Monday, April 30, 2007

Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Cryptozoology, at its root, is the investigation of zoological ethnoknowledge (accounts of animals unrecognized to exist or persist), to determine if there is an actual unknown species (or supposedly extinct species) yet to be discovered. Obviously, not all such accounts are reliable, but cryptozoology is an investigative methodology, not a belief system, and will (or should) focus on the most reliable accounts so that future research has a better chance to acquire confirmative evidence.

A new paper on tuataras takes an investigative approach to traditional Maori knowledge, and suggests that ethnoknowledge can also be useful for the practical application of conservation science. The abstract runs:

Species and Cultural Conservation in New Zealand: Maori Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Tuatara
Kristina M. Ramstad, et al.
Conservation Biology
Volume 21 Issue 2 Page 455 - April 2007

Abstract: Traditional ecological knowledge can be highly informative and integrated with complementary scientific knowledge to improve species management. This is especially true for abundant species with which indigenous peoples have frequent interactions (e.g., through harvest), but has been studied less frequently in isolated or declining species. We examined Maori traditional ecological knowledge of tuatara (Sphenodon spp., reptiles that resemble lizards but are the last living representatives of the order Sphenodontia) through semidirected interviews of elders of Te Atiawa, Ngati Koata, and Ngati Wai Iwi (similar to tribes), the guardians of several islands currently inhabited by tuatara. Maori are indigenous to New Zealand, having settled 800 to 1000 years ago. Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand, have declined in numbers since human settlement, and are now restricted to 37 offshore islands. The detail and volume of tuatara traditional ecological knowledge were less than that recorded in studies of more abundant or accessible species. In addition, traditional knowledge of the cultural significance of tuatara was more common and detailed among the elders than traditional knowledge of tuatara biology or ecology. The traditional knowledge collected, however, provided the first evidence of seven former sites of tuatara occupation, suggested five additional sites tuatara may currently occupy, contained novel hypotheses for scientific testing, and described tuatara cultural roles that have not been reported previously. We conclude that, in at least some cases, traditional ecological knowledge may persist as species decline and may serve as a valuable source of ecological information for conservation.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

India: "Black Panther" Photographed

In Asia, a "black panther" should be a melanistic leopard. A photographed black feline from an expedition to the Arunachal Pradesh region may be such, but there are indications in the Calcutta Telegraph that seem to indicate it might be something else.

"The sighting of a 'black panther' at the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh has become the talking point in wildlife conservation circles. A team of experts from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, and forest officials of Arunachal Pradesh captured the rare animal last month, albeit only on camera.
"Although the team is certain that the animal caught on camera is a black panther, the discovery has yet to be officially announced. Experts want to ascertain the exact species to which it belongs before making an announcement.
"'Black panther is a term that does not denote any particular species of cat.Instead, it refers to any all-black feline that is large enough to be counted as a big cat,' said S.P. Goyal, a WII scientist.
"The Pakke Tiger Reserve, 40 km from Seijosa under East Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh, is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
"The newly discovered animal is believed to be an entirely new species of black panther. 'Going by grainy photographs of the animal, it has small, round ears. The tail and body are quite long. It has canine teeth relative to body size and peculiar to big cats,' Goyal added.
"Goyal led the team of scientists that spotted the panther.
"'The animal was a four-foot-long black panther-like beast. Genetic tests could not be conducted as we could not capture the animal. But the physical features indicate that it is a member of a rare species of black panther, which is very rarely sighted in the jungles of this region,' Goyal said.
"Residents of Seijosa call the animal shonyi nyohi, which means “black creature”. A black leopard was spotted in the same area in 2001. Forest officials tranquillised the animal and captured it.
"A black panther was sighted in the region for the first time in 1927. Residents of the Lushai Hills of Mizoram saw the animal roaming about in a forest, which was later confirmed by conservationists."

Floresiensis Research at Penn State

An interesting lengthy article on the Homo floresiensis controversy, from the perspective of researchers who do not consider it likely that this is a legitimate new fossil species.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Elementum Bestia - RELEASED

ELEMENTUM BESTIA has now been released!!

A compilation book by authors from around the world, edited by Craig Heinselman.

This book marks the return of the CRYPTO Presents series of books last done in 2002. The previous versions are available online at Strange Ark . The difference this round is the book will be a standard oversized paperback of over 275 pages in length. The book is available through at

Segmented into sections as diverse as Unknown Aerial, Aquatic and Terrestrial Creatures to Cultural Impacts and Fictional Representations (Cryptofiction).

