cryptozoology – the study of creatures, such as the Sasquatch, whose existence is (shall we say?) "not substantiated"
cryptids – the creatures in question
Halloween will soon be upon us, and who knows what fearsome, frightening creatures may spook the night? The week, to aid you in identifying those you may find, I'll present some of these imaginary critters of myth and legend. I'll concentrate on those native to the US, and since this is the silly season of US politics, I'll toss in some odd ducks of politics.
We begin with a very dangerous creature, for which I quote one respected source verbatim.
Politicians can be hawks, or doves, or dark horses, or carnivores forced to eat crow. This Halloween we're aware of kind of sad creature found only in politics, for George W. Bush has become one. If a lame duck should come to your door this Halloween, treat him with pity.
lame duck – an officeholder whose influence is diminished because he is soon to leave office (Typically an elected politician serving out the last days of his term, after being defeated for re-election.)
Lame duck originated as a British term for company that company that cannot meet its obligations. It is still used that way on occasion. I've given the typical use above, but the official doesn't have to be a political one, or an elected one, or one whose departure is because he was "fired". Yesterday's press spoke of a "lame duck" basketball coach in the college ranks.
– Indianapolis Star, October 29, 2008
Halloween today! An article in today's Wall Street Journal is so apt, for the day, that I'll share it with you even though it departs from the "cryptozoology" part of our theme.
Mr. de Melo lay in the coffin, shouting. "Help me! Come quick! I've been buried alive!" It was only an equipment check -- not an actual emergency. Mr. de Melo built a burial vault he could survive in because he's gripped by a rare condition called taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive.
Fear of premature burial is one of the most chilling and persistent terrors. [It] crested in the 18th and 19th centuries, when medicine was comparatively unsophisticated and diseases sometimes caused people who were still alive to appear dead. Overheated fiction stirred public fears. Edgar Allan Poe vividly evoked the claustrophobic terror of being trapped in a casket, in the short story "The Premature Burial."
Such was his anxiety that George Washington left instructions that his body was not to be buried for three days after his passing, just to be safe. Christian Andersen would leave a sign near his hotel bed reading "I am not dead". The Germans even set up a system of waiting mortuaries, or Leichenhäuser, where presumed corpses were laid out for observation for two or three days before burial. In one Munich mortuary, the bodies' fingers and toes were attached with strings to a great harmonium that would play if they stirred. The era also saw the "security coffin," built so that an erroneously interred occupant could survive and call for help.
Given the low probability of live burial nowadays, cases of taphephobia are "pretty darn rare." But even today, albeit rarely, erroneous death declarations reawaken ancient fears.
Mr de Melo, meet the trocar.
windigo; wendigo – one of a tribe of huge, semi-human cannibals of central Canada
Known to westerners since the 1600s, and "the Hudson Bay Company diaries of the 1700s mention them quite often." You can read an excellent account of the windigo at Monsters by David D. Gilmore, which begins,
Its eyes are ice and indigo!
Its blood is rank and yellowish!
Its voice is hoarse and bellowish!
Its tentacles are slithery,
Its lips are hungry blubbery,
I saw it just a friend ago!
Last night it lurked in Canada,
Tonight, on your veranada!
As you are lolling hammockwise
It contemplates you stomachwise.
The rest is merely gulps and gollops.
Central American whintosser (Cephalovertens semperambulatus) – migrated from Central American into California in the spring of 1906.
The body [has] three complete sets of legs; this is a great convenience in an earthquake country, since the animal is not disturbed by any convulsions of the earth.
It has been found that a cat's nine lives are as nothing to the one possessed by a whintosser. This animal may be shot, clubbed, or strung on a pike pole without stopping the wriggling, whirling motions or the screams of rage. The only successful way of killing the beast is to poke it into a flume pipe so that all its feet strike the surface, when it immediately starts to walk in three different directions at once and tears itself all apart."
rumptifusel – a very ferocious animal of large size and great strength, covered in dense fur. When at rest it wraps its thin body about the trunk of a tree, a clever stratagem for securing its prey. A lumberjack mistakes it for a fur robe, approaches it and is thereafter missing.
sidehill gouger – a quadruped well-adapted to its steep habitat, for its legs are short on one side and long on the other, enabling it to stand level by turning sideways on the slope. But this high degree of adaptation has a price, in that it can only circle the hill endlessly in one direction. (As it travels the same ground over and over, it gouges and grazes a path; hence the name.) It is easily captured simply by standing in front of it, for when it attempts to turn it will topple over and be helpless.
One reported subspecies inhabits hills so steep that the uphill side of the gouger's body constantly rubs against the hill. From constant abrasion, the hair is rubbed off and the skin below is polished to a finish so smooth and lustrous that leather made from it is highly prized by handbag-makers.
Sidehill gougers come in left-handed (shorter legs on the left) and right-handed types, also known as counterclockwise and clockwise types. The two forms of course circle in opposite directions. Although they are the same species and can interbreed, they rarely do so, for two reasons. First, most populations are about 95% one form and only 5% the other (leaving the minority extremely horny). More importantly, because opposite types circle in opposite directions, they will meet each other only face-to-face, an orientation that makes it extremely difficult for a pair of quadrupeds to "do the deed". When opposite types do interbreed, the hybrid offspring often have mismatched legs (the equal-length pairs being diagonally opposite each other), and can move only with extreme difficulty. Their life expectancy is very brief.
Many similar creatures of unequal legs have been identified: the prock, the sidehill badger, the gyascutus; the rackabore, the dahut, and the sometimes-reported sidehill haggis from Scotland. It has not been fully established whether these creatures are cases of parallel evolution to meet the same environmental niche, or are related species, or are simply the same species under different names.
One such creature even made its way into Samuel Johnson's celebrated dictionary, where he quotes this passage from Sir Thomas Browne (1646?):
Increased global warming has severely depleted the habitat of Arctic polar bears. As a result, many bears, seeking alternate food sources, are migrating to other continents. Much to the surpirse of animal experts, the bears have been found as far south as the Sahara Desert. They’ve adapted to the different environment by altering their normally white fur to a sandy-brown, which blends in perfectly with their surroundings. Most of the bears have also altered their fur to reverse the warming effects they needed to survive in the Arctic. Instead of allowing the sun’s rays to move from the ends of their hairs to their skin (thus providing needed heat), the bears have astoundingly widened the hair ends, making the narrow part enter their skin, and forcing heat to be wafted away. This natural air conditioning is fueled by the hot desert sun and has prompted biolgists to name the new bear species “Solar Bears.”
Solar Bears subsist on occasional Bedouins, Tuaregs, and National Geographic photographers. However, their main food source is the rare African Oasis seal. Related to Harbor seals, this pinniped is found swimming in desert oases, hunting for salt-water fish. Since oasis water is universally fresh, this imposes an insurmountable hardship on the seals. As a consequence, oasis seals are hard-pressed to survive; the Solar bear’s existence is also threatened because of this.
The seals and bears will now fall under the protective umbrella of the Endangered Species Act, which will force sponsoring governments to send over more cameramen and desert-dwellers as victuals.
We can only hope this solves the problem of sustaining these magnificent animals.
Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.