Gustave, the Demonic, Bullet-proof Crocodile


I’ve already covered crocodiles and their success as apex predators, but now I’d like to introduce you to someone. Gustave is a prime example of his species: a man-eating Nile crocodile who is near impossible to kill. Gustave hatched around 1955 in the African country of Burundi, making him roughly 67 years old. This massive beast has reached mythical status, having allegedly killed nearly 300 people and survived many attempts on his life. 


Gustave has never been captured, but he’s estimated to be around 18 feet long from head to tail, weighing over 2,000 pounds. Scientists and herpetologists who have studied him put him at about 60 years due to his teeth, which indicate he is not finished growing. Aside from his unnatural size, Gustave has several distinctive markings: three bullet scars on his body and a deep wound on his right shoulder. 

Gustave’s Hunting

Gustave’s unusual eating habits came about because of his extreme size. While crocodiles usually hunt antelopes, zebras, and fish, these prey are too agile for Gustave. So to fill his stomach, he is forced to hunt larger animals like hippos, wildebeest, and sometimes even humans. Crocodiles’ metabolisms allow them to go months without eating, so Gustave only has to feed every so often. A disturbing habit of his seems to be killing people and leaving their corpses, uneaten. The fact that he is killing prey without eating it has some nasty implications. 

Hunting Gustave

With the crocodile posing such a dangerous threat to locals, there have been many attempts to relocate or destroy him. Herpetologist Patrice Faye had documented him since the 1990s and made a 2004 documentary, Capturing the Killer Croc. In it, a nine-meter-long cage was lowered into the river and outfitted with bait and an infra-red camera. Only a few smaller crocodiles were caught, not Gustave. 

Before the research team had to leave, they made one last attempt: putting a live goat in the cage. One night a storm hit, the camera failed, and when they arrived at the scene the goat was gone. It could have escaped due to rising water or a fault in the cage, but without the camera footage, no one knows for sure. 

It’s clear that Gustave would not go down without a fight. He has been shot at multiple times; not just with shotguns but machine guns as well. They haven’t done a thing to deter him. 

Myth or Legend?

It’s likely that some reports of Gustave have been exaggerated. Like the mythical Beast of Gevaudan, it’s possible that it was multiple animals killing these people. There are rumours of him having burning red eyes, or people throwing hand grenades to scare him (because even those wouldn’t kill him). It’s difficult to tell how many victims have fallen to this massive crocodile, but he does exist. Or at least, he did at one point. 

There were reports in 2019 that he had been killed, but there was no evidence to support these claims. Nothing has been said since then, but it’s entirely possible that this monstrous modern dinosaur is still out there, just below the surface of a Burundi river. 

Creature Feature: Manatees, The Ocean’s Pacifists


I firmly believe that if we replaced all hippos with manatees, the world would be a better place (I’m joking; hippopotamus dung is great for the environment but their attitude is not). Manatees are the most peaceful, serene animals in existence and it’s beautiful how simple they are. They’re such pacifists that they don’t even have any natural predators (aside from desperate crocodiles eating young calves), and their natural curiosity makes them friendly to other species! 

Manatee Biology

Evolutionarily, manatees are most closely related to elephants and surprisingly, hyraxes, which are a species of tiny furred mammals. 

A manatee’s diet consists of seagrass and other aquatic vegetation, which has informed how they’ve adapted over time. Because of their lack of natural threats and their highly specific diet, they only have about 6 teeth in each jaw. They lack incisors and canines, instead having 12 molar-like teeth towards the backs of their mouths. Their thick upper lip is prehensile, allowing them to grasp at grass, but preventing them from biting another creature. Their lack of sharp teeth, claws, or hooves means that they couldn’t hurt anyone if they tried. 

Manatee Behaviour

Manatees are typically solitary, spending half of their time in the water. They swim in the shallows at about 8km an hour, eating 10% of their body weight in aquatic plants. Using their front flippers to “walk” along the river floor, they push their food into their mouth. This food occasionally includes fish, but typically only when the manatee is lacking nutrients. 

