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), 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), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), 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

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Saturday, 16 April 2016


Dromedary in the desert (public domain)

Australia is renowned as a land of strange animals, both in the living world and in aboriginal Dreamtime lore. Marsupials, monotremes, monsters, and more, drawn forth from both reverie and reality, have deftly interacted, intermingled, and integrated with one another here for countless millennia to yield an extraordinary menagerie of creatures that is truly unique, and emphatically unlike anything that can be encountered elsewhere in the world.

During the early 1800s, however, reports surfaced Down Under of a creature that was decidedly bizarre even by this island continent's zoological standards, and unquestionably esoteric even in comparison with its native traditions.

Dromedary, illustration from Drawings of Animals of Greece and the Levant by eminent wildlife artist Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) (public domain)

The somewhat tragic history of this enigmatic, still-unresolved, yet nowadays long-forgotten entity was recalled in E. Lloyd's A Visit to the Antipodes: With Some Reminiscences of a Sojourn in Australia (1846) as follows:

I have to record a tradition that exists among the white people in the north country, with reference to an animal that sometimes appears, much to their alarm. This is no other than a camel. It is said, amongst the other wise things done by the sanguine people that first settled the land, that one gentleman, arguing from the natural dryness of the climate, that it was a country similar to the Zahara [sic], or Great Desert, and required animals of the same powers of endurance to travel over it, resolved upon doing nothing less than importing a camel, from which he anticipated reaping a fortune. However, calamitously, the camel, after its arrival in the colony, got lost, or ran away into the bush, and for a long time afterwards was never heard of. It is however stated, that he appeared to some shepherds, while tending their flocks, and who were not a little surprised, not to say amazed, at the unlooked-for visitation.

The blacks, in terror, fled at his approach, exclaiming, "big one bullocky! big one bullocky!" It is likewise stated, that the forlorn camel, for a long time roamed through the country, like the wandering Jew, seeking society but finding none; sometimes appearing unintentionally and unexpectedly to shepherds and black fellows, and being innocently the cause of great alarm, until at last another outcast left the realms of social intercourse, and cast himself upon his own energies. This was a harmless donkey, one of three which had found their way into this province. Having strayed from his sphere, like a comet, he took an orbit of his own, exceedingly eccentric, until the two forlorn and wandering planets came within the reach of each other's attraction, and were brought into contact, the result of which is, that they now roam the forest together, alike forsaken, and irrevocably lost.

Dromedary - plate by Simon Charles Miger after Nicolas Maréchal (1753-1803), from La Ménagerie du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle by Bernard-Germain-Étienne de Lacépède, Georges Cuvier, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1804) (public domain)

This sad little episode was no doubt repeated many times thereafter too, with dromedaries Camelus dromedarius imported Down Under for desert exploration ultimately escaping (or being deliberately released), because today there are naturalised herds of these one-humped camels in many parts of Australia, including the Northern Territory, western Queensland, northern South Australia, and (especially) Western Australia. Indeed, by 2005 there were an estimated 500,000 individuals living in the wild amid this vast island continent, and increasing at an annual growth rate of 10 per cent (so if this rate had stayed constant from then until now, by the end of 2015 there would have been around 1 million).

What makes Lloyd's account so noteworthy however, is that according to official records, the first camels imported into Australia (all dromedaries) did not arrive until 1840, and their whereabouts were fully documented until beyond 1846 (the publication date of Lloyd's book). Moreover, the first major importations did not occur until 1860. Yet his account makes clear that the camel reported by Lloyd had been roaming the deserts Down Under long before the 1840s - so who was its original owner, and when exactly had it been imported into Australia?

A herd of domesticated dromedaries (public domain)

Unless this entire event is a hoax, or unless there are even earlier records still awaiting disclosure, it would appear that this bewildering 'big one bullocky' was the very first dromedary ever to set hoof in the Antipodes. Hardly surprising, therefore, that it elicited such consternation among its astonished aboriginal observers.

After all, even taking into account the dramatic zoological diversity to be found amid ancient native lore here, a dromedary would still seem a very daunting entity to anyone not previously cognisant of camelids. And so, even though it was not a bona fide dromedary of the Dreamtime, this unexpected itinerant was nonetheless a veritable one-humped wonder Down Under!

