirely the wrong continent. Nevertheless, this monumental error happened with both of the short-lived felid species documented here – and, to make matters even worse, it was the same well-respected zoologist who was responsible for having done so in each case!
On 11 April 1867, within a Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London paper, eminent British zoologist Dr John Edward Gray formally described and named several new species of felid, based upon specimens in the collection of the British Museum. One of these new species was Felis pardinoides, whose type specimen was the preserved skin and skull of a juvenile individual that had been received by the British Museum from the Zoological Society’s own museum. According to its provenance label, it had been obtained in India by a Captain Innes. A small spotted cat, its head and body length was 19 inches, and its tail length was 9 inches.

This present ShukerNature blog article’s principal personae dramatis – from left to right: John Edward Gray, Daniel G. Elliot, Edward Blyth, Philip L. Sclater (public domain)

Everything seemed perfectly straightforward and unremarkable concerning F. pardinoides – until 20 February 1872, that is, when the following revealing response to Gray’s description, penned by fellow zoologist and cat specialist Daniel G. Elliot, was received by the PZSL and duly published:
In the ‘Proceedings’ of this Society for 1867, p. 400, Dr. Gray has described a Cat as Felis pardinoides, giving as its habitat India. The typical [i.e. type] specimen is evidently not an adult animal; and from its resemblance to F. geoffroyi [Geoffroy’s cat, nowadays known scientifically as Leopardus geoffroyi], I felt certain, while examining it, that its habitat was not correctly given. During my late visit to Leyden I found another specimen of a Cat, almost precisely similar to Dr. Gray’s type, marked as F. geoffroyi, and stated to have been brought from Patagonia, the native country of that species. This Leyden specimen (which is also that of a young animal) by the kindness of Prof. Schlegel I have been enabled to remove to London, and thus to identify with the so-called F. pardinoides. The young F. geoffroyi appears to differ from the adult in the larger size and somewhat different arrangement of the spots, those upon the sides, shoulder, and rump being, as Dr. Gray describes them, “varied with grey hairs in the centre, making them appear somewhat as if they were formed of a ring of smaller black spots.” But the general colours of the animal, with its lengthened annulated tail, is precisely that of typical F. geoffroyi.
Suddenly, India‘s F. pardinoides had seemingly metamorphosed into the already-described F. geoffroyi from Patagonia – in South America! Gray, however, did not agree with Elliot’s conclusion; and in a concise response published in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1874, he sought to distinguish various morphological and cranial differences between his species and Geoffroy’s cat.
Geoffroy’s cat (© Daf-de/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
Clearly, Elliot’s radical re-identification would only be conclusively accepted if a more mature F. geoffroyi specimen that was visibly conspecific with the lone F. pardinoides example were to be found and documented accordingly. Shortly after Gray’s response was published, however, this is precisely what happened, and by none other than Gray himself, as he revealed in a second response published within a later issue of the very same journal for 1874:
The Bogotá Cat (Felis pardinoides, Gray).
In the ‘Annals’ for 1874, xiii, p. 51, I gave the reasons for differing from Mr. Elliot’s opinion that the cat I named Felis pardinoides in the British Museum, received from the Zoological Society as coming from India, was the same as Felis Geoffroyi[sic]. At the same time I observed, “the Indian habitat has not been confirmed; and the species has a very South-American aspect.”
The British Museum has received, from Mr. Edward Gerrard, a cat from Bogotá that I have no doubt is the same species as the typical specimen of Felis pardinoides; but it differs from it in being a nearly adult specimen, as is proved by the examination of the skull; and it has a more fulvous tint, and the fur is softer; but this may only depend upon the age and season in which it was killed.
Thus ended the odd little history of India‘s non-existent F. pardinoides. What makes this such an ironic (and embarrassing) episode for Gray, however, is that he had already made an almost identical error only a short time earlier with another wrongly-labelled felid specimen, giving rise to the equally ephemeral species Pardalina warwickii – Warwick’s cat.
Warwick’s cat, illustrated by Joseph Wolf in 1867 (public domain)
As already noted, Felis pardinoides was one of several new cat species formally described and named by Gray in his PZSL paper of 11 April 1867. Another one (the very last in it, in fact) was Pardalina warwickii. In addition to his own short verbal description of this species’ type specimen, Gray included the magnificent colour plate reproduced here, reconstructing its likely appearance when alive, and painted by celebrated wildlife artist Joseph Wolf. As for the specimen itself, Gray preceded his description of it with the following explanatory account of its mysterious history:
There is in the British Museum a Cat that was formerly alive in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, and was there called the Himalayan Cat, and which, in the ‘List of Mammalia in the British Museum,’ published in 1842, I called Leopardus himalayanus. This animal is figured, from the specimen at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, in Jardine’s ‘Naturalist’s Library’ as Felis himalayanus, Warwick. The figure is by no means a characteristic one. The Cat has not been brought from Himalaya by any of the numerous sportsmen and collectors that have searched that country. It is not known to Mr. Blyth [prominent 19th-Century zoologist Edward Blyth], nor to any other Indian zoologist to whom I have shown it; indeed Mr. Blyth states that he believes it to be a South American Cat.
The examination of the skull shows that it forms a group by itself; and in my paper, read at the last Meeting but one, I formed for it a genus under the name of Pardalina.
This enigmatic specimen, of supposed Himalayan provenance, had been obtained by a Mr Warwick, whom Gray duly honoured by naming its new species after him, but nothing more precise regarding its early history seems to be on record.
Two typical, golden-furred specimens (top and bottom left) of the African golden cat plus a specimen of this same species’ grey-furred ‘silver cat’ morph (bottom right) (public domain)
Conversely, several years before Gray’s 1867 PZSL paper had even been published, Warwick‘s cat had already begun inciting controversy regarding its taxonomic identity. In a PZSL paper of 1863, English zoologist Edward Blyth had deemed it possible that this unusual specimen was actually a silver cat Felis celidogaster – a species that he in turn considered to be conspecific with the fishing cat Felis viverrina. (In reality, the silver cat was subsequently shown to be nothing more than a colour morph of the African golden cat Caracal aurata.)
In stark contrast, Gray strongly disagreed with Blyth‘s classification of Warwick‘s cat, noting in his own PZSL paper of 1867 that its skull was very different from that of the fishing cat. In particular, he stressed the length of its brain case, the shortness of its face, and the convexity of its brow. As with F. pardinoides, however, it was not long after that latter paper had been published before the perplexing Pardalina was put under independent scrutiny, and Gray’s statements were found to be very wanting in both the taxonomic and the zoogeographical departments.
Fishing cat (© Viksah626/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
In 1870, the Zoological Society’s secretary, zoologist Philip L. Sclater, published a paper in its Proceedings that revealed the origin of Warwick‘s cat to have been far removed indeed from the Himalayas. In fact, it had been purchased alive from a Captain Hairby in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had originated either in Paraguay or in Patagonia! Once again, a supposed Asian cat had been shown to be of South American extraction – but that was not the end of the unfortunate parallels in erroneous documentation between Warwick‘s cat and F. pardinoides, because studies of the former’s type specimen exposed it to be none other than another specimen of Geoffroy’s cat!
Once again, therefore, in 1874, and in the very same volume of the very same journal in which he had recanted his opinion concerning the identity of F. pardinoides, Gray now did the same regarding Pardalina warwickii – reprising in his own defence his earlier statements concerning the absence of reports of such a cat in the Himalayan region and the craniological reasons why he deemed the specimen distinct enough to warrant its own genus. He also explained that because it was supposedly a Himalayan cat, he had never thought to compare it with specimens of Geoffroy’s cat or, indeed, of any other South American felid.
Geoffroy’s cat (© Greg Hume/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
But where did the notion come from that it had originated in the Himalayas anyway? This was Gray’s answer:
When this cat was alive it was just the time that we began to receive fine skins of animals from the Himalayas; and there was an inclination of the dealers to give Himalaya as the habitat of animals of which they did not know whence they came, as animals from that country were interesting and fetched a good price…it has been suggested by Mr. Blyth and others that it may be an inhabitant of South America; but I have not seen any specimens from there.
Poor Dr Gray – whereas some people superstitiously believe it to be black cats or white cats that bring bad luck, in his case it was most definitely Geoffroy’s cat!
Exquisite painting from 1883, depicting coat pattern variation in Geoffroy’s cat (public domain)
Indeed, it is fortunate that Oscar Wilde’s formidable literary creation, Lady Bracknell, was both fictitious and unassociated with feline systematics – otherwise, in her usual terrifyingly acerbic manner, she might well have observed: “To misplace one cat may be regarded as a misfortunate. To misplace two looks like carelessness.”!!
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.

