Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 13 March 2014


Colour plate of the fraudulent striped tamandua from Buffon's Histoire Naturelle (1749-1788)

There are four recognised species of modern-day South American anteater – or vermilinguan, to be taxonomically precise (the unrelated aardvark, the pangolins, and the echidnas are all sometimes referred to colloquially as anteaters too – respectively, the African anteater, the scaly anteaters, and the spiny anteaters). These are: the giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla; the pygmy or silky anteater Cyclopes didactylus; and somewhat midway in size between these two species, the northern tamandua Tamandua mexicana and the southern tamandua T. tetradactyla (these two were previously lumped together as a single species, the tamandua T. tetradactyla).

Each of the two tamandua species is itself split into four subspecies, and although the most familiar appearance in both species is one in which the animal possesses a black vest-like coat pattern over its torso, with the remainder of its body and also its head of paler colouration, there is much variation in both coat colour and pattern.

Beautiful painting of a tamandua by J.G. Keulemans from 1871

Variation notwithstanding, however, no tamandua had ever been reported before (or, indeed, has been since) that even remotely resembled a certain extraordinary specimen sent during the 1700s to the pre-eminent French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), for examination. What made it unique was that, totally eschewing the traditional 'black vest vs paler elsewhere' tamandua image noted above, this particular individual was very distinctively patterned all over its body, legs, tail, and even its long snout with bold, highly contrasting black and gold stripes!

Needless to say, Buffon was captivated by this veritable bumblebee in anteater form, and in 1763 he duly incorporated it as a major new species, the striped tamandua, in his monumental, 36-volume magnum opus, Histoire Naturelle (1749-1788) (NB - one of the southern tamandua's four subspecies is also referred to sometimes as the striped tamandua, but it bears no resemblance to the singular specimen documented here, so it should not be confused with this latter animal). He even commissioned a full-colour plate for his Histoire Naturelle, portraying his striped tamandua there in all its banded beauty, which is the image opening this present ShukerNature post, and to my knowledge the only depiction of this creature ever produced.

Portrait of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, by François-Hubert Drouais (1725-1775)

Tragically for Buffon's reputation, however, when the striped tamandua's holotype was examined by other zoologists after his death, it was discovered that he had been the victim of a cunning hoax. The creature was not a tamandua at all, but was instead a coati – a long-nosed relative of the raccoons, occurring in three recognised species – which had been deftly modified to resemble an anteater (even its teeth had been removed), and whose stripes were equally artificial. The perpetrator of this cruel practical joke was never identified, but once their hoax had been exposed, the now-fraudulent striped tamandua made a swift, unmourned exit from the natural history tomes, never to return.

A ring-tailed coati Nasua nasua from South America

1 comment:

  1. You know, I really love the titles of some of your posts. They're very creative.