The American Sârâph: An Unnatural History of Winged Snakes in North America by Scott Maruna
The Case of the Grey Ghost by Craig Heinselman
Littlefoot – The Junjudee by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper
The Hobbits of Flores: A New Genus of Hominid - Parahomo by Dr Dwight Smith and Gary Mangiacopra
Maned Mystery Cats and Panthera atrox by Loren Coleman
Antediluvian Forms in South America? by Phillip O’Donnell
In Search of Rare Carnivorous Marsupials: An Examination of the Evidence for Their Survival by Chris Rehberg
New Zealand Mystery Biped? by Tony Lucas
“Aye, and behind the Cameroon’s there’s things living” by Scott Norman
Sasquatch Hoaxes by Diane Stocking
Bigfoot in Art History: Prehistoric to Early Medieval Period by Scott Marlowe
The Genesis of the Annual Bigfoot Conference / Expo by Don Keating
The Western Bigfoot Society – A History by Ray Crowe
To the Credulous Reader by JP O'Neill
A Classification System for Large , Unidentified Marine Animals Based on the Examination of Reported Observations by Bruce Champagne
Cryptofiction – One Reader’s Thoughts by Matt Bille
The Chupacabra by DL Tanner
Remember the Coelacanth by Lee Murphy
Cleve Hopper’s Goat by Gerry Bacon
Stick Doll by Blake Templeton
Creatures of the Fire: Cryptozoology in Ancient and Contemporary Perspective by Dr. Peter Dendle
The Global Search for New Species by Matt Bille
Artwork by William Rebsamen, Jim Harnock and Rick Spears


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Worms Rediscovered

An interesting article on enigmatic earthworms notes the rediscoveries of several species. From IHT:

"Sam James, a research associate at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, has named 80 new worm species in the last 20 years.
"These discoveries do not garner the same level of attention that a new bird might - after all, a worm does little more than slither through the mud to attract a mate, and that just doesn't make for good television - but they are important nonetheless." ...
"On a trip to Brazil, James found Fimoscolex sporadochaetus, a fairly ordinary-looking pinkish-gray worm whose demise had been greatly exaggerated. In fact, it had simply gone underground in 1969 and hadn't resurfaced in the presence of an earthworm scientist since.
"'Our position on these extinctions is that they are more likely to be off the radar than off the planet,' James said. Buoyed by this realization, he hopes to go hunting for another elusive Brazilian worm, Rhinodrilus fafner, which measures an impressive 6 feet in length but is equally reluctant to slither up to a taxonomist.
"That's not all. A sighting in Washington state of the giant white Palouse earthworm Driloleirus americanus, which can stretch to 3 feet long and smells of lilies, sent shock waves through the earthworm community last year. If the Great White Worm was back after nearly 20 years in hiding, what else might still be out there?"


Monday, April 23, 2007

Giant Fossil Fungus

An interesting determination, from Eurekalert:

"Scientists at the University of Chicago and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., have produced new evidence to finally resolve the mysterious identity of what they regard as one of the weirdest organisms that ever lived.
"Their chemical analysis indicates that the organism was a fungus, the scientists report in the May issue of the journal of Geology, published by the Geological Society of America. Called Prototaxites (pronounced pro-toe-tax-eye-tees), the organism went extinct approximately 350 million years ago.
"Prototaxites has generated controversy for more than a century. Originally classified as a conifer, scientists later argued that it was instead a lichen, various types of algae or a fungus. Whatever it was, it stood in tree-like trunks more than 20 feet tall, making it the largest-known organism on land in its day.
"'No matter what argument you put forth, people say, well, that’s crazy. That doesn’t make any sense,' said C. Kevin Boyce, an Assistant Professor in Geophysical Sciences at Chicago. 'A 20-foot-tall fungus doesn’t make any sense. Neither does a 20-foot-tall algae make any sense, but here’s the fossil.'
"The Geology paper adds a new line of evidence indicating that the organism is a fungus. The fungus classification first emerged in 1919, with Francis Hueber of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., reviving the idea in 2001. His detailed studies of internal structure have provided the strongest anatomical evidence that Prototaxites is not a plant, but a fungus.
"'Fran Hueber has contributed more to our understanding of Prototaxites than anyone else, living or dead,' said Carol Hotton, also of the National Museum of Natural History. 'He built up a convincing case based on the internal structure of the beast that it was a giant fungus, but agonized over the fact that he was never able to find a smoking gun in the form of reproductive structures that would convince the world that it was indeed a fungus,' Hotton said." ...
"Now Boyce, Hotton and their colleagues have produced independent evidence that supports Hueber’s case. The team did so by analyzing two varieties—isotopes—of carbon contained in Prototaxites and the plants that lived in the same environment approximately 400 million years ago.
"The metabolism of plants is limited by photosynthesis. Deriving their energy from the sun and their carbon from carbon dioxide in the air, any given type of plant will typically contain a similar ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 as another plant of the same type. 'But if you’re an animal, you will look like whatever you eat,' Boyce said. And Prototaxites displayed a much wider variation in its ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 content than would be expected in any plant.
"Geological processes can alter the isotopic composition of fossils, but Boyce and his colleagues conducted tests to verify that the carbon isotopic composition of the specimens they analyzed stemmed from organic rather than geologic factors.
"As for why these bizarre organisms grew so large, 'I’ve wondered whether it enabled Prototaxites to distribute its spores widely, allowing it to occupy suitable marshy habitats that may have been patchily distributed on the landscape,' Hotton said."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Long Island Alligator

An alligator measuring around 2 feet in length was found Saturday April 21, 2007 in a pond in Huntington, New York.

