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Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in Endless Forms, Friday Fiction Facts | 0 comments

Friday Fiction Facts: Why We Don’t Have Unicorns

Welcome to Friday Fiction Facts: sciency things that fiction writers need to know.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful unicorn. It was a stunning creature with long legs, a graceful body, and eyes as deep and dark as vernal pools.

 

4413318412_8889c59158_z

Image: Cropped from original made by Flickr user Parée (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

Fact check: It was actually a European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), an animal that normally looks like this:

 

Image: Flickr user onshotonepic  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image: Flickr user onshotonepic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 And occasionally like this:

Image Flickr user:  Umberto Nicoletti   (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image Flickr user: Umberto Nicoletti
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

 If a roe deer loses one of its antlers, the remaining one is called a “spike.”

 

But even more rarely, a deer can sport a single horn in the center of its forehead, like…well .. a unicorn. This is the one in our story:

 

Photo: Eva Klevska, National Geographic - Slovenia

Photo: Eva Klevska, National Geographic – Slovenia

 

The unicorn lived in a secret forest of emerald trees, bejeweled flowers and magical creatures, well away from the dangers of humans. There it drank from rainbow ponds and bred with others of its species, filling the magical woods with herds of dancing silver unicorns.

Fact check: Roe deer live across Europe, from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, and from the British Isles to the Caucasus. The unicorn roe deer in our story lived in Slovenia. Because deformed antlers are a result of injury to the antler while it is forming, roe deer do not pass their unusual antlers on to the next generation.

One day a hunter entered the forest. He had been searching for unicorns because they make good food, leather, and trophies.  Plus, of course, their horns are magic.

Fact check: Horns (antlers actually) are kind of magic : “The cells that actually make the antler grow, they’re some of the most amazing cells known to man,” said Kip Adams, certified wildlife biologist and director of education and outreach for the Quality Deer Management Association, based in the U.S. state of Georgia. In fact, antlers represent the most rapid bone formation known in mammals.”  — National Geographic

Suddenly, there it was! The hunter  crouched low, recognizing the animal by its single horn. Stealthily, he raised his rifle hoping the unicorn would not detect him using its magic unicorn senses. When he knew it wasn’t looking, he squeezed the trigger and shot the creature, dead.

Fact check: We cannot know the mind of the hunter or the details of the hunt, except that he did select the large single-antlered deer deliberately, probably judging it to be a spike.  Roe deer are an abundant game species in Slovenia. Hunting is carefully managed by the government and there is no evidence that the hunter acted illegally or that he thought the horn had special powers.

So that was the end of unicorn in the the magical woods.

Elsewhere unicorns have tried to evolve into different forms using different techniques and magic to fool humans. To our knowledge, they have not been very successful in evading and surviving us, but then again,  maybe we just haven’t looked in the right places.

Fact check: Unicorns that have lived among us:

 

Elasmotherium - the extinct animal Elasmotherium,  Image: Boris Dimitrov (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Elasmotherium – an extinct megafaunal animal endemic to Eurasia during the Late Pliocene through the Pleistocene. Image: Boris Dimitrov (CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

unicorns-rhinos

The rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine for its alleged magical healing properties. Due to poaching, there are only six northern white rhinos left in the world, with only four still able to reproduce.

 

Narwhals Glenn Williams - National Institute of Standards and Technology

Some medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be unicorn horns. Today there are about 75,000 narwhals in the world. They are considered to be near threatened. Photo: Glenn Williams – National Institute of Standards and Technology (Public Domain)

 

Sometimes disguising itself as a unicorn by positioning itself in perfect profile or by losing a horn, the Arabian oryx was hunted to extinction in the wild in 1972. Captive breeding allowed for reintroduction in the 1980s and today 1,000 Arabian oryx live in the wild, with a further 6,000–7,000 held in captivity Photo: Wikipedia user, Western Region (Public Domain)

So for now, the Arabian oryx is one unicorn that gets to live happily ever after.

The End.

 

MORE

National Geographic:  Real-Life ‘Unicorn’ Found; Deer Has Extremely Rare Deformity

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