Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Pair of Black Cats

Two sighting reports of "black panther"-like animals. First, from Texas:

"Another report of a mysterious black panther, roaming a densely wooded area in western Upshur County. The latest sighting of a reported black panther is in an area off of Highway 154 near Rhonesboro, in an area called Raintree Lake. In a remote wooded area called Raintree lakes, residents are unnerved by the night time yowls of a big cat they believe is in their community." ...
"'I've seen him on two or three occasions and I'm not talking about a glance I'm talking just straight at him and him just looking at me, kind of gave me chills' said [Mitchell] Bransford." ...
"But now pets are missing in the area, and some livestock has been killed, leading many to think a big cat is responsible.
"'A lot of dogs have come up missing' said one neighbor.
"'One of my calves was torn up torn a part stomach was ripped open throat ripped open' said area rancher Wayne Ballard."


And, from Australia:

"LARGE cat-like footprint photographs published in The Standard earlier this month have inspired more Grampians panther-spotters to come forward.
"Warrnambool couple Isobel and Arthur Peart were returning home from a Grampians holiday when they saw what they believe to be a panther on the side of the road." ...

"'We were driving back to Warrnambool from Halls Gap (and I saw) a black puma climbing up the (embankment) on the right-hand side of the road.'
"She said the creature was just three metres from the car but when they turned around it had disappeared into the scrub.
"Mrs Peart described the animal as having a shiny black coat and being lean like a greyhound. 'Its tail was a cat's tail and it was a long one,' she said."

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Historical Speckled Tiger Report?

I've just posted a brief article in BioFortean Review concerning a 1930s mystery cat from British Guiana (now Guyana) with some similarities to the Peruvian cryptid, the Speckled Tiger, noted in investigations by Peter J. Hocking. Article is here.

I also see that Eberhart (Mysterious Creatures) suggests another reference for this cryptid: Stanley E. Brock, Hunting in the Wilderness, 1963. I'd be interested in a summary of this book's relevance...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Two-Faced Pig - Literally


We have all heard the saying - "You're a two faced liar". This is just a figure of speech of course, but recently a pig was born in China that literally and figuratively had two faces......


This shows that every so often the world does indeed give way to genetic accidents. We have seen the four-legged duck, the five legged calf, and more. Now a new two-faced pig.


For the Chines, this is very fitting. After all 2007 is the year of the pig........


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A New Wetapunga from New Zealand?

80 scientists just finished a blitz survey of the Otari-Wilton's Bush reserve in Wellington, New Zealand. As part of this 24 hours blitz collected, counted and found over 1300 species, among them a cave living wetapunga.

The researchers speculate that the cave "weta" may be a new species, even genus of the group.

Wetapunga's are the heaviest insects known in the world, weighing upwards of 2 1/2 ounces and over 3.5 inches long. These large wingless crickets once lived throughout New Zealand, and are now reduced to small populations primarily on Little Barrier Island.

If this is a true new species, or even genus, then it is an important geographic find for conservation. Regardless of the taxonomic classification though, the find is key to conservation protection of the native animals of New Zealand and elsewhere.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Borneo Shark Found

One of the rarest sharks on Earth has been found again.

The Borneo shark, Carcharhinus borneensis, is listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, and is known from only 5 specimens since 1858. The last being in 1937.

A team of researchers from the University Malaysia Sabah identified the shark, along with a new crab and ray fish, during a survey of the Sabah and Sarawak area.

This shark is known to reach around 2 meters in length, give birth to live pups, and lives inshore. Its ecology and behaviors are virtually unknown due to its rarity, and it is known only from Borneo and a specimen near China.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Texas Black Panthers

Stories of black panthers in the woods near Dialville, Texas, have residents concerned; so says the Jacksonville Daily Progress:

"Residents here are treading lightly and keeping an eye out for black panthers, who many say have made the woods in the Dialville area their temporary home.
"How long they’ll stay here is anybody’s guess, according to citizens living in the area, who are fearful of a 'mother panther and her three cubs' who have been spotted along the Dialville Highway on County Road 1610." ...
"However, officials from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say the animals may have been confused with another type of creature."

The officials suggest a black lab or bobcat.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Red Panda Species?

In an online news overview of Australian mammalogist Colin Groves, there is brief mention of a project he has been working on, which may require the differentiation of new species:

"One of his latest projects is reclassifying the red panda, an agile cat-like animal found in the Himalayas. It was originally classified as belonging to the raccoon family because of its similar shaped head and coloured ringed tail. After the DNA revolution, it was re-assigned to the bear family.
"'They have a pseudo-thumb, like the giant panda which they use to nestle food in their paw. The skull measurements I've obtained suggest Chinese, Indian and Nepalese red pandas are all different very distinct. Are they new species? At this stage I'm inclined to think so. They separate out very nicely.'"


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Monday, March 19, 2007

UK Beetle Population Rediscovered


The UK press has been celebrating the rediscovery of the short-necked oil beetle, Meloe brevicollis, in south Devon. From the Independent:


"About 40 individuals have since been identified on grassland between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail in Devon. The last time there was a confirmed sighting was at Chailey Common in East Sussex 59 years ago.
"The natural habitats of the short-necked oil beetle, Meloe brevicollis, have been affected by the spread of intensive agriculture since the Second World War. However, the site in Devon is on a steep slope down to the sea, so it has avoided the sort of agricultural intensification affecting neighbouring land.
"This has allowed the beetle to complete its complicated life-cycle, which involves a period of parasitism inside a bee's nest during the beetle's larval stage." ...

