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The rock-rolling whitefish is a little-known species of fish, whose existence has only ever been reported (as far as I know) in the June 1932 issue of Montana Wild Life magazine. Discovery of this creature was credited to Jack Boehme, a manufacturer of fish tackle.

Here's the information that Montana Wild Life offered about this unusual creature:
It seems that this rock-rolling Montana whitefish extolled by Jack Boehme, and organized by a taxidermist of no mean versatility, is endowed with horns. Boehme declares, to all visiting dudes, that the specimen on display was caught in Boulder creek. Of course Montana has some dozen of these Boulder creeks, hence the exact location of the catch is still a mystery. He further explains that the specimen, pictured in this edition of MONTANA WILD LIFE, obtains its food by rolling over stones by using the horns that grow from the stomach. He enlightens the seeker for knowledge with these remarks:

"At night this strange Montana fish manages to sleep by driving its horns into a log in the stream and remains there until the first ray of sunlight strikes it in the morning. The horns are caused to relax by the sunlight and thus it is freed from the log. It is one of the most difficult of Montana fish to land because of the horns. When hooked, it usually dives into a log jam and it is almost impossible to extricate it. The horns on its back and belly are firmly affixed to logs when it is hooked and the leader is usually broken. This fish was landed by removing the log to which the fish had fastened itself."

That's Jack Boehme's story and he's sticking to it just like the rock-rolling whitefish sticks to the log. Believe it or not.
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 15, 2014
Comments (0)

The above photo has recently been circulating on social media purporting to show a "snow snake". A caption provides this warning:
This is the deadly snow snake. It has bitten 3 people in the state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. It’s been spotted in other states. It comes out in the cold weather and at this time there is no cure for it's bite. One bite and your blood starts to freeze. Scientist are trying to find a cure. Your body temperature start to fall once bitten. Please stay clear if you have see it. Please forward this and try to save as many people as we can from this deadly snow snake.

The usual skeptics are saying that the creature in the photo is really just a rubber snake, and that there is no such thing as a snow snake. Perhaps.

Or perhaps we can turn to more authoritative sources of information, such as Henry H. Tryon, author of Fearsome Critters (The Idlewild Press, 1939), who offers the following information about the Snow Snake.

THE SNOW SNAKE
Aestatesomnus hiemepericulosus

During the year of the Two Winters, when the July temperature dropped to -62°, these pink-eyed, white-bodied, savage serpents crossed over from Siberia via Bering Strait. They are bad actors; the venom is deadly, with a speed of action second only to that of the Hoop Snake or the Hamadryad.

Hibernating in summer but becoming active in winter, the Snow Snake coils on a low drift where its pure white color makes it wholly invisible to its prey. One strike is sufficient. Mankind is not often bitten as he makes too big a mouthful. But sometimes a Snake will get over-ambitious. When this does happen, tanglefoot oil is the only known remedy.

"I was treed by a Snow Snake" is still a much-used explanation of a late home-coming.


From newspapers, we also learn that the snow snake has long been considered to be the bane of skiers. As reported in the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980:
Although zoologists disagree on the exact origin of the snow snake, knowledge of his habits is invaluable to every level of skier. These albino serpents tend to breed and overrun beginners' hills, abrupt drop-offs and large moguls...

He is a skier's scapegoat for stumbling, falling down and looking stupid on the slopes. Skiers can — and often do — blame his attempts to attach himself to a ski or pole for what might, otherwise, be mistaken for the skier's own clumsiness.


Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980


Because of their remarkable camouflage, snow snakes have rarely been captured, or even photographed. But in the Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965 - we find some information about how one might try to capture a snow snake:
About the only way to capture these elusive creatures is to trick them into making themselves known. One method is to buy some black cough drops and lay them on the snow in a likely place. Then, when the snow snake takes the cough drop, it disappears. All you have to do is grab where the cough drop was but isn't and you have a snow snake. That is, you have one if you are quick enough at grabbing where the cough drop isn't.


Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2014
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In August 2011, hundreds of cats were rescued during a hoarding case, and then a team of veterinary students volunteered their time to spay and neuter the cats in order to prepare them for adoption.

