Thursday, November 13, 2014

Slovenian Hunter Bags Unicorn

No, that's neither a joke nor a typo. A hunter in Slovenia recently killed a roe deer with a single antler growing out of the center of its head. Unicorn goats can be created by surgically relocating the cells that produce horns into a single central patch, there was little evidence that anything similar happened naturally. That is, until now.

So you read that right, folks. Unicorns are officially real. The animal's actual skull is shown in the image above, and National Geographic will be running a feature on it in the December issue.

Shot by a hunter in Celje, Slovenia, in August, the roe deer has an extremely rare type of antler deformity, likely caused by an injury early in the antlers' development. Such injuries are common in deer and often lead to antler abnormalities, including bizarrely shaped racks. The abnormal antler on this Slovenian "unicorn" is so unusual that scientist BoĊĦtjan Pokorny, who verified the animal's authenticity, said he's never seen anything like it in nature.

"In this species, only males grow antlers, which are bilateral and usually symmetrical bone structures that appear from two antler pedicles, i.e. extensions of the skull," Pokorny, assistant director of the ecological research institute ERICo Velenje, said in an email. "However, in the case of this very untypical and interesting buck, both pedicles, which should be separated, grew up together in one large pedicle."

This is another case showing that most mythology is at least partially rooted in fact. In the middle ages, unicorns were believed to exist but were thought to be rare. The "unicorn horns" that have survived from the period generally come from narwhals, a species of whale with a single large hornlike protrusion. But the existence of this deer suggests that perhaps one like it was seen from time to time roaming European forests, which would have reinforced the myth or possibly even started it off.

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Nerd said...

As a hunter, no way I'd shoot that. Maybe take a cell phone pic, but that's it.

Scott Stenwick said...

Apparently when the hunter shot it, he thought that it had simply lost an antler, which can happen to male roe deer due to fights or accidents. It was only afterwards that he realized how rare it was.