Yeah, there are numerous weird mythical/heraldic beasts from the middle ages that originated from misunderstandings of descriptions of real animals. I believe the unicorn originated from a description of a rhino for example (either an extant species or a now-extinct European species).Tillumadoguenirurm wrote:That's funny Iversen, when I read these post last night, the first thing that came to mind was the heraldic so-called lions. There are even examples of animals with eagle-like heads and feline bodies being called lions. Even today people who don't know animals confuse lions with other cats and vice versa. And honestly, if people have never seen neither a lion nor an elephant, and all they know about them is that they both come from Africa/Asia/"Asia" and that they are both big mammals with big teeth, it's not especially hard to imagine that someone might have gotten confused at one point.Iversen wrote:If I have to choose then the "big unspecified dangerous animal" explanation would also be my favorite, and there are indeed similar cases galore if you look for them. For instance a giraffe is officially called Giraffa camelopardalis - i.e. a camel-leopard (because of the spots), and a sizeable portions of the heraldic lions (those that walk with their faces turned towards the spectators) are called leopards just because the medieval Europeans didn't really know the real difference between the two species, penguins are called penguins because the great auk was called that and somebody thought they might be related, the white rhino ain't white but grey (it just had 'wide' mouth according to the boers), the cuttlefish aren't fish in any sense of the word -they just live in water like fish do .. and so on and so on.
I like the "leaning" version, but I have no idea wether it's true or not.
The weirdest charge I can think of though is the "panther" found on the coat of arms of the Austrian state of Styria (Steiermark in German). It has a body somewhat like a heraldic lion/"leopard" but with a cow's ears, horns, a long snout, a peculiarly split tail and a flaming tongue. If memory serves, the name originated in Greek describing a big cat which could change its coat; how they got from that to the Styrian beast I have no idea. A similar "panther" also appears on the arms of Ingolstadt, Bavaria, although that one lacks horns.
(I'm not sure this is strictly relevant but I think it's interesting.)