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CONTINENT-SWAPPING WITH THE BOGOTA CAT AND WARWICK’S CAT

by on Sep.24, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Geoffroy’s cat – the doubly-deceiving feline bête noire of British zoologist John Edward Gray; illustration from Alcide Dessalines d’Orbigny’s Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale, published in 1847 (public domain)
During the course of zoological history, mistakes have sometimes been made when recording the provenance of an animal specimen, often resulting in all manner of confusion and controversy. Fortunately, the mistake is generally nothing more dramatic than a wrongly-noted locality within a given country, or, more rarely, a wrongly-ascribed country. It is quite exceptional, however, for a specimen to be assigned to entirely the wrong continent. Nevertheless, this monumental error happened with both of the short-lived felid species documented here – and, to make matters even worse, it was the same well-respected zoologist who was responsible for having done so in each case!
On 11 April 1867, within a Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London paper, eminent British zoologist Dr John Edward Gray formally described and named several new species of felid, based upon specimens in the collection of the British Museum. One of these new species was Felis pardinoides, whose type specimen was the preserved skin and skull of a juvenile individual that had been received by the British Museum from the Zoological Society’s own museum. According to its provenance label, it had been obtained in India by a Captain Innes. A small spotted cat, its head and body length was 19 inches, and its tail length was 9 inches.

This present ShukerNature blog article’s principal personae dramatis – from left to right: John Edward Gray, Daniel G. Elliot, Edward Blyth, Philip L. Sclater (public domain)