If you'd never seen a dromedary before, this very sizeable and strange-looking beast would certainly be a most daunting creature to encounter in the wild! (public domain)

NB - Although the imported camel's species was not specified in Lloyd's account, his above-quoted comparison of northern Australia's dry climate with that of North Africa's Sahara plus his argument that animals required to traverse the former territory's arid terrain would need to be ones that are capable of surviving in the latter desert readily confirm that it must have been a dromedary. For this species was indeed originally native to the Sahara, and also to the Arabian Desert in the Middle East, before becoming domesticated and transported widely across the globe (with its wild ancestors eventually dying out around 2,000 years ago).

In contrast, the only other modern-day species, the Bactrian or two-humped camel C. bactrianus, is much rarer, and is native only to the steppes of central Asia in the wild state. Moreover, in its domestic form this latter species has only been introduced into Australia much more recently and in much smaller numbers than the dromedary, with only a very few individuals known to be existing in a naturalised state anywhere in Australia

A young white domestic Bactrian camel (© Dr Karl Shuker)

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

Friday, 15 April 2016


'Story Told By My Mother', painted in 1955 by Carroll Cloar (© Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee, USA – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

In various previous ShukerNature articles, I've documented several fascinating examples of apparent cryptids depicted by famous artists. Now, I am adding yet another such example to this select company.

I am very grateful to American correspondent David McAvoy for bringing to my attention a remarkable painting on display at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee, USA. Entitled 'Story Told By My Mother', and opening this present ShukerNature article, it was produced in 1955 by highly-acclaimed Arkansas-born artist Carroll Cloar (1913-1993), and depicts a snow scene in which a woman is stepping briskly away from a very large black panther-like cat standing at the edge of some trees.

David informed me that it was inspired by tales that Cloar had heard from his mother concerning so-called black panthers that had once roamed Arkansas. Moreover, David himself hails from Arkansas, and he mentioned that he has heard such stories for as long as he can remember. Indeed, mysterious, unidentified big cats of black panther-like appearance (i.e. resembling melanistic leopards, which are uniformly black in background coat colouration) have been reported all over North America for centuries.

A black (melanistic) leopard with a normal spotted leopard (public domain)

Leopards of course are not native to the New World, so if such beasts are indeed roaming the wilds here, they can only be escapee or released individuals from captivity. However, their eyewitnesses often claim that these cats are not black leopards anyway (nor black jaguars either, although normal spotted jaguars have been confirmed to exist at least in certain southern states such as Arizona and California on a fairly regular basis in earlier times), but are instead black pumas. (Other names for pumas, incidentally, include cougars, mountain lions, catamounts, painters, and - very confusingly - panthers.) Yet no such cat form has ever been scientifically confirmed from North America, only two such specimens have been procured in tropical Latin America, and no captive individuals are currently known to exist anywhere (I have previously documented one possible example exhibited at London Zoo during the 1800s). Moreover, all three of these latter specimens were not uniformly black anyway, but were only black dorsally; ventrally, they were much paler.

In short, even if they do occur, black pumas are exceptionally rare as far as physical evidence for their reality is concerned, and those few confirmed specimens do not match the sightings of large all-black felids in North America. Bearing in mind that countless normal-coloured pumas (i.e. either tawny or grey) have been shot there, however, and also bearing in mind that in view of the numerous reports of black panther-like cats on file from this continent, whatever this cat form may be it does not appear to be especially rare, why are no North America specimens ever forthcoming if it is indeed a melanistic version (morph) of the puma? This apparent paradox remains a major riddle for New World cryptozoology to solve, but at least we do now have an additional and most interesting, unexpected piece of evidence supporting the existence of black panther-like cats in North America, regardless of their formal taxonomic identity.

For a comprehensive examination of the black puma controversy, please click here, and see also my books Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016


A Blue Man of the Minch (I found this image online some time ago, unsourced and uncredited, but it looks like it may be a modified version – by person(s) unknown – of a picture from highly-acclaimed London-based photographer Chris Parkes's spectacular 'All that Glitter is Green' series; if so, © Chris Parkes, and thus used here on a strictly non-commercial, Fair Use basis only; also, please click here to visit Chris Parkes's website and see some of his wonderful photographs)

The British Isles are said to contain more ghosts than anywhere else in the world. Less well-known is that a remarkable diversity of monsters, mythological creatures, and mystery beasts have also been reported from these ancient lands, as will be seen here in this exclusive ShukerNature selection of some notably esoteric entities from my homeland. The trick, however, is trying to decide which category each of them belongs to - fact or fable, legend or reality, the natural world or the supernatural realm - a perilous choice that I will leave, gentle reader, to you!

