Episode 304: Animals of the Paleogene



Thanks to Pranav for suggesting this week’s topic, animals of the Paleogene, the period after the Cretaceous! Thanks also to Llewelly for suggesting the horned screamer, now one of my favorite birds.

Further watching:

Southern Screamers making noise

Horned Screamers making noise

Further reading:

The Brontotheres

Presbyornis looked a lot like a long-legged goose [art by Smokeybjb – CC BY-SA 3.0]

The southern screamer (left) and horned screamer (right), probably the closest living relation to Presbyornis:

Megacerops was really really big:

All four of these illustrated animals are actually megacerops, showing the variation across individuals of nose horn size:

Uintatherium had a really weird skull and big fangs:

Pezosiren didn’t look much like its dugong and manatee descendants:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week we’re going to look at some strange animals of the Paleogene period, a suggestion from Pranav. Pranav also suggested the naked mole-rat that we talked about in episode 301, but I forgot to credit him in that one.

As we talked about in episode 240, about 66 and a half million years ago, a massive asteroid smashed into the earth and caused an extinction event that ended the era of the dinosaurs. The geologic time period immediately after that event is called the Paleogene, and paleontologists study this era to learn how life rebounded after the extinction event. We’re going to learn about a few animals that evolved to fill ecological niches left vacant after dinosaurs went extinct.

These days, mammals fill a whole lot of these ecological niches, so it’s easy to assume that mammals have been successful for the last 66 million years. But while that’s true now, birds were incredibly successful for a long time. Basically for millions of years after the non-avian dinosaurs died out, it was dinosaurs 2.0 as the avian dinosaurs, better known as birds, spread throughout the world and evolved into some amazing organisms.

This included terror birds, which we talked about in episode 202. They lived in South America, except for one species from North America, and evolved really soon after the dinosaurs went extinct, appearing in the fossil record about 60 million years ago. They lasted a long time, too, only going extinct around 2 million years ago.

The earliest known terror bird was about three feet tall, or 91 cm, but its descendants became larger and more fearsome until they were apex predators throughout South America. The biggest species grew up to ten feet tall, or three meters, with a massive beak and sharp claws on its toes. It couldn’t fly but was a fast runner. You would not want a terror bird chasing you.

Lots of other birds evolved throughout the Paleogene, but most of them would look pretty familiar to us today. Paleontologists have found fossils of the ancestors of many modern birds, including penguins, hummingbirds, and parrots, which shows that they were already specialized some 25 or 35 million years ago or even more. In the case of penguins, we have fossils of penguin ancestors dating back to the late Cretaceous, before the extinction event. Those ancient penguins could probably still fly, but it didn’t take too long to evolve to be a fully aquatic bird. The species Waimanu manneringi lived around 62 million years ago in what is now New Zealand. It resembled a loon in a lot of ways, with its legs set well back on its body, and it probably spent much of its time floating on the water between dives. But unlike a loon, it had lost the ability to fly and its wings were already well adapted to act as flippers underwater.

Another bird would have looked familiar at first glance, but really weird when you gave it a second look. Presbyornis lived between about 62 and 55 million years ago in what is now North America, and it lived in flocks around shallow lakes. It was the size of a swan or goose and mostly shaped like a goose, with a fairly chonky body and a long neck. It had a large, broad duckbill that it used to filter small animals and plant material from the water and its feet were webbed…but its legs were really long, more like a heron’s legs.

When the first Presbyornis fossils were found in the 1920s, the scientists thought they’d found ancient flamingos. But when a skull turned up, Presbyornis was classified with ducks and geese. It wasn’t very closely related to modern ducks and geese, though. Researchers now think its closest modern relation is a South American bird called the screamer. Llewelly suggested the horned screamer a long time ago and now that I have learned more about these birds, I love them so much!

The screamer looks sort of like a goose but has long, strong legs and a sharp bill more like a chicken’s. It lives in marshy areas and eats pretty much anything, although it prefers plant material. It has two curved spurs that grow on its wings that it uses to defend its territory from predators or other screamers, and if a spur breaks off, which it does pretty often, it grows back. The screamer mates for life and both parents build the nest together and help take care of the eggs and chicks when they hatch.

The horned screamer has a long, thin structure that grows from its forehead and looks sort of like a horn, although it’s not a horn. It’s wobbly, for one thing, but it’s also not a wattle. It grows throughout the bird’s life and may break off at the end every so often, and it’s basically unlike anything seen in any other bird. Maybe presbyornis had something similar, who knows?

The screamer gets its name from its habit of screaming if it feels threatened or if it just encounters something new or that it doesn’t like. The screaming is actually more of a honking call that sounds like this:

[screamer call]

People sometimes raise screamers with chickens to act as guard birds. It can run fast but it can swim faster, and it can also fly although it doesn’t do so very often. Although it’s distantly related to ducks, its meat is spongy and full of air sacs that help keep it afloat in the water, so people don’t eat it. It is vulnerable to habitat loss, though.

One organism that evolved early in the Paleogene was grass. You know, the plant that a whole lot of animals eat. There are lots and lots of different types of grass, not just the kind we’re used to mowing, and as the Paleogene progressed, it became more and more widespread. But it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, so even though the ancestors of modern grazing animals evolved around the same time, they weren’t grazers yet. The word graze comes from the word grass, but ancient ancestors of horses and other grazing animals were still browsers. They ate all kinds of plants, and didn’t specialize as grazers until grasses really took off and huge grasslands developed in many parts of the world, around 34 million years ago.

Because the Paleogene lasted so long, between about 66 and 23 million years ago, there’s literally no way we can talk about more than a few animals that lived during that time, not in a single 15-minute episode. We’ve also covered a lot of Paleogene animals in previous episodes, like paraceratherium in episode 50, the largest land mammal known. It probably grew up to about 16 feet tall at the shoulder, or 5 meters, and taller if you measured it at the top of its head. Other examples are moeritherium, an ancient elephant relation we talked about in episode 18, the giant ground sloth that we talked about in episode 22, and the ancient whale relation basilosaurus that we talked about in episode 132. Patrons also got a bonus basilosaurid episode this month. But I’m pretty sure we’ve never talked about brontotheres.

Brontotheres first appear in the fossil record around 56 million years ago and they lived until at least 34 million years ago. All animals in the family Brontotheriidae are extinct, but they were closely related to horses. They didn’t look like horses, though; they looked a lot like weird rhinoceroses, although remember that rhinos are also related to horses. They were members of the odd-toed ungulates, along with tapirs and the gigantic Paraceratherium.

Fossil remains of brontotheres have been found in North America, a few parts of eastern Europe, and Asia, although they might have been even more widespread. The earliest species were only about three and a half feet tall at the shoulder, or about a meter, but later species were much larger. While they looked a lot like rhinos, they didn’t have the kind of keratin hose horns that rhinos have. Instead, some species had a pair of horns made of bone that varied in shape and size depending on species. The horns were on the nose as in rhinos, but were side-by-side.

Brontotheres developed before grasslands became widespread, and instead they were browsers that mostly ate relatively soft vegetation like leaves and fruit. Grass is really tough and animals had to evolve specifically to be able to chew and digest it. In fact, the rise of grasslands as the climate became overall much drier around 34 million years ago is probably what drove the brontotheres to extinction. They lived in semi-tropical forests and probably occupied the same ecological niche that elephants do today. This was before elephants and their relations had evolved to be really big, and brontotheres were the biggest browsing animals of their time.

Brontotheres probably lived in herds or groups of some kind. They were widespread and common enough that they left lots of fossils, so many that they were found relatively often in North America even before people knew what fossils were. The Sioux Nation people were familiar with the bones and called them thunder horses. When they were scientifically described in 1873 by Othniel Marsh, he named them after the Sioux term, since brontotherium means “thunder beast.”

Two of the biggest brontotheres lived at about the same time as each other, around 37 to 34 million years ago. Megacerops lived in North America while Embolotherium lived in Asia, specifically in what is now Mongolia. Megacerops is the same animal that’s sometimes called brontotherium or titanotherium in older articles and books.

Megacerops and Embolotherium were about the same size, and they were huge, although Embolotherium was probably just a bit larger than Megacerops. They stood over 8 feet tall at the shoulder, or 2.5 meters, and were more than 15 feet long, or 4.6 meters. This is much larger than any rhinos alive today and as big as some elephants. Their legs would probably have looked more like an elephant’s legs than a rhinoceros’s.

Brontothere nose horns weren’t true horns, since they don’t seem to have been covered with a keratin sheath, but they were formed from protrusions of the nasal bones. They might have been more like ossicones, covered with skin and hair. Megacerops had a pair of nose horns that were much larger in some individuals than others, and scientists hypothesize that males had the larger horns and used them to fight each other.

But this can’t have been the case for embolotherium. It had even bigger nose horns that were fused together in a wedge-shaped plate sometimes referred to as a ram, but they contained empty chambers inside that were a continuation of the nasal cavities. They wouldn’t have been strong enough to bash other embolotheriums with, but they might have acted as resonating chambers, allowing embolotherium to communicate with loud sounds. All individuals had these nose horns, even juveniles, and they were all about the same size, which further suggests that they had a purpose unrelated to fighting.

At about the same time the brontotheres were evolving, another big browsing animal also lived in what are now China and the United States. Two species are known, one in each country, and both stood about 5 feet tall at the shoulder, or 1.5 meters. It looked sort of like a brontothere in some ways, but very different in other ways, especially its weird skull, and anyway it was already big around 56 million years ago when brontotheres were still small and unspecialized.

Scientists aren’t sure what uintatherium was related to. It’s been placed in its own genus, family, and order, although some other uintatherium relations have been discovered that share its weird traits. Most scientists these days think it was probably an ungulate.

Uintatherium’s skull was extremely strong and thick, which didn’t leave a whole lot of room for brains. But what uintatherium lacked in brainpower, it made up for in sheer defensive ability. It had huge canine teeth that hung down like a sabertooth cat’s fangs, although males had larger fangs than females. Males also had three pairs of ossicones or horns on the top of the skull that pointed upwards. One pair was on the nose, one pair over the eyes, and one pair almost on the back of the skull. They could be as much as 10 inches long, or 25 cm, and paleontologists think that males wrestled with these horns the same way male deer will lock antlers and wrestle.

Uintatherium lived in the same habitat and probably ate more or less the same type of plants that later brontotheres did. They went extinct around the time that brontotheres evolved to be much larger, which suggests that brontotheres may have outcompeted uintatherium.

We’ll finish with one more Paleogene mammal, Pezosiren. It was only described in 2001 from several incomplete specimens discovered in Jamaica in the 1990s, and it lived between 49 and 46 million years ago.

Pezosiren was about the size of a pig, although it had a longer, thicker tail compared to pigs. It wasn’t any kind of pig, though, and in fact it was distantly related to elephants. It was the oldest known ancestor of modern sirenians. Pezosiren is also called the walking siren, because it still had four legs and probably spent at least part of the time on land, although it could swim well. Scientists think it probably swam more like an otter than a sirenian, propelling itself through the water with its hind legs instead of its tail.

