Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MUIRHEAD'S MYSTERIES: Interesting Inverts part 2

Hi folks,

Part Two of my blog includes mention of spiders, which of course are not insects. I start with an obscure reference from 1904, in the form of a communication in Notes and Queries:

'As regards the venomous spider in China, I too have heard that there is one, but as to its name I cannot speak.-Yours very truly, JOHN BATCHELOR. Let us hope that some society, or some wealthy friend of learning and of missionary civilization, will find the funds for publishing Mr Batchelor`s laborious work before he dies. I had told him that there is in New Zealand a venomous spider called katipo by the Maoris, and that there is said to be another in China bearing the same name in Chinese. Is that a fact? The Religious Tract Society, 4, Bouverie Street, E. C. has lately published `The Ainu and their Folk-lore.` E.S.Dodgson (1)

Fortean Times no. 242 November 2008 carried a feature titled `The Spider Monster of Issoir` by Theo Paijmans - a tale of giant spiders in nineteenth-century Paris. American newspapers such as The Sandusky Register for February 1st 1895 reported, on the death of a Parisian:

'The countryman was lying on his back writhing in the grasp of an unknown monster, whose horrible aspect froze the agents of police with terror. “It was as large as a full-grown terrier, covered with wartlike protuberances and bristling with coarse brownish hair. Eight jointed legs, terminated by formidable claws, were buried in the body of the unfortunate victim. The face had already disappeared. Nothing could be seen but the top of the head, and the monster was now engaged in tearing and sucking the blood from his throat.' (2)

This reminds me a bit about the scene with the priest Nathanial and the blood-sucking Martian in H.G. Wells`s War of The Worlds.

Jumping ahead to 1986 and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in April of that year, this report appeared in The Times on February 14th 1987:

'Bees knew secret of Chernobyl disaster: Polish bees headed straight back to their hives when they sensed contamination from the Soviet Union`s Chernobyl nuclear disaster while the rest of Poland was still in the dark about the accident, according to a beekeeping expert. Mr Henryk Ostach, who heads the Polish beekeepers` association, said apiarists were baffled when bees hid for several days after the explosion at the reactor. “When the explosion occurred, the bees interrupted their flight, although it was a fine sunny day. Not yet knowing anything about what had happened at Chernobyl, we wondered why the bees suddenly hid in their hives. They surrounded their queen very closely, beating their wings constantly in order to minimize the permeation of contamination.' (3)

Moving ahead to February 1992, we had an occurrence of a mole cricket in the South Pacific. This was passed on to me by Darren Naish:

'8 February 1992. AT 2000 UTC whilst approaching the coast of New Zealand a beetle or grasshopper-type insect,…was found on the starboard bridge wing,apparently basking in the early morning sun. When approached it reared up on its back legs and started to move its front legs in a grasping motion. The front legs appeared to be developed into `armour-plated` gripping devices as they had hooks and claws along the lower and front edges. The head was also armour-plated with four tube-like antennae protruding from the front of the head beside the jaws. Set above these were two feelers which were 23mm long and the insect had powerful jaws. (4). Darren wrote besides the artists impression of the mole cricket: “ I think this is a mole cricket…but I didn`t know they lived in the South Pacific.”'

Lastly, coming right up to date with a report from The Guardian November 5th 2009:

`Towering ants` nests in woodland get protection:

“ A rare “skyscraper city” made by ants has been given the equivalent of listed building protection and a place on maps to safeguard it from forestry work. Nests up to two metres (7ft) high, constructed from conifer needles in Northumberland woodland, will be monitored during the felling of “intrusive” 20th century conifers in Holystone, near Rothbury. The whereabouts of 69 structures, made by colonies of the hairy northern wood ant, have been plotted. The species is Britain`s largest, but on a human scale, the nests dwarf the ants by a greater measure than the Empire State Building.(5)

That`s all, folks. For reasons too tedious to go into I cannot provide song lyrics today but they will be back tomorrow.

1. E. S. Dodgson. Untitled article. Notes and Queries April 2nd 1904 p.265

2. The Sandusky Register in T. Paijmans The Spider Monster of Issoir Fortean Times November 2008

3. Anon The Times February 14th 1987. Bees knew secret of Chernobyl disaster.

4. Anon Insects. South Pacific Ocean. The Marine Observer. 63(319) Jan.1993 pp14-15. The Marine Observer occasionally reports on unknown animals or surprise occurrences.

