Dr KARL SHUKER

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), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), 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/index.htm

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

THREE-HORNED RHINOCEROSES AND ALBRECHT DÜRER'S SHOULDER-HORNED SURPRISE


Digital creation of a three-horned white rhinoceros (digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker using a public domain photograph)


There was the forest three-horned dark rhino that would be in small herds that would occasionally run into the snares of man. These forest rhinos were deemed by many as a prized possession.

   Douglas S. Taylor – Sword of Souls: Chronicles of Caledon


The three-horned rhinoceroses referred to in the above quotation are fictitious, but factual records do indeed exist of rhino specimens possessing extra (supernumerary) horns. Of the five species of rhinoceros alive today, two of them (the great Indian Rhinoceros unicornis and the Javan R. sondaicus) each typically sports one horn, whereas the other three (the Sumatran Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, African white Ceratotherium simum, and African black Diceros bicornis) each typically sports two. Very rarely, however, exceptions to this standard rule arise, and as reported widely in the media during late December 2015 one such exception has lately been encountered and photographed in Namibia's Etosha National Park by 73-year-old Jim Gibson.

Eschewing its species' normal two-horn condition (and its taxonomic name too), the adult black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (translating as 'two-horned two-horned') in question also bears a slender but distinctive, forward-curving third horn, sprouting forth from the centre of its brow (click here to see photos of this singular beast, and here to view a short video clip of it). Its extra horn would not cause this rhino any discomfort; and if resulting from a non-genetic developmental abnormality occurring when the rhino was a foetus, it would not be inherited by any of its offspring. If caused by a mutant gene, however, it could be inherited - this latter situation probably explaining why triple-horned black rhinoceroses were once quite common around Zambia’s Lake Young.

On 10 February 1906, big game hunter Abel Chapman shot a three-horned black rhinoceros at Elmenteita in British East Africa (now Kenya), and a photograph of Chapman posing alongside its head subsequently appeared in his book Retrospect: 1851-1928 (1928). That same book also included a drawing of this animal. And a similar specimen was exhibited alive at Lisbon Zoo, Portugal, as documented in two International Zoo Yearbook reports of 1978.

Digital creation of a three-horned black rhinoceros (digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker using a public domain photograph)

Three-horned examples of unspecified two-horned rhinoceros species in southern Africa were alluded to by Swedish explorer-naturalist Charles J. Andersson in his book Lake Ngami (1861), which documented his four years spent exploring southwestern Africa, including time spent during 1854 at this nowadays very famous but then newly-discovered lake in Botswana:

I have met persons who told me that they have killed rhinoceroses with three horns; but in all such cases (and they have been but few), the third, or posterior horn is so small as to be scarcely perceptible.

Even Linnaeus mentioned three-horned rhinoceroses - to his description of the black rhinoceros in Gmelin’s edition (1788) of Systema Naturae was added: “Rarior est Rhinoceros tricornis, tertia cum cornu ex alterato priorem excrescente”. In the past, moreover, Sumatran native hunters asserted that three-horned specimens of the Sumatran rhinoceros were occasionally met with too.

In most cases, the extra horn is usually nothing more than a small, rounded knob - a rudimentary third horn positioned behind the two normal ones. Similarly, towards the end of the 19th Century, London Zoo exhibited a female great Indian rhinoceros that bore a rudimentary second horn upon her forehead. Alternatively, a pseudo-third horn can develop via the splitting into two of one of the normal, pre-existing horns, as seen in the following photograph of one such zoo specimen:

Captive rhinoceros with pseudo-third horn (© Owen Burnham)

Occasionally, even more extreme cases are recorded. One such individual was the abnormal female black rhinoceros shot during August 1904 in a dense covert west of Kenya’s Jambeni Mountains, at an elevation of 4150 ft above sea-level, and reported by Colonel W.H. Broun in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London on 14 November 1905. In addition to the two normal horns, this rhino had a third, rudimentary horn between its ears, plus a fourth, equally diminutive example located about 4 in further back.

During his extensive black rhinoceros researches, renowned German zoologist Dr Bernard Grzimek encountered reports of a five-horned specimen, and even of rhinos with horns growing out of their bodies. He also suggested that the famous woodcut of a great Indian rhinoceros bearing an incongruously-sited horn on its shoulder produced by Albrecht Dürer in 1515 (and later copied by Conrad Gesner in his Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551) may have been truly based upon an abnormally horned specimen.

Albrecht Dürer’s famous shoulder-horned rhinoceros woodcut (public domain)

At one time, this idea was discounted in favour of the theory that the horn was either an error on the part of Dürer, or, if genuine, merely an excrescence developed by the rhinoceros in question during its long confinement in the ship bringing it from India to Portugal’s King Manuel the Great, at Lisbon (the king then offering it up as a gift to Pope Leo X). Moreover, as discussed in 1961 via an entire paper on the subject written by Dr K.C.A. Schulz and published in African Wild Life, rough sores of a horny nature have been observed for some time among black rhinos too.

