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7 Mythical Creatures That Were Inspired by Real Animals

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Photo credit: Denis Skley

Cyclops

Dragons and griffins probably aren’t the only mythical creatures inspired by old bones. One theory that’s been floating around for the past century is that cyclopses, the one-eyed giants of Greek Myth, might have been inspired by the buried skulls of extinct dwarf elephants. Upon discovering these strange fossils, myths were born to describe the ancient beings they may have been attached to.

Since elephants’ trunks don’t contain any bones, there appears to be one gaping opening at the front of the skull. To a primitive paleontologist, it could easily be mistaken for a giant eye socket. The size of the skull compared to a human head could have easily sparked the idea these were colossal humanoids.

 

Photo credit: Etee

Sea Monsters

It’s hard to know exactly what lurks in the ocean’s depths — after all, we’ve only explored about 5% of it to date. Given that it was impossible to do more than skim the surface of the sea until very recent history, it makes sense that there are so many legends about strange and monstrous creatures lurking in its depths.

So far we’ve found a few creatures that might account for sailors’ tales. The giant oarfish, which can grow up to record lengths of 56 feet, is a good candidate for a real-life sea serpent. The Kraken of legend has an obvious source of inspiration as well: the giant squid, which can grow 50 feet, and can occasionally be seen at the ocean’s surface. There’s evidence the ancient Greeks may have encountered the giant squid as early as 400 BC.

 

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Photo credit: Bridget Coila

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124 comments

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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

interesting

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

TY.

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