Sometimes it seems like human kind has discovered all of the secrets hidden within the animal world and that there is nothing left to uncover. So, when some spectacular new species is sighted or someone claims to have discovered a real-life mythical animal, there will always be plenty of people willing to take the bait. People love to believe in magic, and will often stick their fingers in their ears if someone tries to convince them otherwise.
Over the years, pranksters and frauds alike have taken advantage of this human gullibility in order to push fake animals as being genuine scientific discoveries. Rumors and speculation have always spread like wild-fire, and there’s always an audience for unbelievable animal discoveries. Animal hoaxes have become a cultural phenomenon, and many have led to movies, book deals, and worldwide publicity for their creators. These animal hoaxes are some of the boldest and most absurd of all time.
This legendary animal is as American as apple pie - it's a taxidermy hoax accomplished by attaching deer antlers to a stuffed hare. But this fictional creature may have been inspired by a real, grisly affliction. Scientists have discovered wild rabbits with horn-like warts growing out of their faces. The protrusions are the result of a specialized strain of HPV, a virus known to cause warts on humans. These cancerous tumors can be fatal for the bunnies, but there is nothing supernatural about them. However, rabbits with these warts may have inspired the original idea behind the taxidermy hoax.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently shut down after 146 years of operation, and many point to the animal rights controversies surrounding the circus as being one of the primary factors. However, controversy has always been a part of Barnum's circus, and the Fiji mermaid is a perfect example. The mermaid was an early entry into P.T. Barnum's world of hoaxes, and one of his most popular.
The story begins when an American sailor, Samuel Barrett Eades, purchased the mermaid from Dutch sailors who claimed to have gotten it from a Japanese fisherman. Eades paid about $6,000 for the mermaid, an absurd amount of money at the time. He fully believed that the mermaid was real and displayed it proudly in London. And although he invited naturalists to come examine the creature, the most respected of them determined it to be a fraud. Eades would take this personally, and went so far as to claim that famed naturalist Sir Everard Home had validated his claim. This was not true, of course, and Sir Home went on to eviscerate Eades's reputation in the press.
P.T. Barnum eventually purchased the mermaid and displayed it in his museum in New York, with an intricate back-story to go along with it. He generated tremendous controversy around his hoax, which ultimately was a huge financial success.
If you're ever backpacking through the wilds of Australia, the locals might warn you to keep your eyes up when walking under a tree lest you fall victim to a vicious drop bear. These carnivorous koalas are known for attacking passersby from above, often without warning.
Obviously, none of that is actually true. Drop bears are an urban myth meant to mess with tourists, nothing more. Even the Australian Museum in Sydney has gotten in on the fun with an entire web page dedicated to these fictional animals. But the myth might not be that far from reality as a particular extinct marsupial bares a striking resemblance to the mythical creature. Thylacoleo carnifex was a carnivorous, koala-like animal with sharp claws and the abilities of a skilled climber.
The brontosaurus may be one of the most famous dinosaurs ever discovered, which is impressive because it never actually existed. The brontosaurus is the result of a blunder, a mismatching of fossils as a result of a contentious battle between two rival paleontologists. O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were two scientists who were determined to name as many dinosaurs as they possibly could, often racing each other for the glory. In fact, their rivalry was so bitter that it is referred to as the Bone Wars by historians - the two would even go so far as to destroy fossil sites to keep each other in the dark.
Marsh was responsible for discovering the skeleton of a long-necked apatosaurus, but he couldn’t find the skull. Instead, he chose to depict the creature with a skull taken from a different dinosaur, the camarasaurus. And when he finally discovered an apatosaurus skeleton with a skull intact, he thought he was looking at a completely different dinosaur. Excited to have discovered a new species and stick it to his arch rival, Marsh called his discovery the brontosaurus. It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that the case of mistaken identity would be put to rest, when two scientists conclusively proved that brontosaurus and apatosaurus were actually the same animal.