"Adult oil beetles live for about three months and are slow-moving and flightless. Their main defence is to exude a toxic oily secretion when they feel threatened.
"Females lay up to 1,000 eggs in a burrow they dig in soft or sandy soil. When the young hatch in spring, they climb up vegetation and lie in wait on flowers for a passing mining bee to take the young beetle back to the bee's nest, where the beetle changes into a maggot-like larva that devours the bee's egg and stores of pollen."

What seems to be glossed over in the various news articles, however, is that this is the rediscovery of a population, not the species itself. This beetle is found elsewhere in Europe (and Russia). Blister beetles are nice large species, and it is certainly noteworthy that a UK native has reappeared, but be aware that the media is focused on the sensational, not the factual, aspects of this rediscovery.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Status of the Eastern Cougar - Maine and Beyond

Maine is a one of those states where population densities are more isolated to the coastal areas, and the central and northern portions have a much smaller per capita population. This makes for beautiful scenery as well as isolation for hikers, hunters and outdoors people. Eagles, moose, deer and more haunt the woods and waterways.

In 2000 the population of Maine was just under 1.3 million spread over some 31,000 square miles. 3500 miles of coastline, 17 million acres of forest. The US census bureau projection is around 1.4 million people by 2025, or 42nd in the nation for population.

The last known cougar in Maine was killed in 1938, yet reports have filtered in over the years of the animals still haunting the woods. Making Maine one of the Eastern Cougar haunts of New England, ranking it in line with Vermont and New Hampshire.

Now, the state of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is gathering together the reports from the state as part of a periodic review of the status of the cougar. While not listed on Maine’s endangered or threatened listings, it is protected under the federal endangered species program (since 1969).

Part of the review, which will take data from 21 states east of the Mississippi, will be aimed towards scientific analysis of the data, but also as to whether the Eastern Cougar is actually even a distinct species. This later aspect runs the risk of removing the endangered species classification, as the population entirety would be lumped with the cougars from the west. While this reclassification is still unknown, it is a debatable subject as the actual speciation of cougars is debated in and of itself. We have previously seen multiple sub-species (including the eastern cougar and over 10 others) , to a shortening that lumps various geographic areas together as sub-species.

One stand out account from Maine is from September 2000 in which a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) Biologist Keel Kemper identified tracks made in Monmouth, Maine as being larger than existing felines would make. The event was spurred by the sighting by Roddy Glover, in which he claimed seeing a female and cub while scouting the area prior to bow season to start. Glover is a taxidermist and had mounted cougar pelts prior. The investigation by Keel Kemper and Philip Dugus occurred within hours of the reported sighting, and hundred of tracks were found and casts were made.

For anyone who has seen a cougar, be it in the east or west (and I have seen them in the west), remain positive that despite reclassification of species or endangered status, these animals will continue to fight for their survival.

Are they in the New England? Possibly, there is some good evidence from New Brunswick and Massachusetts (the Vermont classification is debatable) in the form of scientific evidence. We have numerous sightings, and the off / on image to see or track to view. Time will tell, and the review of the animal’s status is important regardless of the end results as it will allow the first large scale review from multiple states in years. We hope the data will be made available to us all for review when complete.


The review plan outline is viewable at the US Fish and Wildlife Website at http://www.fws.gov/policy/library/E7-1315.html

Maine is but one state, and should be considered as one of many.

Please see the following links for further information:

http://www.easterncougarnet.org/northeast.html
http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/state/070313mountainlion.html
https://www.state.me.us/ifw/wildlife/etweb/pdfs/easterncougar_24_25.pdf

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A Possible New Huntsman Spider?


Spotted in a rain forest in North Queensland, the orange and black marked spider may be the newest member of the Huntsman Clan.


The female collected by Alan Henderson has a 35 mm body and 90 mm leg span (that is around 1.4 inches and 3.5 inches, respectively).


Dubbed the "Tiger Huntsman" due to its coloration, the world may not know whether it is truly a new species until after it expires. Until then it can be seen as part of Melbourne Museum's Bugs Alive! exhibit.


For more see The Age

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Clouded Leopard - News - But Why Now?

News has hit the waves of a reclassification of the clouded leopard from Borneo from sub-species to full species classification. This is good news for conservationists, and felid follows.

But, the news is making the waves now, creating the appearance it is new.

The actual reclassification was presented in December 2006 in the journal Current Biology (volume 16, issue 23, December 2006).

In the paper Molecular Evidence for Species – Level Distinctions in Clouded Leopards, the researchers identified genetic differences splitting the previous Neofelis nebulosa diardi into Neofelis diardi. The distinctions being significant enough to compare to the differences exhibited between the known Panthera species (which include lions, tigers and leopards).

This entire scenario is also supported, and vice-versa, within the same journal in the paper Geographical Variation in the Clouded Leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, reveals Two Species”. Here the researchers here looked at the morphological differences on the pelages .

These two papers support the basis for a species reclassification on a genetic and morphological basis.

The question therefore is raised, why now is the story being heralded as a new discovery?
The association over to conservation on mainland Borneo is one strong suggestive reason. The more attention the area receives, the more pressure is acclimated to a protection basis. While all this is great, we still must keep our attention to the details behind what is reported.

