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Until their discovery in the mid 19th century, gorillas existed only as a myth - a man-ape hybrid known for their ferocious brutality. It may seem crazy now, but the first explorers reports of gorillas told tales of a massive ape that would join native tribesman around their fires and beat elephants into submission with fallen logs. Scientists at the time dismissed these tall tales, but that changed when a gorilla skull was discovered in 1846. Thanks to the work of biologists like Dian Fossey we now know gorillas are not the hateful monsters the myths described, but are in fact gentle and curious primates who are remarkably human.
Platypuses are quite possibly the strangest mammals in existence. The fact they lay eggs is the least of oddities, as they also have the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver, and venomous spines attached to their webbed feet. Scientists first got a look at these creatures in the late 18th century, as its hide was sent back to Britain from Australia. But they thought it so bizarre, they were convinced it was a hoax or a twisted joke. The first specimens sent to Europe were taxidermized skins, and people wrote it off.
But then, around 1860, scientists George Bennett saw living platypuses in the wild. He studied them in great detail, and the scientific community finally realized a new species of animal existed.
An Island Full Of Dragons Shocked Dutch Explorers
When Dutch settlers in Indonesia first heard tales of an island full of monstrous lizards that could grow to over 20 feet in length, it must have sounded totally insane. The year was 1910, and Lt. J. K. H. van Steyn van Hensbroek was instantly curious. The stories were tantalizing enough that he organized to the island of Komodo to verify the rumors. What they found was an island populated by dragons, although they were smaller than the folk tales described. The Komodo dragon soon became an icon of naturalism, proving there were still some pockets of the world hiding amazing, unique animals.
The Hoan Kiem Turtle Was Revered By Locals As A God
This giant freshwater turtle is known in the scientific world as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, but in Vietnam it was treated as a god. It wasn't until 1873 that scientists laid eyes on this mythic creature, but thanks to habitat loss, it was pushed to the brink of extinction.
One turtle in particular, called Cu Rua (sometimes Kim Qui) by the locals, was believed to be the reincarnation of a mythical animal that was said to live in the Hoan Kiem lake over 600 years ago.
This species was thought to be extinct in the wild, but stories from Hoan Kiem about a legendary turtle living in the lake in 2008 spurred zoologists to examine the area. Shortly afterwards, Cu Rua was discovered and the Yangtze giant soft shell turtle was brought back from the dead. Unfortunately, the death of Cu Rua in 2016 means there are only three confirmed specimens still living, all of which are in captivity. These turtles are critically endangered and may soon slip back into myth.