As I mentioned before, manatees are extremely docile and peaceful creatures. They are also highly curious and have often come close to humans and human-built structures. Manatees share their homes with alligators, and with their inability to fight back, you might think they’d be easy prey. But alligators will more often leave them alone than attack. There are a few reasons for this: a manatee’s hide is too thick to bite through, and the alligator’s usual hunting method – drowning their prey – doesn’t work on an animal that can hold its breath for 20 minutes. So the manatee is free to go along its merry way. 


While they don’t have any natural predators, humans have accounted for a large number of manatee deaths. Manatees, with their curious nature, aren’t aware of man-made danger and will get too close to speedboats and aquatic vehicles. They are frequently injured and killed by propellers, as well as collisions with ships. Manatees are susceptible to any change in their habitat, diet, or health, making their stability as a species very shaky. There are many manatee conservation efforts, like the Save the Manatee Club, which raises money to protect these threatened species.


As I covered in an earlier post, sailors like Christopher Columbus mistook manatees for mermaids. Manatees are also important in West African folklore: they were believed to have once been human, and it is taboo to kill them.

I also just drew this cute little manatee for my RedBubble shop, which you can buy on a shirt, a mug, a sticker, or more!

What is an “Introvert Hangover”?


If you’re anything like me, you might be familiar with this – you go out with friends, and before the end of the night, you’re wiped out. You’re exhausted, your head is killing you, you can’t eat, and you feel like you’re hungover despite not drinking. You could be having the time of your life with people you love, but if you’re an introvert, your social battery will run out eventually. This sensation is known as an “introvert hangover”.

It’s worse when you have chronic pain. I’ve always had a problem staying energetic in social situations longer than a few hours. But after my fibromyalgia diagnosis, it became harder to function. I often get exhausted because I need to put effort into smiling and making eye contact. That drains a lot of energy. I thought it was because I wasn’t enjoying the event, or wasn’t in the right mood, but it happened no matter the circumstances. 

My Experience with Introvert Hangovers

Speaking for myself here, the self-inflicted pressure to “mask” and appear engaged puts a lot of stress on my body. My facial muscles are strained, jaws clenched, mind constantly “on” so I don’t rudely miss out on a conversation. The worst part about an introvert hangover is that it happens when I’m with the people I love the most. 

I’ve spoken about D&D before and how much it’s helped me. It’s also been incredible for my social life. My D&D group are my closest friends. I can truly be myself around them. With all of the stressors of adulthood, we spend as much time together as we can before life gets in the way. So I’ll set aside most of a weekend to be with the people I love. We’ll play D&D for a while, then just talk for a while because we don’t want the day to end. But without fail, I get a bad introvert hangover well before the day is out. 

It starts with a faint headache. This isn’t unusual for me; I get headaches all the time. But it worsens as time goes on, until I can’t move my head without splitting pain. I feel nauseous and bloated, and I know eating would probably help but I can’t bring myself to do it. 

How to Treat an Introvert Hangover?

I’ve tried everything I can think of. I thought it was basic self-care, like eating enough in the morning, drinking enough water, etc. But none of that helps. I take painkillers when I can, but by then it’s usually too late. If a tension headache is my main problem, sometimes laying a wheat pack over my face and eyes helps. But the only thing that really seems to work is a good night’s rest (and not just a nap, either – that tends to make things worse). 

If you can control the amount of time you spend socialising, that’s the best way to keep an introvert hangover at bay. But it can be disheartening not being able to spend as much time with people as you’d like. 

How Does an Introvert Hangover Effect Your Life? 

To people who haven’t experienced them, they might seem like a minor inconvenience. But it’s had a very negative impact on my social and mental health. My friends and partner do everything they can to accommodate this, but I feel so bad that I can’t engage for as long as they can. I feel like I’m bringing the mood down, or wasting the time we do have together. My friends love board games and strategy, and so am I, but I just can’t process anything that’s going on when we’re playing. I desperately want to be present but I feel like I’m fading into the distance. I want to be there for my friends and I don’t want to end things early just because of me. 

As someone with chronic pain, I have a very complicated relationship with my body. I want to love the body that I’m in, but it constantly feels like my body hates me; I don’t want to always be on the outside, and I don’t want to be punished for enjoying myself. 

So What Now? 