Please see the December 18, 2006 post here at Strange Ark for more details.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Ivorybill Woodpecker Analysis

New study noted on Eurekalert:

"Video evidence that an extinct woodpecker is alive and well in Arkansas, USA may prove to be a case of mistaken identity. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Biology shows how fleeting images thought to be the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis could be another native woodpecker species.
"J. Martin Collinson compared David Luneau's Arkansas video footage from April 2004 of the supposed Ivory-billed Woodpecker with fresh footage of the Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus, a superficially similar black and white species. The Pileated Woodpecker's wings were thought to beat more slowly that the 8.6 beats per second captured on Luneau's video, and its wings have black trailing edges. The trailing edges of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's wings are white.
"Aberdeen-based Collinson concludes that Luneau's video shows a bird that is not fully identified, and probably a Pileated Woodpecker. His analysis of the fresh Pileated Woodpecker video footage showed that its wings did reach 8.6 beats per second during an escape flight. He also found that as Pileated Woodpeckers fly away from the camera, their plumage is hard to distinguish from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's. He suggests that the Pileated Woodpecker's distinctive black trailing wing edges can be spotted in the Luneau video as the wings stroke downwards. Previous analysis suggested these were the black wingtips of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
"Collinson argues that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's rediscovery remains unproven: 'With no verified reports in the USA for over 50 years, it seemed impossible that a crow-sized black, white and red bird should have eluded the nation's ornithologists, hunters and conservationists in heavily populated South-eastern USA for so long.' However, the original video published in Science catalysed conservation efforts in SE USA's bottomland swamp forests, which face continuing development. Furthermore, it spurred renewed efforts, in Florida and elsewhere, to find the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and determine its status in the USA."

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Book Reviews Posted

A couple of book reviews are up at BioFortean Review. Craig reviews El Chupacabras: Fact or Fiction?, and I review three booklets on Alabama Bigfoot sightings.

Dwarf Killer Whale?

The killer whale is familiar to us all due in part to its popularized appearance in media attractions, like Shamu from Sea World. However, there has been much debate over how many species of these whales actually exist in the worlds oceans.

The killer whale, Orcinus orca, is the only species formally accepted at this time. However, not the only one described. Orcinus nanus was described in 1981 and Orcinus glacialis was described in 1982, both by Soviet researchers. O. nanus was based on body measurements with no maintained holotype, while O. glacialis was based on at least 6-specimens, unfortunately the holotype and paratypes were later discarded .

Later three (3) subcategories of killer whales were broken out based on observed specimens as well as photographic evidence.

Type A – the classic killer whale that inhabits the open Antarctic waters, primarily feeding on minke whales

Type B – gray, black and white form that lives in the loose pack ice areas and feeds primarily on pinnipeds.

Type C – gray, black and white form that lives in the hard pack ice and feeds primarily on fish.

Each of these types varies in eye patch coloration as well, leading researchers such as Pitman and Ensor to speculate that type B and C may well be distinct species based on ecological and morphological differences.

Recently researchers R.L. Pitman, W.L. Perryman, D. LeRoi and E. Eilers took the task on of evaluating the whales, and have thus had their paper “A dwarf form of killer whale in Antarctica” published in the Journal of Mammalogy 88 (1): 43-48, 2007.

The researchers conducted helicopter flights, 10 in total, starting in January 2005. Taking images from 8 of the flights, the researchers collected 252 images of unique specimens. The Type C specimen was the only one observed during the flights, and 220 of the images were viable for measurement analysis.

The results suggest that the Type C specimens are distinctly smaller than Orcinus orca, being up to 50% smaller in size. While the results do not support these whales being a distinct species, they are suggestive of a reproductive isolation of the Type C wherein adult females Type A’s are an average 0.8 metres larger than adult Type C males, making it less likely the female would mate with the smaller male.

The researchers do not go as far as stating these Type C whales are new species, rather suggest that additional morphological and genetic analysis must be done to determine whether a secondary species exists in the Antarctic waters. Until then one can only speculate that at a minimum there are at least two distinct groupings of whales, with the Type B category being either a potential third group, or a grouping of mixed Type A’s and Type C’s.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Addendum and details Oxyuranus temporalis - the new taipan species

Earlier on March 9th, 2007, it was reported that a new species of taipan was discovered in Australia.

However, it was neglected to mention more specifics of this new snake.

In the paper “A new species of taipan (Elapidae: Oxyuranus) from central Australia”, researchers P. Doughty, B. Maryan, S.C. Donnellan and M.N. Hutchinson (in Zootaxa 1422: 45-58: 2007) described Oxyuranus temporalis.

The new species, name after its varied temporal scales from its two sister species, was collected near Walter James Range in Western Australia on September 22, 2006 at around 4 p.m. by M.N. Hutchinson after being spotted from an automobile.. Its primary distinguisher from O. microlepidotus and O. scutellatus, its sister species taipans, is via one primary temporal scales (vs. two) and six lower labials (vs. seven). Subsequent genetic analysis also differentiated the three sisters.

The holotype measures just under 3 feet in length, and exhibits a brownish coloration with spotted locales of yellowish-white.

This marks the third species of taipan known, and the first in 125 years. Suggestive by the researchers that taipans were once more widespread through Australia. These snakes are among the most venomous in the world, so additional research and collection of this 3rd species will be necessary to determine its distribution, toxicity, and size.

