Cactus Cat

Variations: Cactifelinus inebrius (Cox), Felis spinobiblulosus (Tryon)

Cactus Cat

Cactus Cats once lived in the wide-open Southwestern deserts. They were once found in saguaro country between Prescott and Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert as far south as the cholla hills of Yucatan. Nowadays the species is practically extinct following the exploitation and destruction of its desert home.

A cactus cat has thorny hair, with especially long, rigid spines on its ears and tail. The tail is branched like a cactus with scattered thorny hair. There are sharp bony blades on the forearms above the forefeet.

Cactus cats use their forearm-blades to cut deep slanting slashes at the base of giant cacti. One of those cats will travel in a wide circular path, 80 chains long, slashing every cactus it sees. By the time it returns to the first cactus, the sap oozing from the cuts has fermented into mescal. The cactus cat laps this alcoholic brew up hungrily. By the end of the second circuit the cat is thoroughly drunk and waltzes off in a drunken stupor. It yowls and rasps its bone blades together, a sound which carries through the desert night.

It is this fondness for liquor that was the downfall of the species. By following a cactus cat around, one could collect the mescal and deprive the cat of its sustenance. This was not an activity without risk, however. Thieves caught in the act were flogged to death with the cat’s spiny tail, leaving red welts deceptively similar to the effects of heat rash.

References

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Bayfart

Bayfart

The Bayfart is an animal whose existence is reported by the inhabitants of Finnmark. It is something like a seal, roughly the same size and shape. Its fur is greyish. It has small ears and a single horn on its head surrounded by hair, and hog-like bristles around its nose. Its forelegs have claws as long as a lion’s, while its has two flippers for hind legs.

Thevet received a bayfart skin from a Scotsman, who obtained it in Denmark in 1570. It had been caught in the Northern Sea.

References

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Nue

Variations: Nue-dori (Nue-bird)

Nue

Described as a “bird-beast”, the Nue lacks any avian physical features. It exists largely outside the Japanese yokai canon, best known from the Tale of the Heike (1371).

The kanji for the word nue are “night” and “bird”. It is likely that the legend of the nue started with a Chinese bird. When it appeared in the 8th-Century Kojiki and the Manyōshū it was a bird that sang mournfully in the forest at night. Purification rituals would be performed in the palace after its sad song. This is probably the White’s thrush or toratsugumi (Zoothera dauma).

In the Tale of the Heike the nue becomes a frightening hybrid creature with the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki or badger, the limbs of a tiger, and a snake’s or viper’s tail. It makes a cry like that of the nue thrush and lives deep in the mountains. It would appear in the sky over the emperor’s palace every night, hidden in a foreboding black cloud.

The nue was shot out of the sky by Minamoto no Yorimasa with a single arrow. For this feat he was awarded the sword known as Shishiō, the “King of Lions”, which is still on display at the Tokyo National Museum. The event also established Yorimasa’s reputation as a slayer of monsters, and he killed a second nue during the reign of a later emperor.

A 15th-Century Noh drama by Zeami Motokiyo tells the tale of the nue’s slaying from the perspective of the nue. Its forlorn lament over its death hearkens back to its origin as a bird with a sad song.

References

Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Sekien, T.; Alt, M. and Yoda, H. eds. (2017) Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien. Dover Publications, New York.

Wulver

Wulver

The Wulver lives alone in a cave halfway up a steep knowe on the Isle of Unst in Shetland. He stands upright like a man, but has a wolf’s head and a body covered in short brown hair.

A peaceful loner, the Wulver never harms people as long as he isn’t harmed. He likes to fish, and for hours will sit upon a rock, the “Wulver’s Stane”, and catch yearling coalfish. Frequently he will leave a gift of a few fish on the windowsill of the poor and old of Shetland.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Myrmecoleon

Variations: Myrmecoleo, Myrmekoleon, Mermecoleon, Mermecolion, Mirmicaleon, Mirmicoleon, Murmecoleon, Formicaleon, Ant-Lion, Antlion

Myrmecoleon

The Myrmecoleon, or Ant-lion, is a tale of two creatures and many translation errors. Druce distinguishes between the Eastern myrmecoleon, a hybrid of lion and ant, and the Western myrmecoleon, a carnivorous insect. These are one and the same, but the vagaries of translation led them down separate paths.

