Variations: Lagepus, Lagephus
According to Pliny, the Lagopus (“hare foot”) or ptarmigan is so named because its feet are covered with hair like those of a hare’s foot. It is the size of a pigeon and white all over. While delicious to eat, the lagopus cannot be tamed or kept outside of its native land, and it putrefies rapidly when killed.
Thomas de Cantimpré misreads the allusion to the native ground of the lagopus, and instead deduces that the lagopus does not eat in the open air. Having made that conclusion, it is only logical that it must carry its food into a cave to eat it. Albertus Magnus makes the further logical deduction that the lagopus cannot fly well.
Although only the feet are described as hare-like, depictions show it with a hare’s head as well. It is often shown standing in front of a cave.
Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.
de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.
Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.
Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.
Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.
Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.
Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.