The animal was captured by officials and ownership of the alligator is being investigated further.

For the entire AP Story go to the NY Times as well as many other newspaper and Media outlets.



Coming in May 2007: ELEMENTUM BESTIA

A compilation book by authors from around the world, edited by Craig Heinselman.

This book marks the return of the CRYPTO Presents series of books last done in 2002. The previous versions are available online at Strange Ark . The difference this round is the book will be a standard oversized paperback of nearly 300 pages in length. The book will be made available through at cost, running at approx. $11.50 per copy in a 8 1/2 x 11 paperback style.

Segmented into sections as diverse as Unknown Aerial, Aquatic and Terrestrial Creatures to Cultural Impacts and Fictional Representations (Cryptofiction).

More details soon once the final proof copy is reviewed in a week or so.

For now, enjoy the cover art by Rick Spears and the content listing.

The American Sârâph: An Unnatural History of Winged Snakes in North America by Scott Maruna

The Case of the Grey Ghost by Craig Heinselman

Littlefoot – The Junjudee by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper

The Hobbits of Flores: A New Genus of Hominid - Parahomo by Dr Dwight Smith and Gary Mangiacopra

Maned Mystery Cats and Panthera atrox by Loren Coleman

Antediluvian Forms in South America? by Phillip O’Donnell

In Search of Rare Carnivorous Marsupials: An Examination of the Evidence for Their Survival by Chris Rehberg

New Zealand Mystery Biped? by Tony Lucas

“Aye, and behind the Cameroon’s there’s things living” by Scott Norman

Sasquatch Hoaxes by Diane Stocking

Bigfoot in Art History: Prehistoric to Early Medieval Period by Scott Marlowe

The Genesis of the Annual Bigfoot Conference / Expo by Don Keating

The Western Bigfoot Society – A History by Ray Crowe

To the Credulous Reader by JP O'Neill

A Classification System for Large , Unidentified Marine Animals Based on the Examination of Reported Observations by Bruce Champagne

Cryptofiction – One Reader’s Thoughts by Matt Bille

The Chupacabra by DL Tanner

Remember the Coelacanth by Lee Murphy

Cleve Hopper’s Goat by Gerry Bacon

Stick Doll by Blake Templeton

Creatures of the Fire: Cryptozoology in Ancient and Contemporary Perspective by Dr. Peter Dendle

The Global Search for New Species by Matt Bille

Artwork by William Rebsamen, Jim Harnock and Rick Spears

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lost and the Chupacabra

Popular culture crosses into the realm of cryptozoology and the paranormal from time to time. Even on prime time television.

The April 18th episode of the ABC show LOST entitled Catch-22 included one such reference.

In the background of one scene some of the characters are sitting around a campfire. Hurley, the big guy on the show cursed by the cryptic numbers, can be heard faintly in the back telling a tale of the Chupacabra.

Not the main portion of the show of course, but just to show you that a reference can pop up anywhere. We saw this before with the animated Open Season reference to Bigfoot, as well as the past show Surface.

While on the subject, if you like out-of-place animals and remember the movie Lake Placid, well it is back. The Sci-Fi channel will be airing Lake Placid 2 on April 28, 2007. This time there is more than one crocodile in the lake.....

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New Reprints

Two reprints of classic "mystery animal" books are now available. (Currently available from Amazon; other online bookstore feeds will pick them up soon.)

First is Henry Lee's Sea Monsters Unmasked, ISBN 1-930585-37-3, originally published in 1883. In this, Lee sets out his argument that many marine cryptid accounts were based on encounters with giant squid. This book is not nearly as long as Oudemans' Great Sea-Serpent, but I have set the reprint in similar format and size as a companion piece to my reprint of Oudemans' text.

Second is Harry R. Caldwell's Blue Tiger, ISBN 1-930585-38-1. This is an autobiographical-adventures work, focusing on Caldwell's hunting pursuits in China and diplomatic efforts between the Chinese government and bandit groups. A chapter is given to his hunt for the elusive blue tiger, and an additional appendix is added to this reprint, providing further details on the blue tiger from Roy Chapman Andrews' perspective.

