Variations: Water Shrew, Water Mole, Blind Mouse, Common Lizard
The Lavellan is a toxic mammal found in northern Scotland, primarily Caithness.
A lavellan’s appearance is unclear and unassuming; at the very least, it is believed to be small and furry. Sibbald believed it had the head and color of a marten, while other accounts describe it as resembling a shrew or a lizard. It has bright eyes and moves very quickly.
Lavellans are highly poisonous, and are capable of harming cattle from forty yards away. Their very breath is noxious. They are also lethal to humans, as told in one satirical song: “Let him not go away from the houses, to moss or wood, lest the Lavellan come and smite him”.
Farmers kill lavellans on sight and preserve their skin. Water in which a lavellan skin has been dipped is a certain remedy for lavellan poisoning. Boiling a lavellan head will also provide an antidote.
It has generally been assumed that the lavellan is a demonization of the water shrew, also known locally as water mole or blind mouse. The shrew’s saliva is mildly toxic but nowhere near as virulent as the lavellan’s. Harvie-Brown and Buckley, on the other hand, propose that the common lizard – brownish in color, bright-eyed, swift, and unfamiliar – was the originator of the lavellan. It may well be a combination of both.
Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.
Fleming, J. (1814) Contributions to the British Fauna. Memoirs of the Wernerian Natural History Society, Vol. II, Part I, pp. 238-251.
Harvie-Brown, J. A. and Buckley, T. E. (1887) A Vertebrate Fauna of Sutherland, Caithness, and West Cromarty. T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh University Press.
Pennant, T. (1818) British Zoology, vol. I. J. Christie, Dublin.