The Eastern myrmecoleon is found primarily in Greek, Arabian, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syrian bestiaries. Its pedigree can be traced back to the giant gold-digging ants originally described by Herodotus. Further additions were added to the account as it evolved away from its origin. Nearchus claimed that the skins of the ants were as large as those of leopards. Pliny said that the horns of an Indian ant at the Erythraean temple of Hercules were remarkably large. Agatharchides, Aelian, and Strabo tell of Arabian and Babylonian lions called “ants” (myrmex) that have gleaming golden fur and reversed genitals (probably hyraxes, which have a distinctive dorsal gland).

The translators of the Septuagint were faced with the unfamiliar term lajisch or layish in Eliphaz’s phrase “the old lion perishes for lack of food” (Job 4:11). In the Vulgate it was rendered as tigris, and modern translations use “old lion”, but the Septuagint, drawing on obscure Classical species of lion, arbitrarily used the term myrmekoleon. Its name presupposes a hybrid of ant and lion; as the Bible is inerrant, this led led to the necessary existence of a creature whose father was a lion and whose mother was an ant. The fruit of this improbable union is a lion in front and an ant behind, and dies of starvation since the ant half cannot digest what the lion half eats, while the lion half cannot eat the plants the ant half requires. Thus “the myrmecoleon perishes for lack of food” became a logical statement, and was expounded upon in the Physiologus.

Myrmecoleon antlionThe Western myrmecoleon originally appeared in Latin sources and subsequently found its way into European bestiaries. This ant-lion is both ant and lion – an insect that preys on ants as lions prey on other animals, an ant to us, a lion to ants. It is an ant with a white head and a black body marked with white spots. It appears in bestiaries as something like a large ant or spider. This is a real animal – the antlion is a larva with huge jaws that constructs funnel-shaped traps in sand to catch ants. It eventually metamorphoses into a lacy-winged fly, but both larva and adult are completely harmless to humans.

As a denizen of bestiaries the ant-lion has its own religious connotations. The Eastern myrmecoleon is two-faced, double-minded, unstable, and deceitful. The Western myrmecoleon represents Satan lying in wait for sinners.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Druce, G. C. (1923) An account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion. The Antiquaries Journal, 3(4), pp. 347-364.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Newbold, D. (1924) The Ethiopian Ant-lion. Sudan Notes and Record, 7(1), pp. 133-135.

Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

Igtuk

Igtuk, the boomer, is the source of mysterious booming sounds heard in the Canadian mountains. His place of residence is unknown. Our knowledge of this creature was related by the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. Igtuk was not specified to be one of Anarqâq’s helping spirits, and he is probably hostile to humans.

Igtuk resembles no other living thing. His arms and legs are on the back of his body, while his single large eye is level with his arms, and his ears are in line with his eye. His nose is inside his cavernous mouth, and there is a tuft of thick hair on his chin. The booming for which he is known is produced when Igtuk moves his jaws.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Agropelter

Variations: Anthrocephalus craniofractens (Cox), Brachiipotentes craniofractans (Tryon), Argopelter (erroneously), Widow-maker

Agropelters are violent and aggressive critters found in lumberwoods from Maine to Oregon. Injury and death blamed on freak falling branches are always the work of an agropelter, who hates lumberjacks for their invasion of its territory.

Our only description of an agropelter comes from Big Ole Kittleson, who survived an agropelter attack long enough to see the creature escape. An agropelter has the villainous face of an ape on a sinewy little body, with incredibly powerful arms like organic whips.

Agropelters use the prodigious strength of their arms to break off and fling branches. They always pelt with pinpoint accuracy, smashing or impaling their victims. Big Ole Kittleson was fortunate enough to be pelted with a rotten branch that crumbled upon impact.

Apart from their murderous activities, agropelters are highly agile climbers and brachiators, and make their home in trees by eating and hollowing out the center of a dead tree. Pups are born on February 29 and always in odd numbers. Agropelters subsist on a diet of owls and woodpeckers. As these birds are sadly being exterminated, the agropelters are getting scarce.

References

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.