Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen’s heads.
Fragments, 5th cen. BC
In Japan, there is a widespread belief, dating to ancient times, that rare hybridization between human beings and cows occurs. These animals, known as kudans, are supposedly short-lived and infallible seers — they are born, speak their prophecies and promptly die.
Such trust is placed in these purported prophecies that related sayings have entered the language, such as “honest as a kudan.” And people widely wear, or at least have worn in the past, photographs of supposed kudans as amulets, with the idea that they provide a tutelary function.
They also take tips from these creatures. Thus, during World War II a kudan was supposed to have been born in Kyoto and in its prophecy it predicted that people that ate beans and rice within a certain time period would survive the bombings. Needless to say, consumption of those two foods promptly skyrocketed.
Of course, such mythological issues, while interesting, are of less relevance from a scientific standpoint than the fact that photographs of specimens are available. In some cases, apparently, even the specimens themselves (possibly faked?) have been preserved. The latter open the door to potential genetic testing (if anyone has any information about whether such tests have already been conducted, please do let me know).
Here are various kudan photos I've collected off the internet:
A pair of similar cases.|
A Japanese museum specimen: A bizarre specimen with not only a human-like head (sheathed with cow hair), but a calf head as well. Note that this specimen has the same conformation as the Parisian cow described by Morand at right. Enlarge image
A Parisian case. In a manuscript in the Bibliothèque de Lyon (Morand 1812), a Parisian doctor, Jean François Clément Morand, describes a cow that he saw at the St. Germain fair. He alleges that this animal had “atop its true head, a growth of the same size and form as a human head” (Original French: “au-dessus sa vraie tête, un kiste ayant la grosseur et la forme d’une tête humaine ”). This is exactly the conformation seen in the Japanese specimen shown in the photo at left.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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