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January 30, 2004

Pickled dragon
Posted by Teresa at 07:35 AM *

Sean Bosker sent me this story of a pickled dragon found in a jar in someone’s Oxfordshire basement. It’s a pretty piece of modeling work, but I have my doubts about the suggested date and provenance. It looks like an awfully modern dragon to me, and I have real problems with the idea that it was hoaxed up by scientists for scientists. What biologist would endow a neonatal specimen with adult characteristics, or wings that unfold in utero?

Comments on Pickled dragon:
#1 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2004, 06:15 PM:

"It could be made from indiarubber, because Germany was the world's leading manufacturer of it at the time, or it could be made of wax."

Does the reluctance to open the jar and find out raise anyone else's suspicions? A more likely story is that the hightly detailed dragon was sculpted as a scale model for a movie production.

The link in Neil Gaiman's journal gives a little more information about the people involved:
"Mr Hart, who runs a marketing services company"
"Mr Mitchell, 42, who runs a marketing company in Oxford"
Whether it's an old hoax or a hoax about a non-existent hoax, I don't care. It's a good one.

BTW: I got to this entry via The xml feed seems to have been updated but the main page still showed "From Correspondence" as the most recent entry.

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Teresa, why in utero? It's a baby, but not necessarily a fetus. (I'd think dragons would be egg-laying anyway, but I can't remember the Latin for 'in the egg'.)

I think not wanting to open the jar shows not-undue caution. Some things keep perfectly well for decades or centuries if kept sealed, but spoil in minutes if opened. A friend had an experience of opening a bottle of 150-year-old something-or-other; he said the first glass was wonderful, the second undrinkable, and after that the stench from the bottle nearly drove them from the room. (I may be exaggerating a bit.)

While I also deeply doubt this is a) real, or even b) a real 19C hoax, there's a part of me that would like to see it proved absolutely 100% naturally biological - a REAL DRAGON, IOW. In historical times! That would be very exciting.

So would having a torrid affair with Tom Cruise. NBL, unfortunately.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2004, 08:08 PM:

By the way, I can't see this except by the recent-comments links.

#4 ::: JMKagan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2004, 11:46 PM:

Fraud. Pickled dragon's got no genitals in the photo and nobody in the article seems to care.

Because the umbilical cord so matches bottled fetuses of all sorts of mammals I've seen in med museums, I might have bought this as a 19th century hoax, with a wink and a "Nice try, but you left out the genitals!"

But the bottle's not filled to the top. Sloppy preservation, that.

Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.

#5 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 01:00 AM:

Do many reptiles have visible external genitalia? Am pretty sure females usually just have cloaca, which wouldn't be visible in the photo I've seen (at )
Am straining to remember all the biology from long-time-ago, and not currently prepared to spend time looking up detailed diagrams of reptile (dinosaur/modern) anatomy online.
There are certainly a number of animal types where the male intromittant organ <g> is tucked away when it's not needed (before virility, non-mating times, etc.).

Also, if it's been tucked away in non-special storage for over a century, it might very well have evaporated a bit of fluid.

Not that I think it's likely to be real. A film called 'Reign of Fire' [and oh boy, the number of times people these days get reign, rein & rain confused ... but I digress] was made in the last few years which I think was filmed in the UK. Near the start there was a scene involved dragon eggs & young.

#6 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 02:58 AM:

Having pondered awhile, I can't think of any reptiles or birds that have dangly bits as per mammals. I recall reading of such things as vents, and "genital openings," but nothing that's hanging out when not actually in use. May have something to do with exo- vs. endotherm, dunno. Or, when considering snakes and lizards, pure comfort.

#7 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 04:18 AM:

I can't remember the Latin for 'in the egg'.

"Egg", as can be gleaned from any textbook on human reproduction, is "ovum". "In the egg" is "in ovo" -- this is the same "-o" ending as is seen in "in utero".

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 03:58 PM:

Thanks, David, I don't know why I was blanking on that. I kept thinking of Greek.

Frogs don't have any external genitalia, either. Cloaca city. Use it for mating and excretion both. Least that's what I remember learning in 9th-grade bio back in 1972...someone who's had it a bit more recently may correct me.

#9 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 11:26 PM:

*ponders* ...still not visible in the main journal.
Is this a Crouching Tiger thread?