However, Grzimek’s view was reinforced in spring 1968, when Prof. Heini Hediger photographed a white rhinoceros living in San Francisco Zoo that bore a bona fide, unequivocal shoulder horn, measuring some 4 in high. Prof. Hediger subsequently documented this distinctive creature via an illustrated Zoologische Garten article published in 1970.

At present, the precise reasons for the development of extra horns by rhinoceroses remain relatively unclear. In some cases, a genetic origin is indicated, especially when they involve several multi-horned specimens inhabiting one specific locality, as with the Lake Young individuals. Injury-induced development (echoing the ‘excrescence theory’ for Dürer’s specimen) may also occur - as documented from various antelopes and deer possessing supernumerary (and often oddly located) horns, sometimes emerging from the forehead, face, or even sites on the body.

Digital creation of a three-horned southern white rhinoceros (photograph and digital manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker)

NB – As noted in their respective credits above, all of the photographs of three-horned rhinoceroses included here have been created by me via digital manipulation of existing photographs of normal two-horned specimens, because although, as this present article of mine unequivocally demonstrates, rhinos with supernumerary horns are a reality, I am not aware of any existing photos of such specimens other than those of the above-documented Namibian individual and the photo in Abel Chapman's book depicting him alongside his three-horned rhino head (unfortunately, however, I have so far been unable to obtain sight of this latter picture). Consequently, if anyone knows of any photographs depicting supernumerary-horned rhinos, or drawings based upon documented specimens of such creatures, I would greatly welcome details.

Finally: if three-horned rhinoceroses are not exotic enough for you, how about three-humped camels and a bull African elephant with two trunks? If you think that I'm joking, be sure to click here on ShukerNature and discover that I'm not!

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and greatly expanded from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.





Wednesday, 8 March 2017

POSTHUMOUS SIGHTINGS OF PASSENGER PIGEONS?


Passenger pigeons (juvenile, left; male, centre; female, right), from Birds of New York by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, 1910 – did this species survive beyond 1914? (public domain)

The most numerous species of wild bird ever known was the phenomenally plentiful passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, a dainty, slender-bodied, long-tailed bird with blue-grey head, neck, back, and wings, and cinnamon-pink underparts. It has been estimated that during the 19th Century’s early years, its total population contained between five and ten thousand million birds. Or to put it another way, this single species may have accounted for as much as 45 per cent of the entire bird population of America! One of the most evocative descriptions of its immense numbers during its heyday appeared in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction for 16 November 1822:
 
The accounts of the enormous flocks in which the passenger, or wild pigeons, fly about in North America, seem to an European like the tales of Baron Munchausen; but the travellers are ‘all in a story.’ In Upper Canada, says Mr. Howison, in his entertaining ‘Sketches,’ you may kill 20 or 30 at one shot, out of the masses which darken the air. And in the United States, according to Wilson, the ornithologist, they sometimes desolate and lay waste a tract of country 40 or 50 miles long, and 5 or 6 broad, by making it their breeding-place. While in the state of Ohio, Mr. Wilson saw a flock of these birds which extended, he judged, more than a mile in breadth, and continued to pass over his head at the rate of one mile in a minute, during four hours — thus making its whole length about 240 miles. According to his moderate estimate, this flock contained two thousand two hundred and thirty millions, two hundred and seventy-two pigeons.

A flock of passenger pigeons being hunted in Louisiana, The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News, 1875 (public domain)

It seems inconceivable that less than a century after the above report had been published the passenger pigeon had been completely exterminated, but this is precisely what happened.

As a result of an unutterably ruthless, relentless programme of persecution (on a scale unparalleled even in man’s nefarious history of wildlife destruction), perpetrated by trigger-happy gun-toters attracted by the awesome spectacle of the birds’ mass migrations, by 1 September 1914 only one solitary specimen remained alive. This was a 29-year-old hen bird named ‘Martha Washington’, exhibited at Cincinnati Zoo. And shortly after noon on that fateful September day, this last humble survivor of an ostensibly indomitable, indestructible species died. The unthinkable had happened - the passenger pigeon, whose vast migrating flocks had virtually eclipsed the sun in the time of the great American painter John James Audubon, was no more.

Martha Washington, the last known passenger pigeon, pictured alive on left, and as a taxiderm specimen at Washington DC's Smithsonian Institution on right (public domain)

Officially, that is. For at least another decade, alleged sightings of passenger pigeons were frequently reported, but scientists tended to dismiss these as mistaken observations of the smaller but superficially similar mourning dove Zenaida macroura, still a common species today. In September 1929, however, a remarkable report emerged that could not be discarded so readily. This was the month in which Michigan University bacteriologist Prof. Philip Hadley, in the company of a Mr Foard, an old friend familiar with the land, had been hunting in a virtually uninhabited wilderness nestling within Michigan’s northern peninsula.

