EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
I am obliged to report that which is reported, but not to believe it.
—Herodotus, The History, VII, 152
My research involves collecting reports about hybrids, especially hybrids involving mammals or birds, and making them available as part of a compendium of information that I have long been gathering on the topic of hybridization. Over the years, I have found some very strange hybrids seriously reported in the news.
This page collects some of the most way-out reports I’ve run across. It quotes from newspapers certain bizarre reports about alleged very, very strange hybrids. Though the tone of these reports is that of nonfiction, the mere fact of their publication should not in any way be taken as a guarantee that the creatures they describe ever actually existed. These tales appear here merely as a matter of record, for the sake of completeness. For, as John Amos Comenius once said, “A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.” I’m gathering the literature on hybridization, and the accounts quoted below are part of the literature. Personally, in the case of such bizarre hybrids, I begin to believe in their existence only when I see that there are multiple cases of the same type of hybrid attested by independent witnesses.
In the opening paragraph of his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, the historian Plutarch (46-120 A.D.) explains to his friend, the Roman politician Quintus Sosius Senecio, that his task in attempting to give an account of long-dead or even mythical individuals, was much like that of the mapmakers of his day: “As geographers, Sosius, edge their maps with regions unknown,” he writes, “and add marginal notes to inform us that naught lies beyond but
And Plutarch, who clearly does consider Romulus mythical, goes on to give a detailed account of his life.
During the course of my research into hybrids, I, too, encounter elements of both history and myth, for the student of hybridization today is placed in much the same position as Plutarch and his geographers. Reports of hybrids range from the well-documented and mundane, to the poorly documented but plausible, to the hearsay and improbable, to the seemingly impossible and mythical. However, at exactly what point along this spectrum it might be that reality and feasibility pass over into imagination and impossibility is unclear. We are faced with Plutarch’s boundary problem. No one knows just how different two animals can be if they are to produce hybrid offspring together. And reports of hybrids sometimes do pass well “beyond the earliest times that reason can reach and real history embrace.” But even untrustworthy accounts of extreme antiquity can be of interest. After all, some crosses are very hard to obtain, and the only report of a very rare type of hybrid might well date back hundreds of years, and we might have to wait centuries more to see one again. To hear of such organisms, we would of course have to look back into the early literature, in the same way that astronomers do to learn of a supernova or some comet observed in times gone by. Such reports can be bizarre, but for some crosses it may well be that there really is no other source of information.
But now, to the reports.
When a woman gives birth to an infant that has a bird’s beak, the country will be peaceful.
The following appeared on the front page 4, column 2, of the February 26, 1876, issue of the Clarksville Weekly Chronicle, a newspaper published in Clarksville, Tennessee (source):
The Waverly Journal was a newspaper published in Waverly, Tennessee from 1871 to 1886.
The following appeared on the front page, column 4, of the February 17, 1885, issue of the Americus Daily Recorder, a newspaper published in Americus, Georgia (source):
The following appeared on page 2, column 2, of the April 6, 1882, issue of the Saint Mary’s Beacon, a newspaper published in Leonard Town, Maryland (source):
His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
The following links are to two long reports about a supposed eagle-human hybrid either killed or captured (the reports are inconsistent on this point, and with regard to many others) by a Boer farmer “in Mapoch’s country, a territory beyond the Transvaal.”
The frog answered, "I do not want your clothes, your pearls and precious stones, nor your golden crown, but if you will love me and accept me as a companion and playmate, and let me sit next to you at your table and eat from your golden plate and drink from your cup and sleep in your bed, if you will promise this to me, then I'll dive down and bring your golden ball back to you."
—The Frog Prince,
The next group of reports deal with creatures that are half human and half anuran. The best known story about a woman loving a frog is the fairy tale about the princess and the frog, which is just that, a fairy tale. But nonfictional accounts, at least accounts that purport to be nonfictional, exist as well.
