The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tales of Tetrapods

A Canadian group has listed the story below on their Facebook page and some of the comments made me wonder if this is a cryptid or an alien.  Often when  we hear the word “Reptilian” we think of shape-shifting aliens in sci-fi stories.  David Icke, a conspiracy theorist, has even claimed that many of the world leaders are, or are possessed by, reptilians. 

Miami-Dade Law Enforcement worker   Albert S Rosales, a Facebook user, posted this account on the Paranormal Studies and Investigations page.

Reptilian encounter, Ontario, Canada, 1978
Location. St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada Date: summer 1978 Time: late evening Lee Nigro was driving along a dark road near an area that is fairly well wooded. He was accompanied by his friend Churcho in the passenger seat when they spotted what Lee at first took to be a tall man standing in the middle of the road several yards ahead, apparently indifferent to the fact that a vehicle was moving towards “him”. Lee supposedly blared the horn frantically, since he believed he had the right of way, but still this “man” showed no interest in budging from “his” precarious spot in the middle of the road. As a result, Lee---who was known as being very tough and no-nonsense when the situation called for it---had to swerve his car aside in the road so that he didn’t hit this “man,” and could very well have had a serious accident as a result. Incensed at this individual for the near disaster, Lee Nigro got out of the car to angrily confront the man, only to realize to his horror---and that of his passenger, who could now fully see the figure illuminated in the headlights of the stopped car---that he was not confronting a human being at all. When asked what it looked like he answered, “Like an alligator” but he insisted that it stood on two feet like a man. Lee Nigro very explicitly claimed that the encountered humanoid had reptilian features and not the far more ‘familiar’ hairy hominid or ape-like type of creature. He never used the word Bigfoot to describe it, instead he insisted the creature he saw looked like something akin to a humanoid alligator with scaly, hairless reptilian skin. Unfortunately it was not confirmed if the creature’s hairless skin was green or some other hue. Then came the final part of the confrontation. While Lee Nigro’s passenger panicked and claimed that he tried to hide under the dashboard of the car, Nigro quickly grabbed a baseball bat he kept handy in the car if needed and struck the creature with it---only to find it had no effect whatsoever. After Lee Nigro struck the creature with the
bat, it knocked the weapon out of his hand, and he wisely rushed into the car, shut the door, hastily started the vehicle up again, and hit the accelerator. Just as he took off, the reptilian cryptid apparently leaped on the hood of the car, then just as quickly leaped off again as the vehicle started moving forward. It then ran into the nearby trees on the side of the road, disappearing from sight even as Lee Nigro hightailed it out of the area.

HC addendum Source: direct from Chris N Type: E Comments: Source is nephew of Lee Nigro

Another Canadian reptilian, the Thetis Lake monster, was first reported just outside of Victoria, British Columbia in 1972.  A local man attempted to explain the phenomenon with reports of misplacing a domesticated Tegu lizard near the area a year prior, but a Tegu lizard wouldn't survive a Canadian winter and the original description differs too greatly from the lizard. Two of the original four witnesses of this monster recently came forward and admitted that they had fabricated the encounter. More on the Thetis Lake story can be found here.

Reptilian cryptids are not entirely unheard of.  The Cherufe in Chile is described as a large reptilian humanoid creature or dragon. Cryptozoological investigators consider the possibility that the legends of the Cherufe may be based  on sightings of an actual biological entity.    In the "original" Mapuche legend, the Cherufe is described as a giant snake that lives under the sea floor to generate seaquakes and tsunamis. The Peruvian equivalent to the Cherufe would be called by the name Pachamama (Earth mother).  In Peru it is sometimes represented as a separate cryptid that Karl Shuker equates to the Minhocao (giant earthworm). Giant serpents, especially in this area, are thought to have been originally mythological explanations for natural phenomena or even religious concepts.

The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp is said to inhabit the swampland in and around Lee County, South Carolina.  Some say it also appears along with the sewers near the swamp.  He is described as 7 feet (2.1 m) tall, bipedal, and muscular, covered in dark hair with scaly lizard like skin on hands, feet and face.  It is said to be quite strong and may have a tail with six spikes. The first reported sighting was made by Christopher Davis, a 17 year old local, who said he encountered the creature while driving home from work at 2 AM on June 29, 1988.  The sheriff's department made several plaster casts of what appeared to be three-toed footprints which measured 14 inches (36 cm) in length.  South Carolina Marine Resources Department spokesperson Johnny Evans said the tracks neither matched, nor could be mistaken for, the footprints of any recorded animal. In October 2005, a woman in Newberry, South Carolina reported to the police that she had seen two creatures resembling the Lizard Man outside her home. In February 2008, a couple in Bishopville, South Carolina reported damage to their vehicle,  blood, and the disappearance of some of their cats. Some have claimed that this is the "return" of the Lizard Man, but the blood traces from the Rawsons' vehicle were sent to a Veterinary lab and were found to be from a domestic dog.  In 2011, another couple reported that their car had been mauled by something tall and the former Lee County Sheriff stated that the damage on the car looks much like the damage from earlier incidents.