Pezosiren was probably semi-aquatic, sort of like modern hippos, and already shows some details specific to sirenians, especially its heavy ribs that would help it stay submerged when it wanted to. It ate water plants and probably stayed in shallow coastal water. At different times in the past, Jamaica was connected to the North American mainland or was an island on its own as it is now, or occasionally it was completely submerged. About 46 million years ago it submerged as sea levels rose, and that was the end of Pezosiren as far as we know. But obviously Pezosiren either survived in other areas or had already given rise to an even more aquatic sirenian ancestor, because while Pezosiren is the only sirenian known that could walk, its descendants were well adapted to the water. They survive today as dugongs and manatees.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 303: Weird and Mysterious Animal Sounds



Thanks to Emory for suggesting this week’s topic, mysterious animal sounds!

Further reading/watching:

The Story of Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains

Terrifying Sounds in the Forests of the Great Smoky Mountains

Evidence found of stingrays making noise

This New AI Can Detect the Calls of Animals Swimming in an Ocean of Noise

The wapiti [pic from article linked above]:

The stingray filmed making noise [stills from video linked to above]:

The tawny owl makes some weird sounds:

The fox says all kinds of things:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

Emory suggested we do a new episode about strange and mysterious animal sounds a while back, which is one of my favorite topics. The problem is, it’s hard to find good audio clips to share. It’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve found some good ones.

In late September 2018, in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, some hikers recorded a terrifying animal sound. The sound wasn’t a mystery for long, though, because they soon saw the animal making it. Here’s what it sounded like:

[elk bugle]

It’s the bugle of a male elk, which I’m going to call wapiti to avoid confusion. It’s a sound that wasn’t heard in the Smoky Mountains for at least a century. The eastern wapiti was once common throughout eastern North America but was driven to extinction in the late 19th century, although the last wapiti in North Carolina was killed almost a century earlier than that. All North American wapiti almost went extinct by about 1900, and hunters and conservationists worked to get nature preserves set aside to save it and its habitat. Starting in the 1990s, wapiti from western North American subspecies were reintroduced in the southeast, with reintroductions in the Smokies starting in 2001. There are now at least 200 wapiti living in the mountains, probably more. I’ve seen them myself and they’re beautiful animals!

The wapiti is a type of deer. We talked about it way back in episode 30 along with the moose. Various species of wapiti live throughout Europe and Asia as well as North America, although it’s been hunted to extinction in many areas. As we mentioned in episode 30, the name elk is used for the moose in parts of Europe, which causes a lot of confusion, which is why I’ve chosen to call it by its Algonquin name of wapiti.

The wapiti is a really big animal, one of the biggest deer alive today. Only the moose is bigger. It’s closely related to the red deer of Eurasia but is bigger. A male, called a bull, can stand about 5 feet tall at the shoulder, or 1.5 meters, with an antler spread some four feet wide, or 1.2 meters. Females, called cows, are smaller and don’t grow antlers. Males grow a new set of antlers every year, which they use to wrestle other males in fall during mating season. At the end of mating season the wapiti sheds its antlers.

The bugling sound males make during mating season is extremely loud. The sound tells females that the bull is strong and healthy, and it tells other bulls not to mess with it.

[elk bugle]

Our next sound is from an animal that scientists didn’t realize could even make sounds. There’ve been reports for a long time of stingrays making clicking noises when they were alarmed or distressed, but it hadn’t been documented by experts. A team of scientists recently decided to investigate, with their report released in July of 2022. They filmed stingrays of two different species off the coasts of Indonesia and Australia making clicking sounds as divers approached. They think it may be a sound warning the diver not to get too close. This is what it sounds like:

[Stingray making clicking sounds]

One exciting new technological development is being used to detect underwater sounds and hopefully help identify them. It’s called DeepSqueak, because it was originally developed to record ultrasonic calls made by mice and rats. This is an example of a mouse sound slowed down enough that humans can hear it, specifically a male mouse singing to attract a mate, which we talked about in episode 8:

[mouse song]

But DeepSqueak also works really well to detect sounds made by whales and their relatives, and researchers are currently using it to determine whether offshore wind farms cause problems for whales.

With DeepSqueak and other listening software, it turns out that a lot of animals we thought were silent actually make noise. For instance, this sound:

[Pelochelys bibron]

That’s a grunting sound made by the southern New Guinea giant softshell turtle.

And here’s a caecilian, a type of burrowing reptile that we talked about in episode 82:

[Typhlonectes compressicauda]

Let’s finish with a strange and mysterious sound heard on land. In January and February of 2021, some residents of London, England started hearing a weird sound at night.

[mystery sound]

Because the animal making the sound moved around so much, some people thought it must be a bird. One suggestion is that it was a tawny owl, especially the female tawny owl who makes a chirping sort of sound to answer the male’s hoot. This is what the male and female tawny owl sound like:

[owl sounds]

The tawny owl also sometimes makes an alarm call that sounds like this:

[tawny owl alarm call]

But the sound didn’t really match up with what residents were hearing. Here it is again:

[mystery sound]

Finally someone pointed out that red foxes make a lot of weird sounds, mostly screams and sharp barks, but occasionally this sound:

[fox sound]

That seems to be a pretty good match for what people were hearing in early 2021, although since no one got a look at the animal they heard, we can’t know for sure. So it’s still a mystery.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 302: The Coatimundi and a Mysterious Friend



Thanks to Oceana, Leo, and Alexandra for suggesting the coatimundi this week!

Further reading:

Caught red handed: The mystery of an unusual Panamanian plant’s dispersal

The coatimundi has a long tail and a long nose:

The olingo sitting on a cloud cycad seed pod. Mystery solved!

The olingo in daylight:

My new podcasting studio!

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week we’re going to talk about an animal suggested by several people. Thanks to Oceana, Leo, and Alexandra for suggesting the coatimundi, also called the coati! We’re also going to learn about a related animal mystery that was the subject of a Patreon episode earlier this year, because it ties in so well.

The coatimundi looks superficially like a type of monkey, or maybe a lemur, but it’s not a primate at all. It belongs to the family Procyonidae, which includes raccoons, kinkajous, and a few others. Procyonids are native to the Americas, and some scientists think they may be very distantly related to canids. Since a lot of Procyonids have bushy ringed tails, at one point the red panda was classified as a relation, but it’s since been reclassified into a family all its own that doesn’t appear to be related.

The coati lives in much of South America, Central America, and southern North America, including Mexico and parts of the American southwest. It’s mostly gray-brown or reddish-brown in color, with some white markings around the eyes and muzzle. Males are much bigger than females on average, but in general the coati isn’t that much bigger than a domestic cat. It has a long, thick tail that sort of resembles a cat’s tail except that it’s even longer in relation to its body. Some coatis have rings around the tail but some don’t. It depends on the species and the individual.

The coati uses its long tail to help it balance in trees, since it does a lot of climbing. Its hind feet can rotate so that they’re backwards, which means it can climb down trees headfirst. Procyonids can all do this, but so can some unrelated animals like weasels, due to convergent evolution. The coati also uses its long tail to keep track of its friends when they’re traveling through long grass. It sticks its tail straight up so that it’s visible above the grass. Since female coatis live in social groups of up to 40 individuals, keeping track of friends is important.

The coatimundi doesn’t worry too much that predators might see its tail sticking up and run over for a coati-sized snack. While jaguars, cougars, large eagles, and a few other predators do eat coatis, for the most part other animals leave them alone. The coati has sharp teeth, sharp claws, and it’s strong and fast for its size. It can be ferocious when it needs to, and of course it has its equally ferocious friends to help out. Plus, the coati is intelligent. In a 2013 study, the female coati’s brain was found to have a very large frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that handles sociability. Male coatis had smaller frontal cortexes, since males spend most of the time by themselves or in small bachelor groups except during mating season. And as we’ve learned when talking about other animals, the more complex an animal’s social structure, the more intelligent it’s likely to be.

The coati’s ears are small and its snout is long and thin and turns slightly upwards, which makes it look a little like a piggy nose. But unlike a pig’s nose, the coati’s is extremely flexible. It uses its nose to root around in leaf litter and dirt to find food. It’s an omnivore that’s happy to eat pretty much anything, from fruit and other plant material, to insects and other invertebrates, including tarantulas, to eggs and small animals. It has a strong sense of smell and clever front paws that help it dig up grubs, termites, and other yummy things. It sleeps with its nose tucked into its belly fur and its long tail wrapped around it.

When a female coati is ready to have babies, called kits, she leaves her group and builds a little nest in a tree. She gives birth there and takes care of her kits alone for about six weeks. At that point the babies can travel well and the whole family rejoins the other females and their offspring. The females take turns babysitting younger kits and watching for danger.

Next, let’s learn about another Procyonid, this one associated with a mystery. But to learn about the mystery we need to start not with an animal, but with a plant. Zamia pseudoparasitica is a type of cycad that only lives in the montane cloud forests in western Panama, in Central America. Even though the cycad is a plant that resembles a palm tree, this particular plant grows in the treetops instead of on the ground.

Because Z. pseudoparasitica is a mouthful, I’m going to call it the cloud cycad.

The cloud cycad has a short trunk without branches, but its leaves are almost 10 feet long, or 3 meters. They look like palm fronds. It grows on other trees, clinging to the branches with its roots, but it doesn’t actually parasitize the tree. That’s why its name is pseudoparasitica: pseudo means false, so it only looks like a parasitic plant growing on a bigger plant.

The cloud cycad starts out by growing upward from a branch as much as 65 feet above the ground, or 20 meters, but as it gets bigger and heavier, it slips down around the branch and hangs upside down. Then its trunk starts bending upward to get more light, so it grows in a sort of U shape.

The term for a plant that lives on other plants without being a parasite is epiphytic. Many epiphytic plants get their nutrients from rain, decomposition of leaves and other organic material near their roots, and other external sources since they don’t have access to soil. They’re often really good at absorbing water quickly too. Spanish moss, some ferns, lichens, and orchids are all good examples, but only one cycad is epiphytic, our cloud cycad.

The cloud cycad produces large yellow or orange seeds in cones, and when the seeds are ripe they have a pungent smell. But here’s the mystery about this strange plant: how do its seeds get dispersed to other trees? The cloud cycad never grows on the ground, and researchers think any seeds that fall to the ground just lie there until something eats them.

An animal has to be helping in some way, possibly by eating the seeds and pooping them out somewhere else. That’s why so many seeds are encased in sweet-tasting tissues. People suspected that fruit bats were the main seed disperser, but no one knew for sure.

In late 2019, a team of young scientists decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. They climbed trees and placed cameras pointing at cloud cycads to see what animals visited them. This was hard work, as you can probably imagine, because those trees are really big; but finally they got the cameras set up. Then, in early 2020, right before Panama went into lockdown due to Covid-19, they had to go back and climb the same trees to retrieve the cameras. Then they had to download the photographs from each and go through them.

Lots of animals were caught on camera, including seven species of mammal. Monkeys, kinkajous, and opossums all gave the seed cones a sniff or two, but only one animal actually collected the seeds. And that animal was the olingo!

The northern olingo is a Procyonid, and is probably the coatimundi’s closest relation. It’s gray-brown in color with a rounded face and short muzzle, small round ears that are low on its head, and claws that help it climb around in trees. It’s mostly nocturnal and mostly eats fruit, and it spends most of its time in the treetops. It’s a slender animal that grows about 20 inches long, or 50 cm, not counting its tail, which is about as long as its body and which it uses for balance. If you look closely, its tail has very faint rings of dark and light fur.

We don’t know a whole lot about the olingo, but we now know it probably eats the seeds of the cloud cycad because it’s been caught on camera grabbing up to four of the seeds at a time and carrying them off.

