Ompax

Variations: Ompax spatuloides

Ompax

What would you do if your breakfast was a species new to science? Carl Theodore Staiger, director of the Brisbane Museum, was faced with this conundrum in August of 1872. During his visit to Gayndah, Queensland, he was served an unusual duck-billed fish for breakfast. The worthy naturalist decided to have the specimen sketched. He then went ahead and ate the specimen anyway.

The entire description of Ompax spatuloides is derived from the sketch and Staiger’s recollection (sadly, we are not told of the Ompax’s gastronomical merits). Count F. de Castelnau described it as a ganoid fish something like a paddlefish, eighteen inches long and dirty mahogany in color. The spatulate beak is similar to a platypus’, the eyes are small and near the top of the head, the pectoral fins are small, and the dorsal, caudal, and ventral fins appear to be connected. It can only be found in a single water hole in the Burnett River, alongside the lungfish Ceratodus.

Ompax spatuloides was listed in several catalogues of Queensland fishes, despite immediate and scathing criticism from other ichthyologists. O’Shaughnessy remarked that “all the characters of [the Ompax] are gathered from a drawing made after and not before the repast… the Record thinks he would be scarcely justified in admitting Ompax spatuloides, sp. n., into the system.”

The mystery of the Ompax was solved by someone writing to the Sydney Bulletin under the name of “Waranbini”. The author confesses that the Gayndah locals prepared a fish for Staiger’s breakfast by assembling the head of a lungfish, the body of a mullet, and the tail of an eel (and, presumably, the bill of a platypus). It was cooked and introduced as a new species, one that might not be seen again for months, and Staiger fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Since then, unusual fish were met in the Gayndah district with an exclamation of “it must be an Ompax!”

References

Castelnau, F. L. P. (1879) On a New Ganoïd Fish from Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, v. 3, no. 1, pp. 164-165.

Whitley, G. P. (1933) Ompax spatuloides Castelnau, a Mythical Australian Fish. The American Naturalist, v. 67, no. 713, pp. 563-567.

Onchú

Variations: Enfield; Alphyn; Water-dog, Sea-dog

Onchu

The Onchú, “Water-dog”, is a peculiar Irish creature with a long history of phonetic transformation. It is better known as the Enfield or Alphyn.

Of the three variants it is the enfield that has the most defined morphotype. It has the head of a fox, the chest of a greyhound, the talons of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the hindlegs and tail of a wolf. A more simple description gives it the head of a fox, the breast and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a wolf, combining the cunning of the first, the honor of the second, and the ferocity of the third. There may be a mane and a lion’s tail. Enfields are rarely used in heraldry, most notably appearing in green as the crest of the O’Kelly family of Ireland. This is traditionally attributed to an incident when Tadhg Mór Ua Ceallaigh, the ancestor of the O’Kellys of Hy-Many, fell in battle against the Danes at Clontarf. An enfield or dog-like creature emerged from the sea and protected Tadhg Mor’s body until it was recovered.

As for the alphyn, it vaguely resembles a tiger, sometimes with the same clawed forelimbs as the enfield. It shares its name with the term alphyn or alfin for the chess bishop, itself derived from al-fil, “the elephant”, but this is coincidental. Elephants were well-known in bestiaries long before the decidedly unproboscidean alphyn, which appears at the end of the fifteenth century.

The word onchú is more ancient than enfield or alphyn, and is probably derived from , “hound”, and on, “water” (as in onfais, “plunging”, and onfaisech, “diver”). It is synonymous with doburchú, the otter (literally “water dog”). Therefore the onchú can be inferred to be a dog or dog-like animal that lives at least partly in water. Onchú also is used to mean “banner”, or “standard”, suggesting that the use of the onchú on battle-standards was common enough that the name was transferred to the item – and that its use preceded the battle of Clontarf.

The confusion only increases with the pluralization of onchú to give onchoin or onchainn. Onchainn in turn became onfainn following the trend of ch conversion (e.g. Dunphy from Donnchaidh). Williams traces phonetic vagaries and lists a sequence of alterations: onfainn to anchainn to anfainn to anfaill to anfild to enfild. Anfaill also gave rise to the less-successful alternative name of alphyn. Further assimilation with the heraldic sea-dog gave the onchú/enfield/alphyn a mane and clawed, bird-like forelegs.

Since then onchú has been used as a term for a large water beast. It is wild, fearsome, valorous, heroic, with reptilian and venomous qualities (probably the origin of its green color). The onchú that lived between Loch Con and Loch Cuilinn killed nine men. Muiredach pursued it into the water and slew it, earning the title of Cú Choingelt, “Hound of the Pasturage”.

Williams proposes the adoption of onchú as the official Gaelic term for the animal. Enfield remains an acceptable English version.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Cooke, T. L. (1859) Proceedings, November Meeting. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, v. 2. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Williams, N. J. A. (1989) Of Beasts and Banners: The Origin of the Heraldic Enfield. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, v. 119, pp. 62-78.