Everything seemed perfectly straightforward and unremarkable concerning F. pardinoides – until 20 February 1872, that is, when the following revealing response to Gray’s description, penned by fellow zoologist and cat specialist Daniel G. Elliot, was received by the PZSL and duly published:
In the ‘Proceedings’ of this Society for 1867, p. 400, Dr. Gray has described a Cat as Felis pardinoides, giving as its habitat India. The typical [i.e. type] specimen is evidently not an adult animal; and from its resemblance to F. geoffroyi [Geoffroy’s cat, nowadays known scientifically as Leopardus geoffroyi], I felt certain, while examining it, that its habitat was not correctly given. During my late visit to Leyden I found another specimen of a Cat, almost precisely similar to Dr. Gray’s type, marked as F. geoffroyi, and stated to have been brought from Patagonia, the native country of that species. This Leyden specimen (which is also that of a young animal) by the kindness of Prof. Schlegel I have been enabled to remove to London, and thus to identify with the so-called F. pardinoides. The young F. geoffroyi appears to differ from the adult in the larger size and somewhat different arrangement of the spots, those upon the sides, shoulder, and rump being, as Dr. Gray describes them, “varied with grey hairs in the centre, making them appear somewhat as if they were formed of a ring of smaller black spots.” But the general colours of the animal, with its lengthened annulated tail, is precisely that of typical F. geoffroyi.
Suddenly, India‘s F. pardinoides had seemingly metamorphosed into the already-described F. geoffroyi from Patagonia – in South America! Gray, however, did not agree with Elliot’s conclusion; and in a concise response published in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History for 1874, he sought to distinguish various morphological and cranial differences between his species and Geoffroy’s cat.
Geoffroy’s cat (© Daf-de/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5 licence)
Clearly, Elliot’s radical re-identification would only be conclusively accepted if a more mature F. geoffroyi specimen that was visibly conspecific with the lone F. pardinoides example were to be found and documented accordingly. Shortly after Gray’s response was published, however, this is precisely what happened, and by none other than Gray himself, as he revealed in a second response published within a later issue of the very same journal for 1874:
The Bogotá Cat (Felis pardinoides, Gray).
In the ‘Annals’ for 1874, xiii, p. 51, I gave the reasons for differing from Mr. Elliot’s opinion that the cat I named Felis pardinoides in the British Museum, received from the Zoological Society as coming from India, was the same as Felis Geoffroyi[sic]. At the same time I observed, “the Indian habitat has not been confirmed; and the species has a very South-American aspect.”
The British Museum has received, from Mr. Edward Gerrard, a cat from Bogotá that I have no doubt is the same species as the typical specimen of Felis pardinoides; but it differs from it in being a nearly adult specimen, as is proved by the examination of the skull; and it has a more fulvous tint, and the fur is softer; but this may only depend upon the age and season in which it was killed.
Thus ended the odd little history of India‘s non-existent F. pardinoides. What makes this such an ironic (and embarrassing) episode for Gray, however, is that he had already made an almost identical error only a short time earlier with another wrongly-labelled felid specimen, giving rise to the equally ephemeral species Pardalina warwickii – Warwick’s cat.
Warwick’s cat, illustrated by Joseph Wolf in 1867 (public domain)
As already noted, Felis pardinoides was one of several new cat species formally described and named by Gray in his PZSL paper of 11 April 1867. Another one (the very last in it, in fact) was Pardalina warwickii. In addition to his own short verbal description of this species’ type specimen, Gray included the magnificent colour plate reproduced here, reconstructing its likely appearance when alive, and painted by celebrated wildlife artist Joseph Wolf. As for the specimen itself, Gray preceded his description of it with the following explanatory account of its mysterious history:
There is in the British Museum a Cat that was formerly alive in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, and was there called the Himalayan Cat, and which, in the ‘List of Mammalia in the British Museum,’ published in 1842, I called Leopardus himalayanus. This animal is figured, from the specimen at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, in Jardine’s ‘Naturalist’s Library’ as Felis himalayanus, Warwick. The figure is by no means a characteristic one. The Cat has not been brought from Himalaya by any of the numerous sportsmen and collectors that have searched that country. It is not known to Mr. Blyth [prominent 19th-Century zoologist Edward Blyth], nor to any other Indian zoologist to whom I have shown it; indeed Mr. Blyth states that he believes it to be a South American Cat.
The examination of the skull shows that it forms a group by itself; and in my paper, read at the last Meeting but one, I formed for it a genus under the name of Pardalina.
This enigmatic specimen, of supposed Himalayan provenance, had been obtained by a Mr Warwick, whom Gray duly honoured by naming its new species after him, but nothing more precise regarding its early history seems to be on record.
Two typical, golden-furred specimens (top and bottom left) of the African golden cat plus a specimen of this same species’ grey-furred ‘silver cat’ morph (bottom right) (public domain)
Conversely, several years before Gray’s 1867 PZSL paper had even been published, Warwick‘s cat had already begun inciting controversy regarding its taxonomic identity. In a PZSL paper of 1863, English zoologist Edward Blyth had deemed it possible that this unusual specimen was actually a silver cat Felis celidogaster – a species that he in turn considered to be conspecific with the fishing cat Felis viverrina. (In reality, the silver cat was subsequently shown to be nothing more than a colour morph of the African golden cat Caracal aurata.)
In stark contrast, Gray strongly disagreed with Blyth‘s classification of Warwick‘s cat, noting in his own PZSL paper of 1867 that its skull was very different from that of the fishing cat. In particular, he stressed the length of its brain case, the shortness of its face, and the convexity of its brow. As with F. pardinoides, however, it was not long after that latter paper had been published before the perplexing Pardalina was put under independent scrutiny, and Gray’s statements were found to be very wanting in both the taxonomic and the zoogeographical departments.
Fishing cat (© Viksah626/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
In 1870, the Zoological Society’s secretary, zoologist Philip L. Sclater, published a paper in its Proceedings that revealed the origin of Warwick‘s cat to have been far removed indeed from the Himalayas. In fact, it had been purchased alive from a Captain Hairby in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had originated either in Paraguay or in Patagonia! Once again, a supposed Asian cat had been shown to be of South American extraction – but that was not the end of the unfortunate parallels in erroneous documentation between Warwick‘s cat and F. pardinoides, because studies of the former’s type specimen exposed it to be none other than another specimen of Geoffroy’s cat!
Once again, therefore, in 1874, and in the very same volume of the very same journal in which he had recanted his opinion concerning the identity of F. pardinoides, Gray now did the same regarding Pardalina warwickii – reprising in his own defence his earlier statements concerning the absence of reports of such a cat in the Himalayan region and the craniological reasons why he deemed the specimen distinct enough to warrant its own genus. He also explained that because it was supposedly a Himalayan cat, he had never thought to compare it with specimens of Geoffroy’s cat or, indeed, of any other South American felid.
Geoffroy’s cat (© Greg Hume/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
But where did the notion come from that it had originated in the Himalayas anyway? This was Gray’s answer:
When this cat was alive it was just the time that we began to receive fine skins of animals from the Himalayas; and there was an inclination of the dealers to give Himalaya as the habitat of animals of which they did not know whence they came, as animals from that country were interesting and fetched a good price…it has been suggested by Mr. Blyth and others that it may be an inhabitant of South America; but I have not seen any specimens from there.
Poor Dr Gray – whereas some people superstitiously believe it to be black cats or white cats that bring bad luck, in his case it was most definitely Geoffroy’s cat!
Exquisite painting from 1883, depicting coat pattern variation in Geoffroy’s cat (public domain)
Indeed, it is fortunate that Oscar Wilde’s formidable literary creation, Lady Bracknell, was both fictitious and unassociated with feline systematics – otherwise, in her usual terrifyingly acerbic manner, she might well have observed: “To misplace one cat may be regarded as a misfortunate. To misplace two looks like carelessness.”!!
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.

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GOING WILD OVER GWR’S ‘WILD THINGS’ – THE ANIMAL WORLD’S MOST AMAZING RECORD-BREAKERS IN AN AWESOME NEW BOOK!

by on Sep.09, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

In addition to the 26 books that I have written myself and seen published (#26 is due out shortly), I have also acted as a consultant and/or contributor to a further 18 – click here to access a (currently) complete listing of all of my books.
I am delighted to announce that the latest volume with which I have been involved in the dual capacity of consultant and contributor will be published next month but can already be pre-ordered on Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and elsewhere. It is entitled Guinness World Records: Wild Things, and here is a taster of what to expect:
Whether it’s the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the deadliest, or just the downright weirdest, Guinness World Records: Wild Things turns the spotlight on the best of the beasts! From gentle giants to killer bugs, powerful predators to cunning prey, and backyard wildlife to species on the brink, the animal kingdom is crawling with record-breakers.
Spread featuring an interview with Steve Backshall – click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)
Wild Thingsis your ultimate guide to nature’s super-star animals. There’s a special chapter all about prehistoric record-breakers too. Unearth which ancient animals ruled over the real Jurassic world, from the tallest dinosaur and the dino with the most powerful bite to the largest flying creature ever to soar Earth’s skies with a wingspan the size of an F-16 jet!
You’ll also hear from zoology experts and some of the biggest conservation stars including Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall, the Irwin family, and Deadly 60’s Steve Backshall (who supplies a foreword too). In exclusive interviews, they share their standout wildlife experiences, favourite record-breaking animals, plus top tips for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.
Ready to find out where the real wild things are and the records that they hold? Then it’s time to unleash the wildest GWR book yet!
My profile in GWR: Wild Things‘s Introduction – click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)
Full details can be found on this book’s dedicated page hereon my official website, which also contains direct clickable links to its page on the US and UK Amazon sites.
Also, don’t forget to check out on my website its companion volume, GWR: Amazing Animals, published last year and once again featuring me as both its consultant and a contributor, which is packed throughout with fascinating record-breaking animal stars of the domesticated kind!
And click here to read about GWR: Amazing Animals on ShukerNature.

