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:

http://nst.dk/nyheder/2014/dec/golden-gate-rejser-sig-over-gudenaaen/

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.

http://ekstrabladet.dk/nyheder/samfund/farligt-dyr-frygtes-loes-i-dyrehaven/5350890

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?

fredag den 24. oktober 2014

Goodness, gracious, great balls of... hair?

In the beginning of September I was contacted by a biologist from Skørping, a town in Northern Denmark, and she had a problem. She herself had been contacted by locals, who had found a number of rather strange flimsy balls of what at first looked like some sort of plant-fibres. All of them had been found in hay-bales when people had broken them apart to put in their stables and on, and now they were quite anxious to know what they were dealing with. There was in fact no lack of suggestions as to the actual nature of these weird balls: mouse nests, some sort of insect nests, algal balls, you name it. The only thing lacking was somebody suggesting they were of extraterrestrial origin. But none of the suggestions really fitted the bill, or indeed the ball. The balls were between 5 and 10 centimetres in length, too big for insects and too small for rodents of any kind, and besides that they had no defined internal hollow, as one would expect for any kind of nest, so what on earth??

After a little bit of mail correspondence the Skørping biologist agreed to send me one of the fibrous balls (no jokes or snide remarks please!), so that I could take a closer look.


When I opened the envelope, I found a flattened and slightly elongated disc of light brown or cream-coloured fibres that looked very much like hair, and indeed so they turned out to be, when I put them under the microscope. The hairs were quite short, rather stiff, only about 2-2½ centimetres in length, but very uniform in size, colour and shape. It took a fair while to tease the hairs apart and sort them, but it turned out that the hairballs consisted of horsehairs and cowhairs in roughly equal proportions with a smaller amount of doghairs, probably Labrador, thrown in for good measure. All of which, when I talked to the good people of Skørping, turned out to be consistent with the kinds of animals that had been romping in the fields, where the hay to make the hay-bales had been grown.

The only question was how on earth they had been formed, as they were clearly not made by animals. My only suggestion is that they were formed by the hairs of various animals that had been shedding their coat, and instead of catching on barbed wire and fence posts as one so often sees, when one is out and about. The hairs had blown back and forth across the fields until they had formed these weird looking balls, and where they had caught in the grass growing in the field, they had ended up in the hay-bales. Apparently some of the other hairballs did in fact have plant material caught in the, which would indicate, that my explanation is at least on the right track. But I would still be very interested to hear from anybody with a better idea, or with previous experience of the same phenomenon.

onsdag den 22. oktober 2014

A lot of bull...

Since the wolf was officially entered onto the list of Danish mammals in 2012 after an absence of almost 200 years, there has been a lot of debate and discussions between people who see the wolf as something, vicisous, snarling and bloodthirsty that should be eradicated from Denmark as quickly as possible and other people who welcomes the wolves as a magnificent addition to the Danish fauna.

There have already been cases of farmers, especially sheepfarmers experiencing attacks on their livestock by wolves (they have all been compensated for their losses), and a couple of possible attacks on domestic dogs, but now there has been an attack that will probably get the anti-wolf lobby up in arms yet again. This time a 200 kg bull-calf has been attacked an partially eaten by a large or several large predators. A picture can be found here:

http://ekstrabladet.dk/nyheder/samfund/article5231702.ece

The general idea is of course, that wolves (or possibly dogs) are responsible for the attack, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you can't completely exclude a big cat. The rather neat way of killing smacks of feline methods. Dogs or wolves are a bit more messy when it comes to killing. But we shall know soon enough. Various samples taken from the dead bull calf has been sent away for DNA-analysis, and we just have to wait and see.