It is not widely known that Britain can lay claim to its very own indigenous species of unicorn. Yet according to Hebridean folklore, the lochs on the Inner Hebrides island of Skye are home to just such a creature, called the baiste-na-Scoghaigh (aka biasd na Srogaig). Despite its long legs, however, its bulky, lumbering form renders it more akin to a rhinoceros than to the elegant unicorn of classical legend; and as it can assume human form, this deceptive creature is technically a were-unicorn. See also here for more details.

Is this what the baiste-na-Scoghaigh looks like? (public domain)

One of England's most dreadful bogey-beasts, the barguest is able to assume several different guises, but its most common form is as a huge, shaggy-furred black dog with enormous fiery eyes, and sometimes even a pair of horns. According to tradition, this spectral hound haunts lonely areas of wasteland in Yorkshire, but especially between Wreghorn and Headingley Hill, near Leeds. Its appearance is widely believed to foretell an impending death, usually of some important figure living locally, and is often accompanied by fearful howling, baying, and sometimes the sound of rattling chains.

Beware of the barguest! (© Jane Cooper)

The Minch is a strait separating the largest Outer Hebridean island, Lewis-and-Harris, from the Scottish mainland. According to local maritime tradition, it is also home to a fierce race of mermen, distinguished from other fish-tailed folk by their vivid blue skin. Happily, however, their fondness for attacking sailors can be readily countered, simply by berating them exclusively in rhyme!

Scottish Highland lore describes the boobrie as a black lake-dwelling bird with white marks upon its neck and breast, resembling the great northern diver Gavia immer but very much bigger, and deadlier. For whereas divers (or loons, as these birds are referred to in North America) are content to feed upon fishes, the boobrie will allegedly seize any sheep or cow that dares venture near this monstrous bird's aquatic abode, and haul it beneath the water, thereafter to feed upon its drowned carcase.

During 1868, a very unusual horse was exhibited at London's famous Crystal Palace. Not only was it completely hairless, but its skin was blue, so that it looked as if it had been sculpted from some rare form of oriental blue marble. This singular steed had been captured on the plains of South Africa by a merchant called Lashmar in 1860, and had been associating with a herd of those now-extinct, incompletely-striped zebras known as quaggas. The fate of the hairless blue horse after its Crystal Palace days is unknown - as is its identity. Could it have been a freak quagga, rather than merely a freak domestic horse run wild? See also here for more details.

Photoshopped image of a horse resembling the Crystal Palace-exhibited curiosity described here (© Daisiem worth1000 – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

One day in March 1962, schoolteacher Alphonsus Mullaney and his son went fishing to Lough Dubh ('Black Lake') in County Galway, Ireland...and caught a monster instead. Suddenly, their line became taut, and when they attempted to reel in their catch, they saw to their horror that they were hauling up an incredible water beast like nothing ever reported before - or since. The size of a cow, it had short thick legs, small ears, dark grey skin covered in short bristles, and a large hippopotamus-like face - with a sharp rhinoceros-like horn on the end of its snout! Not surprisingly, the two anglers fled away, but when they returned with a posse of local men, the lake's mysterious monster had vanished again. See also here for further details.

Artistic representation of the Lough Dubh monster (© Orbis Publishing - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

An unexpectedly loquacious English dragon, the knucker lived in a deep pool near the church at Lyminster, close to Arundel, in Sussex. Unfortunately, however, it developed a great liking (in the gastronomic sense!) for sheep, pigs, and even the odd farmer or two...until a local youth called Jim Puttock came along. After deliberately over-feeding the knucker with a heavy pudding that gave it severe indigestion, Puttock promised to provide a remedy for curing its stomach ache. The remedy in question, albeit decidedly unorthodox, was also undeniably effective - after engaging it in seemingly innocent conversation, Puttock abruptly wielded his trusty sword and chopped off the knucker's head!

According to Irish tradition, County Mayo's Achill Island was home to a type of small wolf-like beast long after true wolves had died out elsewhere in the British Isles. They were said to resemble normal wolves in overall appearance except for their relatively small stature. No such creatures have been reported here in recent times, however, so even if they really did once exist they have now presumably died out.

According to Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), an extraordinary sea monster resembling a hybrid of whale and wild boar was sighted in the sea north of Scotland's Orkney Islands in 1537. In bestiary compiler Conrad Gesner's tome, Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium... (1560), this Orcadian boar-whale was depicted with the head and body of a boar but with scales instead of fur, flippers instead of feet, and a fish-like tail. Not surprisingly, it has never been identified.

