|EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS|
In the summer of 2008, news stories surfaced on the Internet picturing a creature said to have been born in a litter of piglets farrowed by a sow belonging to Feng Zhanglin, a resident of Xiping township in the province of Hunan in China. The animal (shown at right), described as a monkey-pig, was born July 19, 2008. The pictures associated with the various stories look real, but what is this creature? An actual pig-monkey hybrid? A strange, complex mutant? Many have suggested even that it is a pig-human hybrid.
The reports give anecdotal descriptions of the reactions of the family and neighbors (e.g., Mrs. Feng was frightened of it; Mr. Feng abandoned it; their son recovered it and fed it, etc.), but I have been unable to obtain any additional information relating to this very unusual birth, so at present it's unclear whether more recent reports about this "piglet" exist, or whether it survived to adulthood, or, in particular, whether the nature of its origins have been evaluated via genetic testing (anyone with additional information, please forward your findings here to the website).
Additional pictures:Image 1 | Image 2 | Image 3 | Image 4 | Image 5
In August 2011 a sow in the remote Central American village (Santa Cruz El Chol, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala) produced another such "piglet" with a humanlike head. Its appearance, rather similar to the Chinese "monkey-pig" shown above, was recorded in television news reports (watch a video showing this animal).
In addition to the many anonymous references to "pigs born with hands" mentioned and dismissed in the popular press, there are many old accounts of pig-human hybrids. Sir John Hayward, in his Annals of the first four years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, says in the year 1562, “a sowe farrowed a pigge having hands and fingers like a man child.”¹ A contemporary account of this "piglet" is given the blue sidebar at right.
No less a personage than the great philosopher John Locke (Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, III, Chapter 6, §27) gave credence to such hybrids: “Who would undertake to resolve what species that monster was of, which is mentioned by Licetus (Bk. i. c. 3), with a man’s head and hog’s body? . . . Had the upper part to the middle been of human shape, and all below swine, had it been murder to destroy it? Or must the bishop have been consulted, whether it were man enough to be admitted to the font or no? As I have been told it happened in France some years since, in somewhat a like case.”
In 1699 Sir John Floyer authored an account of two supposed human-pig hybrids (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 21). There he states that
In May 1699 there was shewed to me a Pig, at Weeford in Staffordshire, with a Face something representing an Humane Fœtus, and the roundness of the Head, and the flatness of the Ears surprised all Persons, and they did usually apprehend it to be a Humane Face, produced by the Copulation of two Species. … This kind of Monstrous Pigs … I believe is very frequent, because I had another [piglet] of the same Kind sent me out Derbyshire, which had a resemblance of a Man’s face and all the other parts of a Pig, and this had the same Chin, and depression betwixt the Eyes, and the roundness of the Head and flatness of the Ears I have above described.
Floyer himself, ascribed the human-like heads of these piglets to “compression of the Womb,” but from his account, it's clear that others believed these animals to be pig-human hybrids. It's of interest that the shape of the head of the animal as described by Floyer and as pictured in his illustration (see figure, above right) is similar to that of the "monkey-pig" pictured above ("the same Chin, and depression betwixt the Eyes, and the roundness of the Head and flatness of the Ears"). However, if his animals were in fact hybrids, it's clear that in England in 1699 the nonporcine parent would not have been a monkey. Floyer notes that the sex of the Derbyshire "piglet" could not be determined, but that the Weeford animal was a male.
Other examples of alleged pig-human hybrids can be found in writings of French surgeon Ambroise Paré, who writes (Paré 1646, pp. 665-666) that
In the year 1110 a sow in the town of Liège farrowed a pig having the head and the face of a man, as well as human hands and feet, but the rest was like a pig [see two figures below]. … In the year 1564 in Brussels, at the house of a man named Joest Dickpert, living on Warmoesbroeck Street, a sow farrowed six pigs, the first of which was a prodigy having a man’s face, as well as arms with hands, and representing humanity in a general way from the shoulders up; but it had the two hind legs and rear parts of a swine, and the genitals of a sow [thus, it was a female]. It nursed along with the others and lived two days, but then it was killed, along with the sow, on account of the horror that people had of it; this prodigy is here illustrated [see woodcut figure below] most naturally, just as it was in life. Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original French: "L'an onze cens & dix une truye eu en bourg du Liege cochonna un cochon, ayant la teste & visage d'un homme, semblablement les mains les pieds, & le reste comme un cochon. … L'an 1564, à Bruxelles, au logis d'un nomme Ioest Dickpert, demeurant Rue Vuarmœsbroeck, une truye cochonna six cochons, desquels le premier estoit un monstre ayant face d'homme, ensemble bras & mains representant l'humanité, generalement depuis les espaules, & les deux jambes & le train de derriere de pourceau, ayant la nature de truye; il tettoit comme les autres, & vesquit deux jours puis, fut tué auec la truye, pour l'horreur qu'en avoit le peuple, duquel monstre tu as icy le pourtraict, qui t'est representé le plus naturellement qu'il est possible."
Both of these alleged hybrids are figured in Paré (1646, p. 665). The first is no doubt a reference to a single-sentence mentioning such a hybrid in the Chronica Majora of the English chronicler Matthew Paris (c. 1200-1259): "At the same time [1109 A.D.], in a parish of Liège, a sow gave birth to a piglet with the face of a man." Tranlated by E.M. McCarthy. Original Latin: "Eodem tempore in parochia Legiensi porca porcellum enixa est, sed faciem hominis habentem" (Luard 1874, vol. 2, p. 136).⁴
An additional case is listed in Chinese records of the Shanghai region, a pig born in the year 1600 with a human head and hands (Macgowan, J. 1860, p.70). Two others are mentioned by the ancient Roman historian Livy (59 B.C.-17 A.D.), who says (History of Rome) a pig with a human head was farrowed at Sinuessa (XXXI, xii) and another at Tarquinii (XXVII, iv).
In the case of all of these alleged human-pig hybrids it is always the forepart of the animal that resembles humans and the rear that resembles pigs.
Since he believed such things to be real, it's not surprising that Locke, wound up his discussion of pig-human hybrids, by asserting that no one really knows exactly what a "human being" might be:
so far are we from certainly knowing what a man is; though perhaps it will be judged great ignorance to make any doubt about it. And yet, I think, I may say, that the certain boundaries of that species are so far from being determined ... that very material doubts may still arise about it. And I imagine, none of the definitions of the word man, which we yet have, nor descriptions of that sort of animal, are so perfect and exact as to satisfy a considerate inquisitive person.
17th century artists' conceptions based on verbal descriptions:
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
. Crawford (2005); Hayward (1840, vol. 7, p. 107).
. Floyer (1699).
. Paré (1646, pp. 664-665).
. English historian Sir John Hayward (1613, p. 303) refers to what seems to be the same case. He says the event took place in the thirteenth year of the reign of Henry the First, which would have been 1112 A.D. Hayward notes merely that "A pigge was farrowed with a face like a childe."
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