I’m sorry if you came here for advice – I don’t really have any. The most important thing as a chronic pain sufferer is to take care of your body’s needs, and I have not been good at doing that. I am lucky to have an excellent support system, but I still have to make the choice between caring for myself and having fun. 

The best advice that I can offer is know your limits. Even if you break them every now and then (which I completely understand), if you’re aware of them then you can prepare for the worst. Chronic pain can feel hopeless and miserable, but you’re not alone. There’s someone out there who knows what you’re going through.

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller


Madeline Miller’s Circe is a book that I enjoyed so much that I wrote my honours thesis on it. It is a feminist retelling of the character Circe from Greek mythology, which is a topic that Miller is very acquainted with.

If you’re not familiar, Circe appears in the Odyssey as another trial for Odysseus to surpass on his way home. She is the daughter of the sun, Helios, and her powerful witchcraft exiled her to an island. In The Odyssey, Circe turns Odysseus’s men into pigs and Odysseus drinks a potion that makes him immune to her magic. After drawing a knife on her, he then seduces her and she is persuaded to free his men. She then consults an oracle to tell him where his journey must take him next. 

While The Odyssey is her most famous appearance, Circe is a character with a rich mythology that Miller encapsulates wonderfully. She is not reduced to the “temptress” archetype, becoming a fully realised character. We watch as she goes from the “ugly duckling” of her family, to ultimately falling in love which leads to exile. We see her grow jaded on her island, left to the whims of men, and we watch her tenacity grow. 

Miller uses Circe to explore the ways women are overlooked in Greek mythology. While mythological Circe is a powerhouse, she’s never written sympathetically and is defined by the men in her life. Miller makes clear the ways that men control Circe and the other women in the story. Circe was an outcast in her family of Titans and was thus singled out. Her sister Pasiphae was favoured, but was handed off to a husband as a peace treaty between Zeus and Helios. The women in this story are wonderfully flawed and distinct. Miller doesn’t erase the effect of the patriarchy in this book; she explores how women are affected by it. They play into or reject the rules prescribed to them. 

No longer does Circe’s story revolve around Odysseus: the witch-goddess is her own hero. Along with her godly family, the cast of this novel includes some big Greek mythology names. Circe brings in characters like Athena and Hermes, and incorporates the myths of Jason & Medea, Daedalus & Icarus, the Minotaur, and more. Before reading it, I considered myself pretty well-versed in Greek mythos, but this book gave me so many new things to research. 

Miller’s writing is like poetry. There’s a comforting, flowing quality to it that paints very vivid pictures. The text is laced with such gorgeous metaphors, descriptions, and symbolism that I didn’t mind reading it four times. I just love the way Miller describes Circe’s emotions and the development of her powers. It’s a female empowerment story, but not in a shallow way. Circe is flawed and complex, often making the wrong decision on her path to learning the right way. The trauma she experiences in her past cause her to lash out and not trust, but she learns to be better. She finds a way to exist as herself, not the person she is expected to be. 

Circe is a beautifully evocative book that leaves you in a trance. The world of Greek mythology comes alive through Miller’s well-constructed words. It is a feminist take on stories that have not been kind to women, nonetheless, it does so without being preachy. I love this book with all my heart. It’s the best I could hope for from a modern take on Greek mythology. If you get the chance to read it, I highly recommend you do!

You can find Madeline Miller’s book on her website here.

Creature Feature: Hungry Hippos


Hippos are one of the few animals that genuinely freak me out. Hyenas? Love ‘em. Vultures? They’re my favourite bird! But the thought of meeting a hippo in the wild absolutely terrifies me. 

Hippopotamuses – meaning “rive horses” in Greek – should be just as cute and cuddly as manatees. They’re big lazy herbivores who float around in shallow water, and their cartoon depictions are simply adorable. They seem like gentle giants (being the largest mammal after elephants and rhinos), but they are anything but. 

Hippo Evolution

Despite looking similar to pigs and elephants, hippos are closer to cetaceans like dolphins and whales. If you look at a whale’s skeleton, you can see that the bones that make up the fins look like hands. Hippos and cetaceans evolved from a common ancestor, and though hippos adapted to walk on land, they still prefer water. 

Many hippopotamus species existed in the past, but the only ones that have survived are the modern hippo in sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, and the pygmy hippo in West Africa. Among the modern hippos are subspecies with varying face shapes.