A photo of this mass spaying/neutering event (named Operation Cat Nip) ran in the Gainesville Sun.


But about a year later that same photo began appearing on Twitter, stripped of any explanatory context, and accompanied by the caption: "Retweet if you say NO to animal testing."

The photo also had a watermark added, "Cause Animale Nord,"which is the name of a French animal welfare society.


Thousands of people obediently retweeted the photo, many of them adding messages expressing their disgust and disapproval, unaware that the photo had nothing to do with animal testing.

Like many viral photo fakes, this one has gone through cycles of being debunked, disappearing for a while, and then suddenly resurging in popularity. Right now, it's again in a popular phase.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 28, 2014
Comments (2)
Another Jimmy Kimmel hoax. His crew built a replica of an Olympic Village dorm in their LA studio, then shot footage of a wolf wandering through its hallway. They had US luger Kate Hansen post the footage on YouTube, and to her Twitter account, claiming it was a wolf outside her room. A play on all the reports of stray dogs loose in Sochi. And, of course, the footage quickly went viral.


The wolf was actually a North American timber wolf that Kimmel's crew hired (a rescue wolf named Rugby). Kimmel admitted to the hoax on Twitter, and then gave a full explanation on his Thursday night show.





Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 21, 2014
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This brief article ran in the Feb 1938 issue of Popular Science magazine.


Plumbers Use Alligators To Open Clogged Pipes
Alligators kept as specimens at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries aquarium in Washington, D.C., are being tried out as plumber's assistants to open up clogged pipes. Placed in a length of pipe that is stopped up with silt and sediment, the reptile digs his way through, opening up a small hole which water will widen by its pressure as it sweeps through.

A clipping of the article was posted on the Modern Mechanix blog in April 2007, with the comment, "I guess we know now where that urban legend about alligators in the sewer started." The clipping has subsequently circulated on various blogs.

By chance, I know the back story to this news report. The guy on the left was Fred Orsinger, Director of the (now defunct) National Aquarium in DC during the 1930s and 40s. He had a reputation for being the P.T. Barnum of the fish world and was always pulling bizarre, tongue-in-cheek stunts to get the National Aquarium in the news.

For instance, in 1940 he founded something he called the Association for the Prevention of April Fool Jokes (it was through this that I first came across references to him). The association didn't have anything to do with fish, but it got his name (and the aquarium) in the news.


Fred Orsinger

Some of his other schemes involved promoting the A.F.E.O.I.A.M.Y.W.T. (Association for Eating Oysters in Any Month You Want To), which tried to convince people that it was okay to eat oysters in months without the letter 'R'.

He campaigned to dispel the notion that all Fish Tales (i.e. stories that fishermen tell) are tall tales. He claimed to have found that, on average, only 2 out of 9 fish tales are untrue.

He promoted the Association for the Abolition of Round Fish Bowls, arguing that "round bowls distort a small, harmless fish into a ferocious denizen of the deep, producing a bad effect on children."

In 1937 he claimed he was going to stage a "fish walkathon" featuring the Anabas Testudineus (the "walking or climbing perch").

In 1945 he claimed to have spotted a 20-foot sea monster in the Potomac River. He called it Percival.

One time he made a panther-skin coat for a Maine trout and claimed it was an actual fur-bearing trout. Supposedly this fooled some Russian ichthyologists before "someone dragged them aside and whispered, 'it's a joke, comrade.'"

As for the pipe-cleaning alligators, an Associated Press article from October 1937 (can't find a link to an online copy) explains the genesis of the idea:
Orsinger said he conceived the idea when a drain pipe became clogged at a friend's home and it appeared it would be necessary to rip up the kitchen floor.
An alligator was placed in one end of the drain. It worked its way through the pipe and emerged at the other end.
"Alligators, you know, don't do backwards," Orsinger explained.
Elated, he has developed a sort of alligator-pipe size arrangement.
A 14-inch alligator, for instance, should do the job in a 6-inch pipe.

