onsdag den 25. november 2015

There shall be beetles and cockroaches

According to Bernard Heuvelmans cryptozoology is all about unexpected animals - large and small. Is doesn't have to be big scary monsters every time, so with that in mind, I thought I would report on yeat another couple of additions to the Danish fauna, and this time within one of my favourite subjects - microcryptozoology.


The littlest ant-lover
October 25th. just one months ago, Danish entomologist Poul Ulrik was talking a walk at a place called Dybbølsbro, close to Copenhagen Central trainstation. Noticing a loose paving-slab, he turned it over and saw first of all, a large number of ants, but also in among the ants, a tiny 3 mm long cricket. On closer inspection this turned out to be of a specied called Myrmecophilus acervorum. Myrmecophilus means ant-lover, so the tiny animal was not just a piece of prey for the ants, but a voluntary inhabitant in their nest. M. acervorum has been found in the nests of at least 20 different ant species. It is fairly common and widespread in Europe, but has never been found in Denmark before. Until now, that is...


150 years in the dark
And then we have this gorgeous thing. This is a tortoise beetle called Pilemostoma fastuosa, and in my humble opinion it could easily have come from a tropical forest somewhere. This individual was actually found on a beach in Southeastern Denmark on November 23rd. in the various plantmatter and other debris that had washed ashore following a stormy couple of days with water levels more than 1 meter above normal. This is not just a rare animal, this is a VERY rare animal. In actual fact this is the first time it has been seen in Denmark for more than 150 years. Just goes to show hos careful you have to be, when you deem an animal (especially a small one) extinct. It was found by naturalist Klaus Bek Nielsen, and it is far from the first time he has found super-rarities like this, but then again he spends most of his time sifting through as much leaf-litter, plant-debris, mouldy pine-needles and abandoned ants-nest as he can lay his hands on.

tirsdag den 17. november 2015

The days of the jackal

The first day of the jackal was the 6th. of June 2015, when a driver passing the town of Karup in Western Denmark noticed what he thought was a strange looking dog lying at the edge of the road. Intrigued the man stopped for a closer look only to ascertain two things – the animal was dead, but only recently so, and it was indeed a very strange looking dog, about fox-like in stature, but a bit bigger. The man considered leaving the animal to the crows, but on a whin decided to put it in the boot of his car and take it away with him.

So off he went, to the home of a friend who is an experienced hunter. He couldn’t identify the animal either, but he did have a large freezer, into which the animal was put. Next stage was the showing of said weird animal to various interested parties, none of which was able to identify it with any degree of certainty. It was clear that closer examination was called for. 3 months and various DNA-analysis and tests later came…

The second day of the jackal on Sep. 10th, when the people of Denmark was informed, that yet another large carnivorous mammal had entered the country. To some people it was a bit much, coming so soon after the official reappearance of the wolf in Denmark in 2012 after an absence of a couple of centuries. Anyway – as it turned out, the animal was a golden jackal (Canis aureus), and although its presence was quite a surprise, it was not totally unexpected. The jackals normal distribution range is quite a bit to the southeast of Denmark, but the jackal population in Central and Southeastern Europe has been growing in recent years, and as jackals are great wanderers, some animals had already been sighted far away from their normal ranges. Some has been seen in Germany, and a few brave individuals has even gotten as far north as Eastern Finland.
Strangeley enough I have received a couple of sightings of ”large golden brownish/grey foxes” from southern Denmark within the last coulpe of yeatrs, which I haven’t been able to explain. Well-  maybe I can now.

An then things got a little bit weird.

Because although it was fairly clear the animal was equipped in such a way as to be deemed male, it didn’t seem to have any testicles. Under these circumstances it could conceivably be a former castrated captive that somehow had escaped from somewhere.

So, time for a detailed dissection/autopsy to set the scene for:

(Pictures of the dead animal and the actual autopsy can be found at: http://www.vet.dtu.dk/Nyheder/2015/10/Guldsjakal-er-blevet-obduceret-paa-DTU-Veterinaerinstituttet?id=587cafad-8880-4570-9932-84f2a113066c)

The third day of the jackal, in fact October 20th, when it was finally announced, that the animal did indeed have testicles – they had just been knocked into the abdomen when the animal was hit by the car that killed it.

So in other words – yet another large mammal joins the official list of Danish species! Not bad.

søndag den 1. februar 2015

The tales of two sets of tusks - and a little bit of unicorn lore

The unicorn must be one of the most wellknown, and dare I say legendary lengendary beasts. Much has been written about these creatures, and about how the stories of them originated, so I shall refrain from doing so again. Instead I will tell a little story or two about the narwal - this strange small arctic whale who has supplied one of the key ingredients of the story of the unicorn - the horn. Actually the tooth - the fronttooth of the narwal. This is long - sometimes very long - twisted and made of very hard and dense ivory.

What the whales actually use them for is a matter of debate. Some say they are the whale equivalent of antlers. Some say they are used to root around in the bottom of the sea for the various prey animals of the narwals. And some say they are simply weapons - or perhaps a combination of all three. What ever their use, they have been highly valued an indeed prized through the ages. Even today, where the superstition have been stripped away, a good size narwaltusk is worth a fortune.

So what am I actually getting at - well, the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen opened a new exhibition a couple of months ago. There is no zoological or biological theme to this exhibition. It is simply those specimens and objects that the people of the various departments of the museum thought extraordinary - and this is where the narwal comes in again. You see one of the exhibits is a narwal - incidently the strange name narwal comes from old norse, and it means corpse whale, which is not as bad a name as one might think, as a narwal does have a colour not unlike a corpse that has been in the water for at bit too long - an exhibit of an animal with two mighty tusks. Had this animal been caught in medieval times, its tusks could probably have paid for a mediumsized kingdom with all the trimmings.