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GOING WILD OVER GWR’S ‘WILD THINGS’ – THE ANIMAL WORLD’S MOST AMAZING RECORD-BREAKERS IN AN AWESOME NEW BOOK!

by on Sep.09, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

In addition to the 26 books that I have written myself and seen published (#26 is due out shortly), I have also acted as a consultant and/or contributor to a further 18 – click here to access a (currently) complete listing of all of my books.
I am delighted to announce that the latest volume with which I have been involved in the dual capacity of consultant and contributor will be published next month but can already be pre-ordered on Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and elsewhere. It is entitled Guinness World Records: Wild Things, and here is a taster of what to expect:
Whether it’s the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the deadliest, or just the downright weirdest, Guinness World Records: Wild Things turns the spotlight on the best of the beasts! From gentle giants to killer bugs, powerful predators to cunning prey, and backyard wildlife to species on the brink, the animal kingdom is crawling with record-breakers.
Spread featuring an interview with Steve Backshall – click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)
Wild Thingsis your ultimate guide to nature’s super-star animals. There’s a special chapter all about prehistoric record-breakers too. Unearth which ancient animals ruled over the real Jurassic world, from the tallest dinosaur and the dino with the most powerful bite to the largest flying creature ever to soar Earth’s skies with a wingspan the size of an F-16 jet!
You’ll also hear from zoology experts and some of the biggest conservation stars including Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall, the Irwin family, and Deadly 60’s Steve Backshall (who supplies a foreword too). In exclusive interviews, they share their standout wildlife experiences, favourite record-breaking animals, plus top tips for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.
Ready to find out where the real wild things are and the records that they hold? Then it’s time to unleash the wildest GWR book yet!
My profile in GWR: Wild Things‘s Introduction – click image to enlarge for reading purposes (© Guinness World Records/GWR: Wild Things)
Full details can be found on this book’s dedicated page hereon my official website, which also contains direct clickable links to its page on the US and UK Amazon sites.
Also, don’t forget to check out on my website its companion volume, GWR: Amazing Animals, published last year and once again featuring me as both its consultant and a contributor, which is packed throughout with fascinating record-breaking animal stars of the domesticated kind!
And click here to read about GWR: Amazing Animals on ShukerNature.

Leave a Comment more...

THORNY-TAILED CATS AND A DOMESTIC MANTICORE

by on Sep.05, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A winged manticore with a decidedly scorpionesque sting-tipped tail, depicted on the front cover of Piers Anthony’s novel A Spell For Chameleon – one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels, and the first in Anthony’s exceedingly popular, long-running Xanth series (© Del Rey Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational purposes only)
Quite apart from its mane in the male, the lion Panthera leo is also set apart morphologically from all other cat species, at least officially, by virtue of a remarkable characteristic of its tail. Not only does it terminate in a hairy tassle-resembling tuft, but sometimes concealed within that tuft is a thorn-like spine that measures just a few millimetres long.
This unexpected structure’s function, if indeed it has one, is unknown, as is that of the hairy tuft. Known variously as a thorn, spine, prickle, or caudal claw, it is not present when a lion cub is born, but develops when the cub is around five months old, and is readily visible two months later.
Lion showing the very distinctive tufted tail-tip that is peculiar to this species among felids (© Rufus46/Wikipedia –CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
Click here (then scroll down to the end of this zoo news report) to view a close-up photograph of a leonine caudal claw, normally hidden by the hairy tuft at the tip of the lion’s tail. This particular caudal claw is sported by an adult South African lion named Xerxes at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington State, USA.
The most detailed coverage concerning caudal claws in lions that I have ever seen is an article originally published in Part 2 of the volume for 1832 of the now long-bygone journal Proceedings of the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London (it was subsequently republished in January 1833 within vol. 2, no. 7, of the third series of the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science). Not only does this fascinating if nowadays exceedingly little-known report document the then-recent description of one such specimen by H. Woods to the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London, it also provides a detailed history of how such oddities were first brought to scientific attention and early thoughts as to what their function may be. In view of its scientific significance, therefore, I am reproducing this hitherto-obscure article in its entirety below:
WOODS, H., ‘On the Claw of the Tip of the Tail of the Lion (Felis leo, L.)’, Proc. Comm. Sci. and Corres. Zool. Soc. London, pt 2: 146-148 (1832) – please click pages to enlarge them for reading purposes (public domain)
Although caudal claws are widely claimed to be sported only by the lion, I have encountered occasional reports of thorny-tailed tigers and leopards too (indeed, two such examples from leopards are briefly mentioned in the above-reproduced 1832 article). Although I have never seen an illustration of a caudal claw from either of these two latter species, the tail tip of such an animal must look very unusual – for as these species lack the lion’s hairy tail tuft, the thorn of a thorny-tailed tiger or leopard would be visible, and may therefore resemble a scorpion-like sting!
In turn, such a bizarre image inevitably inspires speculation and theorising as to whether the sight of so oddly-equipped a big cat may have helped shape the legend of the fearsome if wholly fictitious manticore (click hereto access my ShukerNature coverage of the manticore).
Close-up of the tufted tail-tip of a lion (public domain)
If so, then what might surely be dubbed ‘the littlest manticore’ is a certain domestic cat documented as follows by a Mr R. Trimen within a letter published on 3 March 1908 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London:
My cat (pale grey with ordinary narrow black stripes much broken up into short streaks and spots) presents the remarkable peculiarity of a long spur or claw-like horny excrescence at the very tip of its tail. This appendage is firmly seated quite at the extremity of the last vertebra; its base appears to be expanded, and is covered all round by an elevation of the skin. It projects posteriorly in the line of the tail, is rather slender, gradually tapering, almost straight for about two-thirds of its length, and thence moderately curved downward to its moderately acute tip. In length it is nearly 7 lines [1 line = 1/12thof 1 inch], and more than a third projects beyond the surrounding fur. The colour of this spine or spur is dull reddish-brown varied with dull ochry-yellowish, here and there crossed by some broken, thin, whitish lines.
The cat in question is a female, small, but rather thick in body; the limbs are all rather short and the feet small, but the tail is noticeably long and broad with long dense fur. I am informed by the donor that it was born at Witney, near Oxford, and is now between seven and eight months old. I have endeavoured, with the kind aid of the donor, to ascertain from the original possessor of the animal whether any kitten of the same litter, or the mother, or other known relation, exhibited the peculiar appendage or any traces of it; but without success.
I may add that I have found the cat unexpectedly sensitive to any handling of the caudal claw, however gentle; she first endeavours to jerk her tail away, then gives a mild vocal remonstrance, and if the handling is continued employs her paws to stop it.
Perhaps this cat’s tail thorn or caudal claw was a deformed supernumerary caudal vertebra whose exposed site rendered it vulnerable to being caught against objects as the cat moved, causing the flesh surrounding it to be abnormally sensitive to pain.
Mystery Animals of Ireland by Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan (© Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan/CFZ Press)
What may have been either a large domestic tabby or, more remarkably, a bona fide Irish wildcat (itself a feline cryptid of no little controversy that I documented comprehensively in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World, 1989), was encountered during the 1940s or 1950s by the uncle and father of Pap Murphy in a shed at the end of the uncle’s house on the Mullet, an island in northwest County Mayo, as documented by Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan in their book Mystery Animals of Ireland (2010). Entangled in some fishing nets, the cat had growled at the men, who subsequently killed it. Examining its body, they were surprised to discover that it possessed a very sharp nail-like structure, possibly bony in composition, at the end of its tail.
It would be interesting to discover if any additional cases of ‘domestic manticores’ have been recorded.
Exquisite vintage engraving of a lion showing its characteristic tufted tail-tip – Plate 81 from General Zoology, or Systematic Natural History, by George Shaw, with plates engraved principally by Mr Heath; published in 1800 (public domain)
Finally: I have succeeded in tracking down a copy of the original article by German naturalist Prof. Johann F. Blumenbach that was extensively referred to in the above-reproduced 1832 article re H. Woods’s description of the young Barbary lion’s caudal claw. Blumenbach’s article had been published in 1823 within the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal.
Accordingly, for the sake of completeness, I am reproducing it in its entirety below:
BLUMENBACH, Johann F., ‘Art. VI. – Miscellaneous Notices in Natural History. 4. On the Prickle at the Extremity of the Tail of the Lion’, Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, vol. 8, no. 16: 266-268 (1823) – please click pages to enlarge for reading purposes (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.
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REVIEWING ‘THE MEG’ – JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE CINEMA!