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L. Alexandrei described - new Brazilian Snapper

Lutjanus alexandrei has been described recently in the paper “A new species of snapper (Perciformes: Lutjanidae) from Brazil, with comments on the distribution of Lutijanus griseua and L. apodus” by R.L. Moura and K.C. Lindeman (in Zootaxa 1422: 31-43: 2007).

This new endemic species from Brazil has been misidentified in the past as other species, including L. apodus (schoolmaster), L. jocu and L. griseus (gray snapper) . This brings the total known western Atlantic species of snapper to 12.

First known to be different in 2003, the species was further acknowledged as being unique through subsequent morphological examinations in the field and museum specimens.

Having a reddish body and fins, blue spots, and white lines along its surface, this snapper is a rather stunning fish indeed. Named after naturalist Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira, this new snapper has had the common name of Brazilian Snapper proposed.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

New Taipan Found

RESEARCHERS have found a new species of taipan snake slithering in the outback.
Similar to the western brown snake, the still unnamed species was discovered during an expedition to a remote region about 200km northwest of Uluru in September last year.

Mark Hutchinson, reptile and amphibian curator at the South Australian Museum, caught the immature female taipan while it was crossing a dirt track.

Dr Hutchinson bagged the 1m venomous snake and sent it to the Western Australian Museum in Perth for inspection.

"It was a bit of a surprise," he said. "You usually don't find a new species that big out in the open - well, not in Australia."

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

3-Men Seeking Monsters Picked up By Universal

Over at the Internet site "CHUD", there has been an interesting piece of news.

CHUD is not the Douglas Cheek 1984 horror movie (which I like), unfortunately that movie was followed by a poor 1989 sequal (Chud II: Bud the Chud). Those movies where about Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (CHUD). This CHUD stands for Cinematic Happenings Under Development.

The cryptozoology / fortean book Three Men Seeking Monsters: Six Weeks in Pursuit of Werewolves, Lake Monster, Giant Cats, Ghostly Devil Dogs, and Ape-Men has picked up by Universal Studies for a potential forthcoming movie. Interesting development, would be interesting as well to see how it plays out.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cowbird Mafia

Turns out cowbirds weren't merely duping the host birds into taking care of their eggs and offspring; it was blackmail, pure and simple. National Geographic News notes:

"Cowbird mothers keep watch on the nests where they've laid their eggs.
"If the birds find that their eggs have been destroyed or removed from the nest, the cowbirds retaliate, the study says.
"The birds reportedly destroy the host birds' eggs, pecking holes in them or carrying them out of the nest and dropping them on the ground."


Not all ornithologists are convinced by this new study, as the cowbirds' deprivations weren't caught in the act, but the proponents say they have ruled out all other possibilities.

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Rediscovered Bird: Large-Billed Reed Warbler

A bird last seen in India over 100 years ago was rediscovered in the Gulf of Thailand. From the Bangkok Post:

"A bird presumed to have been extinct for well over 100 years has been rediscovered in a pristine coastal wetland in Petchaburi, on the Gulf of Thailand. "The large-billed reed warbler (Acrocephalus orinus) had not been seen since 1867, when a single bird of the species was reported in the northwest of India, a prominent ornithologist said yesterday.
"Philip Round, a lecturer from Mahidol University's department of biology, said his team spotted and trapped the bird on March 27 last year at the royally-initiated Laem Phak Bia Environment Research and Development Project in Petchaburi province.
"It took about a year to confirm that the bird was the large-billed reed warbler.
'"'We collected two feathers from the bird for DNA tests and the result showed that it perfectly matched the DNA of the 139-year-old specimen kept at the British Museum,' said Mr Round.
"The large-billed reed warbler was found nesting in grass filter beds used for sewage treatment.
"The bird is small, brown and mostly unmarked. It weighs 9.5 grammes, and is 18 centimetres in length. The bird was released unharmed after the ornithological team finished the examination."


Round PD, Hansson B, Pearson DJ, Kennerley PR & Bensch S (2007) Lost and found: the enigmatic large-billed reed warbler Acrocephalus orinus rediscovered after 139 years. Journal of Avian Biology

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Cryptozoological Publishing: What Books?

Well, Loren appears to think that I've been "having at him" over his Cryptomundo posting on Big Bird!, though he's certainly not the only author who tends to overemphasize speculation than fact. I'll just quickly note three points, then move on to what actually interests me: the scope of cryptozoological publishing.

First—I'm not concerned about world views; I'm concerned about spin.
Second—Yes, it appears Gerhard was pushing the pterosaur angle. Reminds me of some writers who, say, push the American Atrox scenario in mystery cat discussions. Glass houses and bricks...
Third—good grief, get over the CFZ's overhyped marketing. If you haven't figured out by now that they've never met a superlative they didn't love, cherish, and adopt into the family, you've been wandering in the woods too long. So what? The only insult to a reader's intelligence is when we assume readers can't discern a marketing ploy on their own.

