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Over time, animals (and animal remains) have been known to have been mistaken for something else, and often, this is where the stories for certain legendary or mythical creatures begin. Here are a few ordinary animals that were, at one time, thought to be something quite extraordinary.
A famous sighting of a supposed “mermaid” was made by Christopher Columbus, who is thought to have sighted these marine mammals on a journey that took him near the Dominican Republic.
Prehistoric dwarf elephant
It’s been suggested that the skulls of prehistoric dwarf elephants may have been the origin for the legend of the cyclops. The skulls of these prehistoric beasts are far smaller than their modern-day relatives, and the central trunk cavity may have looked like an eye socket to the ancient Greeks.
Another example of animal parts or remains helping give rise to a legendary creature are narwhals and the “tusks” they have left behind. These tusks, which are actually elongated canine teeth, have a distinctive spiral shape and were actually traded for great amounts of money — some sources say they were worth many times their weight in gold.
Giant oarfish can get up to 36 feet in length, and may have given rise to sightings of mysterious “sea serpents” that have been reported over the years by various seafarers. There have even been unconfirmed reports of these large fish reaching over 50 feet!
Myths about large reptiles that fly and breathe fire — dragons — may have been inspired by rare sightings of Nile crocodiles. While these animals were common and known in Africa, occasionally one would be sighted in southern Europe after swimming across the Mediterranean. Other stories may be traced to an Australian land crocodile called quinkana, which grew to 10 to 20 feet long.