by on Aug.11, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A publicity poster for The Meg (© Warner Bros. Pictures/Gravity Pictures/Flagship Entertainment/Apelles Entertainment/Di Bonaventura Pictures/maeday Productions – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
I’m gonna need a bigger cinema! Yes indeed, I could well have been forgiven for thinking that, because the reason why I visited my own local picture house on 10 August was to see the newly-arrived cryptozoology-themed monster movie The Meg, which I’ve been awaiting with great anticipation for ages.
Size does matter: a visual comparison of the enormous dimensions of the megalodon (grey = maximum estimate, red = conservative estimate) with a whale shark (the world’s largest known living species of fish; violet), the great white shark (green), and a human for scale (© Scarlet23/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Directed by Jon Turtelbaub, co-produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, and based upon the bestselling novel Meg by Facebook friend Steve Alten, its nominal star is Jason Statham, but its real stars are a couple of CGI megalodons, representing the giant prehistoric shark Carcharocles megalodon – the largest shark species ever recorded by science. Officially, it became extinct approximately 2.6 million years ago during the late Pliocene epoch, and is principally known physically only from fossilised teeth and vertebrae, but thanks to some intriguing eyewitness accounts on file of supposedly gargantuan sharks, some mystery beast investigators have speculated that it might still exist today. Be that as it may (or may not), this review of mine is of the film, not cryptozoology per se (click hereto read my own thoughts concerning the exceedingly contentious prospect of megalodon survival as posted by me earlier on ShukerNature and excerpted from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors). So, back to the movie.
My book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, published in 2016 by Coachwhip (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
When the megalodon was first made known to science and formally named back in the 1840s, based upon its triangular and highly-serrated teeths’ huge dimensions (up to 7.5 inches high – ‘megalodon’ translates as ‘big tooth’) an estimated total length for the entire shark of around 75-98 ftwas postulated, but in more recent times, following further researches, this estimate has been downsized to ‘a mere’ 43-55 ft(although to put that into perspective, this is still more than twice the length of the great white shark Carcharodon carcharias, the largest species of carnivorous shark KNOWN to exist today). However, The Meg is a monster movie, not a shark documentary, so the film makers have adhered to the flawed earlier but cinematically much more spectacular 75-ft dimension (think Jawswrit large – very large!!) – resulting in a truly mega megalodon, a prodigious prehistoric behemoth which if it had lived in an earlier geological era would have been a veritable Jurassic Shark (come on, you knew full well that I was never NOT going to work in that pun somewhere!).
My mother Mary Shuker holding one of my megalodon tooth specimens (© Dr Karl Shuker)
As this is a newly-released movie that many fellow cryptozoology fans will definitely be going to see, I’ll avoid spoilers, but the scenario of how the megs are discovered is quite fascinating, and they have been digitally recreated on screen to stunning effect. Once their discovery has been made, however, the plot adheres by and large to the typical, generic monster movie storyline – a flawed but immensely brave hero sets out to confront said monster(s), interacts along the way with a villain and a naysayer, some wisecracking sidekicks, a cute extra-smart kid, and an initially aloof but ultimately adoring, sassy lady, and after a series of thrilling set pieces finally battles said monsters(s) in a climactic confrontation of epic proportions. But hey, you already guessed that without even needing to watch the film – and who goes to a monster movie to be blown away by the intricacy and intellectual, deeply philosophical nuances (or even the scientific authenticity) of its plot anyway?? What you go to see is the monster(s), and this movie definitely delivers on that score.
Cryptozoological artist William M. Rebsamen’s portrayal of an imagined modern-day encounter between man and megalodon (© William M. Rebsamen)
I viewed it in 2-D, but I may well go back during its run to see the 3-D version too – I’m not normally a fan of 3-D movies, but there is no doubt that The Meg will do the format justice as it is exactly the type of film benefitted by it. Despite living over a hundred miles (maybe more) in any direction from the sea, an erstwhile friend of mine was seriously galeophobic (afraid of sharks), and I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone with a similar fear, but hardened monster fans will lap it up – it certainly engaged my attention and interest throughout. I can always tell how entertained my mind is by a film by noting how far through it I’ve viewed before looking at my watch to see what time it is and then calculating how much more of the film remains – with The Meg, I never looked at my watch once. One word of advice: don’t bother, as I unfortunately did, (im)patiently sitting through the interminable credits at the end of the film in the expectation that there will be a teaser clip to some projected sequel inserted within or at the end of them – there isn’t one. Oh, and just as a BTW: yes indeed, Pippin the Yorkshire terrier does survive his (very) close encounter with a megalodon (whoops, too late for a spoiler alert now).
Standing in front of a life-sized reconstruction of a megalodon’s open jaws (© Dr Karl Shuker)
I fully expect that some movie (and also possibly some palaeontological) purists will opine otherwise, but I LOVED The Meg, a worthy new addition to the ever-popular cinematic genre of giant beasts on the rampage, and which along with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Shape of Water (click here to read my ShukerNature review of the latter film) has definitely made my 2018 movie-going experience a truly monstrous one – but in the best possible way. Finally: to view on YouTube an extended trailer for The Meg, please click here.

