Strange-but-untrue animals

Ancient seafarers exploring islands in the Caspian Sea, north of Iran, returned with tales of a strange beast that was half animal, half vegetable. They called it the "vegetable lamb." Supposedly, the lamb was permanently attached to the ground at the site where it was born. The sad creature would eat all the grass it could reach, and then die. Today, we know this weird animal was actually a small shrub, Cibotium barometz. When the plant's buds open, it resembles a woolly lamb.

Isn't it amazing how easily our eyes (and imaginations) can deceive us?

Stories about bizarre animals have appeared throughout history. Another example is the "barnacle tree." This tale originated in the 1100s. The tree was described as completely covered with sea barnacles. When they opened, baby geese poked their heads out. And when the geese reached maturity, they would drop into the ocean and swim away.

More amazing is the tale of Minhocao, or giant earthworm. In the 1800s, European science journals reported finding this creature in South America. It was said to be enormous - more than 150 feet long and 15 feet wide - and covered with bones that acted as armor. Skeptics suggested that people were probably seeing giant armadillos. (Giant earthworms do exist, but they're not that giant: One species in Australia grows to be 12 feet long.)

In 1995, the "hot-headed naked ice borer" made the news. The beast reportedly had a body temperature of 110 degrees F. This allowed it to melt ice. Supposedly, it lived in Antarctica in ice tunnels. When hungry, it would come up and hunt penguins.

The hot-headed naked ice borer, however, turned out to be an April Fool's day joke by Discover magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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