Impressive looking beast if you ask me. But closer examination of the other narwal exhibits revealed something even more impressive, as the following picture shows. It doesn't look like much, but it is in fact no less than two different narwal tusks with the tip of two other narwal tusks embedded in them! How on earth that has happened, I have no idea. It must be the cetological equivalent of Robin Hoods famous arrow splitting. 

søndag den 14. december 2014

A bridge too far, or too little, or something... (A non cryptozoological interlude)

This has absolutely nothing to do with cryptozoology, but the story is too good not to be told. In the spring of this year, Danish authorities started to do a bit of refurbishing and general maintenance along the Gudenaa River - the biggest river in Denmark - north of the town of Horsens in western Denmark. The main purpose was to make it easier for the local population of trout and salmon to pass through this particular section of the river. One of the things that had to be done, was to remove an earthen dam that had almost completely blocked the river valley for more than 80 years. Nothing to strange about that, but then they diggers started...

The dam was not just a dam - inside it the workmen found a bridge, and not just any bridge. They found a 50 meter long and 14 meter high bridge, that "disappeared" 85 years ago. Until this year, it had officially been demolished, but no further details were known. Well, you know hos easy it is to misplace things...

A picture of the bridge, which has now been restored and is to be used by bikers and walkers in the future, can be seen here:


The official (re) opening of the bridge is next week, and it will from now on be known as "The Red Bridge".

Nice little Christmas surprise!!

No wolves, no trolls, only dogs!!!

As my last blogpost states, a dead headless young deer was found on Friday in a very popular deerpark/forest just north of Copenhagen. It created quite a stir, as it wasn't just killed. It's entire head and neck had been ripped off. Since wolves were officially added to the danish fauna in 2012, everybody has been a little jittery, so of course the newspapers went beserk with stories about whether it could actually be a wolf. And the conspiracy theorists started coming out of the woodwork suggesting that a wolf had been deliberately released (it is after all a deerpark which is completely fenced in) or that somebody had brought the dead deer from somewhere else to get things going a little. And by the way, it was not as I stated in my earlier post a young roe deer, but a young fallow deer. Anyhow - DNA-samples were collected, and the results are now in. The attacker was a dog, not a wolf. This of course has in no way deminished the attack from the anti-wolf lobby, who for some reason thinks a small handful of wolves are far more dangerous than any number of dogs. I am certain we haven't heard the last of this. 

And now for no particular reason - here is a crown photographed very close to where the deer was found :-)

torsdag den 11. december 2014

Yikes!! There are predators on the loose just outside of Copenhagen!!!

Danish media are in a state of mild panic today following the find of a very dead roe deer in Dyrehaven, a very popular danish deerpark/woodland - in fact the most visited forest in Denmark. It is located just north of Copenhagen, and is used by hundreds, if not thousands of people on a daily basis - especially in summer. It is also home to a large deer-population that are strictly controlled by the authorities. You can find red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and roe deer in quantities. Although today it is in quantities -1, as a big roe deer calf was found killed.


As the picture on the link shows, someone or something had basically ripped the deer's head off. The authorities are at the moment working from the assumption that the culprit is a large dog, although the actual kill does not confirm with a standard dog kill, nor for that matter with a wolf kill. DNA-samples has been taken, but the results will probably not be in until after the weekend. Until further notice people are being adviced to be careful should they meet a big stray dog in the area. The Danish anti-wolf lobby is of course already up in arms, wanting every Danish wolf shot, just in case it is one of them - nevermind the fact that the closest sighting of a wolf is some 300 km west of Copenhagen.

onsdag den 5. november 2014

The loneliest spider

To most members of the general public, as well as newspaper reporters and other lower life forms, cryptozoology is all about hunting for monsters – and the bigger and more scary, the better. Every now and then, an alien big cat can be included, especially if somebody has been scared out of their wits, their dog has disappeared, or they are now to frightened to go outside. In a pinch, a supposedly extinct animal can be included, but there has to be something special about it, and of course dinosaurs are the best. This is all well and good, but they are also missing out of a considerable part of the action. Cryptozoology is about animals that are unexpected in some fashion. There is no size criteria involved. This is why I have become increasingly interested in what I have dubbed microcryptozoology, i.e. hunting for unexpected invertebrates and other forms of small fry. And the best thing is, anybody can do it. You could f.inst. do worse than spend part of your spare time hunting for a companion to the world’s loneliest spider (or maybe not the world’s, but then at least Denmark’s loneliest spider).

In 1904 Danish zoologist William Sørensen published a description of a new species of spider. It was called Lycosa danica (today Pardosa danica) and the description was based on the type-specimen, a female collected in 1883 in a place called ”Mols Bjerge”, which today is one of Denmark’s national parks, and one of the most species-rich places in the country. The animal Sørensen described was found ”at the foot of a sunny hillside with a dense growth of heather”. It is not a particularly small spider. Like many other species of the family Lycosidae it is a powerful and fast running hunter some 15 mm in length. There are 38 other species of Lycosaidae known from Denmark, and most of these are fairly easy to find and study. But not so danica. Apart from the specimen found in 1883, not a single other specimen has ever been found – anywhere. The original locality for danica is completely overgrown with juniperbushes and broom today, which might explain why it has never been found here again, but on the other hand, other parts of the national park are still heather-covered hills. But despite the fact that Mols Bjerge is one of the most intensely studied areas in Denmark – still no second spider.

I find it a bit hard to swallow, that the specimen Sørensen found in 1883 was the last of its kind, but it definitely seems so. But, small animals are good at hiding themselves, so it still may be out there and in fact living in completely different surroundings – the first one found was perhaps lost – who knows? The only certain thing is that a live specimen hasn’t been seen for 131 years. So what are you waiting for?