They had been hunting there for some time when Foard drew Hadley’s attention to a bird perched close by, and declared that it was a passenger pigeon - which he had observed in enormous numbers when younger. Needless to say, Hadley turned at once to spy this exceedingly unexpected specimen, but just as he caught sight of it the bird took flight. Nevertheless, it did seem to him to be pigeon-like in form, with a pointed tail, and he clearly believed the incident to be of significance, because he sent details to the eminent US journal Science, which in turn judged it to be important enough to warrant publication in its issue of 14 February 1930.

Passenger pigeon, from Pigeons, Sir William Jardine, 1835 (public domain)

Within his letter, Hadley also referred to a couple of other recent sightings, documented a month earlier by Kendrick Kimball in the Detroit News (5 January). One of these sightings had been made on 10 June 1929, by Robert H. Wright of Munissing, Michigan. Wright was convinced that the pair of birds that he saw at close range on Highway M-28, about 16 miles from Munissing, were passenger pigeons. In the other sighting, made between Indianapolis and Kokomo while driving from Florida, Dr Samuel R. Landes spotted a flock of approximately 15 birds that he readily identified as passenger pigeons. Both Wright and Landes were familiar with this species’ appearance — like so many others, they had shot hundreds of them during the late 1870s.

Nonetheless, the last confirmed wild specimen was shot in 1899, at Babcock, Wisconsin, so is it really possible that the birds reported three decades later by the eyewitnesses above were truly passenger pigeons? It seems rather unlikely, at least at first, because after the last major flocks had been slaughtered (in 1878), stragglers did not survive long, and matings became ever fewer. It seemed as if the species could only persist and reproduce when present in huge flocks. At the same time, of course, the familiarity of the eyewitnesses with the species makes their testimony all that more difficult to discount.

A pair of taxiderm passenger pigeons at San Antonio, Texas (© Jonathan Downes/CFZ)

Perhaps certain fairly secluded localities did house a last few specimens, which existed undetected beyond the date of Martha’s death, and possibly even mated every now and then, and which were encountered only when their flights traversed areas frequented by humans, or when humans occasionally passed by their hideaways. Yet without the immense congregations necessary to provide the stimulus for normal, full-scale reproduction, they could surely do no more than extend their species’ survival by a few years. Long before the last individual had died, whether in 1914 or in the 1930s, the passenger pigeon’s descent into extinction had already begun, irrevocably and inevitably, with the disappearance of its vast flocks. After that, it could only be a matter of time.

Surely, then, the ‘passenger pigeon’ spied in March 1965 at Homer, Michigan, by Irene Llewellyn (Fate, September 1965) and another spied the same year by Stella Fenell at New Jersey’s Park Ridge (Fate, January 1966), not to mention an intriguing series of recently-claimed passenger pigeon sightings chronicled online in 2014, 2015, and 2016 by the website HoriconBirds.com, were only mourning doves ... weren’t they?

John James Audubon's famous painting of a pair of passenger pigeons, from his spectacular tome The Birds of America, 1827-1838 (public domain)

An Antipodean equivalent of sorts is the flock pigeon Phaps (=Histriophaps) histrionica, also known as the flock bronzewing. In the 1800s, huge flocks, containing millions of birds, lived on the grass plains of New South Wales and Queensland. Today, though, it is a relatively rare species (it was once thought to be extinct), categorised as Threatened by the IUCN.

This time, however, the cause is not man himself but his animals. The flock pigeon is a seed-eater, but generations of grazing cattle and sheep have prevented the plains’ grass from seeding adequately.

A flock pigeon (© Christopher Walker/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Of course, courtesy of the extraordinary technological advances taking place daily in the modern-day world that we all inhabit, perhaps we should never say never in relation to the prospect of one day seeing bona fide passenger pigeons alive and well again. On 8 February 2012, a meeting was convened at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, by a group of interested researchers from the non-profit genetic research organisation Revive & Restore, to explore the technical plausibility of resurrecting this iconic species via genomic engineering, as well as to examine the potential cultural, social, political, and ecological ramifications of restoring it to life and perhaps even reintroducing it into the wild. After presentations by a range of participants and discussions concerning their contributions, the group concluded that the genetic technique proposed should be tested to see how effective it may be, and how it could be improved, with this goal in mind.

So who knows? Maybe one day the passenger pigeon will indeed return, if no longer to darken the skies with vast flocks as in former times but at least to live again in the land where it rightfully belongs and where it would certainly have remained had its existence not been wilfully extinguished by our own species.