Apparently it's a myth that alligators can't walk backwards. Although it's surprisingly hard to find authoritative information on this subject. A search of science journal articles turned up nothing. But pawnation.com offers this info:
The most common form of movement for alligators on land is called the “belly crawl,” and while an alligator cannot walk backwards on its belly, there is another form of movement that allows backwards motion: the “high walk.” When an alligator is high walking, its entire body and the majority of its tail is off the ground. This form of locomotion is used primarily when an alligator is getting out of water or moving over an obstruction, but it also allows alligators to move backwards.

So if this is true, Orsinger's scheme to use alligators to clean pipes might actually work, because the gators wouldn't be able to do the 'high walk' in a clogged pipe, and thus would have to move forward.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 07, 2014
Comments (1)
The Australian lyrebird has amazing powers of imitation. In his Life of Birds series, David Attenborough demonstrated that these birds can even imitate man-made sounds such as chainsaws, car alarms, and the click of a camera shutter.


The clip leads viewers to believe that lyrebirds in the wild have begun to imitate man-made sounds. But this turns out not to be true. Attenborough didn't explain that the lyrebirds he showed were not typical examples of the species. Hollis Taylor, writing for theconversation.com, explains:
Attenborough peers at the bird (and the camera) from behind a tree, whispering to us about the bird mimicking "sounds that he hears from the forest". We see compelling footage of a bird imitating a camera's motor drive, a car alarm, and a chainsaw.

This Attenborough moment is highly popular — but hold on! He fails to mention that two of his three lyrebirds were captives, one from Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and the other from Adelaide Zoo. This latter individual, Chook, was famed for his hammers, drills, and saws, sounds he reputedly acquired when the Zoo's panda enclosure was built. Hand-raised from a chick, he was also known to do a car alarm, as well as a human voice intoning "hello, Chook!" He died in 2011, aged 32.

She goes on to say:
Do wild lyrebirds mimic machinery and the like? While I can imagine that in rare circumstances their vocalisations could reflect the human impact on their environment (and there are such anecdotes), there is no known recording of a lyrebird in the wild mimicking man-made mechanical sounds. Nevertheless, belief in such a phenomenon is now so well established on the internet that it even crops up on official sites.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 03, 2014
Comments (2)

An Italian newspaper has reported that firefighters near Naples recently discovered a giant larva of a Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). The larva, which was as big as an adult pig, was still alive, and as the firefighters approached it, the thing emitted a shrill cry similar to the whinny of a horse.

The larva appears to be a result of "radioactive gigantism" caused by toxic waste in the so-called "Land of Fires" region of southern Italy. It has been taken to the Naples Museum to be studied by entomologists.

At least, this is what I could understand of the story with help from Google Translate. (Any corrections/additions from Italian speakers would be appreciated!) The entire story, of course, is baloney. But I like the photo.

Wikipedia offers this information about the Red Palm Weevil:
The red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, is a species of snout beetle also known as the Asian palm weevil or sago palm weevil. The adult beetles are relatively large, ranging between two and five centimeters long, and are usually a rusty red colour - but many colour variants exist and have often been misidentified as different species (e.g., Rhynchophorus vulneratus;). Weevil larvae can excavate holes in the trunk of a palm trees up to a metre long, thereby weakening and eventually killing the host plant. As a result, the weevil is considered a major pest in palm plantations, including the coconut palm, date palm and oil palm.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 24, 2014
Comments (0)

This photo of "Hercules, the World's Biggest Dog" is one of the best known "hoax" viral images on the Web. It started circulating in early 2007, initially on its own, but soon the Internet had supplied an explanatory caption:
Hercules: The World's Biggest Dog Ever According to Guinness World Records
Hercules was recently awarded the honorable distinction of Worlds Biggest Dog by Guinness World Records. Hercules is an English Mastiff and has a 38 inch neck and weighs 282 pounds.
With "paws the size of softballs" (reports the Boston Herald), the three-year-old monster is far larger and heavier than his breed's standard 200lb. limit. Hercules owner Mr. Flynn says that Hercules weight is natural and not induced by a bizarre diet: "I fed him normal food and he just grew".... and grew. and grew.

The information in this caption is correct, but not when applied to the dog shown above. The text is actually taken from a description of an English mastiff named Hercules that was owned by power lifter John Flynn (shown below). So wrong dog!


