“Extinct” Insect: Back from the Dead!

In 1920, the last of the “tree lobster” insects seemingly vanished into the dustbin of history. However, unbeknownst to modern science, a small colony of these hand-sized insects managed to survive…on an 1,844 foot tall rock pyramid…in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

Ball's Pyramid - Home of the Last Tree Lobster Insects

Ball’s Pyramid: Home of the Last Tree Lobster Insects
Attribution: Arthur Phillip? (1789)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ball’s Pyramid: The Home of the Last Tree Lobsters?

This isolated rock pyramid is known as Ball’s Pyramid. It is 1,844 feet high and resides in the Pacific Ocean. The nearest populated island is Lord Howe’s Island, which is about 12 miles away. The fact that a couple of hardy Tree Lobster insects managed to reach such an isolated place is incredible.

Anyway, scientists recovered a few of the insects and started to breed them. And just like that, the population exploded from 24 to more than 12,000. Here’s more on the Tree Lobster insects at Ball’s Pyramid from The Daily Mail:

A narrow and forbidding rock that stands higher than the Empire State Building, it does not look like the most welcoming place to set up home.

But that did not stop an insect which was thought to be extinct for 80 years from building its last known colony on the 1,844ft high Ball’s Pyramid.

Scientists have discovered 24 of the creatures living 500ft above the South Pacific Ocean around the single plant that had survived on the rock.

(See The Daily Mail for more on Ball’s Pyramid and the Tree Lobster insects)

Do Woolly Mammoths still Exist?

The last woolly mammoth died off around 1700 BC on Russia’s Wrangel Island. Or did it?

Woolly Mammoths

Woolly mammoths near the Somme River
Attribution: Charles R. Knight (1916)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Woolly Mammoth Video?

Check out this footage of a supposed woolly mammoth. It was supposedly captured last summer by a Russian engineer. According to The Sun, this person was in Siberia at the time, surveying for a new road. Some people believe it shows a woolly mammoth struggling to cross a river. The article even claims hair samples from the beast match up with those obtained from woolly mammoth carcasses.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

I’ve spoken at length about my views on cryptozoology. In my mind, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters such as the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent. On the other hand, I’m highly suspicious of claims about undiscovered, land-based megafauna. Unfortunately, this video does nothing to change my mind. It’s blurry and short. The “tusks” don’t appear to attach to the creature’s skull and seem to flop around with the current. Suspiciously, the video cuts off before the creature’s legs and lower body become visible.

Assuming it’s not an out-and-out hoax, I think it looks most like a large bear carrying a fish. Here’s more on this mysterious “woolly mammoth” from The Sun:

A beast lurches through icy waters in a sighting a paranormal investigator thinks could prove woolly mammoths are not extinct after all. The animal – thought to have mostly died out roughly 4,000 years ago – was apparently filmed wading through a river in the freezing wilds of Siberia.

…Its hair matches samples recovered from mammoth remains regularly dug up from the permafrost in frozen Russia…

(See Woolly Mammoth Spotted in Siberia for the rest)

Jimmy Stewart & the Raiders of the Yeti Hand?

In 1957, rumors began to spread that a monastery in Pangboche, Nepal possessed a Yeti hand. Now, after more than fifty years, a finger from this hand has finally been subjected to DNA analysis. Does it belong to a Yeti?

Purported Yeti scalp at Khumjung monastery

Purported Yeti scalp at Khumjung monastery
Attribution: Nmnogueira at en.wikipedia
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Lost Yeti Hand?

The history of the Pangboche Hand makes for a fascinating read. In 1957, an oil tycoon and adventurer named Tom Slick heard rumors that a monastery in Pangboche, Nepal possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. He and his team were eager to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, managed to infiltrate the monastery and stole some bones from the hand, replacing them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones into London.

The Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, is a cryptozoological creature. It’s often described as an ape and supposedly lives in the Himalayas. It’s one of the most sought after cryptids in the world, rivaling Bigfoot and the Lochness Monster in popularity. In fact, a widely publicized expedition is now underway, hoping to discover evidence of this elusive animal.

Part of the finger was retained by George Agogino, an anthropologist who served as a consultant on Slick’s various expeditions. These supposed Yeti bones were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, they disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

But the main portion of the finger was given to Professor Osman Hill for examination. Professor Hill first declared it to be from a hominid and later, a Neanderthal. But after that, the finger vanished.

Until now.

The Lost Yeti Hand…Rediscovered?

Recently, the finger was rediscovered in the archives of the Hunterian Museum, at the Royal College of Surgeons. It was subsequently verified by an elderly Peter Byrne as the original finger. Reporter Matthew Hill requested a DNA test, the results of which were revealed on December 28, 2011. And now, we know for certain that the identity of the hand’s owner was a…

Human. That’s right. The finger, revered by Pangboche monks, stolen by Byrne, and smuggled by Jimmy Stewart, was nothing more than a human finger.