More information is at

New Zealand Discoveries

New Zealand is still offering up new species, in this case several lizards. From the Dominion Post:

"The Sinbad Valley, tucked away in a corner of Fiordland, has revealed a range of weird and wonderful new species over the years, including wetas and other insects." ...
"Landcare Research biologist Trent Bell went into the lost valley last month aiming to find a [lizard] species first discovered by a group of rock climbers in 2004.
"He returned with more than he bargained for – three previously unknown species of skink.
Many of the small lizards were found on rocky outcrops at high altitude, with some proving difficult to catch, including one goggle-eyed beast which had since been dubbed 'the little Sinbad skink'.
"'It was a funny-looking bugger, with huge eyes and big feet. I knew it was something not known to science.' ...
"'The realisation that we're dealing with a large, stocky and entirely new species has led us to question what else is out there in the alpine areas of Fiordland,' Bell said.
"The Sinbad Valley runs alongside Milford Sound and until several years ago was home to the last kakapo naturally surviving on the Mainland."

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Bird Genus Discovered

A new genus of birds (in the frogmouth family, the Podargidae) has been discovered in the Solomon Islands. From the UF News release:

"New genera of living birds are rare discoveries — fewer than one per year is announced globally. David Steadman and Andrew Kratter, ornithologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History, turned up the surprising new discovery on a collecting expedition in the Solomon Islands. Theirs is the first frogmouth from these islands to be caught by scientists in more than 100 years. They immediately recognized it was something different.
"Kratter and Steadman are co-authors to a study analyzing the frogmouth’s morphology, or physical form, and DNA in comparison to two other living genera of frogmouths. The findings are published in the April print edition of Ibis: The International Journal of Avian Science, in a paper that describes the bird as a new genus and species, now named Rigidipenna inexpectata.
"'This discovery underscores that birds on remote Pacific islands are still poorly known, scientifically speaking,' Steadman said. 'Without the help of local hunters, we probably would have overlooked the frogmouth.'
"Originally, the bird was misclassified as a subspecies of the Australian Marbled Frogmouth, Podargus ocellatus. The blunder went undetected for decades, until a collecting trip led by Kratter in 1998 turned up a specimen on Isabel, a 1,500-square-mile island in the Solomons. Today, the only museum specimen of this bird in the world, with an associated skin and skeleton, is housed at the Florida Museum.
"Frogmouths are predatory birds named for their strikingly wide, strong beak that resembles a frog’s mouth; but their beak also sports a small, sharp hook more like an owl’s. Steadman said their beaks are like no other bird’s in the world. They eat insects, rodents, small birds — and yes, even frogs. For perspective on the scale of evolutionary difference between genera, consider that modern humans and Neanderthals are different species within the same genus (Homo), while chimpanzees are our living relatives from a closely related genus (Pan), but that we share the same taxonomic family (Hominidae) with our chimp cousins.
"The Solomon Islands Frogmouth differs from other frogmouths in a number of significant ways. First, it is probably not as accomplished of a flier because its eight tail-feathers, instead of the typical 10 to 12 on other frogmouths, curtail its lift potential, and its much coarser feathers reduce maneuverability." ...
"Second, it has distinct barring on the primary wing feathers and tail feathers, where other frogmouths are more uniform. Its speckles are larger, and the white spots on its breast and underbelly are more pronounced than on other frogmouths.
"Two other genera of frogmouths exist: one in southeast Asia and the other in Australia and New Guinea. The Solomon Islands Frogmouth is known to inhabit three islands: Isabel, Bougainville and Guadalcanal.
"Van Remsen, curator of birds at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, said that this new frogmouth genus serves as a poignant reminder that birds of the tropics, particularly from southeast Asia to Melanesia, have been paid scant attention by science.
"'They’ve barely been studied, much of what we know comes from antiquated or casual observations,' Remsen said. 'The biology of birds in these regions is, to a great extent, obscured by stale, hand-me-down classifications from an earlier era. A combination of detailed morphological and genetic analyses reveal that this frogmouth — formerly dismissed as just a race of an existing species — actually cannot be placed confidently in any existing genus, and so the data demand naming a new one.'"

Now, the quotation -- 'Without the help of local hunters, we probably would have overlooked the frogmouth' -- is interesting, but enigmatic. Did the local hunters have a different name for it, or were they just responsible for taking the specimen? Is there a cryptozoological aspect to this, or were the researchers just giving field credit to the local people?


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Amur Leopard Almost Extinct

A new Russian census of the Amur or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) shows that only a handful are left in the wild. From Eurekalert:

"At least four leopard litters were encountered during the census. This is a good sign because it means that the population is not completely depressed and is still able to restore itself. But for long-term survival, at least 100 animals are needed.
"'Conservation of large predators needs vast territories with minimal anthropogenic changes, which is difficult,' said Dr. Dmitry Pikunov, the coordinator of the 2007 leopard census and head of the laboratory of animal ecology and conservation of the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Science.
"According to Dr Pikunov, a mature leopard needs 500 square kilometers of habitat with good forests and high and stable amounts of ungulates, including deer. Two to four female leopards would live in the same amount of land, reproduce and nourish their cubs.
"'Maybe this is the reason why leopards practically completely disappeared from the Korean Peninsula and north-east China,' said Dr. Pikunov. 'At the beginning of the past century, the Far Eastern leopard was a common species in the southern parts of Sikhote-Alin and in some Khanka lake areas. Right now it roams only in south-west Primorye.'
"About 5000 square kilometers of land in the south-west Primorye region, close to the border between Russia, China and North Korea, were transected for the census and tracks left by the leopards in the snow were counted. Scientists were able to determine the number of the leopards by examining the shape, size and patterns of the tracks as well as determine the direction and time of the animals’ movement." ...