Passenger pigeons, frontispiece to The Passenger Pigeon, 1907 (public domain)

Finally: by an extraordinary quirk of fate, one of the last passenger pigeon individuals whose demise in the wild state was formally documented was actually shot not anywhere in the New World but, remarkably, in the English countryside instead. An escapee from captivity, it was shot in Yorkshire during 1876, as recorded in  T.A. Coward's book The Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs - Second Series (1920). Moreover, this was just one of at least eight passenger pigeon specimens recorded from the wild in Great Britain.

Were all of them merely captive escapees, or might one or more have been genuine transatlantic vagrants? Sadly, it is highly unlikely that we shall ever know the answer to this intriguing question. My grateful thanks to correspondent Philip Jensen for kindly bringing this fascinating snippet of information to my attention.

Passenger pigeon, Plate 23 in Vol 1 of The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and Bahamas by Mark Catesby, George Edwards, 1754 (public domain)

For my tribute in verse to the passenger pigeon, please click here; and for its philatelic prominence, please click here.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and expanded from my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.






Friday, 3 March 2017

TODAY I RECEIVED MY GOLDEN YETI AWARD – AND NOT A WRONG ENVELOPE IN SIGHT!

With my Golden Yeti award for Cryptozoologist of the Year 2016 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

I'm very happy to announce that my Golden Yeti – verily the Oscar and BAFTA of cryptozoology – awarded to me as Cryptozoologist of the Year 2016 by Loren Coleman and the International Cryptozoology Museum in December 2016, has arrived today safe and sound, presented to me by a very nice lady from ParcelForce, and with neither a wrong envelope nor even a Stephen Fry anywhere in sight! Joy indeed!


And here it, photographed just before it took up residence in pride of place on my mantelpiece alongside a silver unicorn and a nautilus shell, and next to my mother's armchair, so that if somehow, as I so fervently hope and as very many friends and colleagues have assured me during the past four years, she is still close by, watching over me, she will see it and know that her lad whom she loved so much is still doing his best to continue to make her proud, in grateful thanks for all the love, encouragement, and guidance that she always gave me throughout our 53 wonderful shared years.


My sincere thanks again to Loren and to the ICM for honouring me and recognising my cryptozoological contributions with this fine award, and above all to Mom, without whom none of this would ever have been possible.


"Alongside a silver unicorn and a nautilus shell..."


All photographs © Dr Karl Shuker






Sunday, 26 February 2017

THE GIANT GRASSHOPPER OF WISCONSIN - FOCUSING UPON A PHONEY PHOTOGRAPH


The iconic photograph of A.L. Butts holding up a supposed giant grasshopper that he had allegedly shot dead in his apple orchard during 1937 (public domain)

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I purchased a trio of fascinating books that totally captivated me, reading them from cover to cover and then re-reading them numerous times thereafter. Indeed, even today I still return to them periodically and dip inside their fact-filled pages. Presented by The People's Almanac, these international bestsellers were: The Book of Lists (1977), The Book of Lists 2 (1980), and The Book of Lists 3 (1983). They were written by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace, and, as their titles suggest, they were packed throughout with annotated lists on every conceivable subject, and included many specialist ones that were compiled by a lengthy series of credited contributors with extensive knowledge on those particular s objects.

One of my favourite lists appeared in the third book of this series. Entitled '8 Worst Monster Hoaxes', the list had been compiled by none other than cryptozoology's very own Loren Coleman, and included concise accounts of such famous crypto-frauds as Phineas Barnum's Feejee mermaid, the giant model used in the notorious Silver Lake monster hoax, the supposed living Jersey devil put on show that proved to be a kangaroo painted with green stripes and with fake wings attached (click here to read my ShukerNature account of this faux monster), the controversial photo of de Loys's supposed South American ape, and – a case that I'd not encountered until reading this book – the giant grasshoppers that allegedly invaded the apple orchard of farmer A.L. Butts from Wisconsin. Here, quoting from his list, is what Loren wrote concerning this extraordinary episode:

GIANT GRASSHOPPERS OF BUTTS ORCHARD
On Sept. 9, 1937, the following headline appeared on the front page of the Tomah (Wis.) Monitor-Herald: "Giant Grasshoppers Invade Butts Orchard East of City." The accompanying story gave details of the invasion. Apparently, after eating some special plant food that farmer A. L. Butts had sowed on his apple orchard, the grasshoppers grew to an astounding 3 ft. in length—large enough to snap off tree limbs as they leaped about the orchard. Along with the article, there were photographs of the mutant insects being hunted with shotguns. Because the story was continued on page four, many readers never got to the final paragraph, which suggested that it was all a put-on: "If there are those who doubt our story it will not be a new experience, inasmuch as most newspaper writers are thought to be the darndest liars in the world." The elaborate hoax was concocted by Mr. Butts and the Monitor-Herald publisher, B. J. Fuller.