For example, the following report appeared on page 9, columns 1 and 2, of the April 2, 1887, issue of the German-language newspaper Znaimer Wochenblatt, which was published in Znojmo (Znaim), a town that at the time of the report's publication lay in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now what in the Czech Republic:
A Horrific Monster. From Stockerau: Last Saturday in Niederfellabrunn, a 32 year-old unmarried maidservant Franziska H. gave birth to a hideous monster alive. The child was like a human being with respect to its torso, that is, its shoulders, chest and upper abdomen. But the head and the lower belly were those of a large—toad. In addition the hands on its little arms exactly resembled the feet of the animal just named. The mother, who already had one normally developed child, attributed the present monstrosity to an accident that had happened to her the previous summer while she was out picking flowers. She had received a huge shock, she said, when a toad suddenly sprang out at her. The mother was so horrified by this monstrous creature that she at once stamped it to death. The authorities were notified of the case by Dr. Jakob, who stated that the child’s face was not that of a human being, so no charges were brought. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
The town of Stockerau and the village of Niederfellabrunn lie just north of Vienna across the Danube.
The following is the most detailed report about a supposed amphibian-human hybrid that extensive search has yet revealed. It appeared on the front page, columns 5 and 6, of the June 5, 1886, issue of the St. Paul Daily Globe, a newspaper published in St. Paul, Minnesota (source). This same story appeared in many other newspapers around the U.S. that year.
The following account, which was published in many American newspapers at the time, is taken from page 3, column 1, of the March 4, 1858, issue of the Yorkville Enquirer, a newspaper published in Yorkville, South Carolina (source):
Another frog-human hopped onto page 2, column 7, of the July 8, 1879, issue of The Spirit of Democracy, a newspaper published in Woodsfield, Ohio (source):
Bellefontaine, where this birth supposedly occurred, is a town in Logan County, Ohio.
The following appeared on page 4, column 1, of the October 10, 1893, issue of The Evening Bulletin, a newspaper published in Maysville, Kentucky (source):
The next report is from page 4, column 2, of the May 17, 1902, issue of The Lancaster Ledger, a newspaper published in Lancaster, South Carolina (source):
The following appeared on page 5, column 2, of the January 4, 1903, issue of The Daily Ardmoreite, a newspaper published in Ardmore, Oklahoma (source):
A brief notice about a woman giving birth to a bullfrog appeared in column 1 of page 3 of the May 23, 1893, issue of The Progressive Farmer, a newspaper published in Winston, North Carolina (source):
This allegation of one type of animal, a human being, giving birth to another type of animal, a bullfrog, is reminiscent of other reports, quoted elsewhere on this site, in which animals of one kind supposedly gave birth to progeny of a different kind.
The following appeared on page 2, column 6, of the Feb. 5, 1880, issue of the Home Journal, a newspaper published in Perry, Georgia (source):
And then we have another report about a frog-baby that appeared on page 4, column 1, of the September 21, 1882, issue of the Weekly Expositor, a newspaper published in Brockway Centre, Michigan (source):
Minden, now Minden City, is a village in Sanilac County, Michigan.
The following notice appeared on the front page, column 1, of the March 3, 1868, issue of The Daily Phoenix, a newspaper published in Columbia, South Carolina (source).
And a much briefer notice about a frog-human hybrid exists as well. It appeared on page 3, column 4, of the November 12, 1885, issue of the Western sentinel, a newspaper published in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (source).
One birth produced an individual in which the brains were absent. Known as anencephaly, this condition seems to occur at high rates in distant hybrids. The report in question appeared on page 2, column 4, of the June 9, 1880, issue of the Juniata Sentinel and Republican, a newspaper published in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania (source).
If these strange births actually are anuran-human hybrids, the question remains how a male frog or a toad might introduce its semen into the reproductive tract of a woman. Two possibilities occur: (1) Since both frogs and toads engage in external fertilization, anuran spermatozoa abound in bodies of fresh water at certain times of year. Given such circumstances all that might be required would be for the woman to go for a swim at the right time and place; (2) In a case that supposedly occurred in 1517 in France (see illustration and accompanying information below), the woman that gave birth to the frog-faced baby was running a temperature and a friend advised her to hold a live frog in her hand to help to break her fever. This, apparently, was a folk remedy of the day. She did so and then had sex with her husband. Obviously, the frog might have urinated on her hand, and the urine of male anurans contains sperm cells. So there would have been an opportunity to introduce the frog’s sperm into her reproductive tract while she engaged in the subsequent intercourse. Also, if belief in such a remedy was widespread, it might account for other such froggy births.
