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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: STRANGE SNAKES AND OTHER FREAKY FAUNA FROM CHARLES OWEN PART 1 SCORPIONS

I recently brought a copy of Charles Owens’s 1742 book An Essay Towards A Natural History Of Serpents: In Two Parts. The book makes fascinating reading as it was written at a time when science and learning were replacing legend and folklore.

Owen is remarkably on the ball on a number of topics. He rejects the idea of spontaneous generation from mud or rotting corpses. He likewise has no time for the 'vulgar error, that salamanders can live in fire' and extensively quotes experiments showing that they cannot. He knows that snake venom is a liquid injected via hollow fangs. He believes in the death dealing basilisk but thinks the ‘conjectures of its descent’ (a cock’s egg hatched by a snake or toad) are ridiculous. He thinks it is a snake and that it kills with a noxious effluvia from the breath rather than by the ‘evil eye’.

Yet there are still some highly strange descriptions of snakes and other animals and their behavior. For example on scorpions he writes….

‘By the Spaniards the scorpion is call’d Alaicran from an island in America called the Island of Scorpions, for the numerous multitude that ravage the place. In Brazil is a vast number of scorpions some four or five foot long, in shape like those of Europe but not so venomous.’

‘In the East Indies are large scorpions of the winged kind; so in Egypt, were it is reported they are armed with two stings. It is observable, these large scorpions taking their flight against the wind, sometimes drop down and so are taken by the country people, and perhaps sent to scorpionize other kingdoms.’

‘The sea scorpion is a flying animal, and of a red colour, whose flesh is good and much better than the Scorpena, that effects muddy water and Moorish habitations.’

‘In Madagascar, a large African island are several sorts of scorpions, particularly water scorpions, that lie in the marshes and standing waters, which are very mischievous, killing dogs and beasts and sucking their blood.’

Any ideas where these strange notions sprang from?

There is so much interesting material in Owens’s work that I will be writing a number of posts on his book.

1 comment:

G L Wilson said...

Could sea scorpions be lobsters?