The scientists still have a lot of work to do to find out more about how the olingo helps disperse the cloud cycad’s seeds, assuming it actually does. The team thinks the olingo might cache seeds like some squirrels do, hiding them in various places around its treetop territory until it’s hungry. If so, in at least some cases, just like with squirrels, some of the seeds are forgotten and germinate to grow new plants.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 301: Hairless Mammals



Thanks to Liesbet for this week’s suggestion, about two mammals that have evolved to be hairless!

Happy birthday this week to Declan and Shannon!

The hairless bat has a doglike face and a doglike tail but (and this is important) it is not a dog [photos from this site]:

The naked mole-rat’s mouth is behind its teeth instead of the usual “my teeth are in my mouth” kind of thing:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week we have a suggestion from Liesbet, who asked about furless animals. We’re going to learn about two mammals that don’t have fur, and they’re not ones you may be thinking of.

But first, we have two birthday shout-outs! Happy birthday to Declan and Shannon! I hope both your birthdays are so amazing that whatever town you live in finishes off the day by giving you the key to the city. What do you do with the key? I don’t know, but it sounds like something to brag about.

Mammals are famous for having hair, but not all mammals actually have hair. Cetaceans like whales and dolphins have lost all their hair during their evolution into marine animals, although before a baby whale is born it has a little bit of fuzzy hair on its head. Other mammals, like humans, pigs, walruses, and elephants, have evolved to only have a little hair. There are also domesticated mammals that have been bred to have no hair, like sphynx cats and Chinese crested dogs.

There are other domesticated hairless mammals, though, including two types of guinea pig. The skinny pig only has a little bit of fuzzy hair on its face and ears, while the baldwin pig only has a tuft of hair on its nose. But the animals we’re going to talk about today are hairless animals you may not have heard of.

For instance, the hairless bat, which lives in parts of Southeast Asia. Its dark gray body is almost completely hairless, although it does sometimes have little patches of fuzz on the head and tail, and longer bristles around the neck. It’s nocturnal and eats insects, but since it’s a fairly large bat, around 6 inches long, or 15 cm, it can eat fairly large insects. It especially likes grasshoppers, termites, and moths.

The hairless bat roosts in colonies of up to a thousand individuals, and it lives in caves, hollow trees, or rock crevices. Although it uses echolocation, it doesn’t have a nose leaf like many microbats have, but instead has a little doglike snout. Its tail is skinny like a little dog’s tail instead of being connected to the hind legs or body by patagia. It has a little throat pouch that secretes strong-smelling oil.

It also has a sort of pocket on either side of the body. Originally people thought that mother bats used these pouches to carry their babies, since hairless bats usually have two babies at a time. Instead, it turns out that mother bats leave their babies at home when they go out to hunt, and the pockets are used for something else. The pockets are formed by a fold of skin and the end of the wing fingers and membranes fit into them. The bat uses its hind feet to push the wings into the pockets, sort of like stuffing an umbrella into the little cover that it comes in when you first buy it. This allows the bat to run around on all fours without its wings getting in the way. Since most bats can’t walk on all fours at all, this is pretty amazing.

Our other hairless animal today is the naked mole-rat, which is not a mole or a rat. It is a type of rodent but it’s more closely related to porcupines than to rats. It lives in tropical grasslands in parts of East Africa and spends almost its entire life underground. It lives in colonies of up to 300 individuals, and the colony’s tunnels and nesting burrows are extensive, often covering up to 3 miles, or 5 km. It eats roots of plants and the colony carefully only eats part of each root so that they don’t kill the plant. The roots continue to grow, providing the colony with lots of food.

The naked mole-rat grows about 4 inches long, or 10 cm, although dominant females are larger. It has tiny eyes and doesn’t see very well, since most of the time it doesn’t need to see, and it has a chonky body but short, spindly legs. It pretty much has no hair except for whiskers and some tiny hairs between the toes, and its skin is so pale it’s almost translucent. It digs with its protruding front teeth, and these teeth are not in its mouth. They grow out through the skin and the animal’s mouth is actually behind the teeth. This way the mole-rat can dig without getting dirt in its mouth, but it sure looks weird to us.

But that’s not even close to the weirdest thing about the naked mole-rat. We haven’t even scratched the surface of weirdness!

The naked mole-rat lives underground in a part of the world where it’s always warm, and its tunnel system has no exits to the surface except for temporary exits when new tunnels are being excavated, because the dirt has to go somewhere. Its environment is so consistent in temperature that it doesn’t need to regulate its body temperature like every other mammal known. It’s ectothermic, which is sometimes called cold-blooded. Reptiles and amphibians are ectothermic but all other mammals known are endothermic. It’s kind of our thing. But the naked mole-rat is different. Its metabolism is extremely low, and as a result it can live for more than 30 years when most rodents the same size are lucky to live 2 or 3 years.

The naked mole-rat’s skin isn’t just hairless, it also lacks neurotransmitters. This means its skin doesn’t feel pain. The animal also lives in an environment that’s remarkably low in oxygen, and scientists think this contributes to the fact that the mole-rat never shows evidence of cancer except in captivity where its environment is higher in oxygen.

The naked mole-rat’s colony is led by a dominant female, called a queen, and she’s the only female in the colony that has babies. When a female achieves dominance, either by founding a new colony, taking over after the current queen dies, or defeating the current queen in a fight, she then grows larger and becomes able to reproduce. Only a few males in the colony mate with her. All the other members of the colony are unable to reproduce. They’re considered workers and help take care of the queen’s babies, maintain tunnels, forage for food, or act as soldiers to keep snakes and other predators out. If this sounds like the way some insect colonies are structured, especially bees and ants, you’re right. It’s called eusociality and the mole-rat is the only type of mammal known with this sort of social structure. There’s another type of mole-rat from southern Africa that’s also eusocial, but it has fur.

All that is so weird that I almost forgot the mole-rat is hairless. That now seems like the most normal thing about it.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 300: The Loveland Frog



Here it is, our 300th episode! Which just happens to fall on Halloween! We have a spooooooky episode for sure this time, a full five out of five ghosts on our spookiness scale. Beware!!

Don’t forget to order your copy of Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie, available wherever you buy books!

Check out the great podcast Bring Birds Back. They were kind enough to run a promo for us in the middle of their Halloween episode so I’ve returned the favor.

Further reading:

‘Loveland Frogman’ Spotted Again?

The Loveland Frogman Is Back!!! Beware.

Officer who shot ‘Loveland Frogman’ in 1972 says story is a hoax

Close Encounter at Kelly (PDF)

A picture from the 2016 sighting:

“Jim” the frogman cosplayer (from the second article linked to above):

The 27 March 1972 Cincinnati Post article, titled “Loveland monster” by Si Cornell (p.7):

A really big iguana:

The 1955 sighting, drawn in 1956 by the witness’s interviewer:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

It’s finally Halloween, and it’s also our 300th episode! Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever made 300 of anything before. To celebrate, this episode is going to be our most Halloween-y yet, a solid five out of five ghosts on our spookiness scale. Beware, muahahaha!

As usual in our Halloween episodes, we have a little bit of housekeeping before we start. The Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie book is still available everywhere you order books. I have six or seven copies of the paperback if you want to buy a signed copy directly from me. Just drop me an email if you’re interested.

This past year has been extremely busy for me. Apart from the podcast, I also sold my house and moved to an apartment, went to a lot of conventions to sell books, and worked on my fiction writing. I self-published a novella this summer called Royal Red, which is about dragons, but it’s not appropriate for younger readers so I won’t link to it. Everything I’ve done this year has been positive ultimately, but it was incredibly stressful at the time. Now that things are settling down, I’ve had time to think about what I want to do in the future.

I love making Strange Animals Podcast, but it’s also taking up more and more of my time. I have a lot of hobbies and interests outside of podcasting, which I haven’t had time to do very much in the last few years. I need to pull back and regain time for myself. But don’t worry, we’ll still have an episode every week! The episodes will just be shorter on average. Hopefully you won’t even notice the change.

Feel free to continue sending in your suggestions and feedback. I know I’m really backed up on suggestions and hope to get to a bunch of them in the next few months. If you worry that I never got your suggestion, you can send it again! Also, if you want a sticker, send me your mailing address and I’ll mail you one. That’s true all the time, not just right now.

Thanks to everyone for supporting the podcast over the last 300 episodes! Let’s aim for another 300. Also, stick around to the very end of the episode to hear a promo from a great podcast called Bring Birds Back. I think you’ll really like the show.

Now, it’s time to learn about the LOVELAND FROG. Which does not sound spooky, but believe me, it is.

The story doesn’t start in 2016, but that’s where we’re going to start. In early August 2016, a young man named Sam Jacobs was playing Pokemon Go with his girlfriend in Loveland, Ohio. They were near Lake Isabella when Sam noticed a big frog in the water. It was getting dark at this point and all Sam could see was the frog’s eyes reflecting light and its head and back above the water. It was so big that he took pictures and even video, but then the frog stood up out of the water and walked around on its hind legs, the size of a human.

But that wasn’t the first time someone had seen a giant frog-man in the area. In 1972 it was seen twice, both times by policemen.

On March 3, 1972, a policeman named Ray Shockey was driving along Riverside Road at about one in the morning. This was just outside Loveland, Ohio, and as the road’s name implies, the road followed along the Little Miami River. Officer Shockey saw what he initially thought was a dog in the road, but as he came closer, the animal stood up on its hind legs. He said it was about four feet tall, or 1.2 meters, with a face that looked like a frog’s or a lizard’s. Its skin looked leathery but textured. The creature stared at the car for a moment, then jumped over a guard rail and down toward the river.

Shockey was shocked, naturally, and hurried to the station. He told another officer on duty about what he’d seen, Mark Matthews, and the two returned to the spot where Shockey had encountered the creature. They found what looked like scrape marks on the ground leading down to the river, but nothing else.

A few weeks later, Mark Matthews saw the creature himself. He was driving along the river when he saw what he thought was a dead animal on the road. He stopped to move it off the road when it sat up, hurried to the guard rail and climbed over it. Officer Matthews shot at the creature but either missed, or the animal wasn’t hurt badly enough to stop.

But this still isn’t the first time the creature was sighted. We have to go back to 1955 for the first sighting of the creature now known as the Loveland frog or the Loveland frogman. There are various versions of the story but in general, in May of 1955, a businessman named Robert Hunnicott was driving along the Little Miami River at about 3:30 in the morning and saw three strange creatures standing on their hind legs. He was so shocked that he stopped his car to get a better look.

The creatures were no more than 4 feet tall, or 1.2 meters, and had gray leathery skin and faces like frogs. Instead of hair, the skin on their heads was deeply wrinkled. He also noticed they had webbed hands and feet. As Hunnicott stared, one of the figures raised a wand over its head and sparks shot out of it. At this point Hunnicott decided it was time to go, and he drove away quickly.

So, you have to admit, this is a truly spooky event. It may be the spookiest thing we’ve ever discussed on this podcast. But things aren’t all that they seem, so let’s revisit all three stories and learn a little more.

If you read the Wikipedia entry for the Loveland frog, at least as of late October 2022, under the “Popular culture” heading it discusses the 2016 sighting and finishes “It was later revealed to be a local student from Archbishop Moeller High School in a homemade frog costume.” This statement cites as its source a November 13, 2020 article written by a student for the Moeller Crusader, the high school’s newspaper.