5. M. Wainwright. The Guardian November 5th 2009. Towering ants nests in woodland get protection.

MIKE HALLOWELL: To sleep perchance to dream

Well, this isn't exactly the type of blog I'm accustomed to writing, and it doesn't exactly have a cryptozoological theme, but I'm hoping the powers that be at the CFZ will forgive me and publish it anyway.

Today, the news hit the headlines. Across the globe – Fox News, The Daily Mail, The Shields Gazette, The Sunderland Echo et al – announced with great dignity and, thankfully, a lack of sensationalism – that the greatest paranormal investigator in the universe (i.e. me) has been diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder known as narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a disorder that makes you fall asleep when…Zzzzzzzzz…..(only joking) – you don't expect to. It’s a pain in the arse, as you can imagine, but it gets worse. Sometimes you don't know whether you're awake or asleep, when you get overtired you talk complete gobbledegook and your short-term memory has more holes in it than a tramp's sock. And there's more. I also get bouts of sleep paralysis. What happens is this: your mind wakes up before your body, and you are completely paralysed. You can't move a muscle, not even blink an eyelid. It usually only lasts a minute or so, but it seems like an eternity. Its no fun being trapped inside a body that doesn't move – except when your spouse wants you to do the dishes, of course, in which circumstance its actually quite a boon.

But then there's the cataplexy. 70% of narcoleptics suffer from cataplexy, which is a truly weird bolt-on. The main symptom – I kid you not – is that you fall over if you laugh. Bottom, Rab C. Nesbitt and Blackadder – my favourite comedy shows – are now cataplectic minefields that can send me crashing to the carpet if I giggle at a humorous one-liner. Now I watch Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and smile faintly, which isn't easy when what I really want to do is split my sides laughing.

Travelling on public transport has its own hazards. Last week I did a radio show on the Beeb. I left the studio and hopped on a bus to take me back to Newcastle City centre, the capital of Geordieland. I fell asleep, and woke up again outside the BBC studio I'd left earlier. I'd gone back into Newcastle, and then left it again. Bugger.

Sometimes I shake, making it difficult to keep tea in a cup or – more importantly – brown ale in a glass. Spilling brown ale is a capital offence in Geordieland, so please don't tell anyone. Not long ago, I woke up. I was sitting on the sofa, fully dressed, waiting for a taxi to arrive. Except that I hadn't booked one. Or at least I thunked I hadn't. But had I? Had I booked a cab whilst somnambulating, and not realised it, or only dreamt I'd booked it? I rang the taxi company up just to check that I hadn't booked a cab to somewhere I wasn't aware of, and the chap at the other end reassured me I hadn't. I sat back down, and then I wondered if I'd really rung them up at all. Maybe I'd just dreamed I'd cancelled the taxi I'd never booked in the first place.

That's one of the problems with this bloody illness; you don't always know whether you're awake or asleep. A well-meaning friend said, "Why don't you pinch yourself to see if you're awake?" "Because I don't know whether I'm really pinching myself or only dreaming, so I'm no better off," I replied.

One thing about narcolepsy – you find out who your friends are. The condition scares people. Some don't know how to handle it, and so they distance themselves from you. Someone idiot asked me if it was contagious. I laughed – or would have done, but decided not to in case I fell over. Mind you, the falling over has advantages. For instance, you can get drunk, end up in the gutter and then say, "Excuse me, officer, its not the twelve pints of Old Wossname I downed in the Rope & Gibbet earlier – its my sleep disorder, honest!" I've never tried it yet, but when I do then CFZ readers will be the first to know how I got on.

I'm really looking forward to the next Weird Weekend, mind you. I'm going to raid Jon's drinks cabinet and then claim I was somnambulating at the time. Just think; I could even walk naked through Woolsery and then claim that I dreamt I was Richie Freeman in the bathroom. It’s a novel excuse, but if I look sincere enough and offer the cops a fiver…who knows, I might just get away with it.

Seriously, though, it’s a bit of a bummer to think that your brain is losing its incredible powers of reasoning and regularly switching to blancmange-mode. When I get really overtired, I hallucinate. Get this; I went to sleep in front of the TV the other night, and woke up just as Jackie was coming into the room. The conversation went as follows:

"Jackie, dear, can you bring me the ketchup?"
"Ketchup? What for?"
"I need to put it on my shirt to get rid of this curry stain."
"Erm…don't worry about it Mike, I'll wash it later."

There was no curry stain, and even if there had been I wouldn't have been able to get rid of the bloody thing by pouring ketchup on it. Of course, in my narcoleptic state it all made perfect sense. Jackie, God bless her, just pretended that it did so I didn't feel like an absolute plonker.

