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7 Mythical Creatures That Were Inspired by Real Animals

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Photo credit: Downeym


The griffin is a common figure in Ancient Greek myth and art, said to possess the body of a lion, but the head and wings of an eagle. While it’s possible this creature is the result of early storytellers simply combining existing animals, folklorist Adrienne Mayor has a different theory.

She believes that ancient excavators in the Gobi desert actually uncovered the fossilized bones of the protoceratops — and seeing the beaked face and four-legged body, the legend of the griffin was born. Through trade with the Greeks, this story slowly spread across the ancient world.


Photo credit: Baltazar Vischi


It’s not hard to come to a similar conclusion when you consider dragon myths. When ancient people encountered dinosaur fossils, they came to the natural conclusion: that these were evidence of giant, reptilian monsters. Dragon myths may also have been fueled by descriptions of exotic giant lizards and large snakes. If stories of rhinos could make it to Ancient Greece, why not tales of Komodo dragons, Nile crocodiles, or now-extinct giant lizards?

One anthropologist, Dr. David E. Jones, thinks the explanation is more mundane. He argues that humans and other primates have an instinctive fear of snakes — because even baby chimps who have never been exposed to snakes before are terrified of them. Rather than dragons being based on any particular species or on recovered fossils, he believes they’re entirely the product of humanity’s collective nightmares.


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Photo credit: Bridget Coila

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9:05AM PDT on Sep 6, 2013

"In ancient lore, dragons are but snakes and more." My husband created that little ditty for my snake programs. I used to do displays with snake and dragon items. I thought it would make people less fearful of snakes to compare them to dragons. Sadly, the library in Los Alamos where I started this and did free snake programs for 8 years no longer supported my programs. They went with another environmental organization that bullied their way in and if you didn't go with them, you were out.

10:01AM PDT on Aug 29, 2013

intriguing. I will say that for cyclops it could have simply been inspired by babies born with sever deformities, like the cyclops baby. Cleft pallet so sever that the eyes actually never separate and sometimes there is no nose. A serious condition

6:18AM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

8:30AM PDT on Aug 17, 2013

Fun and interesting article. I can only imagine the excitement of those old discoverers, when they happened upon something new and unknown. What a thrilling emotion that must have been.

7:25PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013


2:05PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

Pretty interesting! Mermades are also found in Russian fairy-tales as well ))

9:46AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

very interesting!

8:59AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

Fun article, thanks!

2:17AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

very interesting, thank you

1:00AM PDT on Aug 7, 2013


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