Like I mentioned, hippos are the third largest land animal. Weighing between 1365kg and 1480kg, the herbivorous animal must consume around 40kgs of grass a day. While their diet mainly consists of grass and some aquatic vegetation, they’ve also been reported to eat meat. Their stomachs are not suited to meat, but like most herbivores, they’ll resort to carrion if their diet is lacking in certain nutrients.

Though they look like they would be slow to move, they can run up to 30km per hour. Their large canine teeth are used only for combat; their molars do all of the work when they eat. 

Hippos have think skin, but very little hair. For an animal that lives in such hot climates, this could lead to a lot of skin issues. To combat this, their skin actually secretes a reddish-brown liquid known as blood-sweat. It’s not sweat or blood, but it acts like sunscreen to protect their skin from damage. 

Despite spending most of their time in the water, they’re not particularly good swimmers. They walk along the bottom of lakes and swamps, pushing up from the bottom to resurface every 3-5 minutes. 


If you weren’t already in the know, hippos kill more people than lions. They’re incredibly territorial in water, and generally extremely aggressive. They have overturned canoes full of people and brutally killed and injured them. Though they are herbivores, their jaw has a huge amount of force behind it and can leave massive wounds. They’ll even square up against crocodiles, no matter the size. 

In a rare, non-violent situation, hippos share a mutualistic relationship with some species of fish. The hippo visits a “cleaning station” and opens its mouth up wide underwater, letting the fish swim around and clean bacteria off of the teeth. 

If it weren’t for their aggression, hippos could be somewhat pleasant. But the reason I’m terrified of them is their over-the-top reaction to anything that moves. If you’re in the water with one, it’s already too late for you. You have no hope of outrunning one on land, either. Even crocodiles are scared of them.

The Dark Side of Peter Pan


J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is a classic that has inspired many adaptations, including animated and live-action movies, sequels, and spin-offs. It’s a fantastical story that inspires millions of children, but the version you’re familiar with probably softens the grimmer aspects. Written in 1911, Peter Pan plays out the fantasy of children remaining happy and innocent forever. The moral at the end is that everyone grows up and it’s not a bad thing, but Peter Pan continues living in Neverland for generations after Wendy grows up. If you look below the surface, it’s easy to see Peter as a warning of what it means to be a child forever.

Tragic Beginnings

The story of a young boy who will never grow up was likely inspired by Barrie’s own childhood. Barrie was six when his older brother David, 14, died in an ice-skating accident. His mother didn’t cope well. To cheer her up, Barrie would dress in his late brother’s clothes and whistle in the same way. His mother took comfort in the fact that David would remain young and precious forever. Evidently, Barrie took that to heart. 

Later in life, Barrie and his wife would befriend a family with four young boys. Barrie based Peter Pan on one of these boys, and invented stories with them of mermaids and pirates. Due to his brother’s death, he became very attached to these children and wanted to protect them. He even altered their mother’s will to make himself their guardian when she died. Barrie kept in contact with them well into their adolescence. 

Angel of Death

It was clear that Barrie had a fixation on youth, and so did his main character. Peter Pan was obsessed with never growing up, and Neverland let him play pretend forever with new friends to replace the old. But looking closer, we can see that this is equally a fixation with death. Barrie was clearly traumatized by the death of his brother and his mother’s grief, and it manifested in an unhealthy idolisation of youth. 

To age meant to die, and not the kind of adventurous death that Peter Pan longed for. To become an adult was to be like his mother, who had abandoned and replaced him. But people have speculated that Peter Pan may have been dead the entire time: as he himself explains, he fell out of his pram as a baby and was never found. The theory goes that he died then and became a spirit of Neverland, leading children to their untimely deaths. Not intentionally, though – it was all a game to him.

The Lost Boys 

The Lost Boys were other babies who fell out of their prams, but Peter was the only one who didn’t age. More evidence of him being a spirit are the magical qualities only he seems to possess – aside from never aging, the seasons in Neverland change according to his presence (the winter snow melts when he returns with Wendy and her brothers). 

