Unicorns are in the news, thanks to reports of a two-horned Asian Unicorn… wait, what? Where are the REAL unicorns – you know, the one-horned variety? These 10 amazing real unicorns show that for some animals, staying single can be something special.
Environmental and zoological circles have been abuzz of late due to the capture of an exceedingly rare Saola, or “Asian Unicorn”, in the landlocked nation of Laos. Though this forest-dwelling relative of cows and cattle was known to science, a living Saola hadn’t been seen since 1999. Though the majestic two-horned ungulate shown above died shortly after being taken into captivity, studying its remains can help us learn more about the creature’s way of life and hopefully lead to ways we can protect and preserve the few that are left in the wild.
(image via: Wired)
Technically a bicorn, the Saola’s horns are situated close together and curve only slightly along their appreciable length. Even so, whomever thought to call the Saola an “Asian Unicorn” didn’t do it any favors, as you can easily imagine.
(image via: Daily Mail UK)
A year-old buck Roe Deer sporting a single, centrally located horn has been spotted in Italy. The deer is part of a captive herd that roams the Center of Natural Sciences’ park in the Tuscan town of Prato. According to Gilberto Tozzi, the center’s director, the deer’s single horn was likely caused by genetic factors as the deer’s twin has two horns. Even so, says Tozzi, “This shows that even in past times, there could have been animals with this anomaly. It’s not like they dreamed it up.”
Historical literature is very precise when describing the appearance of unicorns, noting their white color, cloven hooves and billygoat-like beard among other characteristics. Some self-styled veterinarian/alchemists have evidently noted these clues and have taken it upon themselves to create their very own unicorns from goats. The patented procedure – which involves transplanting the paired horn buds of a very young goat to the center of the forehead alongside one another – is relatively simple and seemingly harmless. The results are spectacular, especially when combined with a little cosmetic trimming and shearing.
(image via: Splinter Group)
In 1980, photos of a Unicorn Goat were widely circulated in American newspapers. The goat was created by a pair of California naturalists named Otter G’Zell and Morning Glory, who went on to perform the bud-grafting procedure on several other goats, some of whom toured the country with the Ringling Brothers circus. Animal rights activists criticized the supposed exploitation of the goats but the USDA confirmed the creatures and their horns were real. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s a unicorn,” said Debbie Linde, a circus spokesperson. “A unicorn is an animal with one horn.”
The horn bud grafting procedure used to create Unigoats has also been used to create one-horned rams and bulls. The most widely known example of the latter is Dr. Dove’s Unicorn Bull, a day-old Ayrshire calf who went under the knife in March of 1933 at the University of Maine. “It was expected that the two horns would fuse together into one large horn solidly attached to the skull,” wrote Dr. W. F. Dove, “and located between and somewhat above the eyes, as is the horn of the unicorn.” The operation was a compete success both physically and psychologically: the one-horned bull eventually became the Alpha Male of his herd.
(image via: Metro UK)
Another “odd” cow… in the number of horns, at least, comes from China’s Hebei province. Unlike Dr. Dove’s bull, the Chinese unic, er, tricorn cow is a natural (if exceptionally uncommon) occurrence.
As mentioned, the rigors of wild life can hit wildlife not just above the belt, but over the brow. Though losing a horn won’t affect an animals speed, alertness or general health, it can hinder their performance in a different event called The Mating Season – insert “horny” joke here.
Damien Hirst’s Pickled Unicorn
British avant garde artist Damien Hirst is no stranger to controversy and his series of animals seemingly suspended in vats of formaldehyde has sparked a spectrum of reactions, some severely negative. His latest, The Child’s Dream 2008, is scheduled to be one of the main draws to this autumn’s The Dark Monarch exhibition in Cornwall.
(image via: ArtCornwall)
The Child’s Dream 2008 features a unicorn foal gazing dispiritedly out of a gold-plated tank filled with greenish preservative. The creature’s horn is plated in gold to match.
A unicorn on steroids? That would be Elasmotherium, a very large rhino-like creature that roamed the open steppes and grasslands of central Asia in prehistoric times. Though most paleontologists agree that Elasmotherium died out in the Middle Pleistocene era, about 125,000 years ago, anecdotal evidence and legends of various steppe tribes depict a massive, bull-like creature with thick black hair and a single, massive horn sprouting from its forehead, not the end of the snout. These legends are thought by some to be the basis of unicorn mythology.
(image via: Paleoworks)
Elasmotherium was undeniably huge; it has been described as standing up to 9 feet tall with a total body length of up to 20 feet. At over 7 tons it would have easily outweighed an elephant. And its horn? Up to 6 feet in length! Try and find a dagger blade to fit THAT.
Well, we may be straying off the unicornish path here but there ARE Unicorn Fish – 17 different species, in fact – so they rate a mention. Ranging up to a foot and a half in length, unicorn fishes span a surprising range of shapes, sizes and colors but all have to some degree at least a very prominent “horn” jutting out smack dab between the eyes.
(image via: A1 Scuba Shop)
Unicorn fish are sometimes called surgeonfish, though not because of their pointed protruding proboscis-like protuberances. Instead, these tropical piscines pack a pair of scalpel style shivs at the base of their tails that can be flicked out at any enemies they might encounter while cruising the reef.
Also known as the Hercules Beetle or Rhinoceros Beetle, these fearsomely outfitted insects can grow to over two inches long – not bad for a bug! Size isn’t everything, of course, but don’t tell that to the Unicorn Beetle: the scary-looking horn that they’re name is derived from can reach an appreciable portion of the beetle’s total length.
Unicorn Beetles and their related species are common in Japan where schoolboys often catch and groom them for bizarre insect sumo matches. As the competitors’ horns are somewhat spiky but not particularly sharp, a splendid time is guaranteed for all! Of course, being Japan it’s easy to buy a Unicorn Beetle if the need arises – from a vending machine.
Taking pride of place in many a medieval Cabinet Of Curiosities was a so-called “unicorn horn” – even England’s Queen Elizabeth I had one, encrusted with precious jewels. These long, straight, spiraling ivory horns were thought for centuries to be from unicorns and were worth many times their weight in gold. It wasn’t until the early 16th century that the origins of these horns were determined to be Narwhals, a type of whale dwelling in frigid Arctic waters, and what was thought to be a horn was actually a modified tusk.
Narwhal tusks can grow up to 10 feet long, which is quite a feat considering their bodies rarely grow to more than 15-16 feet. Biologists are not sure why these creatures have evolved these tusks (they serve no purpose in procuring food and seem too fragile to be used in fighting) or why the vast majority of male narwhals grow only one tusk.
(image via: WebEcoist)
Human Horn: not just a Futurama plot device, its an actual physical condition known as Cornu Cutaneum, or Human Cutaneous Horns. Basically they’re a patch of skin, usually located on the head or face, that begins building up layers until it has achieved the shape of a classic animal horn.
(image via: Cracked.com)
Though some people have grown multiple cutaneous horns, most grow a single horn that may grow straight or curve in the fashion of a ram’s horns. What would our primitive ancestors have thought of somebody afflicted by this condition? I think you can guess: either they were condemned as the embodiment of evil or achieved a high level of spiritual power – it all depends on how they leveraged this rare embellishment against the ingrained superstitions and prejudices of their society.
That wraps up this retrospective look at multiple examples of single-hornedness, a universal unifying unicyclopaedia of unicorns, as it were. Will we ever find examples of the archetypical unicorn of myths and legends? U-never know!