"The census 2007 found 7-9 male leopards, 3-7 females without cubs, 4 females with cubs, 5-6 cubs in all, and 6-8 undefined tracks. Total: 25-34.
"This compares with 9 males in 2003, 7 females without cubs, 4-5 females with cubs, 4-5 cubs in all, and four undefined. Total: 28-30.
"In 2000, the results were 4-5 males, 8-9 females without cubs, 1-2 females with cubs, 1-3 cubs in all and 8-9 undefined. Total: 22-28."

Floresiensis Paper

A new paper in Biology Letters asserts that Homo floresiensis followed the "island rule." From a news report:

"It stipulates that because food on a small island is limited, smaller species do well and get bigger over time, sometimes becoming relatively gargantuan.
"But larger species, facing fierce competition for a small amount of food, become smaller, because those members that eat less have an advantage.
"Lindell Bromham and Marcel Cardillo trawled through published journals and online databases to see how primates performed when subjected to the "island rule".
"True enough, small primate species (ones weighing less than 5kg) all pumped up compared to their mainland relatives - but all the larger primates became smaller, in a range of between 52 and 80 per cent.
"That fits in well with H. floresiensis, who was around 55 per cent of the mass of a modern Indonesian and probably 52 percent of an H. erectus.
"So the evidence backs the idea that the hobbits were an insular dwarf race - humans who became smaller, possibly after the island separated from the mainland and left them marooned with diminished food resources."

The paper is:
Primates follow the ‘island rule’: implications for interpreting Homo floresiensis
Lindell Bromham and Marcel Cardillo

Biology Letters
Issue: FirstCite Early Online Publishing

When the diminutive skeleton of Homo floresiensis was found on the Indonesian island of Flores, it was interpreted as an island dwarf, conforming to the ‘island rule’ that large animals evolve smaller size on islands, but small animals tend to get larger. However, previous studies of the island rule have not included primates, so the extent to which insular primate populations undergo size change was unknown. We use a comparative database of 39 independently derived island endemic primate species and subspecies to demonstrate that primates do conform to the island rule: small-bodied primates tend to get larger on islands, and large-bodied primates get smaller. Furthermore, larger species undergo a proportionally greater reduction in size on islands.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nessie Photo?

A new photograph of "Nessie" has appeared, and it's no better than the rest. Highland News notes:

"AN English holidaymaker thinks he may have taken the first picture of the season of the elusive Loch Ness Monster.
"Sidney Wilson was in the city with his wife Janet when they decided on a cruise down the loch to take in the sights.
"And it was as they approached Urquhart Castle that he ended up taking this intriguing photograph." ...

"'As we approached the castle, two power boats appeared and circled us at speed, leaving a large wash in their wake.
"'Thinking that it would make a good photograph, I fired off two quick shots and on the second, there appeared to be something in the water.'" ...

"The sighting took place on Tuesday, March 27."

Harnessing Venoms

The French company Latoxan and the Swiss company Atheris Laboratories are working to create a "library" of venom fractions to help researchers determine which elements in a venom can best be used for medical advances. From an online article:

"As the Latoxan CEO, Harold de Pomyers, explained to, venoms from plants and animals are a sophisticated mix of hundreds of peptides. All of these interact with the body and some could potentially be used as drugs to treat a huge variety of diseases.
"Drugs extracted or evolved from natural sources are nothing new to pharma companies. However, in the past it has been difficult for researchers to work with venoms - in the mix of molecules how could they know which one is exerting the positive effect? The new library should make that question much easier to answer, opening the door to hundreds of potential new drugs, said the companies." ...
"Despite the difficulties associated with working with venoms, their therapeutic potential is undisputable - there are many drugs both marketed and in development extracted or derived from toxins. The idea of using snake venom to treat heart disease may seem strange, yet that is exactly what Bristol-Myers Squibb did when they used the venom of a pit viper, Bothrops jararaca, to develop Capoten (captopril).
"Other drugs tied to venoms include Schering-Ploughs Integrilin (eptifibatide), to treat acute coronary syndrome. That drug is a platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa recptor inhibitor. However, it is not just heart disease exploiting venom. Other drugs from these sources are approved to treat cancer, stroke, Type II diabetes, pain relief and Alzheimer's, for example.
"Elan Pharmaceuticals has also tasted success with venoms. It developed Prialt (ziconotide), a non-opioid pain killer that blocks N-type calcium channels. The drug is a synthetic version of a peptide found in cone snails (also called sea snails)."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

4-Wheel Drive - The 4 Legged Chicken

If a chicken has four legs instead of two, does the cost of a drumstick get reduced?