The best bit about narcolepsy is the vivid dreaming. When I say, 'best', of course, I don't mean it in the same way that we talk about best butter or best book. It's best in a weird sort of way that only Weird Weekend acolytes would understand. When I dream my senses don't shut down completely. I can still hear, smell and presumably taste. I don't see (apart from my dream), as my eyes are shut. Never mind. What happens is this. I start to dream, and if the TV is on my ears still pick up the sound and then my brain incorporates it into my dreamscape. Sometimes, then, my dreams are 50% a creation of my subconscious and 50% stuff on the TV. This makes for some pretty interesting dreams, I can tell you. I've had conversations with my family in Mandarin Chinese (The Chinese Channel was on at the time), lambasted Hilary Clinton from a railway bridge during her presidential campaign to be the democratic nominee (thanks to Fox News – honestly, I enjoyed it no end) and punched a serial killer in a doughnut shop (Law & Order, I think). My dreams now are incredibly vivid. Some make me feel incredibly uneasy, but to date I've never known them to be truly frightening. They're like being in your own movie.

I wondered for a while what would happen if I switched to the Playboy Channel – think about it - and then let myself go to sleep, but Mrs. H. was having none of it.

"But dearest," I said, "Its all in the name of medical research. I could even post the results on the CFZ site!"

Mrs H. was ruthlessly resolute, and threatened to turn the TV onto Horror Zone as soon as I'd nodded off. I decided to abandon my experiment forthwith.

What the future holds, I don't know. I aim to keep writing as long as I can, and the good folk at the Sleep Disorders Clinic at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough are bloody brilliant. I can't thank them enough. I have no plans of swapping my keyboard for a pair of slippers and a tartan blanket just yet, as there are too many people out there whom I wish to annoy whilst I'm still capable. I suppose I can say anything I like, really, and then claim I was asleep at the time.

If you ever get the choice, my advice would be to go for atypical narcolepsy. It’s a bit more interesting than the common-or-garden variety. It’s a bit like shopping at Harrods instead of Netto. One has to keep up appearances, and as the world's most brilliant paranormal investigator I don't want to be seen slumming it with the hoi-polloi, now do I? If I ever get to meet the Queen I want to be able to tell her that I have a cultured form of narcolepsy and not a bargain basement type. She'll be far more impressed, I reckon.

Mind you, I'm not that bothered about meeting the Queen. I'd rather meet Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall or Gregor Fisher. I want to ask them why they keep making me fall down. It's their fault. If they weren't so bloody funny I'd stay on my feet. But I jest. I still watch Bottom and Rab C. Nesbitt, and if I crumple to the floor gracefully like a punctured balloon then so be it. I'll be laughing all the way.

I've decided not to give in to this condition. It's far too interesting. I'm going to fight it all the way and will be taking bets on how long I can stay awake during the next Weird Weekend. To be honest I could make a fortune. If I do, then I'll donate half of it to the CFZ for their next expedition – hopefully to the Land of Nod.

Anyway, must dash –yawn - I feel a bit sleepy….

PS: If you want to read more about me 'n' narcolepsy, you can do so by going to the following ridiculously long links:

Fox News
Daily Mail
Sunderland Echo
Shields Gazette
Shields Gazette (2)


NEIL ARNOLD: Putting the `Cat` in Catford..

More 'big cat' sightings around London...

The recent 'Palace puma' and 'Sydenham beast' fiascos had kind of given reports of large, exotic cats a bad name. Firstly, there were the media inaccuracies of the former - there was no puma - meanwhile the latter saw a poor domestic cat eaten in Sydenham Park by an unknown predator. The tale fizzled out, however, when a local woman claimed she'd photographed the beast - even though the picture showed a domestic cat. However, these kind of London legends fail to dissipate despite the scepticism.

Read on...

LAWRIE WILLIAMS: Are Min Mins alive?

I could not resist a little blog about Min Mins before bed-time. My thoughts were set in train by a book I came across called Great Australian Mysteries by John Pinkney.

The classic Min Min is orange in colour and the size of a small balloon. It bobs along for a time, then vanishes. But Min Mins exhibit a much wider range of behaviours. They may hover in one spot for a long period of time, frequently they chase cars or men on horseback, often they are seen wandering around over cattle.

That is why I mention them here - because they do act like they are very much alive, and if so then surely there cannot be an animal more cryptic in nature. There have been times when they have been seen to congregate in large numbers and that is very animal-like behaviour.

