klonoaxero, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
klonoaxero, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

7 Mythical Beasts Created With Taxidermy

klonoaxero, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
klonoaxero, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1842, New Yorkers were lured into P. T. Barnum's American Museum by a banner depicting three mermaids with shapely bare chests and long hair. Inside, the creature that greeted visitors was not a beautiful siren at all, but a grotesque half-monkey, half-fish, its face seemingly frozen in a blood-curdling scream. While Barnum’s animal mash-up was not the first “Fiji mermaid," as he dubbed the creature, it sparked a frenzy for them in the 19th century. You can find surviving examples among the treasures of the British Museum in London, and lurking in the rafters of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle.

Legends of animal hybrids and chimeric beasts date back to antiquity, but for proof, we want evidence. And over the centuries there have been many taxidermists happy to supply it. Whether it's the North American jackalope or Icelandic fur-bearing trout, the colorful history of mythical creatures made from taxidermy is full of imaginative—and disturbing—concoctions that stretch belief, and sometimes fool even the best of naturalists.

1. JENNY HANIVER

Jenny Haniver

If you’ve ever watched a ray or skate fish and thought that its nostrils and mouth looked like a flat face swimming by, you were on the same wavelength as the fabricators of the jenny haniver. In the 1976 book Animal Fakes & Frauds, author Peter Dance explains that the jenny haniver is “a manifestation of that terrible monster, the basilik or cockatrice.” He adds that the basilik was long depicted as a venomous snake, but by the 13th century “it had become a frightful monster and had acquired several more equally absurd attributes.” Among these was the fact that it was said to be born from a perfectly spherical egg “laid by a seven-year-old cock bird during the days of Sirius the dog star.”

Needless to say, these parameters gave a monster-maker a lot to work with. In 1558, Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner published a woodcut of a jenny haniver, adding that the medicine peddlers “are accustomed to dry rays and fashion their skeletons into varied and wonderful shapes.” Fabrication of jenny hanivers continued well into the 20th century; while researching his book, Dance was able to buy one in a shop in London's Soho. They are still occasionally made today, although conservation efforts have made their production and sale more difficult.

2. FUR-BEARING TROUT

Fur-bearing trout
LongLiveRock, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

How do fish survive in frigid water? Disregarding the facts of scientific biology, some tall tales have declared that fish in the coldest climates grow fur. In the 2003 book The Beasts That Hide from Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals, Karl Shuker cites an example in the Royal Museum of Scotland that arrived with a label declaring that it was captured in Lake Superior off the coast of Ontario, and that its dense fur was probably an adaptation to "the extreme penetrating coldness of the water."

The woman who brought the specimen to the museum was told, of course, that it was a fake. There are no furry fish; the fur-bearing trout is merely covered with white rabbit fur. Nevertheless, the myth has reach, from the hairy Icelandic Lodsilungur—purported to be an inedible torment by demons—to the supposedly furry trout of Montana. Conveniently, the North American variety obliterates itself if caught: As explained in a 1929 issue of Montana Wildlife, the change in temperature when taken out of the water "is so great that the fish explodes." However, there may be some reality behind the lore: The fungus Saprolegnia can cause fish to grow a cottony mold on their flesh.

3. WHITE-RUSSIAN SHORE-MUDDLER

The scientific name for the Vitrysk Strandmuddlare, or White-Russian Shore-muddler, is Lirpa lirpa. Flip those two words around and you’ll get a hint that this animal—with a wild boar piglet head, alligator tusks, squirrel tail, and duck legs—is a bit of tomfoolery.

In The Impossible Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Fabulous Beasts and Mythical Monsters, author Leo Ruickbie says that the sole taxidermied specimen, created in the 1960s, was "at one point exhibited every year at the Natural History Museum in Göteborg, Sweden, on 1 April.” According to Dance, it was created by museum director Dr. Bengt Hubendick to increase attendance, and the museum “benefited considerably from the annual display of its strangest inmate.”

4. BARE-FRONTED HOODWINK

In the 1950s, ornithologist Maury FJ Meiklejohn theorized that there was a reason for all the creatures that befuddled birdwatchers with ambiguous calls and obscure feather patterns: an unidentified species. As Rachel Warren-Chadd and Marianne Taylor relate in Birds: Myth, Lore and Legend, the Bare-fronted Hoodwink was imagined as "a representation of all birds that cannot be properly identified by the birdwatcher."

In a 1950 journal article about the species, Meiklejohn named it Dissimulatrix spuria and noted that it was most frequently seen by beginner birdwatchers. (Not everyone was amused: In a 1951 issue of Auk journal [PDF], one H. G. Deignan lamented: "One could wish that articles of this nature be omitted from the pages of serious journals.") A taxidermy version mixing together parts from a crow, duck, and plover was created by William Stirling, and is part of the collections of National Museums Scotland. It was exhibited in 1975 with photographs of the bird, all blurred.