The Orkney boar-whale as depicted in Gesner's tome (public domain)

During the demolition of an old church at Renwick in Cumbria, northern England, during 1733, workmen were terrified when a huge winged apparition rose up out of the foundations, for in appearance it closely resembled a cockatrice. According to legend, this was a lethal dragonesque monster combining reptilian scales,  leathery bat-like wings, and a snake-like tail with the feathered body and also the wattled, coxcomb-surmounted head of a farmyard rooster, and which was hatched by a toad from a shell-less egg laid by a cockerel! As this hideous creature sallied forth, the Renwick villagers fled in all directions - except for one brave man named John Tallantine. Armed with a lance hewn from the rowan tree, which is famed for its reputed power in warding off evil, Tallantine pursued the cockatrice into the churchyard, and after a fierce battle he succeeded in slaying it. As a reward, the grateful people of Renwick decreed that for ever afterwards Tallantine's descendants would be exempt from paying tithes. A copy of an account describing this alleged occurrence is preserved in Renwick's current church.

Cockatrice, depicted by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1600s (public domain)

Like an amphibious cyclops, this maned water monster had a single eye gleaming brightly in the centre of its forehead. It also had a whale's fluked tail, and a mighty chest that sounded like a pair of huge bellows when it exhaled its scorching breath. It frequented the island of Iniscathy (aka Inis Cathaigh), located in Ireland's Shannon Estuary, and whenever it sharpened its razor-sharp iron talons, sparks of fire would dance upon the island's rocky surface. Eventually, however, it was allegedly banished by St Seonan.

Reputedly, an eerie spectral rabbit, pure white in colour and emitting a hideous screaming cry, has been encountered spasmodically in an area of Cobridge in northern Staffordshire, England, that is known locally as The Grove. It is claimed that this white rabbit is the restless ghost of teenager John Holdcroft, who was strangled to death by fellow teenager Charles Shaw one day in August 1833 after Shaw had accused him of cheating at a game of pitch and toss. Terrified by what he had done, Shaw hung a noose around his friend's neck and tried to pretend that he had committed suicide, but he later confessed to the murder and was sentenced to transportation. As for the rabbit, its eldritch shrieks are supposedly John Holdcroft's death screams.

Remarkably, until as recently as the early 1800s some local inhabitants believed that creatures apparently resembling winged feathered snakes congregated in large numbers within the wooded vales of Penllyne and Penmark in Glamorgan. Extraordinarily beautiful, they had shimmering bodies whose scales sparkled like multicoloured jewels, rainbow-hued crests, and outspread plumed wings. Despite their flamboyant finery, however, Glamorgan's feathered flying snakes were reputedly slaughtered like common vermin by farmers, on account of their taste for the farmers' poultry, until at last they were completely exterminated. See also here for more details.

Depiction of one of the winged feathered snakes that appeared on the front cover of the original 1997 American edition of my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (© Dr Karl Shuker/Llewellyn Publications)

Finally, but staying with extraordinarily beautiful creatures: Loosely connected to the Arthurian corpus of legends and originally composed anonymously in French during the 1300s, Perceforest is a 6-volume prose romance presenting a fictionalised origin of Great Britain. One memorable scene from it features Maronex the Gilded Knight, magnificently bedecked in brilliant golden armour, encountering a huge and equally dazzling, rainbow-hued creature that gave voice to ear-splitting yelping cries when it was pursued by him after it seized a stag in its jaws. Hence it is generally referred to as the Yelping Beast or the Beast of Many Colours. After dropping the deer as it fled headlong through the forest, the Yelping Beast finally reached its lair, a dense thicket in the midst of a deep marsh, and successfully eluded Maronex when his horse became enmired up to its belly in the marsh's black mud. Although Maronex was eventually able to free his horse, he conceded that it would be perilous in the extreme to attempt any further pursuit of the Yelping Beast through such treacherous, potentially lethal terrain, so he reluctantly turned back, his multicoloured quarry far beyond his reach by now. The creature's penchant for exceedingly loud yelping cries, incidentally, readily calls to mind comparable behaviour described for the snake-headed, leopard-bodied, hart-footed Questing Beast in traditional Arthurian legend.