Quoted in the above book is a Frank Silcock who documented more than 500 incidents. For instance there is the Lanahan family in Queensland, who every winter in the 1950s saw a 5-metre Min Min flying around above their stockyard terrifying the animals. On one occasion someone took a shot at it and it shrank to the size of a small red coal, then minutes later
inflated to 5 metres again.

The change in size reminded me of an incident I recorded long ago on the Forteana list, perhaps back in the primenet days. A friend named John Brennan saw a Min min along Middlebrook Road near Millaa MIllaa. At one stage in the encounter it hovered in front of him and shrank to a tiny size, at which point he did what he does to catch flies - he lashed out and snatched it out of the air. Now that is a close encounter!

Another encounter related by Pinkney involved a Bega farmer in 1976 who heard a loud high-pitched whistling noise. He searched and found a bright yellow football-sized globe of
"something" behind a boulder. It was 15cm off the ground and over a 5-second cycle went from yellow to orange and back again. There was no sense of heat but "when I tried to get closer I
could feel my skin tighten and all the hair on my body stand up...It was like trying to walk into a very strong wind." He tried to poke it with a branch but it just slipped away, "like
two magnets opposing each other". The noise was unbearable, then it turned green and faded away as did the sound, leaving "a sweet sickly smell".

Min Mins seem to occur in mineralised regions. Some people have suggested they are some form of electromagnetic phenomenon. That seems to go without saying! As to their nature, I suspect their natural habitat is within the Earth. As we are animals who have arisen out of complexity, so are they. Flying fish would seem weird too if we did not know that they normally live under water. There may be many lifeforms down there, some may emerge to mimic past events and
we think of them as ghosts. Some invisible forms visit us when we sleep or are in a trance and we call them spirits.

I emphasise 'may.' This is something we humans do not know about yet, but it does not mean that we cannot know.

Image: FatherClancey.jpg Mt Father Clancey is a dormant volcano with mineralisation on its eastern flank. Middlebrook Rd meanders across the foreground. Apart from the orange orb that emerged from the dense rainforest here, I have also reported a possible juvenile bunyip - or was it a very lost penguin? - and I and 3 other witnesses including a sceptic all heard distinct fairy singing near Phantom Ck on the far side - crypto stories for another day.

LINDSAY SELBY: Australian Giant Eel story tantalisingly unfinished

I found the following from 2005 whilst browsing the web:

Wednesday, February 23, 2005. 'Loch Ness' eel frightens tourist”

A monster eel, which is believed to have taken up residence at a Warburton trout farm, east of Melbourne, has reportedly been sighted this morning. The eel, which is said to be at least three metres long with a head the size of a football, has been scaring fishermen at Tommy Finn's trout farm. Farm manager Gary Wales says an Irish tourist got the fright of his life when he encountered the eel early this morning. "Next thing he's banging on me bloody wall on the door of the house, banging, saying 'Gary, Gary I've seen it'. So I flew out of bed right, I said 'how big is it mate?' He said 'big as my bloody car'," he said. The operators of a trout farm are offering a $1000 reward to anyone who catches what has been described as Melbourne's own Loch Ness monster. It is believed the eel washed into the farm's ponds during this month's record breaking storms. source:http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200502/s1308868.htm

Reward offered for Melbourne 'Loch Ness' eel

The operators of a trout farm are offering a $1000 reward to anyone who catches Melbourne's own Loch Ness monster. A giant eel, believed to be around four metres long with a head the size of a football has been spotted at the trout farm at Warburton. It is believed the eel washed into the farm's ponds during this month's record breaking storms. Farm manager Gary Wales says efforts to catch the giant creature have so far been unsuccessful. "We don't want it harmed, this things probably 30-years-old, and he's come here probably by mistake and he's found himself a good little home and plenty of food," he said. "We hope to catch him alive and take him to the Melbourne Aquarium." He says he has never heard of such a large eel before. "No. Maybe it's Nessy, Nessy's offspring maybe, who knows, but no, it's a big eel.


Does anyone in CFZ world know if they caught it and what happened to it? It would be fascinating to study and may well be a relative of Nessie!

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Cryptozoology news update time. Here we go:

Adder Cadabra!! Wildwood’s Adders disappear for the winter

Mouse on plane cancels two US flights in a month

Pig causes plane to crash on take-off in Zimbabwe

It’s lucky nobody was hurt; it could have been a ‘pig’ disaster!