Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

EXPOSING YET ANOTHER FAKE BLACK LION PHOTOGRAPH


Yet another fake black lion photograph currently circulating online (© Bridges, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only, exclusively for the purposes of education and review)

Several photographs purporting to be of genuine black lions (i.e. melanistic specimens) are presently doing the rounds on the internet, but as I exclusively revealed on ShukerNature quite some time ago (click here and here) they are all fakes, digitally produced from existing photos of normal lions or, in one instance, of a real white lion. Recently, however, I encountered online a black lion photo that I had not previously seen (and which opens this present ShukerNature blog article). So, just like before, I duly investigated it – and indeed, just like before, it duly turned out to be yet another photoshopped creation.

Using Google Image, I swiftly discovered that this photograph appeared in a sizeable number of websites, but in some of them the photo contained a small yet very telling inscription tucked away within its bottom left-hand corner – Worth1000.com – and, immediately, all became clear. For until it was incorporated within DesignCrowd.com's site, Worth1000.com had been a website long famous for its thematically-based competitions to produce first-class digitally-created images. The inscription present in this black lion photograph thereby confirmed that the latter image had been produced specifically for entering in one such competition, and therefore with no intention by its creator to deceive anyone. Unfortunately however, it has since been erroneously assumed by some websites to be a genuine photo of a genuine black lion.

The same black lion photograph, but containing the Worth1000.com inscription, which had been removed from the version that I had first seen online (© Bridges, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only, exclusively for the purposes of education and review)

The competition in question was entitled 'Color Blind 14' (click here to see all of the entries), and the username of the entrant who submitted this black lion photo was Bridges - my grateful thanks to Twitter colleague AI M for kindly supplying me with this information.

All that remained now, therefore, was to trace the original, non-modified lion photograph that had been used as the basis for the modified, black lion photo – and thanks once again to Google Image I was soon able to do this. Interestingly, as in one previous case involving the creation of black lion photos, it proved to be a photo not of a normal lion but of a rare white lion instead (such specimens are seemingly leucistic rather than albinistic, as they possess either blue eyes or normal-coloured golden eyes – click here for more details). The white lion in question was named Letsatsi, housed at the famous Lion and Safari Park in Gauteng, South Africa, and was photographed by Arno Meintjes on 24 September 2005. His photo appears on his Flickr site (click here), also on numerous other websites (including that of Project Noah – click here), and is included in the visual comparison below on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only, exclusively for the purposes of education and review, alongside the fake black lion photo created from it by Bridges:

The fake black lion photo (top) alongside the original photo of a real white lion (bottom) (© Bridges / © Arno Meintjes – both photographs reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only, exclusively for the purposes of education and review)

Another 'black lion photo' case duly solved.

More details concerning purported black lions, as well as white lions, spotted lions, striped lions, green lions, horned lions, winged lions, lion hybrids, and many other leonine anomalies, can be found in my books Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery. And to read a poem of mine inspired by the concept of a black lion, click here.





Tuesday, 7 February 2017

WATER CIVET VS AQUATIC GENET, OR MORPHOLOGY VS MOLECULAR BIOLOGY - A TALE OF TANGLED TAXONOMY


Painting from 1924 of water civets/aquatic genets in their native habitat (public domain/reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Originally a civet, nowadays a genet, unrecorded by science until 1913, never studied alive by scientists, and virtually unknown even to the local native people (a rare event indeed!), Genetta (=Osbornictis) piscivora is surely one of the world's most mystifying mammals.

Yet it is an exceedingly handsome, strikingly-coloured creature, with a densely-furred chestnut head and body, a black bushy tail (constituting almost half of the animal's total length of 3 ft), and white facial markings. The type specimen of this secretive viverrid was obtained on 1 December 1913 in a forest stream at Niapu, in what is now the northeastern portion of the Democratic Congo, by Drs James P. Chapin and Herbert Lang during the American Museum of Natural History's Congo Expedition. Six years later, its species was formally described by Dr Joel A. Allen from the museum, who named it Osbornictis piscivora, in honour of Prof. Henry Fairfield Osborn (who was greatly interested in the Congo Expedition), and recording its fish-eating proclivity.

Dr Joel A. Allen (left) and Prof. Henry Fairfield Osborn (right) (public domain)

Although its anatomy suggests that it is most closely related to the genets, this anomalous species was long referred to as the water civet because it exhibits several features markedly at variance with typical genet morphology. Most obvious of these is its vulpine colouration, totally different from the black-and-white coat patterning of spots and bands synonymous with genets. In addition, the soles of its paws are unfurred, its teeth are much weaker and narrower than those of correspondingly-sized genets, its nose is somewhat smaller, its muzzle is shorter, and its overall size rivals that of the giant genet Genetta victoriae, the largest of the typical spotted Genetta species. Consequently, when formally describing and naming it, Allen assigned this novel viverrid to its very own genus, Osbornictis, in which it remained for many decades.

In 2004, however, a team of researchers who had been conducting a molecular-based comparison of several different viverrid genera, including Osbornictis and Genetta, published their findings in a Zoologica Scripta paper, in which they concluded that these two genera were sufficiently closely related for the water civet to be housed within Genetta, as Genetta piscivora. Since then, it has been known colloquially as the aquatic genet.

My model of this enigmatic species (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Most books state that the water civet (or aquatic genet) was totally unknown to the natives prior to its scientific discovery in 1913; this is not true. Along with the holotype, Lang and Chapin also obtained an incomplete specimen (lacking skull, tail, and feet) from a native; and in the local Kibila and Kipakombe languages, it has its own specific name - the esele.

Nevertheless, for the most part it is truly as much a mystery to them as it is to science, with virtually no information available concerning its natural history, and very few museum specimens.

