Variations: Aegomastus, Egomastus; Houperou, Huperus (erroneously?)
The first appearance of the Mastopogon (“breast beard”), also called the Aegomastus, is as a nameless “strange fish” observed by Thevet off the coast of South America. It has a beard resembling a goat’s udder under its chin, and the illustration provided includes a long dorsal spine and pointed fins.
Thevet also describes the Houperou as a large carnivorous fish that eats all other sea creatures, except for one small fish. The carp-like fish remains in the shadow of the houperou and enjoys the protection granted by its larger friend. The houperou has rough sandpapery skin like a dogfish, sharp teeth, and a long spine on its back. It attacks, drowns, and dismembers anyone it catches in the water, and the native people shoot it with arrows on sight. The similarity of this unlikely couple to a shark and pilot fish is clear; in fact, uperu is the local name for “shark”, appropriately converted to French pronunciation by Thevet.
Gesner takes up the descriptions of the houperou and the udder-bearded fish from Thevet, but pictures the houperou or huperus as a large pike. He also coins Mastopogon and Aegomastus for Thevet’s nameless fish.
With time the heraldic mastopogon and houperou blurred together to the point of inextricability, making it necessary to describe them together. Holme describes the mastopogon as a variety of houperou, looking like a salmon with large thorny fins, the dorsal fin reaching all the way to the tail. The houperou, on the other hand, now has the mammary wattle, along with two ear-like knobs on its head, a long-spined dorsal fin, rough scales, and a straight tail.
Gessner, C. (1560) Nomenclator aquatilium animantium. Christoph Froschoverus.
Holme, R. (1668) The academy of armory, or, A storehouse of armory and blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick. Printed by the author at Chester.
de Souza, G. S. (1851) Tratado Descriptivo do Brazil. Typographia Universal de Laemmert, Rio de Janeiro.
Thevet, A. (1558) Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique. Maurice de la Porte, Paris.
Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.