But if you actually read the article, which I’ve linked to in the show notes, you’ll notice that it’s meant to be funny. For instance, this paragraph, which purports to be a quote from a student called Jim:

“‘I’ve been obsessed with the Loveland frog since I was a little boy,’ said Jim. ‘He’s like my idol. I dress up as him and go to the tunnel and hop around a few times a week. I sometimes make little chocolates shaped as flies and I’ll eat them while I hop around. And no, I don’t think it’s weird.’”

This actually made me laugh. But nowhere in the article does it state that “Jim” was in the lake in 2016 while Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend were playing Pokemon Go. If Jim was an Archbishop Moeller High School student in November 2020 when the article was published, he would not have been a high school student in August 2016 unless he had to stay in high school for five years instead of the usual four. Either that or he started wearing his costume around in middle school but was only seen once until the article ran in 2020. Also, in the pictures accompanying the article, the frog costume is just an oversized head made of plush fur, not the sort of thing you’d want to wear into a lake and not matching the size of the creature photographed in 2016. Anyway, as I said, the article is clearly meant to be funny, not factual.

In other words, while Wikipedia is a perfectly good source of general knowledge on a topic, make sure you double-check the references cited for accuracy, and don’t use Wikipedia as your only source.

All that aside, it’s a good possibility that the 2016 sighting was a hoax. The pictures and video are grainy since it was dark out, so basically all you can see is what seems to be a dark green or gray human-like figure standing in the water about waist-deep. The glow of its eyes is so bright they look like LED lights instead of the normal eyeshine of a nocturnal or crepuscular animal. The lights also appear to be white. White eyeshine is generally only found in fish, while frogs generally have green eyeshine. Of course, the Loveland frog isn’t actually a frog, and if it is something new to science it could potentially have any color of eyeshine. But such bright white eyeshine is more likely to be due to an artificial light source causing the glow, not the reflection of light.

Let’s go back to the 1972 sightings next. The initial sighting made by Ray Shockey happened in early March. Loveland is a community on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, and according to online weather history archives, the temperature dipped down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit that night, or -4 Celsius. The following day, Saturday, the temperature only reached 39 F, or 4 C.

It was also windy, which would make it feel even colder.

The Cincinnati Post newspaper reported on the sighting in a March 27, 1972 article. The article takes a humorous tone but it does have some solid reporting, so I’m going to quote a lot of it.

Patrolman Ray Shockey, 23, was cruising along the river late at night when he saw ‘an animal two to three feet tall with dark green or blackish scaly skin.’ The thing ducked over the bank into the river.

Ten days ago, Patrolman Mark Matthews, 21, was driving home from duty along the same road at 6 a.m. Near Loveland’s city limits, a good quarter mile from the first sighting but still close to the river, he saw ‘the same type of creature’ and was able to partially swing his headlights on it.

Matthews said the irritated monster ‘stuck its tongue out at me…it was forked like a serpent’s.’ He fired three shots, apparently missing, and the monster skedaddled towards the water. He estimated the thing as two to four feet high.”

Now we have some real details! The article ends with a quote from a local zookeeper, who noted that the sketch the two officers had made from their reports resembled The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a monster movie that had only been released the year before.

The forked tongue is a telling detail, because there’s a particular animal that mostly fits the creature’s description that does have a noticeable forked tongue. That’s the monitor lizard, and we’ve talked about various monitors in lots of past episodes. Monitor lizards are popular pets in the United States and can easily grow three or four feet long, or 91 to 122 cm. The monitor’s snout is relatively blunt and can look frog-like, although it’s at the end of a relatively long neck. It also has a long tail, so while some details fit the sightings, it’s not a perfect match.

Besides, the monitor lizard is a reptile, and therefore cold-blooded, or ectothermic, meaning its internal body temperature depends on the temperature outside. It can’t function well in cold temperatures and will die if it gets too cold. The same is true of frogs and other amphibians, for that matter, many of which hibernate in burrows, crevices in rocks or logs, and other places protected from freezing temperatures.

It was warmer when Matthews spotted the creature on March 17, 1972, although still not much above freezing. The high temperature that day was 48 F, or almost 9 C, but at 6am it was probably colder. That’s still really cold for a reptile or amphibian to be out and about in the dark.

But that’s not all, because in 2016, after Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend saw the Loveland frog, Mark Matthews contacted the Cincinnati news station WCPO and his story had changed a lot in the 44 years since his own sighting. Even the spelling of his name had changed, with Matthews spelled with one T instead of two, but the 2-T spelling might have been a mistake in the original reports from 1972.

In his 2016 interview, Matthews now said he “was driving on Kemper Road near the boot factory when he saw something run across the road. However, it wasn’t walking upright and didn’t climb over the guardrail as the urban legend of the Frogman goes. The creature crawled under the guardrail. […] ‘I know no one would believe me, so I shot it,’ he said.

“Mathews recovered the creature’s body and put it in his trunk to show Shockey. He said Shockey said it was the creature he had seen, too. It was a large iguana about 3 or 3.5 feet long, Mathews said. The animal was missing its tail, which is why he didn’t immediately recognize it.

“Mathews said he figured the iguana had been someone’s pet and then either got loose or was released when it grew too large. He also theorized that the cold-blooded animal had been living near the pipes that released water that was used for cooling the ovens in the boot factory as a way to stay warm in the cold March weather.”

A big male iguana can get quite large, up to 6 feet long including the tail, or 1.8 meters, and they’re also popular pets. The iguana has a shorter neck than a monitor lizard and a blunt muzzle that could be considered froglike. However, it also has a long tail, a dewlap under the throat, and a row of little spikes down the spine. All these details are distinctive and not reported in the initial reports. It does have a forked tongue, but it’s not noticeable unless you get a good look at it from up close. If Matthews had killed the animal and examined it, he might have seen the tongue and gave that detail to a reporter in 1972, but why didn’t he also mention the spikes and dewlap? If he was trying to protect his fellow officer from ridicule by backing up his story, he didn’t need to stick to details he really saw. He could have made up anything, but instead he just said that the animal stuck a forked tongue at him and ran toward the water.

Besides, it seems awfully convenient that Mark Matthews’s iguana was missing a tail, which would have made it look more froglike, and was active on two nights, one of them below freezing. Iguanas are not nocturnal. It’s also convenient that although he supposedly had the dead animal in his patrol car, he didn’t take any pictures or show anyone except Shockey, who had already died by the time Matthews made his 2016 claim. I don’t think Mark Matthews killed an iguana or anything else that night.

One suggestion is that the animal might have been a mammal with a bad case of mange, which made its skin look like textured leather and made it hard to recognize. But with so few concrete details, no physical evidence, and a witness who changed his story considerably, we can’t even make a guess.

Finally, going back to the 1955 sighting is even more difficult. The best documentation of what happened appears in a publication called Close Encounter at Kelly and Others of 1955, published in 1978 by the Center for UFO Studies. The bulk of the publication is concerned with what’s now called the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter that happened in Kentucky. I won’t get into the details here because it could and probably one day will be an episode all to itself, but it happened in late August 1955. Part two of Close Encounter at Kelly talks about other strange occurrences that happened not too far away or too long before or after the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter. According to that publication, the story originally appeared in a September 2, 1955 zine called the CRIFO Orbit, where CRIFO stands for “Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects.” The editor, Leonard Stringfield, recounts the original article:

“…We should like to cite a case involving a prominent businessman, living in Loveland. Occurring several weeks ago, this person…saw four ‘strange little men about three feet tall’ under a certain bridge. He reported the bizarre affair to the police and we understand that an armed guard was placed there.”

Already we see a lot of discrepancies from the story as it’s usually told these days, but it gets even more complicated and weird. Following that article in the CRIFO Orbit, Stringfield met with another UFO enthusiast who had some corrections to the story. The businessman, he said, was actually a young volunteer policeman. Stringfield went to the chief of police to find out more. He learned the witness’s name, although he only gives his initials, C.F., and that he was 19 years old in either late June or early July 1955 when his sighting took place.

“The witness, C.F., was driving a Civil Defense truck at the time and as he was crossing a bridge in the Loveland area (there is one vehicular bridge into Loveland over the Little Miami River from Clermont County), he noticed four small figures on the river bank beneath the bridge. A terrible smell hung over the area. C.F. immediately drove to police headquarters in Loveland and reported the incident.”

Stringfield next went to talk to C.F., who didn’t really want to discuss his sighting since he’d been laughed at by too many people about it, but he did say that he’d seen “four more-or-less human-looking little men about three feet high,” and that he’d only seen them for about ten seconds. Since this interview took place within a year of the sighting, it’s probably as good as we can get now.

But things get even more complicated, because the very next chapter in the Close Encounter at Kelly publication is titled “The Hunnicutt Encounter at Branch Hill.” Now we have the name seen online attached to the businessman, Robert Hunnicutt, and the date May 25, 1955. Stringfield learned about this sighting from the police chief when they were discussing the other sighting.

The police chief was woken at about four in the morning by someone pounding on his front door. It was Robert Hunnicutt, a short-order cook in a Loveland restaurant, and he looked like he’d seen a ghost. He “told the police chief that while he was driving northeast through Branch Hill (in Symmes Township) on the Madeira-Loveland Pike, he had seen a group of ‘strange little men’ along the side of the road with ‘their backs to the bushes.’ Curious, he had stopped the car and gotten out. …[T]he witness claimed he had seen ‘fire coming out of their hands,’ and that a ‘terrible odor’ permeated the place. When Hunnicutt realized he was looking at something quite out of the ordinary he became frightened; jumping back into his car, he had driven directly to the police chief’s home.”

The chief of police knew Hunnicutt and while he believed the man had had a real fright, he didn’t believe the story as Hunnicutt told it. He also mentioned that Hunnicutt didn’t smell as though he’d been drinking alcohol. The police chief drove out to the spot Hunnicutt described and drove around looking for the creatures, without luck.

You better believe that Stringfield didn’t let this opportunity pass him by. He interviewed Robert Hunnicutt on September 1, 1956.

Hunnicutt said he was out at 3:30am on the night of the sighting because he was driving home from work, and he was driving down a slight hill when his headlights lit up three figures in the grass on the right-hand side of the road. He thought they were people kneeling in the grass for some reason, which is why he stopped his car.

“The figures were short, about three and a half feet in height, and they stood in a roughly triangular position facing the opposite side of the road. […] The forward figure held his arms a foot or so above his head and it appeared to Hunnicutt as though he were holding a rod, or a chain, in this upraised position. […] Sparks, blue-white in color and two or three at a time, were seen jumping back and forth from one hand to the other, just above or below the ‘rod.’ It was Hunnicutt’s impression that the beings were concentrating on some spot directly across the road, although he could see nothing unusual in the woods to the west of the Pike.

“As Hunnicutt got out of the left side of his car, the forward figure lowered his arms and near his feet appeared to release whatever he had been holding. To the witness, ‘it looked as if he tied it around his ankles.’ Then, as Hunnicutt stood by the left side of the car, all three figures simultaneously turned slightly toward their left so that they now faced the witness. Motionless, and without sound or change of expression, they stared directly at him. In the car lights Hunnicutt was able to observe a number of details.

“This most extraordinary trio was made up of three humanoid figures of a greyish color—approximately the same shade of grey for their heads as for their ‘garments.’ ‘Fairly ugly’ were the words Hunnicutt used to describe them. A large, straight mouth, without any apparent lip muscles, crossed nearly the entire lower portion of their faces—an effect which reminded the witness of a frog. The nose was indistinct, with no unusual feature that the witness could discern. The eyes seemed to be more or less normal, except that no eyebrows could be seen. The pate was bald and appeared to have rolls of fat running horizontally across the top, rather like the corregated [sic] effect of a doll’s painted-on hair—except that there was no difference in color.