Now, to the fun stuff. What kind of cryptozoology books are actually being published? From what I've seen, (I am not concerned with fiction or juvenile non-fiction here) I would categorize as such:

Encyclopedias—These are the entry-defined volumes, with broad scope (usually encompassing the whole of cryptozoology, though could conceivably cover subsets). Depth and details of entries will usually be limited by the background information available. Some mystery animals will be covered well, others won't; but hopefully the editor/author has spent enough time to adequately cover the subject. The two primary encyclopedias now are by Newton and Eberhart, but you'll notice that even with wide overlap, there are significant differences and some cryptids are not covered by both books. And, I know that there are mystery animals not covered by either book. Still, I would be unwilling to suggest that yet another broad coverage encyclopedia is necessary. (It requires enormous effort and time, which may not be adequately recompensed.) Perhaps some specialized encyclopedias... Loren's Cryptozoology A to Z, is representative of a decent entry-level encyclopedia—the entries cover the primary elements of cryptozoology. Loren might want to consider an offshoot project for this (hint, hint): perhaps a [biographic] encyclopedia (Who's Who Past and Present) of cryptozoology, but with greater scope of personalities involved, especially in the past. I've also thought it would be interesting to see a chronological timeline-style entry-book on cryptozoology, so that we can actually see how the methodology developed, as significant species were discovered and major players emerged, showing how sightings of different cryptids play out over time. I don't have time for that project right now, maybe someone (experienced, please) would be willing to take it up. (I'd certainly be interested in publishing it...) The biggest problem in this and certain other types of cz books, however, is that often an author is trying to put the book together alone; that means there is a higher chance of overlooking material that should have been included. There needs to be some willingness to solicit help from a wider range of investigators. [Addition: I should note that Eberhart's encyclopedia found its roots in his earlier massive bibliography on the subject. Bibliographies are a category in themselves, and very useful; but, with today's technology, I'd personally rather see an online effort that can continuously incorporate new citations.]

Cryptozoological Apologetics—Heuvelmans' books are the foundation for cryptozoology. His writings (including his articles in the ex-ISC journal Cryptozoology), and those of others (Mackal, Greenwell) who discuss the necessity for cryptozoology, what it concerns, and how it is practiced, should form the basis of any cz library. I don't think I've seen anything published in this category for some time. My Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation delves into some of these areas, but I prefer to see these written by professional biologists who actually recognize cryptozoology as a working methodology. With the demise of the ISC, it may be some time before we see much more in this direction.

Single Subject Reviews—These are the books written about a specific mystery animal or cryptozoological category, usually one well-known to the public, whether Bigfoot, or lake monsters, or sea serpents. Shuker's Mystery Cats of the World is a good example. We can note several subcategories, as well.
(Popularization): The book isn't meant to be in-depth. It may present noteworthy case-studies, discuss various theories, discuss some pros and cons, etc.
(Incident-Based): This is generally a "just-the-facts" style book, providing the details in sighting reports or interviews, without much speculation. This is particularly useful for investigators who may want to follow up on reports, or make comparisons. (Let me state here that one of my biggest problems with speculative books is that they often do so at the expense of details, which are supposed to be shoring up any arguments made, anyway.)
(Investigation-Based): Similar to the Incident-based, but derived primarily through personal interviews and on-site investigations.
(Folkloric): Lake Monster Traditions is one for this category, as are some of the Bigfoot folklore-based texts. These tend to be written by those outside the cryptozoological community, though we certainly see our own discussions of the influence that myth has on cultural understandings of mystery animals. I wouldn't mind seeing someone create a folkloric encyclopedia of Bigfoot-style subjects, for example, though I wouldn't want to see it written by someone who thinks that all myths have a basis in solid facts.
(Scientific): These are books written within a scientific (preferably experimental) mindset. It isn't enough to just say "I'm scientific," and then list a bunch of sighting reports. These are the books that incorporate scientific methodologies: Meldrum's recent Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science is a good one here.
(Historical): Not merely a discussion of the subject, but showing the historical development of the subject. Several of the old sea-serpent books fit in this category. The author may have a specific argument, but takes the subject back to its roots and shows how opinions, theories, and reports affect the mystery creature public image over the years.
(Speculative Biology): In this area, the author may pull data from alleged related organisms (past and present), in an effort to provide a reasonable biological picture of the mystery animal. Generally speaking, I don't see much point in this, unless the purpose is to determine a way in which to actually acquire confirmative evidence of the mystery animal.
Obviously, many books will show overlapping characteristics from more than one category.
I'd personally like to see more categorical reviews: Mystery Bears of the World, Mystery Whales, Mystery Canines, etc.

Regional Emphasis—Similar to the Single Subject Review, this category just focuses regionally rather than biologically. (Such as, Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia.) Subcategories will generally also follow the same route. This is a particularly good area, though, for small self-published projects. There are lots of small booklets covering specific state Bigfoot sightings, for example. (Opsasnick's Maryland Bigfoot Digest is one of my favorites.) Often these are widely publicized; in fact, I've got a couple on hand (Bigfoot Sightings of East Central Alabama, etc.) I still need to review on BioFortean Review when I get the time. Most of these will have reports you won't find in the broader subject reviews.

Expeditionary Investigations—These are the often personalized accounts of an expedition in search of a specific mystery animal. While the cryptid may be the reason for the trip, you'll often see what is more of a travelogue, so the author may at any point make sidetrips (geographically or philosophically). Sometimes the investigation will be straight-forward, other times it really meanders. (Occasionally, you get the gonzo journalist, and anything can happen.)

New Discoveries—Some authors (i.e., Matt Bille, Karl Shuker) like to recap zoological discoveries of significance to cryptozoology. These are very useful in showing why cryptozoology serves a purpose, though I'd like to see some more emphasis on those discoveries that actually resulted from cryptozoological methodologies (even if the scientists involved are not cryptozoologists themselves).