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2004, 11:36 PM:

Or perhaps the post is hidden in the dragon's cloaca?

#11 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 04:42 AM:

pericat: concealing 'dangly bits' might not just be so much for 'pure comfort' as for minimising possible damage. Darwinian, y'know - gotta get those gametes together.

#12 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 06:46 AM:

Another thing nagging. Still assuming Draco draco (per interim) is fairly close to known reptiles (pace fire-related issues (would that be a WMD?)), does that umbilicus look a bit out of place?

There are reptiles (eg, some snakes) which give birth to live young, but the embryos start out in soft eggshells (many eggs don't have those hard chalky shells like birds' do) and hatch inside. They still, IIRC however, exist on their original yolk. From biology memory & assorted documentaries, yolksac is held within stomach area of young. There may be some blood vessels or the like forming a sort of cord, but I don't think quite like that.

</pedantry>Remember the three kinds of mammals:
      Monotremes - also cloacal - hatch from (soft) eggs in nest, young lick milk secreted from bare patch of mother's skin.
      Marsupials have separate waste & birth exits, young are born early like a foetus & transfer to pouch where they fasten 'permanently' onto teat until advanced birth-like stage, can re-enter to suckle & for transport, etc.
      Placentals, the free-floating embryo 'implants' very early & a joint organ, the placenta, serves function of yolk or milk through foetal stages until birth, connected via umbilicus, severed at birth and milk glands take over.</pedantry>

#13 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 07:11 AM:

It's hard to limit the animal kingdom to three kinds of mammals when you are shown an example that may be part of a fourth.

I think the assumption of a close relationship to reptiles is a little hard to support. Based on skeletal structure a quadruped with wings may be more closely related to the Pegasus. My lack of hands-on experience with foaling flying horses prevents me commenting on the umbilicus.

#14 ::: DR hibelt conradet ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 07:59 PM:

its real as from 16 feb londons millis bio research centre has just finished x ray and disection of this little creature finding to be printed in 7 days full details to follow anyone intrested should contact me at this email

#15 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 10:04 PM:

I'm convinced then, even without sending email.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:27 PM:

Pixels are free. He didn't need to skimp on punctuation.

#17 ::: JMKagan ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:06 AM:

Hey! Here's the pickled dragon back up top!

[For some reason, probably my vintage programs, I can't search your site, Teresa.]

I'm willing to buy the argument that reptiles don't have their dangly bits hanging out but then what's with that umbilicus? Ricky says, Well, it's a new species, neither reptile nor mammal.

I'd buy that but for two things:
1) Anybody who'd taken that home in the late 1800's would have exhibited it, if only to his neighbors for a ha'penny a look. More likely, he'd have tried to sell it to Barnum or his local equivalent for *big* bucks.
2) If *I'd* just now found that in my relative's garage, I'd have gone from medical clinic to medical clinic until I found a med-tech as fascinated as I was---who'd x-ray or MRI it for free---*before* I contacted the newspapers.

Pretty model work, but I say it's a modern hoax and soon to be a major motion picture.

Oh, wait. Given DR. hibelt's punctuation, maybe they're just gonna exhibit it on the internet for a ha'penny a look.

#18 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 09:42 AM:

Teresa: Pixels are free. He didn't need to skimp on punctuation.

It almost looked like he had been administratively disperioded. (Dispointed? Expunctuated?)

#19 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 10:01 AM:



#20 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:02 AM:

Made pointless?

Wait, no, that's not it.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:47 PM:

I think 'disappointed' nicely captures both what his text looks like, and how he'll feel when he realizes we're not just naively taking his word for it.

#22 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 05:31 PM:

I think his/her myth has been depunc'd.

#23 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 01:27 AM:

Book deal for dragon hoax author

Well, it wasn't sculpted for a movie production (as I predicted), but it was done by the crew that did Walking with Dinosaurs.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 08:57 AM:

Begad, I thought that thing looked wrong for its alleged origin and creation date! And how dreadfully disappointing that it should turn out to have been nothing more interesting than a writer trying to get a book published.

#25 ::: Claude Muncey finds blatant comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2004, 07:01 PM:

This is getting ridiculous . . .

#26 ::: fidelio finds spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:57 AM:

Yes, more spam.

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