“The most remarkable feature was the upper torso: the chest was decidedly lopsided. On the right side it swelled out in an unusually large bulge that began under the armpit and extended down to the waist, giving the figures a markedly asymmetrical appearance. The arms seemed to be of uneven length, the right being longer than the left, as though to accommodate this unusual feature. […] Hunnicutt saw nothing unusual about the hands, although he could not say how many fingers they had. […] He could see no feet, but the figures stood in six-inch high grass.”

Hunnicutt described the creatures’ movements as graceful, and he only noticed the smell when he got back into his car and drove off. He described it as “a combination of ‘fresh-cut alfalfa, with a slight trace of almonds,’” which sounds wonderful to me. He also said that a few months later, possibly July or August, he was driving the same stretch of road with his girlfriend and they both noticed the same smell. He stopped, but they didn’t see anything unusual.

After that, the publication goes on to talk about various UFO sightings in the area, so that’s all we have of first-hand accounts of the Loveland frogman.

It’s obvious that people have conflated the two different 1955 sightings, mixing them up so that some retellings repeat information from the original CRIFO Orbit report and others include more information from the Close Encounter at Kelly publication.

Were the creatures aliens, as Stringfield thought? Talking about potential aliens is beyond the scope of this podcast, but I will point out that organisms that evolved on a different planet are unlikely to look anything like humans or other tetrapods. Tetrapods are animals with four limbs of one kind or another, which includes mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians on Earth, and apparently also includes most aliens as seen in popular culture. But even on Earth, not every living thing has four limbs—in fact, most things don’t. Just think about jellyfish, octopuses, starfish, spiders, flies, centipedes, slugs, and trees.

But don’t forget about C.F.’s short report about what he saw. We don’t know when his sighting took place but it was probably during the day. All he saw was “four small figures on the river bank beneath the bridge” as he drove over the bridge, along with a terrible smell. He didn’t describe the smell, but most terrible smells near a road are rotting roadkill…and roadkilled animals attract a specific type of bird: vultures. Both turkey vultures and black vultures are common throughout Ohio and surrounding areas, and both are extremely large birds. C.F. didn’t get a good look and was also looking down at them from the bridge as he drove over. Four vultures sitting around a dead animal might easily look like four small human-like figures from a distance, especially when seen at such a strange angle.

As for Hunnicutt’s sighting, remember that it came only a few months after C.F.’s. Both C.F. and Hunnicutt knew the chief of police, so it’s also possible they had other acquaintances in common. C.F. had stopped talking about his sighting after he’d been laughed at by others who didn’t believe him, but it’s possible that Hunnicutt had heard the story. And remember, people see what they expect to see. If Hunnicutt was driving home after a tiring day at work, he might even have fallen asleep, his car drifted to a stop, and he dreamed he met the same weird creatures that C.F. saw.

Then again, I wasn’t there and it’s not fair for me to look back on a secondhand account from 67 years ago and decide that the witness dreamed it all. So we’ll just have to admit that the Loveland frog-man as seen in 1955, 1972, and 2016…might have been something truly strange after all.

Happy Halloween!

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 299: Entombed in Stone!



This week’s episode rates one out of five ghosts on the spookiness scale. It’s not too spooky unless the thought of being ENTOMBED IN STONE creeps you out! Which it might, if you are a frog.

Further reading:

A Tenacious Pterodactyl

Further watching:

“One Froggy Evening”

A frog supposedly found mummified in a stone:

The Texas horned lizard kind of looks like a pointy toad with a tail:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

We’re getting really close to Halloween and our 300th episode, and it’s going to be a spooky one! This week, though, I rate this episode as one ghost out of five on our spookiness scale, meaning it’s not very spooky at all…unless you’re a frog!

Most of us know this story. A worker helping to demolish a building finds a mysterious box hidden in the building’s cornerstone. He opens the box and discovers a living frog—a frog that can sing and dance! But only when no one else is looking!

That’s the classic Looney Tunes cartoon “One Froggy Evening,” and while it’s really funny, it’s also based on many stories about frogs, toads, and other animals supposedly discovered entombed but alive, or only recently dead, in clay, bricks, tree trunks, coal, and even rocks.

For example, in 1782, the American politician and naturalist Benjamin Franklin was living in France, and while he was there he heard about some workmen in a quarry who had found some living toads encased in stone. I’ll quote from Franklin’s writing:

“At Passy, near Paris, April 6th, 1782, being with M. de Chaumont, viewing his quarry, he mentioned to me, that the workmen had found a living toad shut up in the stone. On questioning one of them, he told us, they had found four in different cells which had no communication; that they were very lively and active when set at liberty; that there was in each cell some loose, soft, yellowish earth, which appeared to be very moist. We asked, if he could show us the parts of the stone that formed the cells. He said, No; for they were thrown among the rest of what was dug out, and he knew not where to find them. We asked, if there appeared any opening by which the animal could enter. He said, No. […] We asked, if he could show us the toads. He said, he had thrown two of them up on a higher part of the quarry, but knew not what became of the others.

“He then came up to the place where he had thrown the two, and, finding them, he took them by the foot, and threw them up to us, upon the ground where we stood. One of them was quite dead, and appeared very lean; the other was plump and still living. The part of the rock where they were found, is at least fifteen feet below its surface, and is a kind of limestone. A part of it is filled with ancient seashells, and other marine substances. If these animals have remained in this confinement since the formation of the rock, they are probably some thousands of years old.”

Since limestone generally takes about a million years to form, and requires considerable pressure and lots of chemical reactions to do so, we can be certain that the toads were not in the limestone for all that long. But limestone is porous, and the mention of damp yellow earth inside the capsules of stone suggests that there were significant fissures in the stones where the toads were found. Limestone dissolves in water, although it takes a long time. That’s how caves form. Maybe over many years, tiny cracks and holes had formed in the limestone, large enough for some well developed tadpoles or young toads to end up in the holes, maybe during a rainstorm or flood.

Then again, the whole thing might have been a mistake. The toads might not have actually been inside the stones, only nearby when the stones were broken open. The workers might have thought they were inside. Or it might just have been a hoax made up by a bored quarry worker.

Stories of animals found encased in stone or other impossible conditions go back hundreds of years, in many parts of the world, but for some reason they got really popular around the mid-19th century in England. Suddenly people were finding toads and other animals in all sorts of weird places, or said they had. The Rev. Robert Taylor of St. Hilda’s Church, Hartlepool, for instance, exhibited a toad and the stone it was found in, with the chamber inside the stone being exactly the size and shape of the toad before it was broken open and freed in April 1865. But a geologist who examined the stone found obvious chisel marks where it had been hollowed out and shaped to look like the toad had been inside.

It wasn’t just toads found in rocks, of course, although those were the most popular. A mouse was supposedly found in a rock in 1803, three salamanders of a presumed extinct species were supposedly found in a rock sometime before 1818, and a horned toad was supposedly found in a building cornerstone in 1928. The horned toad is actually a lizard, in this case a Texas horned lizard that lives in various parts of the south-central United States and northeastern Mexico.

The Texas horned lizard does actually resemble a toad in some ways. Its body is broad and rounded and its face has a blunt, froglike snout. A big female grows about 5 inches long, or almost 13 cm, not counting its tail, while males are smaller. It’s covered with little pointy scales, and if it feels threatened, it will puff up its body so that the scales stick out even more. It also has true horns on its head, little spikes that are formed by projections of its skull.

The Texas horned lizard eats insects, especially a type of red ant called the harvester ant. The harvester ant is venomous but the horned lizard is resistant to the venom and is specialized to eat lots and lots of the ants. Its esophagus produces lots of mucus when it’s eating, which collects around the ants and stops them from being able to bite before they die.

The horned lizard supposedly found in a cornerstone of a building was nicknamed Ol’ Rip after Rip Van Winkle, the main character in a short story by Washington Irving who fell asleep and woke up 20 years later. Ol’ Rip the Texas horned lizard was supposedly placed into the hollow cornerstone brick as part of a time capsule when the Eastland County Courthouse was being built in 1897.

In 1928, the courthouse was torn down and a newspaper reporter advertised the opening of the time capsule, including the story about the horned lizard. Sure enough, a live horned lizard was removed from the cornerstone when it was opened, which by the way was the inspiration for the “One Froggy Evening” cartoon.

Ol’ Rip became a celebrity and was displayed all over the United States, and the Texas horned lizard became such a popular pet that the population declined severely, since people went out and caught them to sell as pets. Since the horned lizard eats a lot of insects that damage crops, its decline in numbers actually led to farmers losing money to insect damage. The Texas horned lizard is still endangered, for that matter, and is now a protected species that isn’t allowed to be kept as a pet. Ol’ Rip died less than a year after he was supposedly discovered in the cornerstone.

Even at the time, a lot of people were skeptical that Ol’ Rip had really been in the cornerstone brick for 31 years. It’s much more likely that one of the officials presiding over the time capsule’s opening brought a horned lizard with him and pretended to find it in the brick.

For one thing, the Texas horned lizard needs bright sunshine to survive. Its body can only produce vitamin D when it gets a lot of sunshine, and without vitamin D it will eventually die. It spends a lot of time sunbathing and while it does dig a burrow to sleep in at night, as soon as the sun’s out in the morning, the lizard comes out to bask in the sunshine. A Texas horned lizard trapped in a brick without food, water, air, or sunshine wouldn’t survive long.

The weirdest animal ever supposed to have been found in a stone was reported in the Illustrated London News in 1856. According to the article, during the construction of a railway tunnel in France, a huge block of stone was dislodged with dynamite. The workers were breaking it into smaller pieces when they exposed a chamber inside the rock. A creature emerged that looked something like an enormous bat, but was obviously not a bat. It had a long neck, sharp teeth in its mouth, four long legs with long claws on its talons, and its front and hind legs were connected with flying membranes. It was black with bare skin.

The animal shook its wings but promptly dropped dead, and was sent to a naturalist who identified it as Pterodactylus anas, which had died 64 million years before. Its wingspan was measured as 10 feet, 7 inches across, or 3 meters, 22 cm.

There is no species of pterodactyl named Pterodactylus anas, but anas is Latin for duck. The word for duck in French is canard, which in English means something more like “a hoax or tall tale.”

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 298: The Tantanoola Tiger



This week we’re examining the Tantanoola Tiger, a mystery animal that probably wasn’t a tiger…but what was it? This episode is rated two ghosts out of five for monster month spookiness! Thanks to Kristie for sharing her photos of the Tantanoola tiger!

Happy birthday to ME this week! I’ve decided to turn 25 again. That was a good year.

Further reading:

The Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction as a ‘large predator’–but it was only half as heavy as we thought

The grisly mystery of the murderous Tantanoola Tiger (Please note that the end of this article has some disturbing details not appropriate for younger readers. However, true crime enthusiasts will just shrug.)

Kristie and her kids reacting to the  taxidermied Tantanoola Tiger:

Kristie’s picture of the taxidermied Tantanoola Tiger. WHO DID THIS TO YOU, TIGER?