The megalodon shark and the giant pliosaur Liopleurodon existed in entirely separate geological eras, so they would never have encountered each other in reality; but here in this vibrant artwork, illustrator Hodari Nundu depicts what such a clash of marine titans might have looked like had it indeed been possible (© Hodari Nundu)

I wish to dedicate this ShukerNature article to my longstanding online friend and fellow cryptozoological enthusiast Robert Michaels, whose passing earlier this year I only learnt about on 10 August, just a few hours after returning home from watching The Meg at the cinema.  How very much he would have enjoyed seeing this film, and how very sad I am that he will never do so. Godspeed, Bob, may you now know the answers to all of the countless cryptozoological questions concerning which we corresponded with such shared interest, enjoyment, and zeal over so many years. Please click here to read my tribute to Bob on ShukerNature.

Another publicity poster for The Meg Warner Bros. Pictures/Gravity Pictures/Flagship Entertainment/Apelles Entertainment/Di Bonaventura Pictures/maeday Productions – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
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REVIEWING ‘THE MEG’ – JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE CINEMA!

by on Aug.11, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

A publicity poster for The Meg (© Warner Bros. Pictures/Gravity Pictures/Flagship Entertainment/Apelles Entertainment/Di Bonaventura Pictures/maeday Productions – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
I’m gonna need a bigger cinema! Yes indeed, I could well have been forgiven for thinking that, because the reason why I visited my own local picture house on 10 August was to see the newly-arrived cryptozoology-themed monster movie The Meg, which I’ve been awaiting with great anticipation for ages.
Size does matter: a visual comparison of the enormous dimensions of the megalodon (grey = maximum estimate, red = conservative estimate) with a whale shark (the world’s largest known living species of fish; violet), the great white shark (green), and a human for scale (© Scarlet23/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)
Directed by Jon Turtelbaub, co-produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, and based upon the bestselling novel Meg by Facebook friend Steve Alten, its nominal star is Jason Statham, but its real stars are a couple of CGI megalodons, representing the giant prehistoric shark Carcharocles megalodon – the largest shark species ever recorded by science. Officially, it became extinct approximately 2.6 million years ago during the late Pliocene epoch, and is principally known physically only from fossilised teeth and vertebrae, but thanks to some intriguing eyewitness accounts on file of supposedly gargantuan sharks, some mystery beast investigators have speculated that it might still exist today. Be that as it may (or may not), this review of mine is of the film, not cryptozoology per se (click hereto read my own thoughts concerning the exceedingly contentious prospect of megalodon survival as posted by me earlier on ShukerNature and excerpted from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors). So, back to the movie.
My book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, published in 2016 by Coachwhip (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
When the megalodon was first made known to science and formally named back in the 1840s, based upon its triangular and highly-serrated teeths’ huge dimensions (up to 7.5 inches high – ‘megalodon’ translates as ‘big tooth’) an estimated total length for the entire shark of around 75-98 ftwas postulated, but in more recent times, following further researches, this estimate has been downsized to ‘a mere’ 43-55 ft(although to put that into perspective, this is still more than twice the length of the great white shark Carcharodon carcharias, the largest species of carnivorous shark KNOWN to exist today). However, The Meg is a monster movie, not a shark documentary, so the film makers have adhered to the flawed earlier but cinematically much more spectacular 75-ft dimension (think Jawswrit large – very large!!) – resulting in a truly mega megalodon, a prodigious prehistoric behemoth which if it had lived in an earlier geological era would have been a veritable Jurassic Shark (come on, you knew full well that I was never NOT going to work in that pun somewhere!).
My mother Mary Shuker holding one of my megalodon tooth specimens (© Dr Karl Shuker)
As this is a newly-released movie that many fellow cryptozoology fans will definitely be going to see, I’ll avoid spoilers, but the scenario of how the megs are discovered is quite fascinating, and they have been digitally recreated on screen to stunning effect. Once their discovery has been made, however, the plot adheres by and large to the typical, generic monster movie storyline – a flawed but immensely brave hero sets out to confront said monster(s), interacts along the way with a villain and a naysayer, some wisecracking sidekicks, a cute extra-smart kid, and an initially aloof but ultimately adoring, sassy lady, and after a series of thrilling set pieces finally battles said monsters(s) in a climactic confrontation of epic proportions. But hey, you already guessed that without even needing to watch the film – and who goes to a monster movie to be blown away by the intricacy and intellectual, deeply philosophical nuances (or even the scientific authenticity) of its plot anyway?? What you go to see is the monster(s), and this movie definitely delivers on that score.
Cryptozoological artist William M. Rebsamen’s portrayal of an imagined modern-day encounter between man and megalodon (© William M. Rebsamen)
I viewed it in 2-D, but I may well go back during its run to see the 3-D version too – I’m not normally a fan of 3-D movies, but there is no doubt that The Meg will do the format justice as it is exactly the type of film benefitted by it. Despite living over a hundred miles (maybe more) in any direction from the sea, an erstwhile friend of mine was seriously galeophobic (afraid of sharks), and I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone with a similar fear, but hardened monster fans will lap it up – it certainly engaged my attention and interest throughout. I can always tell how entertained my mind is by a film by noting how far through it I’ve viewed before looking at my watch to see what time it is and then calculating how much more of the film remains – with The Meg, I never looked at my watch once. One word of advice: don’t bother, as I unfortunately did, (im)patiently sitting through the interminable credits at the end of the film in the expectation that there will be a teaser clip to some projected sequel inserted within or at the end of them – there isn’t one. Oh, and just as a BTW: yes indeed, Pippin the Yorkshire terrier does survive his (very) close encounter with a megalodon (whoops, too late for a spoiler alert now).
Standing in front of a life-sized reconstruction of a megalodon’s open jaws (© Dr Karl Shuker)
I fully expect that some movie (and also possibly some palaeontological) purists will opine otherwise, but I LOVED The Meg, a worthy new addition to the ever-popular cinematic genre of giant beasts on the rampage, and which along with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Shape of Water (click here to read my ShukerNature review of the latter film) has definitely made my 2018 movie-going experience a truly monstrous one – but in the best possible way. Finally: to view on YouTube an extended trailer for The Meg, please click here.