A chicken born on April 1st, yes April Fools Day, has four little legs.

The chicken was born in Arkansas to Robert Holmes and has been named 4-Wheel Drive.....

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Medicinal Leeches: Overlooked Species

New research sponsored by the National Science Foundation shows that the well-known medicinal leech is actually comprised up at least 3 different species. From Eurekalert:

"Genetic research has revealed that commercially available medicinal leeches used around the world in biomedical research and postoperative care have been misclassified for centuries. Until now, the leeches were assumed to be the species Hirudo medicinalis, but new research reveals they are actually a closely related but genetically distinct species, Hirudo verbana.
"The study also shows that wild European medicinal leeches are at least three distinct species, not one. The results appear in the April 10, 2007, online version of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
"'This raises the tantalizing prospect of three times the number of anticoagulants, and three times as many biomedically important developments in areas like protease inhibitors,' said Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History, who led the research team. "'However, it will also require a better effort to conserve these much-maligned animals, in a way that takes into account their impressive diversity.'
"While Hirudo medicinalis was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004, for use as a prescription medical device that helps restore blood flow following cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, Hirudo verbana has not been approved by the FDA and has no special conservation status." ...
"Since the time of Hippocrates and long before Carolus Linnaeus first described Hirudo medicinalis in 1758, medicinal leeches have been used in a variety of medical treatments--some legitimate, many not. Demand for leeches in 19th-century Europe grew so intense that efforts to protect them led to the some of the earliest legislative efforts at biological conservation.
Leeches are still afforded protection by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and are regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Berne Convention, and the European Union Habitat Directive.
"Commercially available European medicinal leeches also are used extensively by biomedical researchers studying biological processes such as blood coagulation, developmental genetics and neurobiology. Studies of commercial specimens have figured prominently in the discovery and production of anticoagulants and protease inhibitors, some of which may have cancer-fighting properties.
"That researchers have been mistakenly using Hirudo verbana in their work for decades may call much of this research, including hundreds of scientific publications, into question and force a reconsideration of what scientists think they know about this widely studied species.
"Siddall and his colleagues examined mitochondrial and nuclear DNA of wild leeches from across their range in Europe, as well as from samples supplied by commercial providers and university laboratories that use leeches as model organisms.
"Their analysis clearly showed that the commercial and laboratory specimens were not Hirudo medicinalis, as they were labeled, but Hirudo verbana. In addition, the work showed that the specimens of wild European medicinal leeches clearly comprised three genetically distinct species."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cornsnake in the Caymans

Another out-of-place reptile in the Caymans. Not a crocodile this time. From a Cayman news site:

"A fully-grown corn snake was discovered near the Texaco petrol station beside Owen Roberts International Airport.
"The snake, which was found by passer-by Carson Scott, was taken to the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and formally identified as a North American corn snake.
"According to Dr Mat Cottam, a terrestrial ecologist at the department, the creature was not venomous. He said, 'The one caught today is about as big as a corn snake can get. But snakes like this one are not harmful to people.'
"Dr Cottam pointed out there are, in fact, no snakes on the Islands that are venomous and he encouraged people not to be afraid of the creatures." ...
"The North American corn snake was first identified in the Cayman Islands in 1985 in the roots of ornamental plants and, over the years, there have been numerous sightings in the George Town area. They are also a common pet trade species."

Just to note, the coloration on the snake suggests (though doesn't prove) a non-pet trade origin; it's a typical "wild" morph similar to what you'll see in several parts of its native range in the southeastern states, so would be what is expected from hitch-hiking snakes of this species.

Nova Scotia Cougar Sighting

From the NovaNewsNow site:

"Eastern cougar sightings in the Atlantic Provinces are similar to the ghost stories and legends you hear while sitting around the campfire at night.
"Or so I’m told. I wish I had known the rarity of the species yesterday afternoon while driving home from work.
"As I’m cruising along the highway, towards Sable River, thinking about all the great purchases I had just made at Frenchy’s I saw a flash of movement off to the left.
"I quickly tapped my brakes and slowed to a complete stop, expecting to see a deer dart out onto the road in front of me, but I was wrong.
"My eyes widened and my mouth dropped as a very, very large cat sauntered sleekly about 20 ft in front of my car and across the highway to the other side.
"My brain took a few seconds to register what it was I was actually seeing.
"Flat and square face with short rounded ears, a long, thick body fraught with muscle under a coat that lay flat and bore the single colour of wheat. I eyeballed its height to be level with the hood of my Honda Fit.
"I stared, with a fleeting thought to my camera in the seat beside me, before I could make any move it had reached the other side and was gone from sight. I scurried into action and yanked on my wheel until I was on the gravel shoulder where the animal had disappeared, my eyes darting in every direction seeking a glimpse, a twitch of it’s long tail, anything that would show me where it had gone.
"My eyes found nothing but the long wheat-like grass spread over the ground and retreating into trees." ...
"I didn’t know the name for what I had seen and figured it to be a bobcat until the next day when I described it to my editor.
"He told me it sounded like a cougar but they were only a myth in Nova Scotia, a ghost.
"He then showed me various pictures of large cats and I knew when I saw the pictures of the cougar that it was the animal I had seen."