My greatly-treasured copy of The Book of Lists 3 (© David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace / Corgi Books - reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Accompanying Loren's account was the eyecatching photograph that opens this present ShukerNature blog article of mine, except that in Loren's account the photo was reproduced by the book's publisher in mirror-image format, the only instance that I'm aware of in which it has appeared in this orientation. It was one of the pictures that had been included in the above-noted Tomah Monitor-Herald newspaper's hoax report.

Not surprisingly, with the coming of the internet such a striking image as this one was not going to go unnoticed and uncommented-upon online, and indeed, it currently appears on countless websites. Yet although on the vast majority of these sites it is readily denounced as a hoax, there is rarely if ever any provision of details supporting such a claim, and on some sites there is even earnest discussion as to whether it actually is a hoax or whether the giant grasshopper portrayed in it is real!

In both situations, therefore, it would appear that all such sites are blissfully unaware of Loren's above-quoted account, and also of the more recent version by Leland Gregory – a concise coverage of this phoney incident appearing in Gregory's wonderfully-entitled book Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Throughout the Ages (2007). It includes the following specific details concerning the photographs contained in the hoax newspaper report: "Accompanying the article were photographs of shotgun-toting hunters tracking down the mutant insects as well as a picture of Farmer Butts holding up a dead grasshopper like a prize fish" – the latter being an excellent description of the famous image opening my own article here. But that is not all.

Picture postcards from 1937 featuring this iconic giant grasshopper image but giving different claimed locations for it; note also that in the middle postcard the grasshopper seems to be held at a slightly different angle, and with both antennae hanging down, indicating that this is a second, hitherto-unrecognised photo - see below for more details (public domain)

In many online sites containing this photograph, it takes the form of a vintage-looking picture postcard, inasmuch as beneath the main portion of the image (containing Butts holding the grasshopper) but superimposed upon the lowermost portion of the image itself (a section of ground present below Butts's feet and rifle end that was not present in the version of this picture accompanying Loren's account, which was therefore cropped as well as mirror-image-reversed) is white handwriting in the style that was frequently seen in such picture postcards dating back to the first half of the 20th Century. This handwriting provides the location where the photograph was supposedly taken, plus the photo's copyright owner and year.

In most examples that I have seen, the information given is: 'GRASSHOPPER SHOT NEAR MILES CITY MONT. © 1937 COLES STUDIO GLASGOW MONT'. However, I have also seen versions in which the location is variously given as 'NEAR MANDAN NORTH DAKOTA', and 'NEAR MEDORA NORTH DAKOTA' (and in this latter version, the adjective 'GIANT' is applied to the grasshopper). The year and copyright details, conversely, are the same as those given in the Miles City Montana version.

Of particular interest, moreover, is that in one such version (pictured above), labelled as 'NEAR MANDAN NORTH DAKOTA', the angle at which the grasshopper is being held by Butts is slightly different from in all other versions seen by me, and with both of its antennae (not just one) hanging downwards, as well as less of its feet emerging from out of Butts's fist. In other words, this is apparently a second, hitherto-unrecognised photograph of Butts and the giant grasshopper, yet clearly produced during the same session as the famous one, because Butts's pose is identical in both, whereas the grasshopper's is very similar - but not identical - in both.

There are also various additional versions online that may be of more recent date, as the locations given are simply added in typescript within a separate block beneath the entire image, rather than as handwriting superimposed upon the lowermost portion of the image. One such example gives the supposed location of where the 'giant grasshopper' was shot as 'Near C.P.R. Station Moose Jaw, Sask.', with 'Sask.' being an abbreviation for the state of Saskatchewan in Canada. (There are also all manner of modern-day parodies, spoofs, and pastiches of this now-classic image online, featuring characters from famous television shows, computer/video games, and much more besides.)

Two spoofs of the Butts giant grasshopper photograph: the left-hand-one provides a humorous twist to its content; the right-hand-one features Butch DeLoria, leader of the Tunnel Snakes gang in Fallout 3, an action role-playing open world video game that includes giant cockroach-like insects called radroaches (© owner unknown to me / © Fallout Wiki)

Bearing in mind that the hoax was set in Wisconsin, USA, all of the above-noted claimed locations for the grasshopper shooting given on the various picture postcards are themselves fake. But once again, that is not all. What is particularly odd, and therefore very intriguing, is that I have yet to find a single picture postcard of this image online that actually gives anywhere in Wisconsin as the claimed location!

Moreover, the very fact that there are in existence picture postcards depicting this image that date back to 1937, the exact same year in which the hoax report was published by the Tomah Monitor-Herald newspaper, makes me wonder which came first – the picture postcards or the newspaper hoax? If the hoax came first, then the postcards were made as a spin-off using the image from the report and with the writing giving supposed location and copyright details being subsequently added. But if the postcards came first, complete with the writing present, then the writing would need to be removed from them before the image could be included in the report. The easiest way to do this would be simply to crop the photo to just below Butts's feet (exactly as was done in The Book of Lists 3), thereby deleting the lowermost portion of the image containing the writing. But if the latter is true, does this mean that the hoax newspaper report was actually inspired by (and thus made direct use of) a pre-existing picture postcard that occurred with different claimed locations written upon it, but set its fictitious incident in a location (Wisconsin) separate from any of those claimed on the postcard versions?