An early case. The frog-faced boy depicted at right was first described by Ambroise Paré, personal physician to French kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Paré is remembered as a pioneer of modern surgery, forensic pathology, and battlefield medicine. His account (Paré 1641, pp. 658-659) of this specimen reads as follows:
For it was reported that one elephant in Egypt fell in love with a girl who was selling flowers.
—Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, VIII, V
Here in my home state of Georgia, an elephant-human hybrid was reported. The same story appeared in many papers across the country, but the story quoted here appeared on page 8, column 3, of the December 26, 1889, issue of the Wyoming County Times, a newspaper published in Warsaw, New York (source).
The following appeared on page 3, column 3, of the March 23, 1887, issue of the Alexandria Gazette, a newspaper published in Alexandria, Virginia (source):
Another case of alleged elephant-human hybrid appeared on the front page, column 3, of the April 19, 1899, issue of The Lexington Dispatch, a newspaper published in Lexington, South Carolina (source).
Fortunio Liceti, the Renaissance compiler of monsters, also pictures (Liceti 1665, p. 191) an elephant-human hybrid supposedly produced in ancient times (shown at right). This particular story traces back to the Roman historian Livy, who alleged the occurrence of this prodigy along with numerous others in the year 209 BCE (The History of Rome, Book 27, Chapter 11):
These mermaids particularly desire a human soul—something denied them by the churchmen.
The following news story appeared on page 23, columns 1 and 2, of the May 27, 1909, issue of the Viennese newspaper Deutsches Volksblatt:
From Toplița in Hungary: While out on a walk in the Romanian village of Palota near Toplița, two women found on the street a bundled infant, which was shrieking at the top of its lungs. They picked it up and carried it to the notary, by whom it was unwrapped in the presence of the local doctor Michael Frisch. Those present were seized with a terrible horror, for a hideous freak, a middle thing between human and fish, came to light. Its upper body was that of a human infant, but from the waist down the body was completely that of a fish and, instead of feet, it had the complete tail of a fish, which the foundling wagged merrily to and fro. This hideous monstrosity was swaddled in linen and had around its neck a small purse containing five Austrian hundred crown bills and a piece of paper with the words in Romanian: “Tomme vereste!” (God keep thee!). Marie Roznan, a Romanian peasant, took the creature, which, incidentally, wept like an ordinary human infant, to nurse it. But it bit her breast with such force that it could not, with any amount of tugging, be removed. After much delay, she went to Dr. Frisch, but the resulting wound had already become gangrenous, and she had to undergo a serious operation. The monster had to be sent to the hospital in Budapest.
[Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
A fishy story indeed! A case of sirenomelia?
Another tale of a piscine human appeared on the front page, column 6, of the April 5, 1894, issue of The Austin Weekly Statesman, a newspaper published in Austin, Texas (source):
Burton is a village outside the city of Brenham, Texas.
A second story about the same birth provides some additional details. It appeared on page 2, column 5, of the April 4, 1894, issue of the Fort Worth Gazette, a newspaper published in Fort Worth, Texas (source):
How is one to account for the birth this tertium quid? The red snapper spawning season in the northern Gulf of Mexico begins in May and ends in late September. During this time male snappers release their sperm en masse into the waters of the gulf, peaking during May, June and July. A woman giving birth on April 3 would, with a pregnancy of ordinary, human length, most likely have conceived sometime around July 8 of the previous year. According to Wikipedia, the Brazos River, "was important for navigation before and after the American Civil War, and steam boats sailed as far up the river as Washington-on-the-Brazos." Thus, steamboats providing easy transit to the coast would have come within about ten miles of Burton, Texas, in 1880.
The following account describes a living mer-person. It appeared in column 4 of the front page, of the August 11, 1860, issue of The Emporia News, a newspaper published in Emporia, Kansas (source):
The following appeared in column 3 of the front page of the January 11, 1915, issue of the Harrisburg Telegraph, a newspaper published in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (source):
Similarly, in his Accounts of Anatomical Rarities (Historiarum Anatomicarum Rariorum, Hafniae, 1654, Centuria II, p. 241), the Danish physician Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680) states that
Another fish-human mix was briefly described in the a French magazine Mercure Gallant (1683, p. 307-309). In translation, the brief reads:
The account below swam onto the pages of many British Empire publications, but the transcript quoted here was netted from page 17, column 4, of the July 9, 1935, issue of The West Australian, a newspaper published in Perth, Western Australia (source).