“We had to stitch it together. We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence and then we matched that against the database and we found human DNA. So it wasn’t too surprising but it was obviously slightly disappointing that you hadn’t discovered something brand new. Human was what we were expecting and human is what we got.” ~ Dr. Rob Ogden, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Of course, this discovery won’t end the hunt for the fabled Yeti. Still, it represents a blow to the hopes of cryptozoologists everywhere. But don’t count the Abominable Snowman out just yet. There are numerous examples of mythological creatures being discovered in modern times such as the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days we’ll be able to add the Yeti to that list as well.

Do Alligators Live in New York Sewers?

On February 10, 1935, a 16 year old boy named Salvatore Condulucci was shoveling snow into an open manhole. Suddenly, he saw movement and shouted, “Honest, it’s an alligator!” But are sewer alligators real things? Or is this just an urban myth?

The 157th Street Sewer (1904)
Photographed by Burroughs & Co. for The New York Subway Souvenir
Source: NYCSubway.org

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 9 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Amazon Paperback * Kindle E-Book * Nook E-Book * Smashwords E-Book * iBooks E-Book * Kobo E-Book * Diesel E-Book * Sony E-Book

Sewer Alligators

I actually mention the 1935 sighting in my book. It’s perhaps the most famous account of a sewer alligator living in New York City. According to the original newspaper article, Condulucci and his friends fashioned a slipknot and hauled the gator to the surface. It was surprisingly big, measuring almost eight feet long and weighing 125 pounds. Upon reaching street level, the creature, starved and cold, snapped at the boys with its powerful jaws. They proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.

Afterward, the neighbors speculated on the sewer alligator’s origin. They finally decided that it must’ve somehow taken refuge on a steamer in the “mysterious Everglades.” Then it sailed to New York where it fell into the water. It swam into a sewer conduit which led to its eventual discovery. After being killed, it was taken away by a sanitation truck to be incinerated.

After a brief spurt of alligator sightings in New York during the 1930s, it would be almost seven decades before the next alligator was reported. In the summer of 2001, a small gator was caught swimming in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. But other than that, there’s not much to report…that is, unless we consider the stories of Teddy May.

A Sewer Safari?

In his fascinating 1959 work, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daley recounts conversations he had with Teddy May, who is somewhat of a “sewer legend” in New York. May’s exact job title is uncertain although it’s believed he might have held the position of Foreman or District Foreman.

According to May, he once discovered a colony of two-foot long sewer alligators. He believed that they had been sold by unscrupulous pet dealers to satisfy a Depression era fad for painted turtles. How did May handle this menace to his beloved sewers?

“Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in his sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them. A few months later they were gone. Some succumbed to rat poison. Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea. Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top. And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but as sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.” ~ Robert Daley, The World Beneath the City

May was known to be a yarn-spinner and most historians are doubtful that this “sewer safari” ever took place. In fact, these same historians usually doubt the veracity of the 1935 account as well. Back then, newspapers were known to print outrageous stories in order to sell papers. And the fact that the sewer alligator was incinerated before it could be photographed does merit some suspicion.

But could an alligator survive in the sewer? The answer seems to be yes. While New York’s above-ground climate isn’t conducive to gators, its sewers are an entirely different matter. Sewers are actually quite warm, due in part to decomposing waste, and a gigantic rodent population is readily available as a source of food.

“As noted from alligator growers and authorities…the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers. Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions…I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.” ~ Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman

A Sewer Alligator…in Chaos?

Of course, all this is not to say that sewer alligators do live in New York – only that it’s possible. Since much of Chaos takes place in the tunnels and sewers deep under New York, it was only natural that my hero Cy Reed would come face-to-face with one of these fabled creatures. And unfortunately for him…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself…

Suddenly, the alligator reared upward. The movement was so fast I didn’t have time to react.

Its head turned toward me and I saw its eyes. They were red as blood, yet dark as night. As I stared into them, I felt like I was looking into the soul of the devil himself.

The gator lunged at me. My instincts took over and I dove to the south. As I rolled through the water, I seized the machete from my waist with my free hand.

I rose to my feet. The gigantic alligator was just a few feet away. I backed up, trying to get some breathing room.

It followed me.

I backed up farther. It continued to follow me, gnashing its teeth in the process. Looking down, I studied the small puny objects in my hands.

I’m going to need some bigger weapons.David Meyer, Chaos

That alligator, as you’ll find out, is far more mysterious and deadly than even Cy realizes. Well, that’s it for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving New York City and traveling to Japan in order to peel back the layers of the mysterious Minamata disease that plagued that country during the 1950s. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

A Hunt for…Yetis?

The Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman, is a mysterious cryptid said to live in the Himalaya Mountains. It’s widely considered a mythological creature. But not all scientists agree. And now, some of them are launching an expedition to search for the Yeti. So, is the Yeti a legend? Or could this new expedition possibly bear fruit?

U.S. Regulations regarding Yeti-based Expeditions

U.S. Regulations regarding Yeti-based Expeditions (1959)
Source: The National Archives

The Legend of the Yeti?

