Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

HORNING IN ON THE UNICORN SNAKE


Hoax unicorn snake - photo-manipulation to demonstrate what such an exhibit would have looked like (© Dr Karl Shuker)

During the Middle Ages and even several centuries later, explorers and travellers to exotic far-flung localities around the globe would often return home to Europe with unusual animal specimens as interesting souvenirs. Sadly, however, some of these items were outright fakes (such as the infamous 'Feejee mermaids', which were composite creations deftly manufactured from preserved monkeys and large fishes) or deliberately misidentified objects (such as ibex or antelope horns masquerading as griffin or dragon claws) that had been sold to the unsuspecting voyagers at exorbitant prices by unscrupulous vendors.

An ophidian representative from these shaming cabinets of credulities was the unicorn snake. Generally procured in the East, this usually took the form of a dried, preserved serpent of fairly sizeable proportions but sporting as its most eyecatching characteristic a long spine protruding from the centre of its brow like a veritable herpetological unicorn.

Photo-manipulation close-up demonstrating what a hoax unicorn snake created using an inserted cut-down porcupine quill would have looked like (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Needless to say, however, an examination of such a specimen by an experienced naturalist invariably revealed that its 'horn' was merely a cut-down quill from a porcupine or a spine from a hedgehog or spiny-finned fish that had been carefully inserted and glued inside the serpent's head. I have also read of living specimens of supposed unicorn snakes, though I can't imagine that any snake would live very long if they had been subjected to such a barbaric treatment, because the inserted quill or spine would probably pierce their brain.

Worth noting is that there is a real species of snake that is sometimes dubbed the green unicorn. More commonly termed the rhinoceros rat snake Rhynchophis boulengeri, however, this green-scaled non-venomous colubrid from Vietnam and China earns its rhino and unicorn epithets from the very prominent, pointed, scaly protrusion borne upon the front of its snout like a small horn.

Head of a rhinoceros rat snake, showing its distinctive snout-horn (public domain)




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