The Yelping Beast of Many Colours and Maronex the Gilded Knight, from Royal 19 E II mss, Perceforest, Anciennes croniques Dangleterre, faictz et gestes du roy Perceforest, et des chevaliers du Franc Palais, version transcribed by David Aubert in late 1400s, Holland (public domain)

Monday, 28 March 2016


White mice on the bottom of Loch Ness? Surely not… lol (public domain)

On 20 September 1981, an article penned by George Rosie on the subject of some very intriguing mystery beasts in miniature that had lately been filmed in Loch Ness appeared in no less august a publication than the Sunday Times. During July of that year, Mike Carrie and Jim Hogan had been scouring the loch bottom seeking the 29-year-old wreck of British racing driver John Cobb's jet speedboat, Crusader. (Tragically, Cobb had met his death on the loch after hitting at over 200 mph an unexplained wake - deemed by some to have actually been the LNM - while attempting to break the world water speed record on 29 September 1952 in Crusader, which had then sunk.)

They had been using a specialised underwater television camera that amplified light 2,500 times (essential in the peaty waters of Loch Ness) and was from Carrie's own company, Submersible Television Surveys Ltd. For some time, nothing but barren mud and rocks could be seen, then suddenly some small white life-forms flitted into view, which Carrie and Hogan videoed. According to Carrie:

I can best describe then as giant white tadpoles. They were about two or three inches long, white or pale grey in colour, seemed to have tails and swam just above the bottom.

Hogan, conversely, considered that they more closely resembled "wee white mice" with long tails and legs:

They propelled themselves along the bottom in a jerky way. We knew what size they were because there was an extension to the camera to measure them against.

Greatly intrigued by these highly unexpected and very baffling yet seemingly uncommon mini-monsterlings (they only saw a handful during 3 weeks of filming), Carrie and Hogan submitted their videotape of them to Dr P. Humphrey Greenwood, an ichthyologist at London's Natural History Museum (NHM), for his opinion as to what they may be. Equally fascinated, Dr Greenwood arranged for some computer-enhanced outlines of the mystery beasties to be prepared, which in turn revealed that they seemed to have three pairs of limbs or limb-like protuberances.

Joseph W. Zarzynski's 1986 book containing a chapter dealing with the 'white mice' of Loch Ness (© Joseph W. Zarzynski - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

In a letter dated 18 April 1985 sent to veteran Lake Champlain monster investigator Joseph W. Zarzynski, who had written to him enquiring about this mystifying species, Greenwood stated:

On the subject of that object I am certainly prepared to say that the information on its size, and from what I could determine of its form and locomotion in the videotape, I would suggest that it was a small crustacean, and certainly it was no vertebrate animal that I could identify as being part of the fauna of Loch Ness.

Zarzynski reproduced the above quote in a short chapter devoted to these entities (and also to Tullimonstrum – see more about this enigmatic creature here on ShukerNature) in his book Monster Wrecks from Loch Ness and Lake Champlain (1986).

Additionally, Rose had noted that Greenwood's best guess was that (in Rose's words): "it could be some kind of bottom-dwelling crustacean, hitherto unknown in Loch Ness, similar to some found in other deep-water lakes such as Lake Baikal in Siberia".

An amphipod (public domain)

When I read Rose's account in the Sunday Times, I thought straight away of amphipods, which are usually very small, superficially shrimp-like crustaceans represented by both marine and freshwater species. Some of these do have long tails and are often pale in colour, but they sport more than three pairs of legs (though some are only very small and slender, and thus may not have been rendered visible even by the computer-enhancement techniques that the NHM applied to the Carrie-Hogan videotape). So could these loch-bottom mini-monsterlings constitute a new species? Quite possibly - but without a specimen to examine, their taxonomic identity presently remains unresolved.

Interestingly, however, the latter videotape was not the first evidence for the existence of Loch Ness's 'white mice' (the name by which these still-unidentified life-forms are most commonly known nowadays), or at least something like them. As far back as 1972, at around the same time that they obtained their famous underwater 'flipper' photographs in the loch, longstanding Nessie seeker Dr Robert Rines and his team from the Academy of Applied Science (AAS) also filmed what may be the same 'white mouse' species, or possibly a smaller, related version, or even a juvenile version.

A photographic still from that film, which appeared in the AAS's 1972 publication, Underwater Search at Loch Ness, depicted a pale mystery monsterling tha was somewhat bumblebee-like in shape (hence Rines and his team nicknamed such creatures 'bumblebees'). However, it sported a pair of long appendages stretched out horizontally that made it look surprisingly similar to those familiar surface-dwelling freshwater hemipteran insects known as water boatmen (genus Corixa) and backswimmers (genus Notonecta). I am greatly indebted to American lake monster researcher Scott Mardis for kindly sharing with me several additional stills from the AAS's 'bumblebee' film, made available in turn to him by LNM investigator Dick Raynor, which corroborate this mystery creature's morphology as seen in the photograph contained in the AAS's above-noted 1972 publication.