So the reports in this section clearly demonstrate that a belief in the existence of fish-human hybrids has been widespread. And yet, it is known that fakers have repeatedly assembled mermaids by attaching the upper portion of a human being (or non-human primate) to the caudal portion of a fish. Indeed, the last quoted report may refer to just such a hoax specimen “composed of the upper part of a monkey’s body and a fish tail, with various additions” donated to the British Museum in 1942 by the Princess Arthur of Connaught, Duchess of Fife (see image). More information about this fake is available on the British Museum website.
The one seem’d Woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold.
—Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II
A report of what, if real, would be a pair of extremely odd hybrids, recalls Milton’s Hell and tales of the Egyptian gods. It appeared on the front page, column 1, of the August 30, 1864, issue of the Cleveland Morning Leader, a newspaper published in Cleveland, Ohio (source):
Wonders never cease! and the greatest ever heard of in these modern times has just come to our knowledge from entirely reliable authority. It fully disproves the wisdom of Solomon when he proclaimed that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The facts related to us are:
About two weeks ago the wife of a market gardener, residing at Eagle Point, in this city, gave birth to twins which, instead of being provided with the head and features of the “human form divine” had each the head and neck of a snake! Besides the head and shoulders the children were of natural and comely form—from the shoulders up they presented the horrible shape and characteristics of the serpent! Immediately after the birth a consultation of physicians was held, at which it was very properly decided to bleed the monsters to death, which was, accordingly done. What disposition was made of the bodies we have not yet learned.
The cause assigned for the lusus naturae is that several months ago, shortly after the woman became enciente, her husband playfully threw a snake’s head into her face, which so frightened her that the foetus assumed the horrible shape into which they were brought into the world.
In another account we find a troubled physician tussling with a vicious serpentine delivery. The report appeared on page 3, column 2, of the June 19, 1868, issue of The Pulaski Citizen, a newspaper published in Pulaski, Tennessee (source):
A separate account of an alleged snake child appeared on the front page, columns 3 and 4, of the July 11, 1871, issue of the Public Ledger, a newspaper published in St. John’s, Newfoundland (source). The creature described was reportedly born on Cape Cod, so the story originally appeared in the Boston Herald, undersigned by a physician, Dr. J. H. Hanford of Reading Massachusetts, who wrote the following description.
During a recent visit to Cape Cod, the writer was made acquainted with a remarkable freak of nature, one illustrating the results of certain influences exerted before birth, in the person of a male child, known as the “snake child.” This is the son of Mr.___, of Harwick, a little more than three months old, and regarded as “more snake than human.” During the term of pregnancy, which was attended with various peculiar sensations, the mother was in an unusual frame of mind, and gratified a kind of monomania for killing snakes, never allowing an opportunity for an encounter with them to pass unimproved. On one occasion she fought two and a half hours with three adders in an arbor, at last conquering and killing them. On another occasion she came suddenly upon a large black snake, the ‘size of her wrist,’ which raised his head very high and ‘showed fight.’ True to her strange impulse, she commenced the attack and was the conqueror, instead of screaming, like most females, and leaving the spot in haste, though his snakeship presented a formidable, if not a frightful, appearance. This monstrosity, which weighed 13 lbs. at birth has the more general appearance of a human being in the outlines of the body, than in the head and limbs, though the shoulder blade is wanting, or very unlike the natural one. The head is very large having, at birth, the appearance, with the general expression of the face, especially the upper part, of a child at the age of two years. It rises high, the line of the front and back being nearly parallel, though inclining upward and forward with an arched appearance. The forehead is high, and projects considerably over the eyes. The ears, which are large, are located very far forward, and about one inch lower than usual, or about on a direct line with the chin. The eyes are large, snakish, elongated, protruding, and much in motion. The lower jaw has an unusual appearance, appearing as if double, while the roof of the mouth is narrow and deep. The mouth is open, save when nursing the bottle. The tongue as thick as some two or three ordinary ones, and is very smooth. The lips remain in one position, about a half inch in a straight line, above and below, with a gradual curve toward the angles. The nose is rounded at the tip, much depressed at the base, and the nostrils much distended, the whole looking snakish. Instead of the usual soft place in the top of the skull, there are two, one in the forehead, and the other far back, the skull between these more nearly resembling the back of a turtle than a child’s head. There are two bony projections in the forehead, over the eyes, like prospective horns, while between these and the eyes are deep cavities. The face, which is long and large, with the exception of the mouth and chin.