Big Python Found in UK

Escaped or released reptiles are not uncommonly reported here in the US, and it appears the rest of the world is following suit. The BBC notes that a very large python (from the image, it appears to be an African rock python) was found dead on a road:

"A python measuring nearly 18ft (5.5m) has been found dead in a country lane at a North Yorkshire resort.
"The snake, which was discovered by a dog walker, was found in Newlands Lane, Cloughton, Scarborough, early on Monday morning.
"Police said they had no idea where it had come from, or the exact species of python it was.
"Officers said the snake had been handed over to the local council to dispose of it.
"Local resident Ann Tindall sent photographs of the snake to the BBC.
"She said: 'It was a real surprise to see it. You just cannot believe that something like that could be found somewhere like Scarborough.
"'We measured it to find out how long it was and it came to about 17.7ft. We don't know if it had been living there wild, or had just been dumped.'"


Volcano Reveals New Species?

Hard to say how legitimate this claim is. The news report may not be accurate, in that while the scientists don't recognize the species, they may or may not be undescribed. There are lots of little-known marine fish.

"SCIENTISTS on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion have discovered hundreds of fish of unknown species, floating belly-up in the sea, following a spectacular volcanic eruption over the past week.
"'It's crazy. We've never seen this with previous eruptions,' said Alain Barrere, a scientific adviser to the island's Volcano Observatory.
"Along with two scientists working for Reunion's aquarium, he collected specimens of the dead fish, which have bulging eyes, heads sometimes protracted by a beak and appear to have surfaced from depths of about 500 metres."


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sumatran Striped Rabbit

The Wildlife Conservation Society has photographed another rare mammal, the Sumatran striped rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri). From the press release:

"... the Sumatran striped rabbit—a little over a foot in length with brown stripes—is so rare that recent photos taken in Bukit Barisan National Park are only the third ever recorded, the first dating from 1998 in Kerinci Seblat National Park, and the second taken from Bukit Barisan National Park in 2000. Before that, the last confirmed sighting by scientists of a living animal dated from 1972, and only 15 specimens exist in museums, all dating from before1929. It is currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
"'This rabbit is so poorly known that any proof of its continued existence at all is great news and confirms the conservation importance of Sumatra’s forests,' said Colin Poole, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program.
"The rabbit is only known to exist from forests along the mountainous spine of Sumatra, and was thought to be the only representative of its genus. In 1999, however, researchers discovered another striped rabbit in the Annamite Mountains that straddle Lao PDR and Vietnam. Although both species seem similar in appearance, genetic samples from both revealed the Sumatran and Annamite striped rabbits are closely related but separate species from one another. According to the findings, both species have been diverging for approximately 8 million years."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

South American fish in Southeast Asia

Alien species are found all over. From Vietnam:

"Some fishermen in District 2, HCM City on April 1 caught a strange fish of 60-70kg in a small branch of the Saigon River.
"The strange fish, which is over 1.6m long, has grey scales and red lines across its body, and a black and dark red tale.
"The giant fish was identified by experts as [Arapaima] gigas, which originated from the Amazon River in Brazil.
"This species of fish is considered the biggest fresh-water fish in the world. They eat smaller fishes and don’t harm the environment. With their nice bodies, this kind of fish is bred as ornamental fish.
"Fishermen sold the giant fish for VND40 million (US$2,500) to an ornamental fish breeder in Thu Thiem, HCM City on the same day."


Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Early April Fool's Wild Man

Loren Coleman has posted an account at Cryptomundo of an early April Fool's Day Sasquatch story by John Green (before Green became interested in the phenomenon). That may have been one of the first news pranks that actually used the term Sasquatch, but there is a much earlier April 1st tale of a hairy wild man. I included this in The Historical Bigfoot:

"What Is It?
"A Question That is Agitating the People of Auglaize Township.
Capture of a Creature Half Man, Half Beast
Sets the Whole Township Wild With Excitement
Nothing Like It Ever Seen Or Heard Of Before
A Correct History of the Whole Affair