We know that the other Lost Boys aged because the book reveals the cruel “punishment” for growing up, which is against Peter’s rules. It was said there were always new Lost Boys because Peter would “thin them out” when they got too old, implying that he killed them. But it gets worse – the Lost Boys used hollow tree trunks to reach their secret hideouts. It’s implied Peter would “modify” their bodies to fit when they got too big. 

As an eternal child, Peter Pan never had to face the consequences of his actions or wake up to reality. He thought that everything was a game, and every pirate and Lost Boy that he killed were just the players who lost. Pan couldn’t tell reality from fantasy, often feeding the Lost Boys imaginary meals and not understanding when they were still hungry. He didn’t care about putting Wendy or her brothers in danger because none of it was real to him. 

The Pirates

The pirates were the only adults on Neverland, and happen to be the villains. Captain Hook’s vendetta against Pan and the Lost Boys comes from Pan cutting off his hand and feeding it to a hungry crocodile. Along with Hook’s hand, the crocodile also swallowed his watch. The crocodile developed a taste for Hook’s flesh and plagued him with the sound of ticking. 

The crocodile and watch serve as more than an early warning system for Hook. He is pursued by his greatest fear: death. While Pan sees death as “an awfully big adventure”, Hook is acutely aware that he is constantly ageing, and that one day he will grow old and die. He chases after Pan, who represents eternal youth while running from the crocodile which symbolises the passing of time. Peter Pan taunts him at every point with the one thing Hook wants and can never have: to live forever. 

The Cost of Never Growing Up

As Barrie himself would come to realise, being young forever is not all good. Peter’s belief that everything is a game made him cruel and careless, able to easily replace friends. The worst thing you could do, for him, was to make bore him. He never got the chance to mature, so he kept a grudge against his mother for abandoning him and let it fester. He projected his longing for a mother onto Wendy, but because he can never mature he couldn’t confront the emotions that Wendy’s friendship brought up. Because his emotions never develop past self-indulgence, he’s unable to make genuine connections with people. 

At the end of Barrie’s story, Wendy and her brothers return home. Peter Pan could never understand the grief of their mother, or the comforts of home and a nurturing family. Ultimately, Peter Pan is less of an escapist fantasy than a cautionary tale. Everyone must grow up, but that doesn’t mean that we have to lose our sense of wonder and whimsy. 

Later, I want to talk about the Pixie Hollow books. They’re a much more wholesome Neverland series and a hidden gem of children’s literature. I can’t wait to share them with you!

If you’re a fan of Tinkerbell or fairies in general, I have a new print on Redbubble! Get it on a mug, shirt, sticker, or anything you want!

Creature Feature: The Prehistoric Crocodile


This post comes at the request of my mum, who said “write about crocodiles and maybe I’ll like them!” And with the crocodile being one of Earth’s oldest creatures, I was more than happy to oblige. 

I’m Australian, which means I grew up watching Steve Irwin and worrying I’d see a crocodile in any body of water. I’ve never run into one in the wild before, but I have seen a few in zoos and held a baby one as a kid! 

Avoiding Extinction 

These massive reptiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and haven’t evolved much since. In the Jurassic period, they came in a variety of species including those that ate plants, ran, and lived solely in water. The crocodile might seem like a simple creature, but it has a flexible lifestyle that has allowed it to outlive its prehistoric relatives like pterosaurs and other winged reptiles.

The crocodiles that survived the catastrophic meteor and survived into the modern age were very versatile. Their ability to thrive in and out of water meant that survival was easier for them than most. But the biggest factor in their longevity was the fact that they have a cerebral cortex, something only mammals and a few select reptiles possess. The cerebral cortex is vital for memory, perception, and recognising patterns. This means that crocodiles are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. Afterall, it’s not easy to be an apex predator.

Crocodile Biology

Crocodiles rose through the food chain by having advanced senses compared to their competition. Their eyes, ears, and nostrils are at the top of the head, so they can float near the surface of the water and scope out prey while still remaining hidden. As nocturnal hunters, they have great night vision and their sense of smell and hearing are excellent. 

A crocodile’s jaws are lined with tiny black sensors, which can detect the slightest disturbance in the water. This gives them a very good advantage when hunting.