The numbat is striped but too small to fit the description of the “tiger”:

Our friend the thylacine, probably not strong enough to kill a full-grown sheep:

Tigers are really really really big. Also, don’t get this close to a tiger:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This past spring, when I was researching mysterious accounts of big cats spotted in Australia for episode 274, I considered including the Tantanoola Tiger. That was Kristie and Jason’s episode, and Kristie casually mentioned that she’d seen the stuffed Tantanoola tiger on display and wasn’t impressed. She even sent me pictures, which we’ll get to in a moment.

In the end, I decided the Tantanoola Tiger deserved its own episode, because it’s completely bonkers, and that it needed to be in monster month, because parts of the story are weird and creepy. I give it two ghosts out of five on our spookiness scale, so it’s not too spooky but it’s more than a little spooky.

The story starts in the southeastern part of South Australia at the very end of the 19th century. The little town of Tantanoola was home to a lot of sheep farmers, and in the early 1890s something was killing and eating sheep.

For years there had been rumors that a Bengal tiger had escaped from a traveling circus in 1884 and was living in the area, so once half-eaten sheep carcasses started turning up near Tantanoola, people assumed the tiger was to blame.

There was definitely something unusual killing sheep. Aboriginal shearers reported seeing an animal they didn’t recognize, something that frightened their dogs. Paw prints were found that measured over 4 inches across, or 11 cm, which is really big for a dog’s print although that’s what it resembled. It also happens to be a reasonable size for a small tiger, although a big tiger’s paw is usually more like 6 inches across, or almost 16 cm.

In 1892, a couple out driving in their buggy saw a striped animal cross the road ahead of them. They reported it as brown with stripes and a long tail. They estimated its length as three feet long not counting its tail, or about a meter, 5 feet long including the tail, or 1.5 meters. This is actually really short for a full-grown tiger. A big male Bengal tiger can grow more than ten feet long, or over 3 meters, including the tail, and even a small female Bengal tiger is about eight feet long, or 2.5 meters, including the tail.

There aren’t a lot of animals native to Australia that have stripes. The numbat has stripes and does live reasonably close to Tantanoola, although it was driven to extinction in the area by the late 19th century. But the numbat is only about 18 inches long, or 45 cm, including its tail, and it looks kind of like a squirrel. It eats insects, especially termites, which it licks up with a long, sticky tongue like a tiny anteater. It’s even sometimes called the banded anteater even though it’s a marsupial and not related to anteaters at all. Plus, it doesn’t eat very many ants. The female numbat doesn’t have a pouch, but while her babies are attached to her teats they’re protected by long fur and the surrounding skin, which swells up a little while the mother is lactating.

So the animal seen in 1892 probably wasn’t a numbat, but it also probably wasn’t actually a tiger. The people who saw it said it definitely wasn’t a dingo either.

In May 1893, a tiger hunt was organized but found nothing out of the ordinary, but in September of that year a farmer found huge paw prints after his dogs alerted him to an intruder during the night. The prints were over 4 inches across, or 11 cm, and this time a policeman took plaster casts of them. A zoologist at the Adelaide Zoo examined the casts and said that they weren’t tiger prints but were instead from some kind of canid.

The next month, in October, a farmer reported that he’d killed the Tantanoola tiger. But it wasn’t a tiger and wasn’t even any kind of wolf relation. Instead, it was a feral hog that had been killing his sheep for years and evading his attempts to kill it. The boar measured 9 feet from nose to tail, or 2.7 meters, and while it was probably responsible for some sheep killing, it wasn’t the Tantanoola tiger. The so-called tiger kept on killing sheep.

In August of 1894 a 17-year-old named Donald Smith saw a strange animal dragging a struggling sheep into the trees. The mystery animal was light brown with darker stripes and stood about two and a half feet high at the shoulder, or 75 cm, and was over four feet long, or 1.3 meters. Donald thought it was a tiger, although he’d never seen a tiger before. He said the stripes on its body were dull, but they were much more distinct on its head. When police and trackers arrived at the area later, after Donald alerted them, they found claw marks, bloody tufts of wool, and big paw prints.

Finally, the following August, two sharpshooters set out to hunt the so-called tiger and actually found it. It was just barely dawn when they saw what looked like a gigantic dog grab a sheep and wrestle it to the ground. One of the men shot the animal and killed it.

The Tantanoola tiger definitely wasn’t a tiger. It was more like a dog, but it was much bigger than any dog they knew and certainly much bigger than a dingo. It was three feet tall at the shoulder, or 91 cm, and 5 feet long, or 1.5 meters, including the tail. It was mostly dark brown with patches of lighter brown and gray, and yellowish legs. Its paws were over 4 inches across, or 11 cm. But it didn’t have stripes. It was identified as a wolf, although what kind of wolf varied. Suggestions included a European wolf, a Syrian wolf, or an Arabian wolf.

We still don’t know exactly what kind of wolf or related animal the animal was, but we do still have the stuffed specimen. It’s on display in the Tantanoola Hotel, which is where Kristie and her kids saw it several years ago. She took pictures and was kind enough to give me permission to use them, and please, I beg you, even if you’ve never clicked through to see any pictures I’ve posted before, please look at these. There are two, the reaction shot of Kristie and her kids looking at the Tantanoola tiger, and a picture of the tiger itself. You will laugh until you cry.

As we’ve mentioned a few times before, taxidermy requires a lot of work and artistic ability. Whoever stuffed and mounted the Tantanoola tiger lacked some of the artistic skills. It looks really goofy. Really, really goofy. But at least we have the body, although unfortunately it hasn’t been DNA tested so we still don’t know exactly what kind of wolf or wolf relation it is. But that’s not the only mystery.

In fact, there are three separate mysteries here. First, how did the wolf get to Australia? Second, what was the striped animal people were seeing? Third, what was killing sheep? Because even after the wolf was shot, sheep kept being killed and the striped animal was occasionally spotted.

One suggestion is that the striped animal was a thylacine. We’ve talked about it a few times before, most recently in episode 274. The thylacine was still alive in Tasmania in the 1890s, but it had been extinct in mainland Australia for about 3,000 years. It’s possible that someone brought a thylacine to mainland Australia where it escaped or was set loose, just as the wolf had to have been brought to Australia.

Then again, thylacines weren’t very strong. They mostly ate small animals, especially the Tasmanian native hen, which is about the size of a big flightless chicken with long legs. It was much smaller than a wolf and much, much smaller than a tiger. If there was a thylacine around Tantanoola at the time, it probably wasn’t the animal killing sheep.

Even though farmers had shot a huge feral hog and a wolf, neither of which belonged in Australia, sheep kept being killed. No one ever figured out what the striped animal was, and eventually it stopped being seen. The 19th century turned into the 20th century, and more and more sheep started disappearing—hundreds of them every year. In this case, though, they weren’t being eaten. They just disappeared.

Toward the end of 1910 the mystery was accidentally solved. Three hunters smelled an intense stench of death coming from some trees. It was so strong that they went to investigate. They found a path into the trees and came across something awful.

There were piles of dead sheep and lambs everywhere, dozens of them. They’d been skinned and the skins were hanging on wires strung through the trees. But the path continued, and when the hunters went farther, they found even more dead sheep.

It took a few weeks, but the police eventually tracked down the culprit, a local man who had been selling a lot of sheepskins on the sly for years despite not raising sheep himself. He’d killed thousands of sheep to sell their skins, leaving the bodies to just rot. He’d also done some other terrible crimes, so if you click through to read the article I’ve linked to in the show notes, please be aware that it’s not appropriate for younger readers. He’d also been convicted of sheep stealing in 1899, but in Victoria, not South Australia.

The sheep rustler wasn’t the Tantanoola tiger, because he was probably a good 140 miles away, or 225 km, when it was killing sheep. Besides, the so-called tiger actually ate the sheep it killed. But once he was caught and sentenced to jail, the Adelaide Evening Journal newspaper wrote about it with the headline “The Tiger Caged.”

As for the striped animal, tiger or not, we still have no idea what it was.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 297: Dinosaur Mummies



This week we have a two-ghost rating for our episode about dinosaur mummies! It’s a little spooky because we talk about mummies, but it’s mostly an episode about dinosaurs, which are not spooky.

Further reading:

The lost Tarbosaurus mummy

Dinosaur Mummy Found with Fossilized Skin and Soft Tissues

Dakota the Dinomummy: Millenniums in the Making

Spectacularly Detailed Armored Dinosaur “Mummy” Makes Its Debut

Was a Dinosaur Mummy Dubbed ‘Appalachiosaurus’ Found in Tennessee?

An Edmontosaurus mummy found in 1908:

A 3D model of Dakota’s skin [photo from third link above]:

The Nodosaurid ankylosaur mummy:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

It’s monster month and this week we’ve got a monster from ancient times—really ancient times. We’re talking about mummies today, DINOSAUR mummies! On our spooky scale, this one rates two ghosts out of five since we do talk about mummies, but it’s not too spooky because we mostly talk about dinosaurs!

A dinosaur named Tarbosaurus lived around 70 million years ago in what is now Mongolia. It was probably closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex and would have looked very similar, with a big strong body but teeny-tiny front legs. Its front legs were even smaller than T. rex’s in relation to its body. It grew up to about 33 feet long, or 10 meters, and probably stood about 10 feet high at the hip, or 3 meters, and its big head had a big mouth full of really big teeth. It probably killed and ate hadrosaurs, sauropods, and other big dinosaurs. Some scientists think it was so closely related to T. rex that it should be classified as another species in the genus Tyrannosaurus.

We have quite a few Tarbosaurus fossils, including some very well-preserved skulls, so we know quite a bit about it. It had a good sense of smell and good hearing, but its vision wasn’t all that great. Some paleontologists think it might have been nocturnal. We’ve also found lots of bones of big dinosaurs with bite marks from teeth the size and shape of Tarbosaurus’s.

In 1991, though, a team of scientists found something even more incredible. They found a partial skeleton of a Tarbosaurus with lots of skin impressions. In short, they’d sort of found a mummified dinosaur. (It’s not really a mummy.)

The mummy consisted of the back end of the dinosaur, including the pelvis, tail, and hind legs. It had fallen onto sandy sediment that was especially fine-grained, so when the sediment transformed into sandstone over many millennia, it retained an exceptionally clear impression of the skin, including every small pebbly scale.

The expedition members took pictures and measurements, but they didn’t collect the specimen. Another expedition returned to the area to do so in 1993, but by then the specimen was gone. It was probably stolen by fossil poachers, who probably didn’t even realize the skin impressions were far more valuable than the bones and may have destroyed them while removing the skeleton.

The lost Tarbosaurus specimen is called a fossilized mummy since a dead animal’s skeleton with skin is sort of like a mummy. When the soft tissues of a dead animal or person are preserved in some way that causes them to stop decaying, that’s considered a mummy, and there are a lot of causes.

The most famous mummies, of course, are from ancient Egypt. It was important in Egyptian culture at the time to preserve a dead person’s body, and dead animals were also mummified sometimes, especially cats. The body was treated with salt and spices that helped dry the tissues and preserve them from bacteria, and once it was fully dehydrated the body was wrapped in linen bandages, covered with a natural waterproofing material made from plant resins, and placed in a wooden coffin. Sometimes the coffin was then put into a stone sarcophagus to keep it extra safe.

Other cultures across the world have practiced mummification too, and sometimes mummification happens naturally. This mostly happens in deserts and other dry areas, or in places where it’s very cold and the body freezes before it can decay, then dries out slowly. Sometimes a body is preserved after it’s buried, when the soil of the grave or the conditions in an underground crypt are just right, although bodies found in bogs are mummified too since bogs lack oxygen and that stops the decay of soft tissues.

