Classic engraving from 1885, depicting large tree-like Lepidodendron lycophytes thriving throughout
the Carboniferous Interval (public area)

I’ve at all times been fascinated by zoological
misidentifications, whether or not unintentional or deliberate. So here’s a actually
outrageous instance of the latter selection that I just lately investigated.

Throughout early 1851, publicity broadsides
have been being posted on partitions across the Welsh city of Neath to attract public consideration
(and attendance) to an eyecatching object at the moment being exhibited within the city
corridor throughout three consecutive days (30 and 31 January and 1 February). For
in keeping with the broadside, the article was none aside from a really sizeable fossil
serpent, 8 ft 3 in lengthy and seven in throughout.

Broadside for exhibition of alleged fossil serpent at Neath’s city corridor, early 1851 (public area)

As revealed by F.J. North within the second version
of his guide Coal, and the Coalfields in
(1931), nonetheless, it was really the trunk of an infinite, superficially
tree-like, however long-extinct lycophyte plant associated to membership mosses and (particularly)

Often called Lepidodendron, it
thrived in the course of the Carboniferous Interval round 360 million years in the past, and
attained a colossal top of as much as 180 ft. Its fossils are discovered preserved in
coal deposits, and it’s characterised by its trunk’s noticeably scaly outer
floor (Lepidodendron really
interprets as ‘scale tree’), though its ‘scales’ are literally leaf scars,
created when its leaves fell off.


Portion of fossil Lepidodendron
bark exhibited on the Houston Museum of Pure Science, Houston, Texas, USA (copyright free)

Furthermore, the true botanical id of Lepidodendron fossils had been identified to
scientists for a number of years earlier than this exhibition. So one can solely assume
that the latter’s organiser didn’t intend to let a mere technicality just like the
fact stand in the way in which of constructing some straightforward cash from scientifically-naive guests
anxious to see the mortal stays of an alleged prehistoric serpent!

Certainly, beginner
exhibitions at sideshows and festivals of comparable Lepidodendron specimens masquerading in greatest Barnumesque style as
large fossil snakes and even lizards have been on no account unusual again then. And for one more monstrous misidentification that includes a supposed fossil snake, you’ll want to click on right here to learn all concerning the bothersome Bothrodon.


Pictured right here in 1851, the exact same 12 months because the Neath exhibition, the good(est)
showman Phineas T. Barnum – he of the faux Feejee mermaids and different zoological frauds displayed by him in the course of the 1800s – would little question have authorized! (public area)


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