There are probably a few other categories that could be noted, but I think that's enough for my purpose. Could we use more cryptozoology books? Absolutely. But I'd like to see authors take a little more thought in what would be most helpful in the continued organization and development of cryptozoology.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Publishing Standards for Cryptozoology Books?

A recent posting to another blog site suggested that the recently published Big Bird!, by Ken Gerhard through CFZ Press, is indicative of lowered standards in cryptozoology publishing (e.g., a thin, quick-print job with little to contribute and just looking for a fast buck). Well, that particular posting was soon withdrawn (thus no need to cite it here), though whether from offline flack or recognition that clear misstatements were made, I'm not certain. I'm not concerned with subjective reviews of cryptozoology books, anyone can like or dislike a book as they choose, but when objections are raised in the name of "higher standards," they can't (or shouldn't) be merely waved away or buried under the pretense they never were made. Otherwise, they come back, again and again, perhaps in different forms or insinuations, but they do reappear.
I am not an expert in cryptozoology or publishing (I don't think one can even be an expert in CZ), but I have enough experience with both (and a stake in the ongoing development of cryptozoological books), to make some observations without being entirely from left field.


First, let me take a look at Gerhard's book. I should note that I've never met Gerhard, and I don't recall ever having communicated with him via email. Off the top of my head, I don't know if he is on any of the email lists I moderate, though some of the CFZ folk are. The first I heard about this book was when I first noted it here on this blog, at which time I ordered a copy.
From a technical standpoint, it does look like a short book. Part of this is an artifact of the book's layout—the font and leading are smaller than normal, the page size is a little larger than the standard 6 x 9 inches we usually see for print-on-demand books, and the gutter (spine-side inside margin) is very small. The page count could have been expanded, giving the text more breathing room. I'm guessing CFZ wanted to keep the page count low to keep the retail price low, but that's just a guess. (Page count has a direct effect on pricing issues with POD books.)
Images in the book are either a) Gerhard's investigation photos, or b) artistic contributions by Bill Rebsamen. Because CFZ put this on a slightly larger than 6 x 9 page, the printer uses a very white page, which does show these images better than I'd normally expect to see with a POD book, but no one should expect offset quality imagery. That is just unrealistic. In this case, the photos are OK, but Bill's artwork looks better. (In the case of page 52, it stands out perfectly—it's a great image.)
Regarding the text, it starts off with three chapters of investigating Texas "flying creature" reports, including some historical recaps. Gerhard interviews witnesses, visits locations of interest, and gives us a look into his thought process as he investigates the "Big Bird." He follows this up with a chapter briefly noting flying cryptids from around the world, a chapter focusing on other flying cryptids from North America, and a final chapter noting the various theories that have been considered to explain the primary sightings. Gerhard also includes within the appendices a descriptive paleontological scenario on pterosaurs (by Leland Hale, not sure who that is) and a chronology of the Texas Big Bird sightings. Yes, it appears that Gerhard included Wikipedia in his sourcenotes (bad author! baaaad author!), but he also cites other investigators and sources. None of the chapters are long, but then they aren't fluffed up with pretentious over-speculation, either. Guess which one I think is worse?
So, is Big Bird! a cryptozoological classic? No. I can count on one hand the number of "classics" published in cryptozoology in the last five years—make that one finger (Meldrum's Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science is the only true recent classic to come to mind). But is it interesting? Yes. I found the first three chapters on Gerhard's personal experiences interesting. I like to see the methodology taking place, as can often be found in early cryptozoology texts: Izzard's Hunt for the Buru; The Spotted Lion; The Blue Tiger, etc. Is there new information in it? Yeah, while there are numerous accounts in the summary chapters that will be well-known to the average cryptozoology enthusiast, there are also reports new to print, or at least I haven't run across them previously. One problem with the non-Texas chapters does arise—they aren't always properly sourced; I don't know where Gerhard got several of the reports from (personal interview, website, or another investigator). I recognize the witness of the 2001 Smith Mills, KY, sighting, but see no indication as to where Gerhard collected the story. Even when protecting anonymity, other details of provenance should be noted. Take the stories for what they are—potential starting points for future investigation.
My personal opinions on the book: 1) I wish the author had spent a little more time on the "umbrella" nature of cryptids as ethnozoological catch-all's. We've seen that in numerous cryptid studies: Chorvinsky, most notably, in his examination of Chessie sightings. 2) I suspect that Texas and Mexico should be the primary focus of further "pterosaur" hunts, rather than PNG or Africa. (And, I know that there is at least one investigation in northern Mexico now, for "pterosaur"-like creatures.) Nick Sucik's investigations into southwestern cryptids suggests that that region has a great deal to offer for zoological discovery. This book only scratches the surface. I've seen other flying creature reports from the southwest, have a few I'll eventually get around to publishing. 3) I don't see any indication that this was anything less than a book the author wanted to write, or that it was a quick-money publishing scheme. Certainly not for the price this book is going for. I can calculate the print cost and wholesale discount; easy enough to guess the rest. Gerhard is not going to get rich off this book, and I don't believe that was his intent. It is clear that Gerhard is an experienced investigator, and it is great to see that he is willing to share his data and thoughts in this fashion. (Unlike some investigators, who might well be caching their reports in a safe-deposit box, never to see the light of day again.)