Another dinosaur mummy was found in 1910 in the western United States, in Wyoming. It’s an Edmontosaurus specimen that’s remarkably well preserved and nearly complete, including skin impressions and even the horny beak. Initially the scientists who studied the animal thought the stomach contents had been preserved too, but more modern studies have concluded that the plant material was probably deposited in the body cavity after death. The dinosaur died near water and flooding may have washed plants into the partially decomposed carcass. There was even a little fish among the plant material, which was probably already dead when it was washed into the body cavity.

Edmontosaurus lived in what is now North America around 67 million years ago, surviving right up to the extinction event that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs. It’s one of many species of hadrosaurid, which are often called duck-billed dinosaurs. It could grow up to 39 feet long, or 12 meters, and possibly larger, and it was relatively common throughout its range. It probably walked on all fours most of the time but could stand or walk on its hind legs only, when it wanted to. It ate plants and may have migrated long distances to find food. It probably lived in groups.

The skin impressions of the 1910 specimen were impressive, but it isn’t the only edmontosaurus mummy ever found. We have several, in fact. The earliest was found in 1908, known as specimen AMNH 5060, and it was discovered by a man named Charles Sternberg and his three sons, who all three became paleontologists later in life. They were hoping to find a good triceratops skull to sell to a museum, but they found something even better when one of the sons realized the dinosaur they were uncovering was wrapped in skin impressions.

AMNH 5060 had died in an area that was very dry, so instead of rotting away, all the moisture in the body dried out and the skin remained stretched across the bones. It was essentially a natural mummy at that point. Then, as in the 1910 specimen, flooding probably covered the dead animal with sediment that preserved it in fine detail. Not only is the skeleton mostly intact, it’s also articulated so that the fossilized body parts are in the same places they were when the animal died, instead of having been scattered around after death.

More edmontosaurus mummies were found later, too, but it wasn’t until 2006 when the most important find so far was discovered in North Dakota, part of the United States. It isn’t just skin impressions we have from this specimen, which is nicknamed Dakota. We have actual fossilized skin and muscles and tendons, along with bones.

Dakota was discovered by Tyler Lyson on his uncle’s ranch when he was still in high school. He knew the dinosaur was there but he didn’t realize how important the find was until five years later when he was a paleontology student. The specimen was excavated in 2006 and was identified as an adolescent edmontosaurus that died about 67 million years ago. It was recently given a new 3D scan and results will hopefully be published soon, letting us all know if there are any fossilized organs inside the body.

Because so much of the soft tissues were preserved in place, we know a lot about how edmontosaurus looked when it was alive. For instance, the intervertebral discs that act as little shock absorbers between vertebrae are still in place, which means we know exactly how long Dakota was when it was alive, about 40 feet long, or 12 meters. Because so many of its tendons and muscles are preserved, scientists can calculate how fast it could run. Dakota could probably run 28 mph, or 45 km/hour. We even have a clue about Dakota’s pattern, if not its coloration. Differences in scale size and texture suggest that the dinosaur might have had stripes on at least part of its body.

Edmontosaurus fossils aren’t the only dinosaur mummies, though. In 2011, an amazing ankylosaur fossil was discovered in a Canadian mine. Ankylosaurs had short legs and wide bodies covered in armor, and while some had club-like tails, Nodosaurids had regular tails but spikes on their backs that pointed sideways. The Canadian ankylosaur mummy is a nodosaurid.

Researchers think the dinosaur was probably caught in a flash flood, which swept it out to sea. It probably swam as long as it could, but its armored body made it heavy and it eventually drowned. Its body sank into the bottom sediment, which protected it from decay, scavengers, weathering, and other things that might have destroyed it. 110 million years later, an equipment operator fortunately noticed how weird the rock was that he’d just uncovered, and the world now has an amazing idea of what a living ankylosaur looked like.

The animal’s armored plates from the front of its body, some skin, and even its stomach contents are beautifully preserved, and the body is still articulated. It looks like it lay down to sleep and turned to stone. Some chemical pigments called melanosomes were discovered during study of the skin, which suggests that its skin was probably reddish-brown in color with a lighter-colored belly. It had massive spikes on its shoulders and along the sides of its neck, along with the smaller osteoderms that made up its armor on the rest of its body.

We know it mostly ate ferns because that was mostly what was in its stomach when it died. There was also some charcoal in its stomach, and researchers think it was probably eating ferns that had grown in an area where a wildfire had been recently. The ferns are so well preserved that scientists can determine their stage of growth, which means the dinosaur probably died in early to mid-summer.

Another dinosaur mummy is a Brachylophosaurus nicknamed Leonardo. Leonardo was found in July 2000 and wasn’t full grown when it died, only maybe three or four years old. Its skin and some of its internal organs are fossilized, and 3D scans have allowed scientists to learn a lot about it.

Brachylophosaurus was a hadrosaurid that lived around 80 million years ago in North America, and it could grow up to around 36 feet long, or 11 meters. It may have lived and migrated in groups. It had a flat crest on its head and a frill down the back, although some individuals had big crests and some had small ones. Paleontologists think big crests might have been a trait found only in males or only in females, we’re not sure which.

It ate plants, and we know from studies of Leonardo’s fossilized digestive system that it had eaten a lot of ferns right before it died, as well as leaves and other material from ancient relatives of conifers and magnolias. It also had worms. That’s right, even the parasites in Leonardo’s digestive system were fossilized. They were needle-like bristly worms who left more than 200 tiny burrows in the digestive lining, fossilized for eternity. Leonardo also had an internal pouch in its neck that was similar to a modern bird’s crop, where food was stored immediately after swallowing and where the digestive process may have started.

We’ll finish by talking about a story from April 2022, which discusses a dinosaur mummy found in my own state of Tennessee. The dinosaur was called Appalachiosaurus and was at least 77 million years old, and its skin and even some of its internal organs were reportedly intact—so much so that DNA was able to be extracted from them. The problem is that this particular story was posted to Facebook on April 1, also known as April Fool’s Day, and yes, it was a hoax. But Appalachiosaurus is a real species of dinosaur, a theropod that grew at least 21 feet long, or 6.5 meters, and probably quite a bit longer since the most complete specimen found so far is a juvenile. We don’t know a lot about Appalachiosaurus since only a few partial remains have ever been discovered. It would be fantastic if a fossilized mummy of one really did turn up one day.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 296: The Hide and the Blood-Sucking Blanket



Monster month is upon us, October, where all our episodes are about spooky things! This episode is only a little bit spooky, though. I give it one ghost out of a possible five ghosts on the spooky scale.

Happy birthday to Casey R.!

Further reading:

All you ever wanted to know about the “Cuero”

Mystery Creatures of China by David C. Xu

Freshwater stingrays chew their food just like a goat

A 1908 drawing of the hide (in the red box) [picture taken from first link above]:

The Caribbean whiptail stingray actually lives in the ocean even though it’s related to river stingrays:

The short-tailed river stingray lives in rivers in South America and is large. Look, there’s Jeremy Wade with one!

The bigtooth river stingray is awfully pretty:

Asia’s giant freshwater stingray is indeed giant:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

It’s finally October, and you know what that means. Monster month! We have five Mondays in October this year, including Halloween itself—and, in the most amazing twist of fate, our 300th episode falls on Halloween!

I know some of our listeners don’t like the really spooky episodes because they’re too scary, especially for our younger listeners. To help people out, I’m going to rate this year’s monster month episodes on a scale of one ghost, meaning it’s only a little tiny bit spooky, to five ghosts, which means really spooky. This week’s episode is rated one ghost, so it’s interesting but won’t make you need to sleep with a night light on.

Before we get started, we have two quick announcements. Some of you may have already noticed that if you scroll all the way down in your podcast app to find the first episode of Strange Animals Podcast, it doesn’t appear. In fact, the first several episodes are missing. That’s because we actually passed the 300 episode mark several weeks ago, because of the occasional bonus episode and so forth, and podcast platforms only show the most recent 300 episodes of any podcast. That’s literally the most I can make appear. However, the early podcasts are still available for you to listen to, you’ll just have to click through to the website to find them.

Second, we have a birthday shout-out this week! A very very happy birthday to Casey R! I hope your birthday is full of all your favorite things.

Now, let’s learn about the hide of South America and the blood-sucking blanket of Asia.

The first mention of a creature called El Cuero in print comes from 1810, in a book called Essay on the Natural History of Chile by a European naturalist named Fr. Juan Ignacio Molina. In his book Molina wrote, “The locals assure that in certain Chilean lakes there is an enormous fish or dragon…which, they say, is man-eating and for this reason they abstain from swimming in the water of those lakes. But they are not in agreement the appearance that they give it: now they make it long, like a serpent with a fox head, and now almost circular, like an extended bovine hide.”

Later scholars pointed out that the reason Molina thought the locals couldn’t decide what the animal looked like was because locals were talking about two different monsters. Molina just confused them. One monster was called a fox-snake and one was the cuero, which means “cow hide” in Spanish. And it’s the hide we’re going to talk about.

During the century or so after Molina wrote his book, folklorists gathered stories and legends from the native peoples of South America, trying to record as much about the different cultures as they could before those cultures were destroyed or changed forever by European colonizers. The hide appears to be a monster primarily from the Mapuche people of Patagonia.

Most stories about the hide go something like this: a person goes into the water to wash, or maybe they have to cross the lake by swimming. The hide surfaces and folds its body around the person like a blanket, dragging them under the water, and the person is never seen again. Sometimes the monster is described as resembling a cowskin or calfskin, sometimes a goat- or sheepskin. It’s usually black or brown and sometimes is reported as having white spots, and some reports say it has hooks or thorns around its edges. It may bask at the water’s surface or in shallow water in daytime, waiting for a person or animal to come too close.

The safest way to kill a hide is to trick it into coming to the surface to catch an animal or person. When it’s close enough, people throw the branches of a cactus with really long, sharp thorns at it. The hide folds its body around the cactus pieces, which pierce it through and kill it. The least safest way to kill a hide is to make sure you’re carrying a sharp knife, and when the hide grabs you, cut your way out of its enveloping folds before you drown or are eaten.

The main suggestion, starting in 1908, was that the hide was a giant octopus that lived in freshwater and had hooks on its legs or around the edges of its mantle. The main problem with this hypothesis is that there are no known freshwater octopuses. There aren’t any freshwater squid either, another suggestion.

A much better suggestion is that the hide is actually some kind of freshwater ray. And, as it happens, there are lots of freshwater stingrays native to South America. Specifically, they’re members of the family Potamotrygonidae, river stingrays.

River stingrays are pretty much round and flat with a slender tail equipped with a venomous stinger. The round part is called a disc, and some species can grow extremely large. The largest is actually a marine species called the Caribbean whiptail stingray, which can grow about 6 1/2 feet across, or 2 meters. But the short-tailed river stingray can grow about 5 feet across, or 1.5 meters, and it lives in the Río de la Plata basin in South America. The short-tailed river stingray is dark gray or brown mottled with lighter spots, while many other river stingrays are black or dark brown with light-colored spots.

Even better for our hypothesis, river stingrays are covered with dermal denticles on their dorsal surface, more commonly called the back. Dermal denticles are also called placoid scales even though they’re not actually scales. They’re covered with enamel to make them even harder, like little teeth. If that sounds strange, consider that rays are closely related to sharks, and sharks are well known to have skin so rough that you can hurt your hand if you try to pet a shark. Please don’t try to pet a shark. Admire sharks from a safe distance like you should with any wild animal.