An answer to this key question may well be forthcoming if we knew what format the giant grasshopper photograph takes in the newspaper report? Is the full image present, including the lowermost portion of ground beneath Butts's feet and rifle end but with no writing superimposed, thus confirming that the newspaper report came first? Or is the image cropped to just below Butts's feet, thereby strongly suggesting (albeit not confirming) that there may have been writing on the deleted lowermost portion?

That is definitely the all-important question here, one that might shed major new light upon the origin of this iconic photograph. Yet, maddeningly, it is also one that I am presently unable to answer – for the simple yet highly frustrating reason that so far I have been unable to set eyes upon a copy of the two-page hoax report from the Tomah Monitor-Herald newspaper of 9 September 1937. I have managed to locate a version of this story that appeared in the Juneau County Chronicle (of Mauston, Wisconsin) on 16 September 1937, but this is a much shorter version, and only includes a single photograph (and which, unfortunately, is not the one under consideration here), one that is again an evident but much less professionally-produced hoax image.

Section of the front page of the Juneau County Chronicle for 16 September 1937 containing the giant grasshopper story (public domain)

That same photograph, incidentally, depicting Butts and someone else shooting a giant grasshopper in Butts's orchard, is also apparently the opening photo in the original Tomah Monitor-Herald report, and I have been kindly informed by Facebook friend and correspondent Bob Deis that the other person in the photo is none other than B.J. Fuller from the Tomah Monitor-Herald, who, as noted earlier, co-engineered the hoax with Butts.

Bob has given me a cutting from the Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids) newspaper of 14 September 1937 that confirms this, Fuller openly admitting the hoax with Butts (variously spelt 'Butz' and 'Buts' here). Confusingly, this cutting initially names Fuller as merely a reporter for the Tomah Monitor-Herald, not as its editor (naming L.W. Kenny as editor instead), thereby seemingly contradicting Loren's afore-quoted account, but a few paragraphs later it then does name Fuller as editor! It also identifies the person who took that particular photograph of the two men shooting the giant grasshopper as one Reverend H.S. Schaller. I wonder if Schaller also took the famous photo of Butts holding up the giant grasshopper under consideration here? Thanks very much Bob for providing me with this informative cutting! And here it is:



Cutting from the Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids), 14 September 1937, confirming that the Wisconsin giant grasshopper hunt was indeed a hoax concocted by Butts and Fuller (public domain)
 
Needless to say, moreover, if anyone reading this ShukerNature article can provide me with a copy of the elusive Tomah Monitor-Herald report (or even any details concerning the appearance of the photograph in question here), I would very much appreciate it!

Well worth pointing out here is that picture postcards may well be linked to this hoax newspaper report in more ways than one, because it just so happens that in 1935, i.e. at least two years before this report was published, a picture postcard photographer/publisher named Frank D. Conard from Garden City, Kansas, had begun issuing what would become a very lengthy series of popular postcards depicting humorous illustrations featuring giant grasshoppers and spanning three decades.

Long before Photoshop was ever thought of, and eschewing even the popular optical illusion of forced perspective, Conard created his delightful pictures by simply but very effectively inserting enlarged images of grasshoppers into all manner of everyday scenes (a selection of which can be seen below). He also produced similar montage-based pictures featuring other enlarged images of animals, including jackrabbits and fishes. Picture postcards in this highly-collectible genre are known as exaggeration postcards.

A selection of Frank D. Conard's giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcards – click to enlarge (public domain)

Conard in turn had been inspired to produce his giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcards by a real-life grasshopper-featuring event that had taken place in Garden City, Kansas, during 1935. Namely, a major a plague of grasshoppers (albeit of normal size, happily!), which had attracted considerable media attention elsewhere across the USA, as other prairie states were also suffering from similar scourges at that time. In a December 2004 article concerning exaggeration picture postcards that was published on the Kansas Historical Society's website, Conard is quoted as having once said:

The idea [for producing his famous giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcards] came to me after a flight of grasshoppers swarmed into Garden City attracted by the lights, and it was impossible to fill an automobile gasoline tank at filling stations that night. I went home to sleep, but awoke at 3:00 a.m. and all I could think about was grasshoppers. By morning I had the idea of having fun with the grasshoppers, and took my pictures and superimposed the hoppers with humans. I didn't do it for adverse impressions of Kansas, but as an exaggerated joke.