The megalodon shark and the giant pliosaur Liopleurodon existed in entirely separate geological eras, so they would never have encountered each other in reality; but here in this vibrant artwork, illustrator Hodari Nundu depicts what such a clash of marine titans might have looked like had it indeed been possible (© Hodari Nundu)

I wish to dedicate this ShukerNature article to my longstanding online friend and fellow cryptozoological enthusiast Robert Michaels, whose passing earlier this year I only learnt about on 10 August, just a few hours after returning home from watching The Meg at the cinema.  How very much he would have enjoyed seeing this film, and how very sad I am that he will never do so. Godspeed, Bob, may you now know the answers to all of the countless cryptozoological questions concerning which we corresponded with such shared interest, enjoyment, and zeal over so many years. Please click here to read my tribute to Bob on ShukerNature.

Another publicity poster for The Meg Warner Bros. Pictures/Gravity Pictures/Flagship Entertainment/Apelles Entertainment/Di Bonaventura Pictures/maeday Productions – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
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GOODBYE AND GODSPEED, BOB – REMEMBERING MY LONGSTANDING ONLINE FRIEND AND CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL COLLEAGUE ROBERT MICHAELS

by on Aug.10, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The photograph of my senmurv jardiniere that Bob had long used as his profile picture on Facebook (© Dr Karl Shuker)
I was extremely sad to learn yesterday that my longstanding online friend and fellow cryptozoological enthusiast Robert Michaels had passed away, on 27 February. He was 85. Our friendship dated back almost to the very beginning of my own online presence, when I first signed up to the internet in 1997.
A qualified zoologist himself, graduating from Columbia University, Bob was passionately interested in all aspects of cryptozoology and was not just a very good friend to me but also an unwavering supporter of my work and a prolific communicator to the whole cryptozoological community via his numerous, continuing postings of fascinating news reports on my various cryptozoology-based FB groups – which is why, when Bob’s postings stopped abruptly in February, with not a single one appearing anywhere since then, I became increasingly worried for his well-being and therefore posted a series of urgent requests on my timeline, on my groups, and on his own timeline for any information concerning his status. Thankfully, another good friend, Jane Cooper, who was also one of Bob’s FB friends, duly investigated this on my behalf and on 10 August uncovered the sad news of his passing. Thank you so much, Jane, I greatly appreciate your kindness in doing this.

Just one of the countless encouraging, supportive comments that Bob so kindly posted about me and my work on Facebook – thanks Bob!
Bob never posted an image of himself on his Facebook timeline, and since December 2014 he had used as his FB profile picture one of my photographs of my 19th-Century majolica jardiniere in the shape of a senmurv (aka cynogriffin). Consequently, from now on I shall always associate that photo, and indeed my senmurv jardiniere itself, with Bob, and I am therefore reproducing it here in tribute to him.
God bless you, Bob, for your friendship, and for your ever-present enthusiasm for cryptozoology and my own contributions to it – although we never met, and the great breadth of the Atlantic Ocean separated us in the real world, due to the modern miracle of the internet and social media you became a very close friend in the full sense of that word, and how very much I shall miss hearing from you and seeing your always-interesting, greatly-valued postings on FB. RIP Bob, you were one of the good guys, and I promise you that I will ensure through my writings that your name and your unstinting service to cryptozoology live on.
Bob’s favourite cryptozoology-linked book, my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
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GOODBYE AND GODSPEED, BOB – REMEMBERING MY LONGSTANDING ONLINE FRIEND AND CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL COLLEAGUE ROBERT MICHAELS

by on Aug.10, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The photograph of my senmurv jardiniere that Bob had long used as his profile picture on Facebook (© Dr Karl Shuker)
I was extremely sad to learn yesterday that my longstanding online friend and fellow cryptozoological enthusiast Robert Michaels had passed away, on 27 February. He was 85. Our friendship dated back almost to the very beginning of my own online presence, when I first signed up to the internet in 1997.
A qualified zoologist himself, graduating from Columbia University, Bob was passionately interested in all aspects of cryptozoology and was not just a very good friend to me but also an unwavering supporter of my work and a prolific communicator to the whole cryptozoological community via his numerous, continuing postings of fascinating news reports on my various cryptozoology-based FB groups – which is why, when Bob’s postings stopped abruptly in February, with not a single one appearing anywhere since then, I became increasingly worried for his well-being and therefore posted a series of urgent requests on my timeline, on my groups, and on his own timeline for any information concerning his status. Thankfully, another good friend, Jane Cooper, who was also one of Bob’s FB friends, duly investigated this on my behalf and on 10 August uncovered the sad news of his passing. Thank you so much, Jane, I greatly appreciate your kindness in doing this.

Just one of the countless encouraging, supportive comments that Bob so kindly posted about me and my work on Facebook – thanks Bob!
Bob never posted an image of himself on his Facebook timeline, and since December 2014 he had used as his FB profile picture one of my photographs of my 19th-Century majolica jardiniere in the shape of a senmurv (aka cynogriffin). Consequently, from now on I shall always associate that photo, and indeed my senmurv jardiniere itself, with Bob, and I am therefore reproducing it here in tribute to him.
God bless you, Bob, for your friendship, and for your ever-present enthusiasm for cryptozoology and my own contributions to it – although we never met, and the great breadth of the Atlantic Ocean separated us in the real world, due to the modern miracle of the internet and social media you became a very close friend in the full sense of that word, and how very much I shall miss hearing from you and seeing your always-interesting, greatly-valued postings on FB. RIP Bob, you were one of the good guys, and I promise you that I will ensure through my writings that your name and your unstinting service to cryptozoology live on.
Bob’s favourite cryptozoology-linked book, my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)
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THE AHOOL AND THE OLITIAU – GIANT MYSTERY BATS ON THE WING?