River stingrays don’t eat people, of course. They mostly eat fish, crustaceans, worms, insects, mollusks, and other small animals. Females are much larger than males and give birth to live young. The ray’s mouth is underneath on the bottom of the disc near the front, and it has sharp teeth. Unlike pretty much every fish known, it chews its food with little bites like a mammal, which if you think about it too much is kind of creepy.

River stingrays also don’t hunt by wrapping animals in their disc, but the disc is involved in hunting in a way. The disc is formed by the ray’s fins, which are extremely broad and encircle the center part of its body, and the disc as a whole is pretty flat. The stingray will lie on the bottom of the river until a little fish or an insect gets too close. Then it will lift the front part of its disc quickly, which sucks water under it. If you’ve ever stood up in the bathtub before the water has completely drained, you can feel the suction as your body leaves the water. Quite often, the stingray’s prey gets sucked under it with the water. The ray then drops back down, trapping the animal underneath it, and chews it up.

That doesn’t mean stingrays aren’t dangerous to humans, though. The stingray’s sting is barbed and very strong, and can cause a painful wound even without its venom. A ray often hides by burying itself in the sand or mud, and if someone steps on it by accident, the ray whips its tail up and jabs its sting into their leg.

In other words, we have a large, flat creature with little pointy denticles on its back that may be dark-colored with white spots, and it’s dangerous to people and animals. That sounds a lot like the hide. There’s just one problem with this theory.

The stingray is a tropical or temperate animal. It needs warm water to survive. Patagonia is at the extreme southern end of South America, much closer to Antarctica than to the equator. No river stingray known lives within at least 500 miles of Patagonia, or 800 km, and the Patagonian lakes where the hide is supposed to live are extremely cold even in summer.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a stingray unknown to science living in remote areas of Patagonia, of course. Many river stingray species were only discovered in the last decade or so, some of them quite large, and there are still some undescribed species. There’s always the possibility that at least one river stingray species has become adapted to the cold but hasn’t been discovered by scientists yet. It might be endangered now or even extinct.

Or the hide might not be a real animal, just a legend inspired by the river stingrays in other parts of South America. The Mapuche people are not closely related to the other peoples of Patagonia, even though they’ve lived there for at least 2,500 years, and some archaeologists think they might have migrated to Patagonia relatively late. If they brought memories of big river stingrays from their former home north of Patagonia, the memories might have inspired stories of the hide.

On the other side of the world, in China, there’s a similar legend of a monster sometimes called the xizi. The name means “mat” but it’s also referred to as a blood-sucking blanket. It lives in rivers and other waterways, and can even slide out of the water onto land. And like the hide, it’s described as a sort of living blanket that wraps itself around people or animals that venture into the water, where it pulls them under and sucks all the blood out of them.

In the case of the blood-sucking blanket, though, it’s supposed to have sharp round suckers on its underside that it uses to stick to its victims and slurp up their blood. It varies in size, sometimes about a foot across, or 30 cm, sometimes as much as 6 1/2 feet across, or 2 meters. Sometimes it’s described as reddish, sometimes green or covered with fuzzy moss on its back.

One story is that a hunter witnessed an elephant and her calf crossing a shallow river when the calf was dragged underwater by something. The mother elephant grabbed her calf and pulled it to safety, then trampled its attacker. Once the elephants were gone, the hunter went to investigate and found a dead creature that resembled a wool blanket, with a greenish, mossy back but with big suckers underneath the size of rice bowls, sort of like an octopus’s suckers.

And there is a freshwater stingray that lives in Asia, although it isn’t closely related to the river stingrays found in South America. Most of its closest relatives live in the ocean, but the giant freshwater stingray lives in rivers in southeast Asia. It’s dark gray-brown on its back and white underneath, and it has a little pointy nose at the front of its disc. It has denticles on its back and tail just like its distant South American cousins.

It’s also enormous. A big female can grow over 7 feet across, or 2.2 meters. Its tail is long and thin with the largest spine of any stingray known, up to 15 inches long, or 38 cm. In fact, its tail is so long that if you measure the giant freshwater stingray by length including its tail, instead of by width of its disc, it can be as much as 16 feet long, or about 5 meters. Some researchers think there might be individuals out there much larger than any ever measured, possibly up to 16 feet wide. The length and thinness of the tail gives the ray its other common name, the giant freshwater whipray, because its tail looks like a whip.

Even though it’s endangered due to habitat loss and hunting, and it only lives in a few rivers in South Asia these days, the giant freshwater stingray was once much more widespread. Because stingrays have cartilaginous skeletons the same way sharks do, we don’t have very many fossils or subfossil remains except for stingray teeth and denticles, so we don’t know for sure where the giant freshwater stingray used to live. But even if it didn’t live in China, travelers who had seen one in other places might have brought stories of it to China, where it spread as a scary legend.

Or, of course, there might be another freshwater stingray in China that’s unknown to science, possibly endangered or even extinct. It might even still be around, just waiting for someone to go swimming.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!

 


Episode 295: The Peregrine Falcon



Thanks to Nikita for this week’s suggestion that we learn all about the peregrine falcon!

I’ll be at the Next Chapter Book Fair in Dalton, Georgia on October 1, 2022! Come say hi!

Further listening:

Crossover episode with Arcane Carolinas from ConCarolinas 2022!

Further reading:

Falcons see prey at speed of Formula 1 car

A peregrine falcon in flight:

Baby peregrine falcons. Look at those giant peets! [photos by Robin Duska, taken from this site]

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week we have a suggestion from Nikita, who wants to learn about the peregrine falcon! The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal known, and I thought about trying to talk very fast for this episode, but I decided I make enough mistakes just talking normally.

A quick note before we start. On Saturday, October 1, 2022, I’ll be at the Next Chapter Book Fair and Convention in Dalton, Georgia. If you happen to be in the area, stop by and say hi! I’ll be selling books and I think I’m on a panel too. That’s the last event I have planned for the year and I’m not sure if I’ll be selling books at conventions next year. It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Whatever copies of the Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie book that don’t sell next week, I can offer for sale directly from me. If you want a signed copy of a slightly banged-up paperback that’s been to a lot of conventions, email me and we can work out a price with shipping.

Speaking of conventions, back in June I had a fantastic time at ConCarolinas, and one of the things I did was join the guys from Arcane Carolinas to record an episode of their excellent podcast. Well, they’ve just released that episode and it’s fantastic! I’ll put a link in the show notes in case you don’t already listen to their podcast.

Now, let’s learn about the peregrine falcon!

The peregrine falcon lives throughout the world, with as many as 19 subspecies, although experts disagree about a few of those. It’s about the size of a crow, with females being much bigger than males. Different subspecies have different patterns, but in general the peregrine falcon is dark above and pale below with a darker barred pattern. It has bright yellow around its eyes, and the base of its hooked bill and its feet are yellow.

The peregrine mates for life, and reuses the same nesting site every year. Some populations of peregrine migrate long distances, and sometimes the male will stay year-round near the nesting site while the female migrates. Either way, at the beginning of the breeding season, which is usually around the end of winter, the pair performs courtship flights where the male will pass food to the female while they’re both flying. Sometimes the female turns over to fly upside-down to take food from her mate.

The male typically prepares several potential nesting sites, and the female chooses which one she likes best to lay her eggs. The peregrine doesn’t build a nest, though, just kicks at the dirt to make what’s called a scrape. It’s just a shallow depression in the dirt. The female lays 2 to 5 eggs that hatch in about a month into fuzzy white babies with gigantic talons. Both parents help incubate the eggs and both feed the babies after they hatch.

The peregrine especially likes open areas with cliffs for its nest, and as far as it’s concerned, skyscrapers are just a type of cliff. It’s surprisingly common in cities as a result, not to mention that cities are home to another bird, the pigeon, that the peregrine loves to eat. The peregrine mostly eats birds, especially pigeons, gulls, ducks, and various songbirds, but it will also eat bats and sometimes small animals like squirrels and rats. It mostly hunts at dawn and dusk, but it will hunt at night too and sometimes during the day.

Even though the peregrine isn’t very big compared to many birds of prey like eagles, owls, and hawks, it is an astounding hunter. It has strong feet equipped with sharp talons to grab prey, and its hooked beak is notched to help it bite through the spine of a bird it’s caught to kill it quickly.

But the main reason the peregrine is such an effective hunter is how fast it can fly. It’s pretty fast while just cruising around looking for prey, flying about 30 miles per hour, or 48 km/hour. If it spots a bird it wants to eat, it can easily more than double its speed to chase it. But that’s not all.

The peregrine’s signature move is the stoop. This is a high-speed dive from a height, and the falcon hits its prey with feet extended but clenched into a fist. Stoop speeds have been recorded and are as high as 238 miles per hour, or 383 km/hour. This is the speed of a Formula One race car! So getting hit by a stooping falcon would be like being punched by a small feathery car. BOOM! That’s the end for you.

While the peregrine mostly eats medium-sized birds, it’s been documented to kill birds as large as a sandhill crane or a great horned owl by stooping. During the stoop, the peregrine changes its body shape for maximum aerodynamics, and high-resolution photos taken of a falcon flying in a wind tunnel show that certain feathers pop up in rows to guide air over the body.

If you were riding in a race car going that fast, everything around you would look like a blur. That’s because our eyes and our brains can only capture and process images so fast. But the peregrine falcon can see just fine at those speeds, because its eyes and brain have evolved to capture and process images extremely quickly. The only birds studied with similar visual processing are flycatchers, little songbirds that chase insects to eat. Insects are fast so flycatchers are fast, but the peregrine falcon catches and eats flycatchers.

The peregrine’s speed of visual processing has a side effect when birds are kept in captivity. If the lights in their enclosure flicker at all, the birds will get sick. That’s because what may be only a barely perceptible flicker to us is like a constant strobe light for the peregrine!

The peregrine has been kept as a hunting bird for thousands of years. It’s not domesticated, but young birds are relatively easy to tame and it can be trained to return to the falconer after catching its prey. Peregrines used to be captured from the wild by falconers, and if you’ve read the book My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, this is one of the things the boy in the book does. That book was published in 1959, though, and around this time the peregrine falcon began to decline in numbers worldwide due to DDT use.

We’ve talked about DDT recently, in episode 277 about rewilding Scotland. DDT is a pesticide that was developed in the 1950s and used extensively to kill insects on crops and gardens. But DDT doesn’t just do its job and evaporate. It stays in the environment and ends up in the bodies of animals, including people. It’s especially bad for birds of prey, and it causes their eggshells to become so thin and weak that the eggs break when the mother tries to keep them warm. The peregrine falcon was one bird that was especially badly affected, especially in North America and parts of Europe, where it almost went extinct. It was placed on the endangered species list and protected, but it wasn’t until scientists realized that DDT was the cause, and DDT use was banned in most parts of the world, that the peregrine’s numbers stopped dropping.

Falconers played a big part in helping the peregrine falcon recover from nearly going extinct. Falconers mostly care deeply about their birds and know how to take care of them. While the peregrine was on the endangered species list, falconers stopped taking birds from the wild and instead bred already captive birds. Then, once DDT was banned in most places, falconers helped with the reintroduction of peregrines into the wild. The peregrine was removed from the U.S. endangered species list in 1999 and from the Canadian list in 2017. But conservationists worldwide still monitor the peregrine falcon to make sure it continues to do well in the wild.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!