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12 Fantastic Drawings of Fictional Creatures from a 17th Century Book

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University of Houston Digital Library

Published in 1658, The History of Four-Footed Beasts, Serpents and Insects presents a catalog of the known animals at the time in several volumes (that link takes you to Volume 1). Compiled by English clergyman Edward Topsell, the collection is based largely on the earlier Latin work by Konrad Gesner. Interspersed among the imaginative depictions of all sorts of animals from the antelope to the wolf and many different kinds of goats are more fictional fauna like satyrs and dragons.

1. Aegopithecus

Aegopithecus looks more like our traditional understanding of a satyr than the entry for half-man half-goat later on. The name later got applied to an early anthropoid that lived around 33 million years ago.

2. Monster


At first you may think it's the eerily human-like profile on this unnamed monster that makes it especially frightening, but a second look reveals giant chicken feet only on the hind legs. Which should terrify anyone who's ever ticked off a rooster.

3. Dragon

These dragons don't have legs like modern interpretations; they are literally giant winged serpents.

4. Gulon

As you may notice in the picture, the artist has chosen to depict the gulon excreting amid a pile of bones. This was not some random slander against the mythical Scandinavian creature. The gulon, who is described as a cross between a cat and a dog, was best known for his bizarre eating habits. After violently gorging himself beyond the point of satiation,"he seeketh for some narrow passage betwixt two trees, and there drawth through his body, by pressing whereof, he driveth out the meat which he had eaten."

5. Hydra

By the time the catalog was collected, there were no living hydras, but rumors of a seven-headed serpent carcass in Venice seemed enough to corroborate the tale of Hercules and Hydra.

6. Lamia

The catalog admits that the term "lamia" has historically been applied to a range of beasts and even fish. Topsells explains that perhaps this stems from a myth about a beautiful young woman, Lamia, who caught the eye of Jupiter and bore several sons by the god. When Juno learned of her husband's infidelity, she cursed Lamia, killing her sons and condemning her to perpetual sleepless mourning. Jupiter, in turn, granted his ex-lover the ability to shape-shift—which still doesn't explain why she chose the image you see above.

7. Man Ape

Half man, half ape. Looks like a cross between a scarecrow and a wooden human model from art class.

8. Mantichora

With the head of a man, the body of a lion and the tail of a dragon, the mantichora was often used in medieval times as a symbol of the Devil.

9. Satyre

Topsell writes that, unlike the Aegopithecus above, real satyres do not have goat-like features but are rather a breed of ape, often thought to be the shape taken by the Devil on earth.

10. Sea Serpent

Looks like an eel to me.

11. Sphinga or Sphinx

"If a man do first of all perceive or discern these natural sphinges, before the beast perceive or discern the man, he shall be safe," Topsell writes, "but if the beast first decry the man, then it is mortal to the man."

12. Unicorn

Of all the creatures, Topsell dedicates perhaps the most time to the unicorn. Accounts of the curative properties of the horn are detailed and varied but, the author admits, it is precisely these almost unbelievable claims that call into question the existence of such a magical creature.

All photos courtesy of University of Houston Digital Library

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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