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The Quick 10: 10 Creatures People Didn't Think Existed

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In the span of less than a week, there's been news that Bigfoot and el Chupacabra may have been discovered. At this rate, Nessie is going to pop up next week and the Mothman will knock on someone's door in West Virginia and ask to borrow a cup of sugar.

I wanted to do today's list on animals that were thought to be mythical but ended up being real; however, I couldn't find that many. So it's a combined list of that and animals that were thought to be extinct but were rediscovered at some point. Those types of animals are called Lazarus species, by the way: a rather fitting name.

1. The Okapi

The Okapi is the mascot of the International Society of Cryptozoology because it was thought to be a myth until 1902. It was even called the African unicorn, which goes to show you just how outrageous people thought this animal was. They're now found in most zoos, but don't let that fool you - not many of them exist in the wild. It was 2008 before a motion-triggered camera in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo caught the first-ever photo of an okapi in the wild.

2. The Devil Bird

Until 2001, this diabolical bird was mere legend. The Devil Bird tale began in Sri Lanka, where the shrill, human-like shriek of a bird they called "Ulama" was said to predict the death of a loved one. When the Spot-bellied Eagle-owl was discovered 13 years ago, researchers quickly realized that it matched the description of the Devil Bird quite closely.

3. The Kraken

A lot of people believe that what sailors once referred to as the kraken was really just a giant squid. Well, not "just": One account said the kraken was the size of a floating island. According to some estimates, the female giant squid can grow to be up to 43 feet long, so the size of a small island wouldn't be unrealistic. After centuries of kraken tales, the only evidence we had that the giant squid even existed were carcasses that had washed up on shores. In 2004, scientists finally took the first pictures of a living, fully-grown giant squid. Just two years later, researchers were able to capture film of one moving.

4. The Coelacanth

This guy was thought to be extinct for about 65 million years until it was rediscovered near the east coast of South Africa in 1938. They weigh about 176 pounds on average and can be as long as 6.5 feet (though there's one account of a 15-footer). Coelacanth have since popped up in waters near Tanzania and Indonesia, among other places, proving that some species still exist, even when we've written them off for millions of years.

5. The Platypus

For a long time, people thought the idea of a platypus was laughable. And it kind of is - when you think about it, a semi-aquatic poisonous mammal that lays eggs and has the beak of the duck and the tail of a beaver does seem a little far-fetched. When a body of this odd animal was finally brought forth as proof, it was assumed by the entire academic community that a jokester taxidermist had sewed the body parts of various animals together for a laugh.

6. Giant Earthworms

You know, I think this guy could stay extinct - it's been said that the Giant Palouse Earthworm can grow up to three feet in length. Discovered in 1897, the worm was thought to be extinct by the 1980s. It has, however, been sighted several since then. The most recent was in 2010, and to the disappointment of Tremors fans everywhere, was only a foot long. If you want to go Giant Palouse Earthworm hunting, I suggest you start in eastern Washington and Idaho. Bring a shovel, because it can burrow up to 15 feet in the ground. 

7. The Takahe

Meet the takahe, a flightless bird from New Zealand that we thought went extinct in 1898. An expedition in 1948 revealed that a colony of them were still living on South Island. Only 224 birds are known to exist now - it was 225, but a Department of Conservation employee accidentally shot a Takahe when he mistook it for the Pukeko. (Happens to the best of us.)

8.Bermuda Petrel

Much like the Devil Bird, the Bermuda Petrel, also known as the cahow, has an incredibly creepy call. It's even said that early Spanish settlers avoided the Bermudan islands instead of inhabiting them because they thought the calls were demons, roaming from island to island. This national bird of Bermuda was thought to be extinct for 330 years, until an ornithologist discovered 18 nesting pairs of them in Castle Harbour in 1951. As of 2005, the global population of the birds was about 250. 

9. Komodo Dragons

Though they're a staple at many zoos these days, Komodo dragons were thought to be completely mythical for many centuries. Not because of the "dragon" moniker, but because people were describing it as a "land crocodile." It wasn't until 1912 that a photo and a preserved skin proved their existence. Zoologists set out on an expedition to find out more in 1926; the trip resulted in 12 carcasses and 2 live specimens. Three of these can still be found at the American Museum of Natural History.

10. The Thylacine

Our last example is one that doesn't quite fit the category of Lazarus species, because it hasn't officially been rediscovered yet. The Thylacine, AKA the Tasmanian Wolf, the Tasmanian Tiger or the Tassie Tiger, looks like a cross between, you guessed it - a wolf and a tiger. But it was actually a marsupial and had a pouch. It could also open its jaws up to 120 degrees. Tasmanian Tigers were present in Tasmania until the 1930s, when they were hunted to near extinction after the discovery that they were killing livestock. "Benjamin," the last one on the record books, was given a home at the Hobart Zoo in 1933. He died three years later. People claim to spot the Thylacine on a fairly regular basis in Tasmania, Australia, and Indonesia, and Ted Turner once offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove its existence. Still, one has yet to be caught or photographed, so it remains officially extinct.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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