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15 Kraken Facts and Myths to Unleash In Conversation

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There once was a time when uttering the name Kraken sent chills down a mariner’s spine. The legendary beast was known for dragging whole ships down into the watery depths of Davy Jones’s Locker. Today we see the monster largely as fiction, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have ties to reality. 

1. It comes from Norwegian folklore. 

According to 13th century Norse legend, hero Örvar-Oddr and his son came into contact with two threatening creatures from the deep. One of these encounters is later described in detail by Konungs skuggsjá, a Norwegian educational text written in the same century. Kraken comes from the Norwegian word krake, which is probably related to the German krake, which means octopus. 

2. The Kraken was originally more crab-like. 

While many modern depictions show the Kraken as a giant squid, earlier accounts of the beast described it as having spindly appendages like a crab’s. 

3. It’s far, far larger than your boat. 

Accounts disagree on exactly how big the Kraken really is, but one thing is certain: It’s huge. Descriptions go from vague (the length of 10 ships) to more specific (a mile and a half long). Some stories say that unlucky sailors would mistake the beast for an island and try to land on it. These foolish sea-goers would then be dragged down into the ocean. 

4. You know it’s coming when you see fish rise to the surface.

If sailors saw gurgling bubbles, surfacing fish, or a plethora of jellyfish, they knew something was up down below. While fleeing sea-life always preceded the Kraken’s approach, their appearance unfortunately didn’t give sailors enough time to get out of the way. The monster’s great size and many tentacles make it a difficult predator to evade. 

5. Kraken feces works as fish bait. 

Bishop Erik Pontoppidan wrote extensively about the Kraken in his 1750s book The Natural History of Norway. In it, he proposed that this great beast ate a great deal of fish, and therefore his waste must also be fairly fishy. This muddy concoction was allegedly so delicious smelling to other fish that they would come and congregate around it. The Kraken could then pounce on its meal and produce more bait, continuing the cycle.

6. Some of the best minds in history have tried to disprove the myth.

In 1848, the frigate Daedalus encountered a sea monster that the sailors estimated to be at least 60 feet long, which caused a sensation. Sir Richard Owen, the man who invented the word 'dinosaur,' argued that they saw a seal, which led to a longstanding argument between Owen and the captain of the Daedalus, who pointed out that they knew full well what a seal looked like. There were similar observations in 1845 that Owen similarly dismissed—until 1873, when a fisherman caught a giant squid.

7. Carl Von Linné listed the Kraken as a real creature in Systema Naturae. 

Zoologist Carl Von Linné (also known as Linnaeus) was a respected scientist who is considered the father of biological systematics. In Systema Naturae (1735), he describes the Kraken as an actual organism. 

8. It might have a natural explanation.

There is no solid evidence of mile-long monsters swimming in our oceans, but we do have giant squids. These deep-sea dwellers can weigh anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds. But, as these immense creatures are not likely to surface, it’s more likely that ancient sailors confused something else in the water for Krakens: Bubbles, dangerous currents, and the appearance of new land are all signs of underwater volcanic activity, something common in Iceland. 

9. There may have actually been a Kraken. 

Ichthyosaur bones have been discovered in patterns similar to the way that octopuses place the bones of their meals. Even more interestingly, one discovered ribcage shows signs of constriction, as if a large tentacle was wrapped around it. Ichthyosaurs were pretty hefty creatures (some were as long 30 feet), so it would take a very large cephalopod to catch and eat it. 

10. One prominent French zoologist insisted the Kraken was real. 

Zoologist Pierre Denys de Montfort was studying giant cephalopods in the 1700s after hearing accounts from captains of giant tentacles being discovered. He cited old pieces of artwork and ship disappearances as evidence of these beasts.  After 10 ships went missing in 1782, de Montfort made the bold assumption that the Kraken was to blame. The boats were truthfully lost in a hurricane and his reputation was ruined.

11. The Kraken lays low. 

Legend says that the sea monster enjoys solitude and resides deep on the ocean floor. It uses its tentacles to stay tethered to the bottom and hunts for food. The beast will only surface in warm weather—or when disrupted. 

12. The Kraken has no magic powers. 

Despite being a mythical creature, the Kraken doesn’t boast any supernatural abilities. The fearsome nature of the Kraken is its sheer size; sailors do not have to worry about it flying out of the water or putting a curse on them. Some modern-day cartoons suggest that if you defeat the Kraken, it will grant you a wish, but that deviates from Norwegian folklore.

13. Sailors had to worry about not only the Kraken itself, but also what it left in its wake. 

Because of its sheer size, the Kraken is believed to conjure a whirlpool when diving back into the ocean. The watery suction drags ships to the depths of the sea. 

14. Some legends suggest there’s more than one Kraken. 

Many tales talk of the Kraken, but sometimes there are stories that mention multiple giant cephalopods. This would make the waters particularly hazardous for those sailing over deep waters. 

15.  The Kraken has a big pop culture presence. 

For a mythical creature, the giant squid gets a lot of attention. From the 13th century to modern times, you can find the monster in poems, novels, television shows, video games, and movies. A number of products and companies also borrow the moniker. 

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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