But what are we to make of the top photo, the one of the giant dog being walked by the man and woman alongside the white horse? We know he's not Hercules, but who or what is he? Is he really that big?

The top debunking sites feel that the dog can't really be that large. For instance, David Emery calls the photo "an obvious hoax." Hoax-Slayer says, "It seems clear that the image has been cleverly manipulated, perhaps by replacing a picture of the man's horse with a disproportionally sized picture of a dog." TruthorFiction.com says, "the picture appears to be fabricated." Snopes alone is a little ambivalent. It says the photo appears to be "a digital manipulation," but it leaves open the possibility that the dog is a "freakishly large example of its breed."

The reason for the skepticism is that the dog appears to be a Neapolitan Mastiff (not an English Mastiff), and that breed is not known to get that big. Breeders say Neapolitan Mastiffs top out at 31 inches at the shoulder. But the dog in the photo seems to be around 36 inches at the shoulder, easily.

Also, just look at that beast. He's horse-sized! The photo has to be fake!

But it's worth noting here that the photo is actually one of a set of three photos of the dog, the couple, and the horse. Although the top photo is often detached from the set and circulates alone. Here are the other two photos:




The existence of three photos of the same dog gives me pause. Because it's easy to dismiss one image as a fake, but three photos is unusual, especially since the dog looks similarly massive in all three shots. Yes, all three photos could be fake. But then again, perhaps that dog really is freakishly big.

I'll say this: if the images are fakes, then they're good ones. Particularly the one of the couple sitting down with the dog. The shadows and the lighting look right. There are no obvious signs of manipulation — except for the bizarre size of the dog.

Often it's possible to debunk a fake image by finding the original, unaltered version of the photo. But other versions of these giant dog images have never surfaced. This suggests to me that if the images are fake, then the faker possesses the original copies of the images and has never made them public.

Nor have the man and women ever been identified, which is a shame because they could obviously shed light on what the deal is with the giant dog. Perhaps they have no desire to be Internet celebrities.

But wait! There could be a fourth image. While searching for pictures of Neapolitan Mastiffs, I came across this photo.


Perhaps I've been staring too long at my screen, but that looks to me like it could be the same dog and the same guy. Sure, the guy is a little older, wearing different clothes, has a goatee, and is squinting into the sun. But his features look the same. And the dog has a white patch on his chest like the dog in the "Hercules" photo, and he's wearing a studded collar (if you look closely you can see that the dog in the "Hercules" photo appears to be wearing a similar studded collar).

The dog in this fourth photo doesn't look quite as massive as the dog in the viral "World's Biggest Dog" photo. Nevertheless, it's a very big dog! Far bigger than most other Neapolitan Mastiffs.

Which suggests to me that there really is a giant Neapolitan Mastiff out there. Now perhaps his size was digitally exaggerated in the top photo that went viral. Or perhaps the angle of the shot exaggerated its size. Or perhaps the man and woman aren't that tall, which made the dog look larger than it really is relative to them.

I just don't know. But I don't think the "World's Biggest Dog" photo is the slam-dunk, has-to-be-photoshopped case that most other debunking sites have listed it as. I'd go with Snopes and leave open the possibility that the dog in the photo might actually be a "freakishly large example of its breed."
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos, Large Animals, viral images
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 21, 2014
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The latest fake news article masquerading as authentic report involves a giant squid — grown to mutant size because of Fukushima radiation — supposedly washed ashore near Santa Monica.

The photo of the giant squid is circulating with hashtags such as #RadioactiveGigantism and #GiantSeaCreature.

The story comes from a site called The Lightly Braised Turnip. I suppose that name is supposed to tip you off that the site is like The Onion, or aspires to be. But it's not The Onion. It's a lightly braised turnip instead.

A few months ago a giant squid really did wash ashore in Spain, and the folks at the Lightly Braised Turnip used an image of that squid to create their faux Santa Monica beach scene.



The beach scene that the giant squid was inserted into came from a Nov 2011 story about a dead whale washed ashore in Chile.