—is proportionately small—has a mature expression, rather snakish, the chin being usually pointed. The feet and hands are the most remarkable, evidently presenting the deformity in its worst aspects. Both are unusually arched, and in other respects peculiar. The large toe is short, like a thumb, inclining downward and toward the hollow of the foot, with the small one also. The remaining ones, which are destitute of the usual joints, are enclosed in a kind of sheath, a thick skin and some flesh, all terminating at the ends in one broad and large n ail, inclining downward like a half tube. This nail, and indeed those of both the hands and feet, have a decidedly snakish look. The hands are still more peculiar, rather more arched than the feet. The bones of the hand are more distant, relatively, than those of the feet, with a deep cavity between, rather irregular. One of the toe bones is disconnected with those of the foot, passing instead, downward toward the hollow of the foot, there floating with no attachment. Others seem to be deficient in the usual connection in this respect. The palm is very deep, corresponding with the unusual arch both of the hand and finger sheath. The thumb and the small finger incline toward the palm, and are rather short, resembling the general construction of the corresponding members of the foot, though the small finger is more connected with the others by an arrangement resembling that of the web foot. The remaining three are almost in a form of a triangle, joining at the ends in one general broad and large nail. Extending down the sides of the fingers, almost enclosing them. I could detect no joints in these fingers, only the one joining them to the hand. The little fellow seemed unwilling to have his hand held long enough to have them carefully examined, making one feel that he was handling a snake. The general appearance of the hand, the form of enclosed fingers, the form of the nails, etc., are wonderfully suggestive of the snake. Indeed, one can scarcely look at this unique creature, observe the almost constant motion of the hands, feet, tongue, the turning of the head from side to side, and see the snakish aspect, without feeling a kind of shuddering, a wish to withdraw from his presence, so snakish is he in his appearance and movements.
J. H. Hanford, M. D., Reading Mass.
Another case of reported snake-baby appeared on page 2, column 3, of the May 8, 1867, issue of the Public Ledger, a newspaper published in Memphis, Tennessee (source):
Another snake-human hybrid slithered onto the front page, column 7, of the July 19, 1893, issue of the Alpena Argus, a newspaper published in Alpena, Michigan (source). This report ran in many U.S. papers that summer.
The next report is copied from page 2, column 3, of the May 2, 1885, issue of The Comet, a newspaper published in Johnson City, Tennessee (source). The original source of the story was the Knoxville, Tennessee Journal.
Another such report appeared on page 4, column 1, of the August 25, 1900, issue of The Democratic Advocate, a newspaper published in Westminster, Maryland (source).
The next report appeared on page 2 of the October 20, 1887, issue of the Rock Island Daily Argus, a newspaper published in Rock Island, Illinois (source).
Lathrop is a town in northwestern Missouri.
The following news story, about the death of a woman with snakelike traits, is taken from the front page, column 4, of the February 20, 1890, issue of the Dodge City Times, a newspaper published in Dodge City, Kansas (source).
The following strange account appeared on the front page, column 1, of the April 26, 1884, issue of The Pioche Weekly Record, a newspaper published in Pioche, Nevada (source).
The birth of a creature, human down to the waist and crayfish below, was reported on the front page, column 3, of the March 19, 1879, issue of The Cincinnati Daily Star, a newspaper published in Cincinnati, Ohio (source). The report reads as follows:
Two days later the Star published a follow-up story with corroboration by another physician and additional details. This second report appeared on the front page, column 7, of the March 21, 1879, issue (source):
A condition to consider in connection with another such report about a human-crawfish that was supposedly born in Muncie, Indiana, in 1880, is ectrodactyly.
The next report appeared on page 3, column 7, of the January 12, 1935, issue of the Voice, an Australian newspaper (source). The report reads as follows:
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Human Origins: Are we hybrids?
On the Origins of New Forms of Life
Cat-rabbit Hybrids: Fact or fiction?
Georges Cuvier: A Biography
Prothero: A Rebuttal
Branches of Biology