Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Described by Arab traders, sailors and even Marco Polo, the roc was a bird so large it could lift elephants into the sky. Polo claimed it had a wingspan of 16 yards and feathers 8 yards long — with eggs over 50 yards in circumference. The roc was said to live in Madagascar — interestingly enough, the home of the now-extinct aepyornis, the largest bird to have ever lived.
The real roc doesn’t quite live up to the hype. For one thing, the aepyornis was far too large and heavy to actually fly — around 10 feet tall and weighing half a ton. Their eggs weren’t quite as big as claimed either, with a circumference of a meter and a volume of about 2 gallons. This species only became extinct 500-700 years ago, so it’s entirely possible these sailors did actually see the bird and simply embellished a bit later.
Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek
These half-woman, half-fish creatures have appeared in fables as far back as 1,000 BC. Tales of mermaids literally span the globe: they’ve made appearances in Greece, Britain, Denmark, Cambodia, Thailand, Africa and the Caribbean islands. The dreaded pirate Blackbeard avoided waters he thought to be home to mermaids, and even Christopher Columbus reported seeing the creatures off the coast of Hispanola.
The recent Animal Planet mockumentaries aside, what’s the real story here? Most experts believe that these ancient sailors weren’t delusional — they were actually seeing aquatic mammals they mistook for mermaids. Manatees, seals, sea lions and dugongs have all been pinpointed as potential sources of “inspiration” for this myth…which probably accounts for Columbus’ disappointed report that mermaids are “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”
Photo credit: Bridget Coila
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