11 March 2002
Fort Bowen, Northern Australia, heading up the Flinders river

Dear Curator,
I am taking advantage of a brief respite to inform you of the findings of my latest research. The weather here is stifling: sticky heat, swarms of mosquitoes and aggressive insects at sunrise and sunset. The nights are punctuated with worrying growls and the presence of  unsuspected creatures. I hope to make my way to the coast, far from the mysteries and secrets which the Flinders river harbours.
Downstream I managed to locate the bend in the river where the
Albatross dropped anchor in 1931. The place fits the description left by Alexandre.
Unfortunately, my hoop nets remain empty, despite the succulent bait I've laid in them. For your information, I enclose a copy of Alexandre Humboldt-Fonteyne's original manuscript as well as some snapshots from that time. Despite the day-to-day problems, I hope to bring back a living specimen from Peula-Peula.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,
H.G. van Horne

"... 27 September 1931, the Albatross enters the Gulf of Carpentari and reaches the strait of the Flinders river, in northern Australia.

Some 30 kilometres wide, the strait is dotted with islands and banks of mangroves. Here and there, huts on stilts form small lakeside villages consisting of six or seven native families.

A slow backwash gently rocks the vast stretches of hyacinths and white water lilies.
Everywhere, the crystal-clear waters of the Flinders reflects a voluble, intense life.
Fish, amphibians, reptiles, multihued birds. The only downside: swarms of mosquitoes which, at regular times - dawn and dusk - swoop down over the river in search of food.

I observe with pleasure the dexterity and skill of the aborigines. On the water they are truly in their element; their skill at fishing is unparalleled. Everyone moves around in dugouts, the most beautiful of which feature a prow decorated with a finely engraved crocodile head embellished with shells and polychromatic designs - the crocodile is the god of the river, the natives do not fear it; they know its habits and the places where it is found. They have also informed me that 'Peula-Peula' protects them...
I do not know what 'Peula-Peula' is.

The aborigines along the Flinders have developed highly elaborate and perfectly efficient fishing techniques using a cone-shaped trap, whose inner walls are bristling with spines. When a fish moves into the cone to get the bait within, it cannot get back out for its head is caught in the mesh of spines. Other fishermen use long sticks, the end of which is covered in spider webs wrapped around the bait. When the fish approaches, it becomes entangled in the web.

Their entire life revolves around the river; contacts with neighbouring groups are occasional and rather aggressive. This morning, a fisherman showed me his catch, an enormous catfish that must have weighed 100 pounds. I noted strangely shaped scars on the animal's back, as if part of the skin and flesh had been punched out. Strange. When I asked the native about these scars, he replied 'Peula-Peula'!

I have noticed similar stigmata on other large catches (crocodiles, catfish, dolphins, etc.). The marks are too wide and too deep to be caused by a lamprey, and the edges of the wound are not arc-shaped like a mouth.

The natives are bustling about; they seem to be preparing for a major ceremony. This morning, I saw a group of men carrying assegais, bows and body paint head into the forest on the southern bank. They are almost certainly going to raid a neighbouring village... The other members of the community met on a 'sanctuary' island, at the centre of which are kept the skulls and bones of the ancestors... stakes, made of polished wood bleached by the sun, are firmly anchored in the riverbed
…The warriors have returned, excited and boisterous, they have taken a prisoner.... the noise of the roaring and singing rises while a ruddy full moon rises in the sky
....using my telescope, I can watch the scene as if I were there ... the man is placed into a a kind of hoop net, with a very broad mesh; his hands and feet are bound and only his head is free.
... the hoop net is dropped into the river waters and attached to one of the stakes ... the men repeatedly chant "Peula-Peula ... Peula-Peula ... Peula-Peula ... Peula-Peula ...", the singing doubles in intensity and drowns out the shouts of the unfortunate soul imprisoned in the net.

The ceremony I have just attended has left me rather sceptical.

13 October

The sanctuary was deserted. I approached it and inspected the net. The man was dead. The willow net had been hoisted out of the water and opened. A repulsive sight lay within, large chunks of flesh had been ripped out of the victim's body, the wounds were the same as those seen on the catfish and, in places, enormous larvae were still clinging tightly to their prey and emitting a repugnant sucking noise. My description follows:

"Large aquatic neotonic larva (measuring 40 to 60 centimetres) - oral appendages consisting of two pseudo-cheliceras and a sucking and drilling crop with 2 palps - soft abdomen slightly longer than the rest of the body - thorax and head difficult to distinguish from each other - the head can probably be retracted into the pseudo-thorax - 4 pairs of feet segmented into 5 articles - 3 composite eyes".

The animal - dubbed Eucerna thanathos Müller - lives exclusively in the water. A powerful carnivore, it lies in wait for its prey, to which it attaches itself using 4 of its 8 feet. With its drilling crop it can pierce the toughest hides and then suck the innards out of its victims.

The natives of the Flinders river call it Peula-Peula, from the soft cry the animal makes when it is stuck to its prey."

Dear Curator, please allow me to continue!

I have brought with me a number of documents in connection with the Lepoutre collection. I will send you a more complete report once I have finished with the Peula-Peula. In the meantime, here is an initial specimen, discovered in a mine shaft in Valenciennes (northern France) at a depth of 400 metres.


Daphnia maximus - Lepoutre 1922

Entomostraca - order Branchiopoda

Common name: none

Location: Froidecoeur mineshaft - Valenciennes, France

Depth:  402 metres

Definition: Small crustacean with foliated carapace. Posterior edge of the head extends rearwards through a broad shield. Holds onto surfaces by its two posterior antennules. It has  rounded abdomen.

Ethology: aquatic larva