The Loveland Frog (or Loveland Lizard), in Loveland, Ohio, was supposedly sighted by a police officer in 1972. The police officer later stated that the incident had been blown out of proportion and was in fact was a large lizard, less than 3 feet in length.  In 1955, another Ohio man claimed he was driving along the Miami river, and saw three of these creatures grouped together. He claimed they had wrinkles on their heads instead of hair.  He said one was holding a wand-like spark-emitting device.

Jake the Alligator man is the most famous inhabitant of Long Beach, Washington. He is a mummified half man half alligator  that toured as a circus attraction. In 1967 the Marsh family purchased him he now resides in Marsh’s Free Museum.  The Long Beach Merchants Association began throwing an Annual 75th Birthday Bash for Jake. The event takes place the first weekend in August this year it will fall on August 2nd and 3rd 2013.  He also has a Facebook page.  Most believe he is fashioned in the same way as the Fiji Mermaid, but no real study has been done on the oddity.

The Flatwoods monster (also referred to as the “Braxton County Monster” or "Lizard Monster") was sighted in the town of Flatwoods in Braxton County, West Virginia, United States on September 12.  It is described as being man-shaped and clad in a dark (possibly green) pleated skirt; and some accounts record that the creature had no visible arms.  Others describe it as having short, stubby arms; ending in long, claw-like fingers.  Closely associated with a UFO flap in the area, the Flatwoods Monsters is generally thought to be alien, but should be studied as a cryptid as well given the  the shape, movement, and sounds reported by witnesses were consistent with the silhouette, flight pattern, and call of a startled barn owl perched on a tree limb.  In fact, debunker Joe Nickel and others believe that an owl, in conjunction with a known meteor appearance on that date, is responsible for the story.  Nevertheless, the local sherrif investigated but found no solid evidence anything unusual had happened, despite the many reports from solid citizens. Many US Government resources were also used in initial investigations. I have had the great pleasure to meet and talk with researcher Frank Feschino, Jr who has written extensively on this subject, albeit from a UFO perspective.  I highly recommend the new version of his book.

Whether these reptilians are alien or cryptozoological, their stories are often out of this world!                    

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Cryptozoology MVP

One of the key sticking points that non-believers like to bring up when criticizing Fortean Zoology is that of “Breeding Population”  This is the number of animals which can interbreed freely.  It also would, by definition, allow evolutionary change. In other words, this is the number of males and females of a species that is sufficient to reproduce at a rate that would keep the species from extinction.

Within the calculation of Breeding Population is something called Minimum viable population (MVP).   This is the lowest number of the population of a species that can survive in the wild. In biology, ecology, and conservation biology, MVP is the smallest possible size at which a biological population can exist without facing extinction from natural disasters or demographic, environmental, or genetic order or plan.  This is usually estimated as the population necessary to ensure between 90 and 95 percent probability of survival between 100 to 1,000 years.

A variety of assumptions are required for future forecasting and this causes some debate on the accuracy of any MVP estimate.  Proponents of using this number believe that absolute accuracy is not necessary, but rather a tool for approximating for the sake of conservation.   In the case of Cryptozoology, an approximation would necessarily be questionable given that such species have yet to even be proven to exist in small numbers.

This Population uncertainty comes from four sources; Demographic stochasticity, Environmental stochasticity, Natural catastrophes, and Genetic stochasticity.  Demographic stochasticity is the variability in population growth rates that comes from random differences among individuals (of a breeding species) within a season. This variability will occur even if all individuals have the same expected ability to survive and reproduce and the rate doesn’t change from one generation to the next.  It is generally important only in populations that are already fairly small.  Certainly in the case of most cryptids, the population will be small.  In Crypto terms, Demographic Stochasticity would be the variation of the numbers of offspring in a lake monster, for instance,  from year to year, and the morbidity rate of the same period  There really is no way that this number can be accurately calculated for any population given that the number of offspring, while usually within a certain range, is not constant.  In larger populations, this variability would not be as important.

Environmental Stochasticity is the unpredictable fluctuation in environmental conditions.  When we say that a winter was “unusually warm” or “there is a lot less rain this year” we are highlighting a normally occurring environmental fluctuation.  Environment also includes the physical, chemical and biological conditions, such as temperature, food availability and the presence of predators. Generally, this fluctuation is used to represent a longer term than just a few years.  In the form of an evolutionary time scale, environmental stochasticity affects the overall life history of a species. Environments do change, so these predictions can be unpredictable.  Additionally, major environmental changes can occur over long periods of time within the evolutionary age and would affect any predicted “final outcome” of the estimate.  For Cryptozoology, this would be a real factor for water “monsters” especially.  The creation and changes in the lakes, rivers and even oceans would be difficult to predict.

Along those same lines, natural disasters can factor into the uncertainty of population models.  Ice ages, meteor strikes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions would certainly affect biological populations.  Even small disasters, tornadoes for instance, can potentially wipe out enough of a population to bring it below the MVP.  While in modern times, there is a better model for predicting such disasters, it is by no means certain.