Basic outline of a Loch Ness 'bumblebee' - a sketch based upon the image of one such creature in a photographic still from the 1972 AAS film (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Scott has likened the 'bumblebee' form to a veliger (the larva of gastropod molluscs), whereas Canadian cryptozoologist Sebastian Wang has compared it with tiny shelled crustaceans known as ostracods, and Loch Ness veteran Adrian Shine has suggested a cladoceran crustacean (aka water flea) from the genus Bythotrephes. Some mystery beast investigators have even speculated that perhaps it is a larval form of Nessie itself, but unless the latter is an invertebrate, as these 'white mice' and 'bumblebees' must surely be, this notion is untenable.

However, such a huge body mass as possessed by the adult Nessie (judging at least from eyewitness accounts) would surely require an internal skeleton in order to support it and give it shape, which thereby argues against an invertebrate identity for the LNM. This telling point was noted by American college student Jay Cooney in an interesting article dealing with Loch Ness's monsterlings, which he uploaded onto his Bizarre Zoology blog on 30 March 2014. (Unfortunately, however, this particular article later developed image-corruption problems, so Jay subsequently removed it from his blog.)

Line diagram of a well-developed veliger (public domain)

'White mice' and 'bumblebees' are not the only unexplained life forms discovered in Loch Ness. Once again in 1981, but this time in April via a scientific paper written by Dr T.B. Reynoldson and two fellow University College of North Wales zoologists, and published in the Journal of Zoology, the remarkable news was made public that a creature which could legitimately be described as an alien worm had been discovered here too, and in some numbers. More specifically, it was Phagocata woodworthi, a species of North American triclad turbellarian flatworm not native to Europe and never previously recorded from anywhere outside the New World.

Up to 1.2 in long and 0.2 in wide, dark grey, brown, or almost black dorsally, paler ventrally, dorsoventrally flattened, and sporting a truncate head, this out-of-place (o-o-p) invertebrate (o-o-p species are often referred to loosely as alien species) is known to attach its cocoons with limpet-like efficiency to the bottoms of maritime vessels. However, the likelihood that these could remain in situ during an entire transatlantic crossing seems unlikely – plus, few vessels traversing the Caledonian Canal have come from America anyway. So how did this species reach Loch Ness?

A related species of Phagocata (public domain)

With ultimate irony, researchers have concluded that the likeliest sources of these worms are none other than the various monster-hunting vessels that have been transported down through the years from North America directly to the loch, in particular a mini-submarine imported here in 1977.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my forthcoming book, Here's Nessie! A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness – out soon!

An illustration from 1886 of the common European backswimmer Notonecta glauca (public domain)

Sunday, 20 March 2016


Vidaurre's engraving from 1776 depicting four of the five South American camelids once recognised – llama (top left), hueque aka Chilihueque (top right), vicuna (bottom left), guanaco (bottom right) (public domain)

Llamas are very familiar animals to science and the general public alike. As will now be revealed in this ShukerNature blog article, however, they may well have once shared their native Andean homelands with a highly unfamiliar, all-but-forgotten close relative whose zoological identity and disappearance have remained unexplained for well over 300 years.


Back in prehistoric times, the camelids were a very diverse taxonomic family of artiodactyl (even-toed) ungulates, distributed widely across the globe and represented by small, large, humped, humpless, short, tall, and sometimes very tall forms (such as North America's prairie-inhabiting giraffe camel Aepycamelus, aka Alticamelus).

Early restoration of Aepycamelus the giraffe camel by Heinrich Harder in 1920 (public domain)

Today, however, this once-mighty and extremely diverse dynasty is reduced to just six representatives – the two species of humped camel (one-humped dromedary Camelus dromedarius and two-humped Bactrian C. bactrianus) native to Asia (plus feral populations variously established in parts of Europe and Australia); and the four humpless species native to South America. These latter four species are the vicuna, alpaca, llama, and guanaco.

Following the discovery and conquest of South America by the Spanish during the 1500s, its humpless camelids attracted great interest from Western naturalists, with the llama in particular featuring in a number of bestiaries (such as Edward Topsell's famous work The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, 1658), in which it was generally referred to as the allocamelus.

The llama or allocamelus as depicted in Edward Topsell's bestiary The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) (public domain)

It even entered European heraldry, where it was sometimes dubbed the ass-camel, and was duly represented with the head of an ass and the body of a short-legged, convex-backed camel.