Categories: Animals, Large Animals, viral images
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 10, 2014
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Dan's Papers, which serves the Hamptons in New York, recently reported that lions were going to be released in order to cull the growing deer population in the region. The lions would be supplied, free of charge, by a wealthy South African industrialist who had recently bought a home there.

The report disturbed some of the locals. According to southampton.patch.com: "[The police] fielded anywhere between 10 and 15 calls from residents voicing their anger at the 'news,' and at least one caller claimed to have seen a lion stalking her back yard."

The report was actually the latest effort from Dan Rattiner, the "hoaxer of the Hamptons" — the owner and founder of Dan's Papers. He's been salting his papers with fake stories since the 1960s. Way longer than all these johhny-come-lately fake-news sites online nowadays.
Categories: Animals, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 05, 2014
Comments (2)

"Junior"
The Reid family lost Junior, their Jack Russell terrier, in 2005. He went out to "go potty" and never returned. (Evidently the Reid family didn't have an enclosed backyard). Eight years later, Junior showed up at the bottom of their driveway. They knew it was him because he was still wearing the same collar and tags. They're calling his return a miracle. [myfox8.com]

Something's not right with this story. As Doubtful News says, "Is this the whole story? Is it really the same dog? Confusing."

I can think of some possible explanations, though who knows what the truth really is:

1) Eight years ago, someone took Junior. Never changed his collar and tags. And then, Junior either escaped, or his kidnappers decided to get rid of him and dumped him back where they found him.

2) Someone in the Reid family decided to whip up a Christmas surprise for the kids by engineering the miraculous return of Junior. So they got a new Jack Russell, put a "Junior" tag on him, and discovered him at the bottom of the driveway.

The "rediscovered pet" is an old theme. Similar stories we've seen include The Cat That Crossed 3000 Miles To Come Home from 1951 (a classic of the genre), and more recently the Tortoise That Survived in a Closet for 30 Years.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 21, 2013
Comments (0)
Dr. Daniel Bucher, a shark expert at Southern Cross University, says that the notion they do is just a myth. So if you have a pet shark, go ahead and feed them fresh filet-o-human.

Oh no ... sharks DO like the taste of human flesh
The Logan Reporter

According to Southern Cross University shark expert Dr Daniel Bucher it is not true sharks don't like the taste of human flesh. He said there was no evidence to support this claim, which he believed gained acceptance to allay people's fears of shark attack.
"Normally they eat fish, but they don't mind red meat if they can get it," he said.
"Seals have very red meat (like humans) from oxygen binding proteins in the blood. Great white sharks feed on seals."

To be honest, I had never heard this claim of sharks disliking the taste of humans, but with some googling I quickly found people expressing this opinion. So the idea is definitely out there. But it made me curious, so I looked into it a bit more.

The idea of sharks disliking human flesh is rooted in the observation that most shark attacks involve a single bite before the shark swims away. As if the shark was doing a taste test and decided, "No! Don't like that!"

Going back a few decades, one can find scientists stating that sharks don't like the taste of us. For instance, in September 1968, Dr. Shelton Applegate, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, told this to the Associated Press.


The Evening Independent - Sep 2, 1968

But scientific thinking on this topic has become more nuanced.

In a 2004 interview with National Geographic, shark expert R. Aidan Martin explained that sharks tend to bite humans once and then swim away because their intention is not to eat us, but rather to investigate what we are:

"Great whites are curious and investigative animals. That's what most people don't realize. When great whites bite something unfamiliar to them, whether a person or a crab pot, they're looking for tactile evidence about what it is. A great white uses its teeth the way humans use their hands. In a living shark, every tooth has ten to fifteen degrees of flex. When the animal opens its mouth, the tooth bed is pulled back, causing their teeth to splay out like a cat's whiskers. Combine that with the flexibility of each tooth, and you realize a great white can use its jaws like a pair of forceps. They're very adept at grabbing things that snag their curiosity."

However, Martin also noted that sharks don't like the boniness of humans. So, given a choice, they'd rather eat a fat, plump seal than a scrawny, bony human — even if the taste of our flesh is palatable to them.

So, to sum up, sharks like our flesh, but they don't like our bones.

And here's a random video I came across while researching the topic:

Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 18, 2013
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