Another problem in calculating MVP for small populations is Genetic Stochasticity.  Genetic stochasticity refers to changes in the genetic composition of a population unrelated to things like selection, inbreeding, or migration. In small populations, or those with communal inbreeding, this reduced amount of diversity in genetic materials retained within populations would increase the chance that recessive genes become the norm.  With disease often tied so closely to genetics, this lack of diversity could be catastrophic.  The loss of diversity would limit a species’ ability to adapt to future environmental changes or even reduce the capacity to reproduce at all.

Applying all this relative uncertainty to the populations of cryptids can be problematic at best.  What would the MVP of a lake monster be?  Without knowing the biological makeup of such creatures, there is no way to tell the genetics or the evolution.  We don’t know what they eat, so environment can only partially be supposed.  Without knowing the breeding cycles—or even the breeding methods-of such creatures, these shaky estimates become shakier still.

Arm yourself with this knowledge the next time a skeptic decides to come at you with a value for how many of a species are needed to sustain them.  They couldn’t possibly know.  Until even one is documented, such suppositions are completely baseless.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

One Big Tentacled Family

“Sea Monsters” have long been a part of Atlantic lore and study.  When the Giant Squid was documented, it became pretty clear that this was the infamous “Kraken” that had been feared by many.  The largest giant squid ever recorded by scientists was almost 43 feet (13 meters) long, and may have weighed nearly a ton.  It might seem that something so large would be hard to miss, but since they live deep underwater they are rarely seen.  Sometimes the dead carcasses float to the surface or wash up on a beach and that gives scientists a good specimen to work with.

In 2012, The Discovery Channel was able to catch a live Giant Squid on an undersea camera.  While most research is done off New Zealand, this footage was captured off Japan.  Giant Squids were first recorded live in 2006, after researchers suspended bait beneath a research vessel off the Ogasawara Islands (Japan) to try and hook a giant squid. While filming, the research team from Japan's National Science Museum pulled a 24-foot (7-meter) squid to the surface.  The more recent footage is from the same area, and was captured deep within the squid’s natural habitat, a first for researchers

The longest Giant Squid mantle length on record is 7.4 feet (2.25 meters) and the length from the tip of the top fin to the end of the arms seldom is more than 16 feet (5 meters).  The longest total length (including tentacles) of a squid on record is 43 feet (13 meters).  This is far smaller than the 20 meter length rumored.  One of the explanations of this is that when the squids die and wash ashore, they are often quite bloated and worn from other species attacking them or feeding on them.  Exaggerations arise from sightings of life ones as well, as running across one of these monsters in open sea can be a frightening experience.  The eye of this squid can be as large as a beach ball.

Some researchers think there are as many as 8 species in the genus Architeuthis, each a different kind of giant squid. Other researchers think there is just one Architeuthis species, or Giant Squid.  Few specimens are available for study.   However, there are an estimated 500 species of squid overall, some only about an inch long and others (The Colossal Squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), which can grow to 45 feet (14 meters).

An international team headed by Danish researchers tested DNA samples from 43 giant squid from around the world and were stunned to find that there is likely just a single species of the massive cephalopod.  The genetic diversity among the samples was lower than in almost any species ever reported, said Tom Gilbert, a researcher from the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.

“That lack of diversity and no population structure is just crazy. We just cannot explain it easily once you start thinking that this is an animal that lives everywhere,” Gilbert said in an interview.
Giant Squids are closely related to snails, clams, and even slugs.  Cephalopods have been around for 500 million years.  Cephalopods are defined not by whether they have a shell, but by their soft bodies.  Squids and cuttlefishes also have a backbone-like support made of chitin.  They have well developed brains and many can change skin color or texture.  They also use ink as a defense.  It is also believed that they may have come close to being extinct at one point.

There appears to be only one species of Giant Squid.  Given the vast distribution of them, more genetic mutations and cross breeding would be expected.  The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.  Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and researchers from Australia, Japan, France, Ireland and Portugal took 43 tissue samples from a variety of sources, including stranded animals, remains found in the stomachs of beached sperm whales and accidental by-catch. They then used DNA sequencing techniques to understand the genetic makeup of the squid. Genetic diversity was also found to be very low, meaning that the squid are genetically very similar despite being found all over the world and varying greatly in appearance.

"There's normally local distinction between [animals] genetically," Professor Thomas Gilbert told BBC Nature.  "Things that live in one area eventually become different from things in other areas but [giant squid] are basically identical everywhere."  He suggested that migration could be the key reason specimens from as far apart as Japan and Florida, US are so genetically similar.

"We speculate the larval stage must drift globally in the currents then dive to the nearest dark, deep spot when they are large enough, thus stopping any [population] structure appearing," he explained. "Instead of the adults and their young living in the same place, the young distribute to a completely new place on the Earth every time."

Another theory to explain the large numbers of identical animals is the possibility of a rapid, recent population boom.  The Giant Squid are remarkably able to adjust to their environment.  This, their diverse locations they are found, and their significant size lead scientists to believe the giant squid have a substantial population rather than being as rare as once believed.

The giant squid has been a source of fascination both before and beyond its formal description in 1857 by Danish biologist Japetus Steenstrup.