"The greatest excitement prevails in the southern part of Auglaize Township.
"A capture was made yesterday that has taken a heavy burden from the minds of the farmers of that region.
"Fond mothers are hugging their children closer to their bosoms as they reflect in a frightened manner on what might have been.
"Word was received at this office yesterday afternoon by special messenger of the capture, near the village of West Newton, of a frightful creature that was neither man nor beast.
"A representative of the Times left at once for the scene of the capture, returning with Mr. Perry, a farmer. From him it was learned that for some time there have been all manner of depredations going on in that section of the township lying on the northern slope of what is known there as the Backbone. At first they were scarcely noticeable and the occasional absence of a pig or a sheep from some farmer’s flock was attributed to accidents or to dogs.
"These mysterious disappearances were first noticed over a year ago, but they were given little thought till in the past few months when they became so common as to create alarm. Instead of an occasional death, it became a general slaughter. A farmer would awaken in the morning to find every pig in his possession lying dead with its neck broken or half his flock of sheep dead.
"They became half crazed with their fear and losses continued. They never knew when they closed up their sheds for the night how they would find things in the morning. Investigations were made and mass meetings held to compare notes to try and get a clew to the perpetrator of the outrage. The farmers were completely mystified and the fact that no noise was ever heard, no trace left, led them to fear it was a visitation of Divine Providence.
"Strange as it may seem it was decided at their first meeting to hold secret sessions and not mention their peculiar misfortunes till the mystery had been cleared up or they found there was no hope of doing so. For this reason the matter has never before reached the public through the press.
"About the first of March, Mr. H. C. Lemmon was wakened from his slumbers by a violent disturbance in his barn. Hastily dressing himself, he ran out to ascertain the cause. Opening the door he saw by the rays of light from his lantern a sight that made his blood run cold. Struggling in the last throes of death were his two fine horses. Carefully examining them he found that each had its neck broken.
"At the first break of day, he spread the news among his fellow farmers and it struck terror to their hearts. Were their teams and cattle to suffer the same fate as their smaller stock? A close vigil was set and for a time all was quiet.
"Last week, however, the mischief began again, but a clew was gained that led to yesterday’s capture. Two young men were returning home late last Sunday evening and while passing a barn that stood along side the Bellfontaine road on which they were traveling, they saw what looked to be a giant man coming out of the building. They quietly hid in a corner of the fence and watched. Instantly the thought flashed through their minds that they had fathomed the great mystery. And they had. By the moonlight, they were able to get a good view of the destructive monster as he passed near them.
"The alarm was given as soon as the thing had passed out of hearing, and in an hour after the discovery fifty men, some on foot and others on horseback, were on the trail. It was the opinion of the young men that they were hunting a ferocious animal, and when about noon yesterday his capture was effected, their surmise proved to be correct.
"The party had completely lost the trail and were about to give up in disgust when someone noticed a small opening in the hillside under the roots of a bushy tree that stood just to the right of the party. Monster foot steps led to it. There was no need to look further. Here was their game, but how to get it? All sorts of suggestions were offered, but none were practicable. No one was brave enough to enter.
"It was at last decided to smoke the creature out. First a rope was secured and a noose so arranged that the moment it came out, the rope could be pulled taut about his body. A fire was then built near the opening and the wind being favorable, the smoke soon began in pouring in in great clouds into the cave.
"Not long did they have to wait. Dan Cook, one of the young men who had seen the creature on Sunday evening, held the rope, suddenly the head and sholders of the creature peered out of the opening, and gasping and choking, it made a dash for liberty. A quick pull of the rope tightened the noose, and in a trice it was landed with its arms pinioned to its side, right in the midst of the party. The struggle and bellowing of the maddened being were said to be frightful and it is doubtful if had its arms been free it could have been held. It was finally bound tightly round and round from head to foot, and carried to a strong room in West Newton where it was viewed last night by the reporter. It haad the form of a man, but is covered from head to foot with hair that is coarse and matted. Its nails are long and sharp, while its muscles are like iron. The teeth are big and yellow and the mouth has a horrid appearance. The eyes are black and fierce, and altogether the huge captive is a ferocious looking object. The only sound he has muttered, for it is evidently a man, since his capture, has been an occasional groan. He eyes everyone fiercely that comes within the range of his vision, and seems to be entirely bereft of reason.
"The society that was organized to effect his capture, have him in care and are charging an admission of twenty-five cents to see the monster. People are flocking in from all points to which the news has spread and it begins to look as if the proceeds of admission would be sufficient to repay the members for their losses, that being the object of the society.
"The excitement is so great at present over the almost incredible circumstances of the capture of the wild man and his character that no one seems to know what will be done with him in the future.
"It is possible he may be placed on exhibition in Lima and an effort will probably be made to dispose of him to some showman.
"Medical attention will also be directed to this freak of nature, and an effort made to diagnose his case.
"It is the opinion of the Times that in his capture Allen county has produced one of the greatest freaks the world has ever known.
"[This being April first, all fools day, the above article will be appreciated.]"

From the Lima, Ohio, Daily News, April 1, 1890.