While the human mind can be very creative, everything that it is capable of imagining is not always imagined. This is especially true when it comes to mythical creatures — many of which were inspired by real creatures and even plant life! That said, here are ten mythical creatures that are based on real things.
Half horse and half human, Centaurs were best known for their violent behavior. They were heavy drinkers who often got a bit rowdy. Legend has it that these creatures once showed up to a wedding (drunk, of course) and attempted to carry off the bride and other women. A fight ensued, and the Centaurs were defeated.
But, just how exactly did the origin of these mythical creatures get started in the first place? According to an article published by The Guardian, their origin may be based on the tradition of hunting bulls on horseback. In fact, some sources say that the word “centaur” actually means “bull killer.”
The kraken was a legendary squid-like beast that was so huge that when any part of its body stuck out of the water, it resembled a floating island. This creature also had tentacles that it would use to trap ships’ masts and drag them to the bottom of the sea. It could also create a deadly whirlpool by submerging itself underwater.
So, what are the origins of this mythical creature? Some say the kraken may have been inspired by sightings of giant squids. Some paleontologists say it may have been inspired by prehistoric 100-foot-long cephalopods that fed on whale-sized Ichthyosaurs.
Mermaid sightings seem to occur everywhere. Even Christopher Columbus said he saw three mermaids when he went to the Rio del Oro [Haiti] on January 8, 1493. They rose well out of the sea, but they’re not as beautiful as people say they are because their faces have some masculine traits, Columbus wrote in his logbook. So, did Columbus and others really see creatures that were half human half fish? Of course not! So, what did they see then? Well, according to Animal Planet, it was likely a manatee. “Manatees are known to perform ‘tail stands’ in shallow water, which would allow them to rise vertically out of the sea. And their jointed forelimbs allow the manatee to hold objects and bring food directly to their mouths as well as swim. It’s entirely possible that from far, far, FAR away a manatee may look like a human treading water,” Animal Planet said on its website.
Unicorns are thought to be inspired by Elasmotherium, long-horned rhinos that roamed the plains of Eurasia up until 10,000 years ago. The recent discovery of a skeleton of the extinct mammal, which goes by the common name Siberian unicorn, suggests that they roamed the steppes of Kazakhstan 29,000 years ago.
-A Chinese scroll once referred to a creature that was a “quadruped with the body of a deer, the tail of a cow, the head of a sheep, the limbs of a horse, the hooves of a cow, and a big horn.”
-Elasmotherium may have lived alongside humans.
-There are two different types of unicorns — European Unicorns and Asian Unicorns.
Part lion and part eagle, the Griffin (also spelled Griffon or Gryphon) was the guardian of buried treasures. They often sought out and hoarded gold. They were also very strong and extremely wise, and became a symbol of strength and valor. As a result, griffins were often used in heraldry and on crests.
Griffins are thought to have originated from fossil findings of the pentaceratops, a four-legged dinosaur with a beaked face. The bones of the pentaceratops closely resembles what the bones of the Griffin would have looked like if it were a real being and not a mythical creature.
The Roc was a mythical giant bird of prey that was so strong that it could carry off a full-grown elephant! It had a wingspan of about 50 feet, and it was so huge that it cold blot out the sun. Believe it or not, there was a real creature that inspired the Roc. The Aepyornis, or the Elephant Bird of Madagascar or simply “elephant bird”, was a 10-foot-tall, half-ton ratite that went extinct in the 16th century. These birds were flightless and dined on fruit. The Roc, on the other hand, would dine on other creatures by dropping its victims from deadly heights and then preying on their carcasses.
The catoblepas is a legendary creature from Ethiopia often thought to be based on real-life encounters with wildebeest. The catoblepas is said to have the head of a hog, the body of a buffalo, and scales on its back. As legend has it, if a catoblepas stared at or breathed on you, it could kill you or turn you into stone.
FUN FACT: The catoblepas’ head is always pointing downwards, which is likely how it got its name. The name “catoblepas” means “to look downwards” in Greek.
3. Vegetable Lamb of Tartary
The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was a mythical animal-plant hybrid creature based on a type of fern that grew in the woods in Central Asia in a region formerly called Tartary. Legend has it that lambs grew on this tree, but they couldn’t go very far because the tree grew tethered to the ground. Also called the borametz, the Scythian lamb, the lamb-tree and the Tartarian lamb, the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary has appeared in ancient Hebrew texts, medieval literature, poetry, philosophy, and scientific musings of the Renaissance.
There’s no scientific evidence that dragons ever existed — at least not the fire-breathing, bat-winged type we see in the movies. But, perhaps they did exist in some form. After all, the Bible has 34 separate references to dragons. There’s even one scripture that talks about a red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns on its heads. The dragon images we see in paintings, sculptures and movies, however, were inspired by dinosaurs. In fact, many dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles reference dragons in their names, either with the Greek root “draco” (Dracorex, Ikrandraco), or the Chinese root “long” (Guanlong, Xiongguanlong).
According to ThoughtCo.com, the cyclops was inspired by the Deinotherium, a prehistoric elephant that once inhabited the Greek island of Crete. Now, perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “But, elephants have two eyes? How could a prehisitoric elephant have inspired a giant, one-eyed monster?” Well, according to ThoughtCo.com, the skulls of the fossilized Deinotheriums had a prominent single hole where the trunk attached. And, when a Roman or Greek sheepherder stumbled upon the artifacts, they probably invented the one-eyed monster myth.
Want to read more articles about mythical creatures? Check out this article about ten legendary creatures from Greek mythology.