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.
Fact check: It was actually a European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), an animal that normally looks like this:
And occasionally like this:
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:
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
unicornroe 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:
So for now, the Arabian oryx is one unicorn that gets to live happily ever after.
National Geographic: Real-Life ‘Unicorn’ Found; Deer Has Extremely Rare Deformity