Quiz: Can You Guess the Animal Based on an Early Description?

These descriptions are as wild as the animals they talk about. Can you figure out which creatures they refer to?
It can be tough to describe something most people have never seen.
It can be tough to describe something most people have never seen. / John Giustina/The Image Bank/Getty Images (panda), ahmad agung wijayanto/Shutterstock (question marks)

When explorer Dr. John Francis Gemelli Careri first encountered a crocodile in the Philippines in the late 1600s, he observed a fearsome reptile that apparently had no way of pooping. “The Crocodils [sic] have no passage for Excrements,” he wrote.

Clearly, Dr. Careri needed to do some further research. But in an era before the internet and photography, encountering an exotic animal and summarizing it was a difficult task—one prone to imaginative inferences and other gaffes. Take a look at some of history’s earliest written evidence of various species and see if you can figure out what they’re aiming to describe.

One of the earliest compendiums of reliable animal research was Historiae animalium, a five-volume title by Conrad Gessner published between 1551 and 1558 that became a respected natural history reference. Gessner even included descriptions of mythical creatures like the multi-headed hydra and unicorn in an effort to be comprehensive while remaining skeptical. “Such is the reputation of the unicorn that its image cannot be excluded,” he wrote.

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