The exact origins of the Yeti mythology remain shrouded in mystery. But according to H. Siiger’s The “Abominable Snowman” chapter in Himalayan anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface (edited by James F. Fisher), the creature predates Buddhism in the Himalayas, as a factor in both folklore and religion.

During the late 1800s, knowledge of the Yeti began to seep into the outside world. During the 1900s, it became famous. While leading the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury spotted strange, man-like footprints. Howard-Bury thought they belonged to a grey wolf which had made double tracks in the soft snow. His guides claimed they belonged to Yeti. Later, this name was mistranslated into the famous moniker, “Abominable Snowman.”

But the Yeti really came into its own in 1951 when Eric Shipton photographed large footprints while climbing Mount Everest. These photos have proven highly controversial over the years. However, subsequent expeditions reported similar discoveries and explorers began to investigate the possibility of an unidentified species living in the Himalayas. But physical evidence remained elusive.

The Mysterious Yeti Hand?

Around this time, rumors began to spread that the monastery at Pangboche possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. Tom Slick, an oil tycoon and adventurer, was determined to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, supposedly stole some bones from the hand and replaced them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones out of the country. Sir Edmund Hillary later investigated the hand left at the monastery. Not realizing that he was looking at a combination of the original hand and a human hand, he declared the relic to be fraudulent. The bones recovered by Byrnes were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, the hand disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

Slick wasn’t the only person during that time period to believe in the Yeti. Recent revelations indicate that the U.S. government considered the Yeti to be a bonafide creature during the 1950s. It even set rules for expeditions hoping to discover one.

“The first rule required that expeditions buy a permit. The second demanded that the beast be photographed or taken alive. ‘It must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out of self defense,’ wrote Embassy Counselor Ernest Fisk on November 30, 1959. And third, any news proving the existence of the Abominable Snowman must be cleared through the Nepalese government which probably wanted to take credit for the discovery.” ~ Paul Bedard, U.S. News

Recently, scientists from Russia, the United States, and other countries announced an expedition to Siberia to “hunt down the Yeti.” The effort will focus on the Kemerova region which has experienced a large increase in sightings over the last two decades. Is this a fool’s errand?

The Yeti: A Real-Life Cryptid?

I find cryptozoology to be an interesting field of study. At its best, it combines elements of zoology and folklore.

“The zoology-based cryptozoologist looks at the mystery animals being investigated by the folklore-based cryptozoologist, and thinks that they are highly unlikely to exist as real animals. The folklore-based cryptozoologist looks at the often rather mundane animals being investigated by the zoology-based cryptozoologist and thinks that the creatures concerned are so ordinary that they’re probably nothing to do with cryptozoology. A dedicated cryptozoologist – who combines investigation of both of these fields – is interested in both areas, and finds both real animals, and entities that exist only in folklore, of equal research interest.” ~ Darren Naish

After a long period of disrepute, the field is finally started to gain some interest from the established scientific community, thanks in large part to the recent Cryptozoology: Science of Pseudoscience conference conducted by the Zoological Society of London. At that conference, Henry Gee (Senior Editor of Nature), Dr. Michael Woodley, Dr. Charles Paxton, and Dr. Darren Naish argued convincingly that it’s possible to conduct scientific studies with cryptozoological data.

From my perspective, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters. The ocean is a vast place and its depths remain largely unexplored. And while I rarely trust eyewitness testimony, it’s difficult to ignore the cases of the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent which involved experienced sailors and respected zoologists, respectively.

Land-based cryptids are another matter. Unlike a deep ocean, land doesn’t easily hide skeletons. And the commonly-held theory that cryptids bury their own kind, while possible, doesn’t constitute proof. Still, there have been a few famous cases of supposed mythological land-based creatures being discovered in nature:

“A list of species have been discovered following the investigation of either local tales and legends, or fleeting observations of what were (at the time) mystery animals. One of the great classic examples is the Okapi. Referred to as the Atti and thought to be a donkey-like equid, it had been mentioned in passing by Henry Stanley in 1888. It was on the basis of this anecdotal information that Harry Johnston went in successful pursuit of it. Just two recent examples of this sort of thing include the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji (discovered in 2006 following observations of a mystery monkey) and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri (discovered in 2010 following investigation of local reports about a “monkey with an upturned nose”).” Darren Naish, Scientific American

All in all, I think the Yeti is one of the more believable land-based cryptids. Unlike Bigfoot, it resides in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make it difficult to search effectively.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the Yeti is a truly unique species, what is it? One intriguing possibility is presented by Igor Burtsev, who is connected to the most recent Yeti expedition.

“When Homo sapiens started populating the world, it viciously exterminated its closest relative in the hominid family, Homo neanderthalensis. Some of the Neanderthals, however, may have survived to this day in some mountainous wooded habitats that are more or less off limits to their arch foes.” ~ Igor Burtsev, International Center of Hominology

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The recent discovery of Homo floresiensisin Indonesia shows that other hominids were still alive as recently as 12,000 years ago. This has led some scientists, most notably Henry Gee, to think that “perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth.”