Okpe

okpe

Okpe is a massive, quadrupedal ogre from Argentinian and Chilean Tehuelche folklore. He looks like a pig made of impregnable solid rock, without soft spots or weaknesses. Okpe preys on children, luring them with braised meat before carrying them off in a device on his back. Children captured by Okpe are taken into the jungle and devoured. Attempts to thwart his actions fail, as he is impervious to conventional weaponry.

Once Okpe abducted an older child, who had the presence of mind to hold onto an overhead branch and escape his captor. While Okpe sought his victim and screamed for him to return, the child ran back to his village. There a mare was butchered – as the Tehuelche do in emergencies – and its skin was stretched out on the ground. When Okpe trundled through in pursuit of the boy, he slipped on the stretched hide and fell so heavily that his stony armor rattled! Okpe started to cry in defeat, crying so hard that his tears caused a flood that went up as high as his teeth. He never bothered the Tehuelche again.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Oókempán

ookempan

Oókempán is an ogre known to the Tehuelche of Argentina and Chile. He looks like a very large man, but has a shell on his back and moves around on all fours like a pig. Oókempán abducts children, enticing them with a bit of meat before slinging them into a box on his back and carrying them off. Any child playing on their own is at risk of being taken and presumably eaten. Attempts to stop Oókempán will fail, as his hard shell prevents any damage from reaching him; his weakness is in his heel, which is unprotected.

It was Oóuk’en, “truth”, the man incapable of lying, who put an end to Oókempán’s kidnappings. He interceded after a child escaped by grabbing hold of an overhead branch as Oókempán passed under it. Oóuk’en went to meet Oókempán at the top of a cliff. “What did you do with the children?” he asked the ogre. “I took them to increase my people”, replied Oókempán. “I only eat rhea, and I needed them to hunt for me”. After some more small talk, Oóuk’en pushed Oókempán off the cliff, shattering his shell and killing him.

The presence of fossil elephant bones in the region have been seen as evidence of Oókempán’s existence.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Odontotyrannus

Variations: Arine Hayant Le Tirant, Arine Qui Het Le Tirant, Armez Hayant Le Tirant, Dentem Tyrannum, Dentirant, Dentityrannus, Dent Tyrans, Odentetiranno,  Odontatyrannum,  Odontatyrannus, Odontetiranno

odontotyrannus

The Odontotyrannus is a massive beast found in the rivers of India, whose account has been told as one of Alexander the Great’s many exploits. Its name apparently means “tooth tyrant”, but medieval reading errors led to a variety of increasingly awkward alternate names and direct translations.

When Alexander and his men made camp by a river, they were found by an odontotyrannus coming to the water to drink. It was enormous, large enough to swallow an elephant whole, and black in color, or otherwise with a head black as pitch. It had three horns on its head. When it saw the Macedonians, it went on a rampage, killing 26 and injuring 52 of the soldiers before it was brought down by Emendus, Duke of Arcadia.

The rhinoceros is a certain candidate as the progenitor of the odontotyrannus, as is the crocodile. Confusion with Indus worms – Indian, armed with two terrible teeth, and capable of swallowing prey whole – may have led to the name, as nowhere in its description are teeth ever mentioned.

References

Wauquelin, J., Hériché, S. ed. (2000) Les Faicts et les Conquestes d’Alexandre le Grand. Librairie Droz, Geneva.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Orabou

Variations: Orobon (erroneously)

Orabou

Mount Marzouan, once known as Mount Orabou, was described by Thevet in his Cosmographie. It is home to a small population of Arabs, and the waters of the sea there house a fish known as Orabou, for which the mountain was once named.

Not much is known of the orabou’s appearance. Thevet only states that it is nine to ten feet long, and is plated with armor like a brigandine, although its scales are not as tough as a crocodile’s hide. The depiction of the orabou provided gives it a humpbacked, rather feline appearance.

Orabou flesh is particularly foul-tasting, and Thevet believed that old camel meat and Livonian mastiff were preferable to the execrable orabou. Eating it also results in kidney and bladder stones. Despite that, the inahabitants of Mount Marzouan eat it anyway, treating their stones with a diuretic concoction of orabou fat, two handfuls of false gold dust, and cyclamen.

Paré takes the orabou from Thevet, but misspells its name as the phonetically-similar “orobon” and its locality as “Mount Mazouan”. Ever the embellisher, he also adds that it is extremely ferocious towards other fish.

The orabou may have been inspired by crocodiles, although Thevet makes a distinction between the two. Another possibility is a monitor lizard, like a similar creature encountered by Sir Andrew de Toulongeon and Pierre de Vaudrei in the desert of Palestine. It was a three-foot-long green lizardlike animal covered with sturgeon-like scales, having feet like the hands of a child, a head like a hare’s, and a long lizard’s tail. It made sounds like a cat, and was feared by the Arabs accompanying the knights. Naturally this affront to the natural order was promptly slain.

References

Butazzoni, F. (1997) Los Ensayos del Orobon. Ariel, Montevideo.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

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

Wright, T. (1848) Early Travels in Palestine. Henry G. Bohn, London.