The New World's camelid quartet also incited much confusion as to how they were related to one another. For whereas the vicuna and guanaco are wild species, the llama and alpaca are entirely domesticated.

Llama (© Dr Karl Shuker)

And to make matters even worse, the term 'llama' eventually established itself colloquially as a term not just specific to its own particular single species but also as a general term covering all four South American species.

Vicunas (© Haplochromis/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Eventually, the consensus was that the small goat-like vicuna was not just a valid species but one so distinct from the others that it deserved its own genus, and was duly dubbed Vicugna vicugna. The remaining trio were housed together in a second genus, Lama, and were formally christened Lama guanicoe (=huanacos) (the guanaco), L. glama (the llama), and L. pacos (the alpaca), with both the llama and the alpaca being deemed to be domesticated descendants of the guanaco.

Guanaco (public domain)

DNA studies published in 2001, however, revealed that the alpaca is in fact most closely related to the vicuna, and is believed to have descended from this latter species, not from the guanaco after all. Consequently, the alpaca is now housed with the vicuna in the genus Vicugna, as Vicugna pacos.

Alpacas (public domain)

In addition, there are two non-taxonomic breeds or varieties of alpaca – the rare Suri alpaca, sporting a long, shiny, very soft, slightly-curled fleece, which is very expensive; and the more common Huacaya alpaca, sporting a shorter, fluffier fleece, which is far less expensive.


Yet even though they are now split into separate genera, the alpaca and the llama are sufficiently closely related genetically to yield viable crossbred offspring– a hybrid resulting from interbreeding between a male llama and a female alpaca is known as a huarizo. Much smaller than llamas, it is greatly valued for its very lengthy fleece and gentle disposition, but is usually sterile. Remarkably, moreover, there have even been cases of successful intergeneric hybridisation in captivity between male dromedaries and female llamas, the resulting camel x llama crossbreed being referred to as a cama.

Adult cama (© unknown to me – all information would be welcomed; photographs included on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

This surprising feat was first achieved in 1998, via artificial insemination, at the Camel Reproduction Centre in Dubai, the aim being to create an animal with the size, patience, and stamina of a camel but with a fleece at least as good as (if not better than) a llama's. The first cama, a male, born in 1998, was named Rama; a second cama, a female, was born in 2002, and was named Kamilah. In each case, it looked like a large version of its llama mother in overall appearance, and lacked its camel father's hump, but it did possess his small ears and short tail.


Hybrids notwithstanding, what is not widely known nowadays is that in addition to the vicuna, alpaca, guanaco, and llama, not so very long ago there may also have been a fifth New World camelid species, or at least a well-defined variety of one of the still-existing quartet. Formerly found in Chile, this seemingly-lost and certainly long-forgotten llama was known as the hueque, or the chilihueque in full.

Between the 16th and 17th Centuries, Spanish-speaking travellers who visited the central and south-central valleys of Chile reported the presence in territories owned by the Araucanians (i.e. the Mapuches peoples known here as the Moluche) of a small, distinctive type of llama not seen anywhere else. Moreover, the travellers learnt that its existence here pre-dated the Hispanic conquest, and it may well have been adopted by the Moluche from the Inca culture. This intriguing creature was the hueque, which was generally bred not as a beast of burden (like the llama is in other South American countries) but for its meat and in particular for its fleece, which was extremely soft, luxuriant, and so long that it dragged on the ground as the animal walked.

Having said that, Chilean Jesuit priest and naturalist Father Juan Ignacio Molina noted in his 2-volume magnum opus The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili (1782) that when the Dutch sea captain Admiral Joris van Spilbergen had landed on Chile's small Mocha Island in 1614, he had observed hueques being used to pull small carts by Mapuches living there. Confusingly, however, further on in his book Molina contradicted himself by stating that what van Spilbergen had seen hueques being used for on Mocha Island was pulling ploughs.

Father Juan Ignacio Molina (public domain)

Writing in 1550 after having conquered southern Chile, the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia stated that the hueque was very abundant in this region, and that not only were the inhabitants dressed exuberantly in the most elegant woollen clothes but even their houses were stocked full of wool. Also present here was a second camelid, known as the luan, but it was the fleece of the hueque that was always used to manufacture the most prized, sought-after woollen garments. Indeed, the Spaniards were so impressed by this animal's superior fleece that they dubbed it 'the sheep of the land',

The luan was generally identified as the guanaco, but what exactly was the hueque? There was no doubt that it too was some type of llama (using this term in its general sense here), but its precise nature incited much controversy among early naturalists. Two conflicting schools of thought eventually arose. One asserted that it was a local (semi-)domesticated variety of the guanaco distinct from the llama, the other claimed that it was one and the same as the llama and that it had been introduced here from further north, but neither option garnered a significant majority of support. This remains true today.