5. JACKALOPE

Popular as postcard fodder in the American West, the jackalope is a portmanteau of jackrabbit and antelope. Its creation is often credited to Douglas Herrick of Wyoming, who in the 1930s returned home from hunting with a rabbit, which he put down next to a pair of deer antlers—and an idea was born. The fateful collision eventually led to the town of Douglas, Wyoming being nicknamed "Home of the Jackalope," with jackalope hunting licenses available one day a year.

Although Herrick may have been the first to create taxidermy “proof,” the idea of a horned hare has roots that go much deeper than American folklore. The Lepus cornutus can be found in medieval manuscripts, and a rabbit with antlers can be seen among the animals in Jan Brueghel’s 17th-century "The Virgin and Child in a Painting surrounded by Fruit and Flowers." In a 2014 article for WIRED, Matt Simon investigated the proliferation of this imagery, noting that back in the 1930s, perhaps around the same time Herrick was hunting rabbits, an American scientist found that the "horns" on some so-called jackalopes were actually tumors caused by a viral infection. Incredibly, the papillomaviruses that caused them—related to human papillomavirus, or HPV—first took root in a 300-million-year-old shared ancestor of birds, mammals, and reptiles, making truth indeed stranger than the jackalope fiction.

6. WOLPERTINGER

Wolpertinger

James Steakley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The wolpertinger is like an extreme jackalope. It has the head of a rabbit and the body of a squirrel, as well as antlers, vampiric fangs, and wings, although the recipe for the abomination is far from standardized. It’s similar to the skvader, a winged Swedish hare made in 1918 by taxidermist Rudolf Granberg.

At the German Hunting and Fishing Museum in Munich, visitors can see taxidermy “specimens” of these creatures said to be from Bavaria. These wolpertingers prowl a diorama of an alpine forest, displaying fangs, antlers, wings, duck feet, and all manner of freakish augmentations. The exact origin of the wolpertinger is unclear, although stuffed versions date to the 19th century. According to Germany's The Local, those who want to witness these beings in the wild, supposedly born from unholy love between species, "must be an attractive, single woman" and "visit a forest in the Bavarian Alps during a full moon, accompanied by the 'right man.'" Surely the most romantic of first date options.

7. WILD HAGGIS

Wild Haggis
MyName (StaraBlazkova), Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Ever wondered how haggis, that most famed and feared of Scottish dishes, is made? Some claim you must first catch a wild haggis, a small mammal shaped like a sausage that has shorter legs on one side of its body than the other, the better to walk in the steep Scottish Highlands. Depending on which side is more stunted, the haggis can supposedly only run clockwise or counter-clockwise, so it’s hunted by sprinting in the other direction.

There is of course no such creature—haggis is a concoction of sheep innards—but taxidermists have long pranked gullible tourists. The Guardian reported that when the haggis maker Hall's of Broxburn polled 1000 American visitors, 33 percent believed haggis was an animal (and 23 percent boasted they could catch one). And if you believe that, someone has a haggis whistle to sell you.

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Fearless Man Slices 26 Watermelons on His Stomach in 60 Seconds, Setting New Record
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iStock

Ashrita Furman, a 63-year-old New Yorker who holds the world record for setting the most Guinness World Records, just achieved another one. This time, it was for the most watermelons sliced on top of his stomach in 60 seconds, Nerdist reports.

Furman came up with the idea for the record himself, and while he didn’t have any competition, Guinness stipulated that he had to slice at least 20 watermelons to be recognized. He managed to cut through 26 melons with his tool of choice, a katana, in less than a minute. (He walked away without a scratch.)

Check out this spectacle (and serious ab workout) for yourself:

“I’m really thrilled,” Furman told Reuters after pulling off the feat. “My first reaction is I’m relieved that I didn’t kill myself and the second is that I’m exhilarated because it is not only a skillful record, but also it’s something that I invented and now it’s out there and other people can challenge it.”

Furman, who has been called “Mr. Versatility,” currently holds more than 200 Guinness records. He set his very first record in 1979 after completing 27,000 jumping jacks, and he hasn’t slowed down since. In the past near-40 years he has set the record for—among other feats—the most knives caught in a minute (54); the greatest distance traveled while juggling on a pogo stick (4 miles, 30 feet); and most grapes caught in his mouth in one minute (86).

[h/t Nerdist]

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7 of the Most Bizarre Ways to Die
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iStock

While most of us hope death comes with dignity and being surrounded by loved ones, there’s really no telling what fate may have in store. If you manage to avoid some of the most common causes of expiration—heart disease and cancer are statistically the most likely causes to interrupt your existence—there’s an endless series of lesser-known maladies and tragedies that could conceivably cause you to miss the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones.

