Johann Daniel Meyer’s mysterious ‘wild American hound’
Here’s an odd little conundrum for you to cogitate upon at your leisure, should you be so inclined. During an online surfing session a few days ago, I happened upon the curious illustration presented above.
Details concerning it are sparse in the extreme, but here is what I have been able to uncover so far. Measuring 12 inches by 8 inches, the image has a German title that translates as ‘wild American hound’, and is a hand-coloured copperplate engraving by Johann Daniel Meyer that appeared in his Angenehmer und nützlicher Zeit-Vertreib mit Betrachtung curioser Vorstellungen allerhand kriechender, fliegender und schwimmender, auf dem Land und im Wasser sich befindender und nährender Thiere etc - a three-volume wildlife tome published between 1748 and 1756 in Nuremberg, Germany.
As can be readily perceived from this engraving, however, whatever the creature depicted by it may be, it is certainly not a hound, nor, indeed, a canid, of any kind (wild and/or American notwithstanding!). So what is it?
When I first looked at it, I initially thought of the Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana, because the engraved creature does bear a degree of overall resemblance to this largest and most famous of modern-day New World marsupials. I even found an online photo of the Virginia opossum, reproduced here, that vaguely recalls it.
Even so, Meyer’s mystery beast can be readily differentiated by its wholly brown colouration, in particular its dark face and its body’s extremely short, uniformly brown fur – in stark contrast to the white face and the longer, shaggy, grey body fur of the Virginia opossum. Meyer’s beast may have a bare tail, which, if so, likens it to the latter species, but, equally, it may simply have very short fur – the engraving does not make this clear.
Engraving of kinkajou
In addition to the Virginia opossum, I have also considered those uniformly brown-furred, Neotropical raccoon cousins known respectively as the kinkajou Potos flavus and the olingos (a quintet of Bassaricyon species). Again, as shown here, superficially these are somewhat similar to Meyer’s beast, but none of them is native to North America.
Olingo (Fiona Reid – Field Guide to Mammals of Central America)
So unless the ‘American’ in ‘wild American hound’ was being used in its very broadest sense, i.e. appertaining to anywhere within the entire New World, rather than its much more common and more specific usage as a contraction of the United States of America, I have once again come to a halt in my search for this mystifying mammal’s taxonomic identity – unless, gentle readers, you could offer any suggestions or additional information? If so, please post details here, as I’d very greatly welcome them!