Before advancing on to those larger than life forms with which Cryptozoologists are normally concerned, let us digress to the study of Entomology, which concerns itself with the fascinating world of insects, spiders and their kin.
Why insects and spiders in a book on Cryptozoology, you might ask? Because the place that these creatures occupy in the world of living things is important, as most plants and animals are affected in some way by their presence.
Furthermore, no other class of animals is so intimately involved in the intricacies and complexities of the biological world as are insects and spiders. With the exception of ground-dwelling, cave-dwelling species, both these life forms are primarily terrestrial in habitat and found in just about every environment. My main reason for including these creatures in this book is to reveal information certain to surprise many readers, for as with larger animals still being discovered by scientists, not a year passes that as many as several thousand new species of insects and spiders are, it is estimated, being discovered and named worldwide, which means there are well over one million identified species in the world today!
They too therefore have their own “unknown animals” and they are not all small creatures by any means, for I am about to introduce to YOU giant butterflies and moths, dragonflies and stick insects, and spiders that are the stuff of nightmares. Other mysteries of this hidden world will also be examined, which I have studied in the course of a lifetime of collecting and studying these fascinating creatures. The details of the early evolution of insects and spiders are shrouded in the mists of the beginning of life on Earth.
This is partly due to the fact that the earliest insects [which were wingless] and spiders were small, fragile creatures that disintegrated long before they could become fossilised; and in part to the almost total absence of rocks that contain fossils of the land animals from the period when insects and spiders were beginning to appear. Scientists believe that it is quite probable that some of the early members of the Trilobites, marine arthropods found in Cambrian period rocks at least 570 million years ago, were allied to the ancestral insects.
The Trilobites survived for some 140 million years before dying out, but the span of their existence largely covers the long, blank period of insect evolution. Then in the Devonian period, around 400 million years ago, spiders and wingless insects, together with millipedes and mites made their first appearance. It is in rocks of the Carboniferous period, which followed the Devonian around 350 million years ago, that we find the first winged insects, and from a study of these scientists have identified a number of well-differentiated orders.
There are many highly varied insect fossils from the Permian period, which succeeded the Carboniferous around 250 million years ago. They occur abundantly worldwide, and include remains of some truly fantastic species that reached sizes unthought of in modern insects. As early as the Carboniferous period the precursors of our modern dragonflies had evolved, often of gigantic sizes of at least a metre in wingspan, perhaps more. Stick insects were not much different in gigantic size by today’s standards.
There are some species of large butterflies and moths that today give us a hint of possible larger ancestors of the past. Extending far back to the appearance of the first winged insects, when butterflies and moths diverged from a common ancestor. Of these, the Queen Victoria Birdwing, Ornithoptera victoriae [female] of the Solomon Islands, and the female Atlas Moth of far north Queensland, measuring up to 30cm in wingspan, are the largest known butterfly and moth species on Earth [the males of both species are smaller in size.
A word about Birdwings. These often indescribably beautiful butterflies, with their metallic greens, blues, yellows and gold wing markings rival the metallic blue [often large] Morpho butterflies of South America. Their reflecting colours are the result of the minute scales covering the wings, which in this case produce a waxy sheen, reflecting the sunlight. The wing scales of non-reflecting butterfly and moth species often includes many strikingly beautiful species in their own right, even though the scales making up the wing patterns of these species lack the waxy sheen.
The Birdwings form the three basic genuses within the family Papilionidae; these being Trogonoptera, Troides and Ornithoptera. Trogonoptera and Troides species occur throughout the India and island south-east Asia region, the Troides extending to New Guinea where the genus Ornithoptera covers Melanesia and Queensland with one species, the smallest, the Richmond Birdwing, being found in the Tweed Heads-Clarence River district of far north-eastern NSW.
All the Queensland-NSW Ornithoptera are known for their metallic green winged males, the females [which are larger than the males] having non-reflecting wings with colour markings of greys, blacks and whites. The Birdwing Butterflies are practically all Aristolochia feeders in the larval stage while a few species also feed upon allied plants.
The much larger Cairns Birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus euphorion has a range extending from Mackay to Cooktown, beyond which the Cape York Birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus pronomus extends to Thursday Island. In recent times the race O.P. macalpinei has been identified from the Claudia River to the McIlwraith Range, Silver Plains and Coen-Cape York Peninsula region.
All are large, metallic green-winged male and larger grey/black/whitish female creatures. For example, the Cairns Birdwing male’s wing expanse is up to 12.5cm, that of the female being 15cm. The New Guinea Birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus poseidon is even larger, particularly in the female, while in the Solomons, the equally large Ornithoptera urvillianus, whose male possesses metallic dark blue, rather than green markings, dominates the jungle glades.
I mention these beautiful insects because of their great sizes in relation to the more generally smaller species around them. It seems incredible that other Ornithopterids of this size could escape scientific discovery, even on isolated Melanesian islands or in the well-trodden parts of the New Guinea continent where Entomologists have been collecting and identifying insects since the 19th century, yet this could still very well be the case. It is not at all beyond the realms of possibility that some hitherto unknown, perhaps even larger species could await discovery, hidden is some restricted, out-of-the-way corner of any one of the Melanesian islands, or high up in the vast mountainous interior of the New Guinea continent, still largely inaccessible to researchers.
The discovery of a hitherto unknown insect [or spider] species can be just as important and exciting a discovery to an Entomologist as a new reptile or mammal species is to a zoologist. All are part of the whole, and of equal importance to our knowledge of the countless life forms with which we share this planet.
Consider the emotions of Alfred Russell Wallace, when on the island of Batjan in 1859, he
discovered the New Guinea Birdwing butterfly:
“The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable and none
but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced
when I at length captured it.
On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart
began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much
more like fainting than I had done when in apprehension of immediate
death. I had a headache for the rest of the day, so great was the
excitement produced by what will appear to most people
a very inadequate cause.”
Cryptozoologists who overlook the Arthropoda - the Order of creatures to which insects, spiders and their kin belong - miss much. As an Entomologist myself, and having spent most of my life collecting and researching these creatures, in the course of which I have formed a collection gathered from throughout Australia and worldwide, numbering many thousands of specimens, I am able to draw upon my own personal field experience and knowledge, in the inclusion of these all-too-often overlooked “unknown animals” in this book.