1. DEATH BY NASAL IRRIGATION POT

A woman uses a peti pot to clear her sinuses
iStock

Neti pots, which are used to irrigate the sinuses of allergy sufferers, resemble teapots with a spout that allows water to be poured into one nostril and come out the other. Usually, the worst case scenario when using one is that you’ll make a huge mess and wind up with a sink full of snot-tinged water. But for two people in Louisiana in 2011, the pot facilitated the transmission of a brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. It’s believed the organism was transmitted by contaminated tap water contained in their residences, which they both used to fill their neti pots.

The amoeba, which is typically found in warm freshwater lakes, causes fatal brain swelling and carries a mortality rate of more than 97 percent—though infection is actually very rare. The fact that the deceased delivered it directly into their sinuses is what led to the fatal outcome. “Normally, it’s totally harmless, doing its own thing in the mud, eating whatever it finds there, going about its business, not bugging anybody,” Dan Riskin, biologist and expert on the Animal Planet series Monsters Inside Me, told Mental Floss last year. That changes when water harboring N. fowleri is violently shoved up someone's nose. That’s why you should never use anything but sterile water in your neti pots.

2. CHOKING IN A COCKROACH EATING CONTEST

Cockroaches are piled on top of one another
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Endurance and eating contests bring their share of peril. There was the case of the woman who died from dangerously low sodium levels after drinking too much water and holding in her urine for a 2007 radio promotion. Gastronomic athletes have died in an attempt to break hot dog eating records. But nothing compares to choking to death on cockroaches. According to CNN, 32-year-old Edward Archbold entered a bug-eating competition in 2012 that was sponsored by a Florida reptile shop. Archbold wolfed down a series of cockroaches and worms, only to find his airway blocked by the influx of their masticated body parts. The medical examiner ruled he asphyxiated on the bugs.

3. GRAPPLING WITH A VENDING MACHINE

A vending machine that offers a variety of options
iStock

Weighing anywhere from 500 to nearly 900 pounds when empty, and even more when fully stocked, vending machines are the closest thing we have to the falling anvils of the cartoon world. When a machine eats bills or fails to dispense Doritos, some people can become agitated enough to think that rocking the unit is a good idea. It isn’t. An estimated 1700 injuries occur each year as a result of tussling with these monuments to snack storage, with roughly four deaths attributable to the duels.

4. POOPING TOO HARD

A man strains while using the toilet
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A fiber-rich diet and sensible cheese consumption should keep most people from enduring a most ignoble end. Straining to pass hard stool can result in something called defecation syncope, or poop-fainting. By holding your breath while bearing down to expel waste, the body’s blood flow is reduced. If you already have compromised arterial blood flow, the low blood pressure can trigger fainting or a heart attack. The University of Miami described two such cases in a 2017 paper. In postoperative hospital care, two patients experienced fatal cardiac events following excessive toilet straining.

5. DEATH BY LAUGHTER

A man laughs hysterically
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Some of us truly can suffer consequences during Home Improvement marathons, though not in the way you’d expect. A 2013 paper published in the British Medical Journal offered a litany of possible consequences from laughing, from the minor (fainting) to cardiac events as a result of preexisting conditions. Infamously, a bricklayer named Alex Mitchell died in 1975 after getting the giggles while watching a BBC sketch show titled The Goodies. Mitchell had Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that can be worsened by the exertion of laughing. He went into cardiac arrest and died. His wife, Nessie, wrote the show's producers, thanking them for making her husband’s final moments happy ones.

6. KILLED BY A ROBOT

A robot arm holds up a wrench
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As technology improves, it seems inevitable that a robot will eventually stand trial for murder just as Isaac Asimov predicted. When that day comes, we may look upon late Kawasaki factory worker Kenji Urada as an early casualty. In 1981, Urada attempted to repair a robot at one of the company’s plants in Akashi, Japan. Urada failed to heed protocol, jumping over a fence rather than opening it—which would have triggered the machine to shut down. Instead, one of its massive arms pinned Urada to a nearby machine that cut up engine gears. Workers tried to intervene, but Urada was killed. A similar incident occurred in 2015, when a robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany grabbed an employee instead of a vehicle part and crushed him to death.

7. FELLED BY AN ATOMIC WEDGIE

A man has his underwear yanked out of his pants
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For anyone who has never attended public school, a “wedgie” is committed when an assailant takes a fistful of a victim’s underwear and yanks, causing the garment to become lodged in the buttocks. While uncomfortable, it rarely proves fatal. An exception came in 2013, when a McLoud, Oklahoma man named Brad Lee Davis had a physical confrontation with his stepfather, Denver Lee St. Clair. After a struggle, Davis took St. Clair’s underwear and pulled it up and over his head, causing the elastic waistband to stretch tightly around his neck. The constriction caused his airway to become blocked, and he expired. Davis accepted a plea deal in 2015. “I did a horrible thing when I gave him that wedgie,” he lamented to authorities. Davis received a 30-year sentence.

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