Taking all of this into account, could it be that Coles Studio of Glasgow, Montana, the publisher of the picture postcards featuring Butts and the giant grasshopper and labelled with a variety of different claimed locations, was inspired by those of Conard, and/or by the real events that in turn had inspired Conard, to create some grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcards of its own? Indeed, can we even be absolutely certain that the person in this image actually is Butts? After all, if the postcards came first, before the hoax newspaper report, with one such postcard merely being the inspiration for the report and then simply included within it when it was finally published, who can say for certain who the person is in the image? It could be anyone. Butts might simply have lent his name to the hoax newspaper report, with the photo featuring whoever it was who had posed for it as a Coles Studio picture postcard long before the hoax newspaper story had ever been conceived.

A second selection of Frank D. Conard's giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcards – click to enlarge (public domain)

I've spent a fair amount of time online seeking any details or publication lists appertaining to the output of Coles during the 1930s, in the hope of pinning down specifically when in 1937 the grasshopper postcards depicting Butts (or whoever it is) holding the giant grasshopper were first issued, but, sadly, all to no avail.

However, thanks to a correspondent with the username Pattock, who, in a comment posted at the end of this article of mine, kindly brought them to my attention, I am now aware of two giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration picture postcards issued by Coles Studio in 1939 and 1938 respectively. So here they are:

Two giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration picture postcards issued by Coles Studio in 1939 and 1938 respectively - click to enlarge (public domain)

As for the giant grasshopper itself in the famous Coles Studio picture postcard under discussion here: one further intrigue awaits consideration. Does the postcard depicting it simply consist of an enlarged photo of a normal grasshopper that has been carefully inserted into a photo of Butts(?) in the normal montage-style manner of creating exaggeration picture postcards (but in at least two slightly different poses, as revealed earlier)? Or could the grasshopper have possibly been an actual full-sized giant grasshopper model?

The reason that I ask this is twofold. Firstly, on some websites I have seen claims, albeit unsubstantiated by any supporting evidence, alleging this to be the case. Secondly, although it seems an unlikely prospect there is in fact a notable fully-confirmed precedent – one that involves the following 'giant grasshopper' photograph, which again appears on numerous websites:

Holding down a giant grasshopper – actually a model (public domain)

As with the Butts photo, there are all kinds of claims circulating online regarding it being a hoax image, alongside other claims questioning whether the grasshopper is actually a bona fide living giant grasshopper. In fact, it is neither – as revealed on 8 October 2012 by Maureen A. Taylor in her Photo Detective column within Family Tree Magazine (and viewable online here). Following an investigation of this tantalising image, Maureen discovered that the giant grasshopper was an iron sculpture that had been created by Thomas Talcott Hersey of Mitchell, South Dakota, during the late 1930s, yet again as a result of being inspired by the real-life grasshopper plagues of that period, one of which had killed his own crops in his home state. Moreover, Hersey's giant grasshopper sculpture, which he had dubbed Galloping Gertie, attracted considerable interest and attention. Indeed, as Maureen noted:

When he displayed his invention at Corn Palace Week in Mitchell and charged a nickel to view it, he earned enough to support his family for a winter.  Hersey ended up with a commission from a man who hired him to make a housefly, a flea, a black widow spider and a monarch butterfly to show at county fairs.

Hersey even produced a picture postcard of Galloping Gertie (the image included by me above), in which he is shown pretending to hold it down, assisted by his nephew Harry (Bart) Hersey and David John Hersey, and which also bears the caption 'Capturing "Whopper Hopper" near Mitchell, S.D. The largest grasshopper in existence 54 inches long weight 73 pounds'. And it is this picture, often reproduced sans caption, which is the one doing the rounds online. So, yes, models of giant grasshoppers are not beyond the realms of possibility at all.

As for real-life giant grasshoppers, conversely, that of course is a very different matter. For fundamental anatomical and physiological regions, especially ones relating to respiration, no species of insect living today could attain the stature of those included in any of the images presented above in this present article. Having said that, and albeit on a much more modest scale, there are some undeniably impressive species of grasshopper native to various parts of North America, but none more so, surely, than the eastern lubber grasshopper Romalea microptera (=guttata).

An eastern lubber grasshopper (public domain)

Common throughout Florida, but up to 4 inches long, and brightly coloured in garish yellow, orange, and red with black stripes to warn would-be predators of its toxic nature, it came as something of a shock to me when I first encountered this monstrous entity while visiting the Everglades back in 1981. A slow-moving species not given to energetic hopping and generally too heavy to fly via its undersized wings, there seemed to be lubbers crawling underfoot everywhere, emitting loud hisses and secreting foul-smelling foamy exudations, until I was more than happy to step onto one of the boats to take me away from these hexapodal horrors and on through what seemed by comparison to be the relative tranquillity of the alligator-infested swamps!