Guanaco photographed in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park (public domain)

The few illustrations of the hueque that were produced while it still existed generally depicted it as being similar to the llama but somewhat smaller in overall size, with a slightly shorter neck and legs, but sporting a thicker fleece. However, these were based merely upon verbal accounts received from others, rather than upon first-hand observations made by the engravers themselves, so they may not be wholly accurate representations of this lost form. Written accounts of the hueque by Molina and others claimed that it occurred in several different colours – white, brown, black, and grey. Molina also stated that it was approximately 6 ft long, and stood about 4 ft tall.

Perhaps the most natural-looking representation of an alleged hueque, depicted alongside a llama, is the one reproduced below:

An engraving from a book by Amédée-François Frézier, published in 1716, depicting a llama (on the left) and an alleged hueque (on the right) (public domain)

It appeared as Plate 22 in A Voyage to the South-Sea and Along the Coasts of Chili and Peru in the Years 1712, 1713 and 1714, which was written by French explorer Amédée-François Frézier and published in 1716. Unfortunately, however, whereas the alleged hueque was portrayed in side view, the llama was merely depicted standing face-on, thereby preventing direct morphological comparisons of these two camelid types to be readily made.


The reason why the hueque had vanished by the end of the 17th Century, possibly even earlier, remains unclear. However, its extinction coincided with a major influx of domestic cattle into this region of Chile, brought here from elsewhere for their meat, milk, leather, and as sturdy beasts of burden, as well as European sheep introduced for their wool and meat. Consequently, it has been surmised that not only did they render the hueque superfluous, but these non-native livestock beasts may also have carried with them diseases hitherto unknown here and to which the hueque had no resistance, thus wiping it out.

As for the hueque's identity, that is still unresolved too – or is it? Although, as noted earlier, attempts have been made by various researchers to link the hueque to either the guanaco or the llama, I personally favour a third candidate – the alpaca. So too did English writer and alpaca authority William Walton when describing the alpaca of Peru in his book An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Peruvian Sheep, Called Carneros de la Tierra (1811), though his contribution to the debate concerning the hueque's identity had long been forgotten until I encountered his book recently.

A guanaco with a Peruvian warrior, from Walton's above-cited book (public domain)

Of the four still-extant South American camelids, it is unquestionably the alpaca that offers the closest correspondence to the hueque. After all, both the hueque and the alpaca were/are bred predominantly for their fleece; both of them yielded/yield wool so profuse and luxuriant that it could/can reach the ground (especially in Suri alpacas); and both of them were/are smaller and more compact than the larger, longer-necked, longer-limbed llama and guanaco.

Could it be, therefore, that a variety of alpaca was either raised within or introduced into central and southern Chile from northern Chile or Peru (where the alpaca occurs naturally), and it was this alpaca form that was in reality the mysterious, now-vanished hueque? If nothing else, it is interesting to note that in an engraving from Gómez de Vidaurre's Compendio della Storia Geografica, Naturale e Civile del Regno del Chile (1776), depicting four South American camelids and opening this present ShukerNature blog article, the hueque is included, but the alpaca is absent. Is this strange omission of such a well known relative in favour of the much more obscure hueque an indication that these two forms were actually one and the same creature?

Llama pattern on a Chilean alpaca-wool jumper that was owned by my mother Mary Shuker (© Dr Karl Shuker)

After all, if the hueque were actually a separate, distinct species in its own right and was once abundant in southern Chile, plentiful remains of this creature would surely have existed and would have been readily delineated by scientific scrutiny from those of the four known South American camelids. Yet no formal scrutiny and osteological differentiation seems to have been documented, thereby indicating that the hueque was indeed conspecific with one of the pre-existing quartet of species.

Consequently, I conclude that the hueque was most likely to have been a breed or variety of alpaca. Sadly, however, we may well be more than 300 years too late to ever know for sure.

And finally, on a much lighter note, straight from a famous if fictitious animal linguist's circus of exotic creatures, here is the rarest llama-inspired cryptid of all:

Courtesy of Doctor John Dolittle, my very own pushmi-pullyu (© Dr Karl Shuker)