So, what for cryptozoological publishing? First, let me state, Enough with the crying for a magnum opus! Heuvelmans, Oudemans, and Sanderson are long gone. Frankly, I don't know any current writer who could accomplish what they were able to do. Nor is it necessary. The idea that anything less than a 400-page monograph on a global cryptozoological phenomenon (mostly speculation, of course) is "diluting" the literature, is absurd. This perspective is skewed. Think of cryptozoological literature as a continuum. There must be books that are primarily for popularization—these should (accurately, scientifically) engage the beginning reader, introducing the reader to new concepts and a basic understanding of what cryptozoology is about, and the mystery animals with which it is concerned. As a reader becomes an enthusiast, more information (greater depth) will be required. The foundational books for cryptozoology serve well here (Heuvelmans & Sanderson, the historical texts, the science-oriented cz books, etc.). Investigators may require something even more detailed, which leads to a bit of incongruity: the broad scope of cryptozoological encyclopedias, or the tightened interest of a very specific investigation. Without this range, a continuum doesn't survive, which has an effect on cryptozoology as a whole. Maybe one day, we'll see another cryptozoological magnum opus—but until then, those who feel called to write should continue to publish.
Should there be standards? Officially? No—certainly not set by any one writer. I do believe that any writer or publisher (or writer/publisher) can always do better—and that includes those who publish "real" books. (Please.) I certainly wouldn't want to see word count confused as "quality." There are a few inherent difficulties in publishing cryptozoological topics, I won't go into them right now, but for basic quality issues, I'm sure that most of us with some experience in self-publishing or POD publishing are willing to discuss and debate ways to make a book useful, interesting, and worth a spot on the bookshelf. If you are looking for a place to talk about cryptozoology publishing, feel free to join this Yahoo Group.

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New Millipedes from the Grand Canyon

Discovery Of New Cave Millipedes Casts Light On Arizona Cave Ecology

A new genus of millipede was recently discovered by a Northern Arizona University doctoral student and a Bureau of Land Management researcher.



J. Judson Wynne, with the Department of Biological Sciences at NAU and cave research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Center, and Kyle Voyles, Arizona State Cave Coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, collected specimens leading to the discovery of two new millipede species in caves on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon.
Wynne and Voyles, known for their cave research, also discovered a new genus of cricket last spring.


"We knew the millipedes likely represented two distinct species because the two populations were separated by the Grand Canyon," Wynne said. "The fact these two species belong to an entirely new genus was a great surprise to us."

Wynne said these eyeless albino millipedes are "essentially living fossils" and provide researchers with another piece of the puzzle needed to better understand cave ecosystems.



He explained that during the last Ice Age, when northern Arizona was warmer and wetter, millipedes lived in leaf litter. As the climate warmed, they sought refuge in caves, where the subterranean realm provides more constant climatic conditions enabling their survival.
Representing two distinct species (one occurring in one cave on the South Rim, the other in two caves on the North Rim of Grand Canyon), this new genus of cave-limited millipede has been confirmed by Bill Shear, a leading millipede expert at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.


"Western U.S. caves have not been at all well explored for examples of cave life" Shear said. "We can expect more new species from the ongoing work at Northern Arizona University."
This new genus was confirmed by analysis of the eighth pair of legs (or gonopods) on the male specimens.


For the north rim species, Voyles explained that the discovery will result in the two caves becoming listed as 'significant' under the Federal Cave Resource Protection Act of 1988.
Voyles indicates there are a lot more exciting discoveries to be made. "With 170 known caves [on the BLM Arizona Strip lands], there is no doubt that there is more to find. The research we have conducted here is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg," he said.




He added that this also means more work for resource managers, who will now have to pay much closer attention to the use and conservation of these caves and their biological attributes.
Neil Cobb, curator of the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity in the Department of Biological Sciences at NAU, said, "Caves are extreme habitats that have received far too little attention. The arthropods that can survive these dark and resource-poor environments can tell us a lot about what makes them so successful as a group."


While conducting ecological inventories of 30 caves on the Colorado Plateau of northern Arizona, research by Wynne and Voyles has resulted in the discovery of at least 10 new species, including a new species of spider, a new genus of cave cricket (Family Rhaphidophoridae), possibly two new cricket species, a new barklouse (Psocoptera) species, a new beetle species, and possibly two new springtail species (Collembola). With many of the collected specimens still awaiting identification by taxonomists, the researchers believe additional species discoveries are likely.
The new millipede genus will be named in honor of NAU ecologist, John Prather, who died last year.


Wynne, also an associate curator with the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity, is also developing methods to detect caves using thermal remote sensing imagery. Once procedures are developed, these techniques ultimately will be used to find caves on Mars.
Voyles is also the cave resource management lead for Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. His work has led to the development of cave resource management plans and the ultimate protection of numerous caves in northwestern Arizona and southwestern Utah.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Thylacine Hunt

The German tourist who claimed to have photographed a thylacine in Tasmania in 2005 is returning to that island to search for more evidence. From the news:

"German tourists Klaus Emmerichs and Birgit Jansen snapped two digital photos of what they claimed was the animal in Tasmania's rugged forests while on holiday in 2005.
"Mr Emmerichs has come back to join Col Bailey, who also claims to have seen a tiger in 1967, to try to capture the animal on video." ...