Meanwhile, my search here and online continues apace for the final piece of the long-incomplete jigsaw constituting the mystery of the Butts giant grasshopper phoney photograph – that evanescent newspaper report from the Tomah Monitor-Herald of 9 September 1937. Once – if ever – I have that to hand, I may finally be able to determine in best chicken and egg tradition which came first, the Coles Studio picture postcards of this memorable image or its appearance in the newspaper report.

So, once again, if there is anyone out there reading this ShukerNature article who can offer any information (including a specific first publication date for the picture postcards), or, best of all, an image of the two-page newspaper report, I would be very happy to hear from you!

Two enthralling Weekly World News stories featuring the Butts giant grasshopper photograph (© Weekly World News – included here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Finally: how could any photograph featuring a man holding a 3-ft-long grasshopper fail to attract the attention of the wonderful Weekly World News? Sure enough, this inestimable publication has featured the Butts photo in not one but two WWN stories. In the first, published on 9 April 1991, it was used as the basis of a highly entertaining report concerning a New Zealand farmer named Barry Gissler who had shot a 23-lb giant grasshopper less than a month earlier, on 15 March. And in the second, published just over a year later on 16 June 1992, the unfortunate Mr Gissler had alas been found dead with a broken neck and strange bite marks on his body. Had New Zealand's mega-hoppers taken revenge upon the murderer of one of their burly six-legged brethren? Only the WWN can answer that question – and who knows, perhaps one day, in a third fascinating instalment of this gripping grasshopper yarn, it will do!

Incidentally, just in case you were wondering: The world's largest known true grasshopper (as opposed to the highly-specialised wetas of New Zealand) is a currently-unidentified species documented from the border of Malaysia and Thailand that measures 10 in long and is capable of leaping up to 15 ft. So perhaps giant grasshoppers are not such a figment of fantasy after all!

NB – As far as I am aware, all of the illustrations included here are in the public domain unless stated otherwise. In any case, however, they are all included here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only, exclusively for educational, review purposes.

A vintage giant grasshopper-themed exaggeration postcard in colour (© currently unknown to me despite having made considerable searches for information – any available details will be gratefully received)



UPDATE AND DENOUEMENT – 6 March 2017

Today I was delighted and extremely grateful to receive from David Kranz, the Associate Librarian in the Archives of La Crosse Public Library in Wisconsin, USA, scans of the complete, original two-page Tomah Monitor-Herald giant grasshopper hoax report from 9 September 1937 that I have been anxiously seeking for so long! Thank you so much! And yes indeed, there on page 1, just below and to the left of the photograph of a grasshopper being shot in a tree, was the very familiar photo that has been under discussion throughout this present ShukerNature blog article of mine, showing a man holding up vertically a supposed dead giant grasshopper, hanging head down, its back feet clutched in the man's fist. Reading the full article, however, it is intriguing to note that Butts is never actually identified as the man in this photo. All that is said about it, in fact, is as follows:

The picture at the left shows one of the big hoppers that had been shot.

So even now, there is no categorical proof that the man in this photo really is Butts.

As for the photograph itself as included in this hoax report, it is the more familiar version, i.e. with only one of the grasshopper's antennae hanging straight down (the other one curling almost horizontally to the left), and with a substantial amount of the grasshopper's back feet emerging out of Butts' fist. Moreover, it is neither in mirror-image version, nor, significantly, does it contain any details of location, date, or the Coles Studio in handwriting beneath Butts and the grasshopper – because in this newspaper report the image is cropped to just below Butts's feet.

This therefore lends weight to my earlier suggestion that it was the picture postcard of this image (with the details in handwriting superimposed upon an additional, lowermost section of the image, present beneath Butts's feet) that came first, before the newspaper report, and which had then been incorporated into the newspaper report by the simple expedient of someone having cropped beforehand that lowermost section of image containing the handwriting from the main portion of the image. Why else would the image have been cropped? It wasn't as if the section of image beneath Butts's feet was extensive and would therefore occupy space that could be better used in some other way within the report. And despite all of my numerous, extensive searches made in relation to this image, I have never once come upon a version of it that retains this missing lowermost section but without the handwritten source details, etc., being superimposed upon it.

Consequently, until (if ever) any such version of the image does turn up, it seems parsimonious to conclude that this iconic image did indeed begin life as a Coles Studio exaggeration picture postcard, issued some time in 1937 but definitely prior to the publication of the hoax newspaper report in the Tomah Monitor-Herald on 9 September 1937, and that it then appeared within that report in cropped form, with all details of publisher, date, and location having been deleted, and with the very terse, uninformative reference to it within the main text of the report suspending over it in Damoclesian verisimilitude a potentially perpetual question mark as to whether the man depicted in it was indeed Butts at all.

Finally, be sure not to miss out on Bob Deis's awesome Cryptozoology Anthology: Strange and Mysterious Creatures in Men's Adventure Magazines – check it out here!