C is for… Chang Nam

The minuscule Chang Nam – “water elephant” – of Thailand is a feared and deadly creature. Despite being the size of mouse, this poisonous pint-sized pachyderm can kill merely by stabbing a person’s shadow or reflection.

Reallllly stretching the definition of “modern” here, but I wanted to bring this up in some form anyway. Back in the grim darkness of July 1900, Pearson’s Magazine ran an article by Herbert C. Fyfe and illustrated by Warwick Goble. It was somewhat ominously titled.


The article in question covered a whole bunch of a different catastrophic ends that could befall the world (and specifically humanity), with a lot of reference to H. G. Wells, of course. Below is Goble’s rendition of the “loathsome animals” inhabiting the frozen world of the far future. They’re not so loathsome to me though, considering they look like The Muppet from the Black Lagoon. Cute actually!


But the most memorable image from the story is what I’ve come to call the Lobsterpocalypse, or “the extinction of man by the enormous increase and spread of a lower order”, or otherwise a really odd misunderstanding of evolutionary timescales. And the most terrifying creature that could do this? A crab.

Fossil remains of crabs, 6ft. in length, have been discovered, and such enormous creatures might – owing to some cause or other – multiply exceedingly.

If we imagine a shark that could raid out upon the land, or a tiger that could take refuge in the sea, we should have a fair suggestion of what a terrible monster a large predatory crab might prove. And, so far as zoological science goes, we must, at least, admit that such a creation is an evolutionary possibility.

Then there are the cuttlefish, the octopus, and other denizens of the deep, any of which might conceivably grow in numbers, and extinguish man.

Goble, however, draws neither crab nor cephalopod, instead placing a huge monster lobster (mobster?) front and center about to make sashimi out of well-dressed turn-of-the-century beachgoers. Accompanying it are a sea serpent and – horror of horrors – a Galapagos tortoise.


I for one welcome our new crustacean overlords.

B is for… Bøjg


Peer Gynt runs into the Great Bøjg of Etnedal during his adventures. It is huge, shapeless, slimy, slippery, and misty; it impedes Peer’s movements no matter where he turns. Running into this troll feels like blundering into a den of sleepy growly bears. Which is an adorable simile.

How did you do? Did you guess correctly? There were some great prognostications for this weird sea serpenty thing, with the thing coming out of its head identified as a blowhole spouting water or an oarfish’s frilly crest.

It’s neither. It’s made of flesh and it’s sticky.

Think you can handle the truth now?

This creature is a Reversus Indicus, an Indian upside-down fish. You probably know if better as the humble remora.

That’s right. This is what a remora looks like in real life.


(Image from Wikipedia)

How did it end up looking like the thing at the top? For a start, the strange fleshy blowholey umbrella coming out of its head is an extremely confused rendition of the remora’s suction disc, as seen below.


(Image from Wikipedia)

Second, it’s derived from an account of fishing using remoras (specifically that of Christopher Columbus, itself probably spurious). Remoras have historically been leashed with ropes and sent to adhere to fish or turtles. Then all you have to do is reel ’em in! But somewhere along the line this “hunter fish” got interpreted as this big eel aggressively seizing other sea creatures. Notice how it’s sticking to a seal, and there’s a sea turtle nearby (it’s next).


(Image from Arkive)

And, of course, since remoras often stick upside down to other animals and have generally weird anatomy, we ended up with the reversus, the reversed fish.

Moral of the story is never underestimate just how much people can get confused about an animal’s appearance.