"Mr Emmerichs recalled the moment he said he saw the animal.
"'I came from high and he can't see me. He had his nose down and was snuffing,' he said on the ABC.
"'I want to prove that it is not extinct, like the people think and the world thinks.'
"Mr Emmerichs said he and Ms Jansen had no idea the tiger, which drank at a creek then loped away, was supposed to be extinct.
"Experts initially believed the night photos showed portions of a Thylacine obscured by foliage, but later examinations led to accusations of a set-up, ending a bid to sell the pictures for $25,000."

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

USFWS Review of the Eastern Cougar

Finally, the USFWS is beginning an investigation into the eastern cougar phenomenon. Maybe. We'll see how it pans out. I've seen my fair share of housecat and bobcat pictures, taken by people convinced they've seen a mountain lion, and I'm unconvinced that the "black panther" sightings have anything to do with any possible remaining eastern cougar, but I am, frankly, highly doubtful that the average state game warden has enough experience with big cats (or, say, tracking) to truly determine the presence or absence of a cougar. I'm basing this on a) having listened to several game officers consistently make inaccurate scientific statements about species with which they have little day-to-day contact, and b) knowing that their training is primarily law enforcement, not biology. The few actual non-game researchers an eastern state might hire are usually focused on rare woodrats or the like; they don't have time for "phantom cats." Most investigations I've seen take place have had serious methodological flaws (length of investigation, scope of investigation, late occurance of investigation, etc.). And, most start with a bias that may be difficult to overcome scientifically. Can, for example, modern DNA techniques accurately distinguish a true "eastern" cougar, from a "western" cougar? I know the South American subspecies can be determined, but some studies seem to indicate that there is little differentiation between North American populations. (Then again, the Texas strain can apparently be distinguished from the true "Florida panther," so I'd like to see what the current concensus is.) I suspect this is mostly a paper investigation, with little chance of legitimate field studies. (Imagine the cost...) For now, here is part of the press release put out by the PA Game Commission on behalf of the Federal project:

"Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning a review of scientific and commercial information to determine the status of the endangered eastern cougar, the first review the Service has done since publishing a recovery plan in 1982.
"As part of the process, the USFWS has requested that anyone wishing to submit information regarding the eastern cougar may do so by writing to: Eastern Cougar, Northeast Regional Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035. Comments also may be submitted via e-mail to EasternCougar@fws.gov.
"Information must be received for the state review by the USFWS by March 30, although the Service will continue to accept new information about eastern cougars at any time.
"The USFWS placed the eastern cougar on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 1973. The last known Pennsylvania native mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874." ...
"As part of the review, the USFWS is seeking information on the status of the eastern cougar in the 21 states -- from Maine to South Carolina and westward from Michigan to Tennessee -- where the Endangered Species Act protects it. Lacking definitive evidence of the species' existence, the Service has presumed the eastern cougar to be extinct. According to the USFWS, it is improbable that a small cougar population persisted in the eastern states for over a century. Most of the confirmed cougar records since 1950 (animals killed, good quality photos/videos, genetic evidence) are known to be escapes of captive origin. There may be thousands of captive cougars in the eastern United States.
"'An important part of the Service's review will be to compile the best available scientific evidence and objectively assess whether the eastern cougar is truly extinct,' said Mark McCollough, endangered species biologist in the Service's Northeast Region. McCollough and other Service staff will prepare the status review.
"The Service announced the eastern cougar status review in the 'Federal Register' on Jan. 29. To assist with the review, the Service contacted state fish and wildlife agencies in states and Canadian provinces where the cougar is thought to have lived and requested information related to cougar status, protection, threats, laws about captivity, and habitats where cougars could persist.
"The Endangered Species Act requires a review every five years of all protected species. However, limited resources and higher priorities have postponed the review for the Eastern cougar until now.
"For additional information on the eastern cougar, see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar.
"Information on the USFWS' endangered species program may be found at http://www.fws.gov/endangered.
"To be certain, Roe stressed that this review process is not an effort to introduce mountain lions into Pennsylvania.
"'The Game Commission has long been opposed to any initiative -- public or private -- to reintroduce mountain lions into the Commonwealth,' Roe said. 'Such a reintroduction effort would not be feasible in the state, and would not be something acceptable to most citizens, given that there are few areas of the Commonwealth without established communities. Also, such introductions, given the human population density, would not be in the best interest of the animals released.
"'However, over the years, mountain lion sightings have been reported throughout the state. The overwhelming majority of cases we investigate are proven to be mistaken identity based on examination of tracks, photos or other physical evidence,' Roe said. 'Some cases are inconclusive.
"'And, while some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of Pennsylvania, we have no conclusive evidence to support such views. However, if someone does encounter a mountain lion, the most logical explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into Pennsylvania.'
"To demonstrate his point, Roe noted that the agency has prosecuted individuals for illegal possession on mountain lions and other exotic wildlife in recent years. In 2002, a 24-year-old Dauphin County resident, was found guilty of illegally possessing a western cougar, and was ordered to pay a $300 fine." ...
"'While state law permits Pennsylvanians to possess certain exotic animals, the law also requires that such individuals adhere to specific permit and caging regulations established by the Game Commission in order to ensure public health and safety, as well as the animal's health and welfare.' Roe noted that the agency also has received reports of other exotic animals being found throughout Pennsylvania, such as a binturong found on a Beaver County family's porch in 2002; an African serval, resembling a small cheetah, which had been illegally possessed and escaped from its Pittsburgh owner several times before being confiscated in 2001; and two wallabies that escaped from their owners in Ambler in 2001."

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