5 September 2013


Karl P. N. Shuker. Mirabilis: A Carnival of Zoology and Unnatural History. Anomalist Books, 2013.

This book should please most cryptozoologists. I would have said all, but if you are a serious arachnophobe you might want to avoid this book, most particularly chapter four. But of course if you are a serious cryptozoologist you are probably not an arachnophobe anyway, and will not be put off by the photograph of the not-so-little hairy beast - although it is a mock up.
But otherwise that might be enough for you even without the tales of spiders the size of puppy dogs, and ‘things I experienced in the services’ internet postings which speak of much larger ones. You might be reassured by Shuker’s insistence that such things are biological impossible because spiders that size just couldn’t breathe, unless of course they had a radically different physiology from normal spiders. It’s that ‘unless’ that will make you listen to the night sounds intently if you happen to camping in the world’s wilder places (and can you be really sure what is lurking in the sewers and deserted tunnels of the world’s cities?

If the one on the giant spiders is the scariest chapter in the book, the one on the (probably) lost fauna of Madagascar is surely the saddest, with its catalogue of all sorts of fascinating beasts, that become extinct over the last 500 years (and some may have staggered along even into the twentieth century), such as the giant lemurs and huge flightless birds.

There are sections on colossal crocodiles, big beavers, massive turtles, and to make a change micro-mice. Other chapters deal with mythical and artificial creatures, and the various inaccurate ways fossils were described in the early days. Shuker also describes how he tracked down the original photographs and the real nature of a globster found on the beach at Margate, Natal in 1922. It's real nature proves to be a lump of blubber, and not some fearsome whale-fighting monster!

Another topic covered is entombed animals, these are mainly toads and the like, but also include reports of entombed bats. Shuker notes one from Kelsall near Chester referred to in Manchester City News of March or April 1888 (the microfilm is missing from Manchester Library so couldn’t track that down). The earliest reference in the British Library’s newspapers online is to the Liverpool Mercury of 1 December, 1826, page 7, which reads:
Singular Fact - A man, engaged in splitting timber for rail-posts, near Kelsall, in this county, a few weeks since discovered in the centre of a large pear-tree, a living bat, of a bright scarlet colour, which he foolishly suffered to escape, from fear, being fully persuaded (with the characteristic superstition of the inhabitants of that part of Cheshire) that it was a "being not of this world." The tree presents a small cavity in the centre, where the bat was enclosed, but is perfectly sound and solid on each
You will also find here horned hares, the sukutyro, the zebro, the tygomelia, the sea-bear and such-like fascinating maybe-creatures. In this gripping collection Shuker explores the farthest boundaries of natural history, which include some very wild areas indeed.
  • Peter Rogerson.

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