With a wealth of fantasy fiction at our fingertips, it’s easy to see how the lines can blur between fiction and reality. After all, a poll in the UK a few years back revealed that twenty percent of British people believed Sherlock Holmes was a real person. But sometimes, the pendulum swings the other direction.
It’s amazing what people think might be made up–I had a great conversation with a friend who had always thought four-leaf clovers were fiction, while another friend of mine shared a conversation in which someone asked if mountain lions were real. Having seen both of those things in the wild, I can verify that yes, they do exist. But what about some other creatures that might be more real than you thought? Here’s a few that really exist.
We’ve seen them on just about every fantasy map, and a few real maps as well. But those long, sinewy bodies with ragged dorsal fins depicted arcing over the waves aren’t as far-fetched as you’d think. The giant oarfish is a real-life sea monster, with specimens confirmed at sizes of up to 36 feet in length. While sightings can’t be confirmed, they’ve been reported in sizes longer than 50 feet. And why not? They’re primarily deep sea creatures, and heaven only knows what’s down there. But seeing a video of even a small oarfish swimming in the shallows, it’s no wonder they obtained such a mythical status.
While depictions of these creatures have been historically fanciful, in early tales of knights and dragons, the fire-breathing beasts often lacked wings. In many countries, such as most of Asia, they never acquired them at all. It stands to reason that early dragons were most likely just large reptiles that weren’t commonly seen. Alligators and crocodiles present one possibility, and giant monitors like komodo dragons quite another. But what if the idea of flying lizards wasn’t so crazy? Turns out they do exist. 42 recognized species, in fact, all part of the genus Draco. Yes, they’re even named dragon! Although they’re small, some species–such as draco volans–are brightly colored, fierce-looking little beasts. They traverse the air using membranes that extend from the ribs and allow them to glide. Gliding might not sound impressive, but after watching one catch an updraft and sail 200 feet before stopping in another tree, you might change your mind.
Although popularized because of series like Dungeons & Dragons and Game of Thrones, there’s nothing fictitious about these beasts–but you won’t be seeing them any time soon. Native to North America, dire wolves are long extinct, but well-documented as having existed. Thousands of complete skeletons have been retrieved from the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Although related to modern-day gray wolves and thought to look similar, dire wolves were around 25% larger than the biggest modern-day wolves, making them around 5 feet long and weighing up to 200 pounds. You can rest easy, though: dire rats are made up for D&D, so you won’t run into any R.O.U.S. any sooner than you’ll cross paths with a dire wolf.
Narwhals are popular on the internet, and why not? They’re pretty fantastic. But despite their popularity, a stunning number of people think the remarkable unicorn of the sea is as made-up as any other unicorn. Both real and near threatened, narwhals can be found in the icy Arctic ocean. The horn they sport is actually a tusk that grows through the upper lip, usually grown by males, though females occasionally bear small tusks as well. While most narwhals have only one tusk, around one in 500 have two, and some have none at all.
Have you ever encountered an animal someone thought was fake?