by on Jul.29, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Photograph of hammer-headed bat currently doing the online rounds on social media (© owner presently unknown to me – reproduced here in a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational, review purposes only)
During the past couple of days, several internet friends and colleagues have independently brought the above photograph to my attention, asking me whether the creature portrayed in it is real or photoshopped. I can confirm that it is indeed real – it is a specimen of tropical Africa‘s hammer-headed bat – but due to the optical illusion of forced perspective, i.e. caused by it being positioned much closer to the camera than is the person holding it, this very distinctive-looking bat appears much bigger than it really is.
Nevertheless, seeing this photograph reminds me of what may be some genuinely giant mystery bats, and regarding one of which the hammer-headed bat has indeed been considered as a possible explanation – so here they are.
Taxiderm specimen of a hammer-headed bat (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Native to New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago, the world’s largest known species of modern-day bat is the Bismark fruit bat Pteropus neohibernicus, which sports an extremely impressive wingspan of up to approximately 5.5 ft, and there are several other fruit bat species with sizeable spans too. Moreover, quoting from the third (most recent) edition of the late Gerald L. Wood’s still-invaluable source of animal superlatives The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats:
According to Peterson (1964)* a huge example of P. neohibernicus from New Guinea preserved in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, has a head and body length of 455 mm 17.9 in and a span of 1.65 m 5 ft 5 in. He thinks that some unmeasured specimens may reach 183 m 6 ft, but this figure is unconfirmed.
*Peterson (1964) = Russell F. Peterson, Silently, By Night (McGraw-Hill: New York, 1964), an authoritative book on the natural history of bats, a copy of which I own.
However, the cryptozoological chronicles contain details concerning at least two types of giant mystery bats whose wingspan is claimed to be twice as big as the above!
Famous vintage photo of a fruit bat (species unnamed) with a very impressive wingspan (originally © Otto Webb, now public domain? – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, Fair Use basis for educational, review purposes only)
The secluded river valleys of western Java in Indonesia are reputedly home to one of these – an enormous but very elusive bat known to the local people as the ahool. It derives its name from the sound of its unmistakeable cry, which it is said to utter three times in succession while on the wing at night.
When questioned by interested Westerners, the locals provide consistent descriptions of the ahool. It has a monkey-like head and flattened humanoid face, a body as big as a one-year-old child’s, and a massive 12-ft wingspan. It feeds principally upon large fishes that it snatches from underneath stones on river beds, but is occasionally encountered crouching on the forest floor, whereupon its feet are said to point backward. This last-mentioned feature may initially sound bizarre and implausible, but in reality it actually provides support for believing the remainder of their description, because as bat experts will readily testify, bats’ feet do point backwards. Even when hanging upside-down from a branch, a bat wraps its feet around the rear portion of the branch, with its feet curling towards the observer, instead of away from him.
Does a giant bat, or bat-like cryptid, still awaiting scientific discovery explain reports of the ahool? (© Dr Karl Shuker)
One of the most interesting encounters with an ahool comes not from an eyewitness but rather an ‘earwitness’ (whose testimony was first documented by American cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson in a number of publications). The son of an eminent zoologist, naturalist Dr Ernst Bartels had spent much of his early life in Java, and was well-acquainted with the cries of all of the island’s fauna. He was also familiar with the local Sundanese testimony concerning the ahool, but had remained sceptical – until one evening in 1927.
At around 11.30 pm, Dr Bartels had been lying awake in bed inside his thatched house near western Java’s Tjidjenkol River, listening to the nocturnal insects’ incessant orchestra of noises, when suddenly, from directly overhead, he heard a single loud, clear cry – “A-hool!”. A few moments later, he heard it again, but further away now. Immediately, he jumped out of bed, grabbed his torch, and raced outside in the direction of the cry, whereupon he heard it again, for a third and final time, floating back to him from a considerable distance downstream. He stood there, totally transfixed, not because he didn’t know what had made this unique triple cry, but rather because he did!
An olitiau encounter (© William M. Rebsamen)
A mystery bat of equally dramatic dimensions has also been encountered in Cameroon, West Africa, and by two very experienced scientific observers. While participating in the famous Percy Sladen Expedition of 1932, the afore-mentioned Ivan T. Sanderson and fellow animal-collector Gerald Russell had been wading down a stream in Cameroon’s Assumbo Mountains one evening in search of tortoises to collect when abruptly a jet-black creature with enormous wings and a flattened monkey-like face flew out of the darkness and directly towards Sanderson, its lower jaw hanging down, revealing an abundance of large white teeth.
Sanderson instinctively ducked, then he and Russell fired a number of shots in the direction of this terrifying apparition, but it merely wheeled out of range and vanished back into the darkness, its wings cutting through the still air with a loud hissing sound. The two men agreed that its wingspan was at least 12 ft, and it seemed to have been jet-black in colour. When they told the local hunters back at their camp what had happened, the hunters were all terrified – so much so that after informing the naturalists that their would-be attacker was known as the olitiau, they all fled from the camp!
Exquisite 19th-Century engraving of the hammer-headed bat (public domain)
Sceptics later sought to identify the olitiau as a grotesque species of fruit bat known as the hammer-headed bat Hypsignathus monstrosus. As its name reveals, however, the head and face of this species is extremely long and swollen – wholly dissimilar from the flattened, monkey-like face specifically described by Sanderson and Russell.
A giant bat-like entity has also been reported from Ghana, where it is known as the sasabonsam. In 1939, a report of a dead specimen was published in the West African Review journal, together with a photograph of an alleged carving of one such beast, which depicted it with relatively short wings and a bearded, humanoid face.
Sketch based upon the above-mentioned photograph of an alleged carving of a sasabonsam (© Dr Karl Shuker)
There are two suborders of bats – the mega-bats (constituting the fruit bats), which include most of the largest species; and the micro-bats (constituting all of the other bats), many of which are much smaller. Consequently, we might expect bats with 12-ft wingspans to be more closely allied to the mega-bats than to the micro-bats. In reality, however, the reverse may well be true.
The flattened monkey or humanoid face of the ahool and the olitiau is particularly interesting, because this is very different from the long-muzzled, distinctly fox-like faces of the fruit bats (hence their alternative name of flying fox), but similar to those of many micro-bats. How extraordinary and zoologically iconoclastic it would be if the world’s largest bat species ultimately proved not to be mega-bats but micro-bats!
The flap-ornamented but still unequivocally flat face of a micro-bat – namely, the Antillean ghost-faced bat Mormoops blainvillii (public domain)
Finally: several striking photographs of people holding seemingly enormous bats via their outstretched wings can be readily accessed on the internet. However, close examination of these reveals that in each instance the bat – invariably a fruit bat, some species of which are already fairly large – is being held much closer to the camera than the person who is holding it. As with the hammer-headed bat photograph opening this ShukerNature article, these images are merely clever examples of forced perspective.
So, sadly, if we want to discover a bona fide giant bat, we must look for it not online but rather in the riverside jungles of Africa, or listen out for its unique triple cry amid the shadowy forests of Java.
A selection of sourceless online photographs of supposedly giant bats that in reality are nothing more than examples of forced perspective (© owners presently unknown to me – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational, review purposes only)
For more information concerning the ahool, olitiau, sasabonsam, and other crypto-bats, be sure to check out my book The Beasts That Hide From Man.

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