The type locality of this species (i.e. where its type specimen was obtained), a large forest brook at Niapu, photographed here at the height of the rainy season (public domain)

In 1996, however, a major new chapter was written in this species' sparse history, when veteran wildlife film-maker Alan Root announced that he had succeeded in filming a living specimen in its native Congolese habitat, hunting for fishes by gently tapping the water with its paws and then trailing its long white whiskers on the surface to detect any movements. This unique footage formed part of a special one-hour film of Congolese wildlife by Root entitled A Space in the Heart of Africa, which was first screened on British television within the long-running ITV Survival series in July 1996.

This ShukerNature blog article is adapted and updated from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, the most comprehensive book on this subject ever published.






Saturday, 4 February 2017

UFO-LOGICAL ENCOUNTERS OF THE INSECT KIND?


Computer-generated rendition of what a UFO consisting of a large swarm of glowing insects may look like – image produced specifically for my book Mysteries of Planet Earth (© Tim Brown/Carlton Books)

As long ago as the early 1800s, there had been speculation among various scientists that some unusual lights and other luminous objects seen in the sky may have an entomological explanation. To quote one such believer, German astronomer Dr Johann Elert Bode, commenting in 1823:

Fatuous fires, torches, flaming jets and other luminous phenomena have the same character as falling meteorites, of which they differ only by their dimensions. They may also have their origin in dense and heavy evaporations of the lower layers of the air, evaporations that emit a phosphorescent light and to which the wind impresses them movement and casual forms...Sometimes these phenomena are not meteors, but large swarms of luminous insects, who fly often at night.

Even the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Prof. Carl Jung had considered such a prospect, noting in 1961: "I must confess that in reading the numerous UFO relations I also came up with the idea that the characteristic behaviour of UFOs resembles especially that of certain insects".

Dr Johann Elert Bode (left) and Prof. Carl Gustav Jung (right) (Wikipedia/public domain)

Moreover, during the 1960s and 1970s, amateur scientist Norton T. Novitt, a scientific illustrator from Denver, in Colorado, USA, attracted attention from ufologists and entomologists alike by virtue of his own interest in the possibility that certain UFO sightings featured insect swarms that had somehow been rendered luminous. This idea stemmed from a sighting that he had made one day of two glowing winged ants in flight, their apparent luminosity actually constituting reflected sunlight. Some species of ant grow wings and engage in mass nuptial flights at certain times of the year, and as these mating swarms can contain several million insects, they often attain a very considerable size - large enough to resemble glowing orbs in the sky if there is sufficient sunlight to bounce back to earth from the swarms. Even so, luminous UFO sightings made at night could not be explained by this theory - or could they?

As described by Robert Chapman in his book Unidentified Flying Objects (1968), Novitt wondered whether it was conceivable that flying ants could generate their own luminosity (i.e. as distinct from merely reflecting rays of sunlight). To pursue this piquant line of speculation, he attached some winged ants to a ping-pong ball, which in turn was connected by a thin wire to a static generator placed in a darkened room - and sure enough, when the generator was set in motion, the ants' bodies began to glow brightly. Although certainly interesting, such an experiment may appear rather futile at first, because in the natural world (as Chapman drily commented in his own coverage of Novitt's researches) ants are not normally attached to generators!

Winged ants swarming for nuptial flight (© fir0002/flagstaffotos.com.au/Wikipedia – GFDL 1.2 licence)

However, it just so happens that nuptial flights of winged ants often take to the air shortly after thunderstorms - weather conditions that give rise to very strong atmospheric electrical fields. Under such conditions, it is quite likely that the swarms would indeed glow, and with a light strong enough to be easily observable at night. In addition, swarming winged ants may even create their own static electricity by rubbing together while in flight. So perhaps some UFO reports on record were inspired by swarms of flying ants after all. In a similar vein, moreover, Novitt also suggested that certain UFOs may be floating masses of gossamer (spider silk) carried aloft by the wind that sparkle and glow with static electricity, thereby echoing theories regarding the phenomenon of angel hair.

Dr Leonard Loeb, a former professor of physics at the University of California, has opined that Novitt's theories are: "interesting, original, and perhaps true". Loeb estimated that a fully-loaded swarm of 30 million flying ants could flicker intermittently for periods of more than a second in unfavourable conditions, or up to nearly a minute in favourable environments.

Spruce budworm moth and caterpillar (© Natural Rsources Canada, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

A few UFOs may have involved swarms of moths. In a paper published by the journal Applied Optics in 1978, insect behaviouralists Drs Philip Callahan and R.W. Mankin from the U.S.A. provided independent support for Novitt's findings by revealing that light can be generated by placing specimens of North America's spruce budworm moth Choristoneura fumiferana in electrical fields. This discovery confirmed that during those weather conditions when the air is heavily charged with electricity, insects are capable of emitting light.

Of course, the amount emitted by each insect would be minute, but as migrating swarms of spruce budworm moths can measure up to 60 miles long and 15 miles wide, the total amount of light emitted per swarm would be of very appreciable magnitude - more than enough, surely, to mimic a glowing UFO. And as Callahan and Mankin pointed out, it is noticeable that a number of UFO sightings of this latter type that they have analysed occurred at times when mass migrations of this moth species would be expected. In February 1979, a short coverage of their findings was published by the scientific journal Nature, in which it was mentioned that the then-current UFO wave in Uintah Basin, Utah, USA, might be due to swarms of flying insects emitting a corona discharge, i.e. an electrical discharge caused by the ionisation of the air surrounding their electrically-charged bodies when in flight.


This ShukerNature blog article is adapted from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable.