Friday, August 7, 2015

Modern-day ‘Mythical’ Creatures

The creation of mythical creatures in history is often the result of a primitive perception of an event or behavior observed in relation to an existing bird, mammal, or reptile.   Today, we can explain these events or behaviors through research and study.

Even in the modern day, pictures or mounted versions of unusual animals crop up in our culture and generally a person could question, for a period of time, whether that creature was real or not.  The term used to describe many of these modern-day mythical creatures is a ‘hoax’.  These hoax animals are often the result of a practical joke and presented in such a convincing manner that many individuals may believe it was real initially.

A classic example would be the Jackalope.
 A mounted Jackalope (photo: wikipedia)
As the story goes…Jackalopes have the body of a rabbit and the antlers of an antelope.  They are a species thought to be extinct, but rare sights of pocket populations have been found in Western America.  A contributing factor theorized for their small numbers is that they only mate when flashes of lightning occur.  They are credited with the ability to mimic human sounds and often utilize this ability to avoid capture.  Jackalopes are also highly aggressive and will use their antlers to fight.

The Jackalope was first introduced in the 1930s by two brothers, Douglas and Ralph Herrick, when they combined the body of a recently killed rabbit with a pair of deer antlers in their taxidermy shop.  The stuffed ‘Jackalope’ became a very popular souvenir of visitors in their hometown of Douglas, Wyoming.

Among the birding community, we have the ‘almost seen’ or ‘almost captured’ Bare-fronted Hoodwink bird species.  The existence of this species has only been inferred by ornithologist, M. F. Meiklejohn, who studied these very shy and ‘only partially seen’ birds.  He stated that this species can be identified by its blurred appearance and extremely rapid flight away from the observer.  He had an interesting statistic in that amateur bird watchers were more skilled in pinpointing this elusive species than more experienced bird watchers.

Another convincing animal hoax was the Hot-headed Naked Ice Borer presented in a 1995 April DISCOVER magazine article.

A doctored photo of a Naked Mole Rat claimed to be the Hot-headed Naked Ice Borer (photo: wikipedia)

 A wildlife biologist, named Aprile Pazzo, was studying a penguin population along the coast of the Ross Sea when the penguins panicked and one rapidly sank into the ice.  When she pulled the trapped penguin out, several hairless and mole like creatures were attached to the penguin’s lower body by their sharp incisors. She would collect several of these strange creatures for study.  Adults were half a foot long and weighed only ounces.  With their high metabolic rate (body temperature at 110 degrees), they could radiate their incredible heat through a bony plate located on their forehead.  Using the concentration of heat, they would bore their way through the ice and melt the ice underneath their favorite prey: penguins.

The article was printed as an April Fool’s joke in the DISCOVER magazine with the researcher ‘Aprile Passo’ meaning ‘April Fool’ in Italian.  The article received many response letters from institutes joking and asking where they could obtain a few specimens for display for researchers expanding the biology, habit, and physiology of hot-headed naked ice borers.  A recent printing of the 1995 article and humorous response letters can be found here

When you attend one of the World Bird Sanctuary educational shows you can be certain that the information you receive, although always entertaining, will not be a myth, legend or April Fool's joke.  The facts surrounding the animals featured  at WBS shows are so amazing that no fabricated myths or legends are needed.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, Naturalist/Trainer

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