Their bite is their most impressive feature. The crocodile has a bite force stronger than any other recorded animal, using a muscle that is almost as hard as bone. While they have incredible force them biting down, the muscle to open the jaw is surprisingly weak. Vets and other animal workers use simple tape to subdue them. Even a crab can hold a crocodile’s jaw shut! I found that fact so fun that I drew a picture of it, which you can buy on RedBubble!


Crocodile teeth are not equipped for tearing off chunks of flesh, like other predators. Instead, they use their bite force to clamp onto prey, keeping them from escaping, then engaging in the “death roll”. The death roll is basically the crocodile’s signature move, where it spins around so violently underwater that the prey becomes disoriented. This can cause the prey to drown, or snap their neck from the motion. They also use this death roll to assert dominance over other crocodiles. 


Crocodiles are actually the most social of reptiles. They don’t form groups necessarily, but they aren’t overly territorial and will put up with each other quite peacefully. Crocodiles are also the most vocal reptiles! Babies make an adorable peeping sound, and adults make a variety of noises including bellows, hisses, and screeches. 

Baby crocs break through their eggs with a “milk tooth” made from their skin. Then, their mother piles them into her mouth to safely deliver them to the water, as hatchlings are easy prey for birds. A crocodile mother is very protective of her young, and will guard them for months. 


Before this post gets too long, I wanted to add a few things to wrap this up!

It’s hard to know how long crocodiles live, but scientists use growth rings in their teeth to predict that they can live around 60-70 years. 

Crocodile meat is eaten in Australia. It’s not very common in most states and I’ve only tried it once on a school camp. But crocodile farms are big in the warmer parts of the country! 

Crocodiles appear in many mythologies, but my favourite is the Egyptian goddess Ammut. She is a funerary deity with the head of a crocodile, the forelegs of a lion, and the back legs of a hippo. In the Ancient Egyptian afterlife, your heart was weighed against a feather on a scale. If the heart was impure and outweighed the feather, Ammut would eat it and doom the soul to wander eternally. Ammut embodied everything the Ancient Egyptians feared, being a combination of their three deadliest animals. 

I’m sure I’ll talk about hippos soon, but you should know they’re so dangerous that crocodiles will let the babies lick salt off of them, because they know an angry mumma hippo is watching. Crocodiles may be apex predators, but even they know not to mess with a hippopotamus.

Benandanti: The Dream-Walking Witch Hunters


The Salem Witch Trials are the best-known witch hunts, but they were prominent throughout Europe during the Catholic Revival. While most witch hunts were terrible tragedies involving the execution of innocent women and other vulnerable people, not all witch hunters did that. The Italian tradition of the Benandanti fought a different kind of witch: malignant spirits who threatened crops and communities via the dream realm. 

The Good Walkers

The Benandanti were the bane of European witch hunters who abused their power to maintain the status quo. Benandanti could be any gender, and it was said that they were born with a caul over their head. They truly had their communities’ best interests in heart and took it upon themselves to protect crops and livestock. 

Benandanti achieved this by allegedly transforming their spirits into animals (like wolves) while they slept and battled evil witches. They were also said to possess healing abilities in the waking world. The Benandanti honestly believed these experiences to be real, calling them “vision journeys”. 

In these vision journeys, the men would use fennel stalks to fight witches, who used sorghum (associated with witches’ brooms). These battles would determine the outcome of the crops in the coming year. While the men fought, the women learnt magic and divination at a magnificent feast surrounded by spirits, animals, and fairies. These women learned who in the community would die in the next year.

Connections to Witches

Because of their supernatural abilities and their battles in the dream world, the Benandanti become closely associated with witches. While they eventually came to be seen as “good” witches, this connection was enough for them to be persecuted in the 1500s. It didn’t matter that their journeys had nothing in common with “witches’ sabbath”; they used magic, and that was enough. 


Eventually the Benandanti became synonymous with witches, Satanists, and heathens. To be called one was an accusation of witchcraft or worse. The Roman inquisition began interrogating anyone claiming to have healing or divinatory powers, and it gave spiteful people a way to vilify anyone they didn’t like. Unfortunately, this also led to Bendandanti accusing each other of being witches, to save their own skins. It was a vicious cycle, and entirely unnecessary. 

This was such an interesting topic to read into. I really think the Benandanti should be a common feature of fantasy media, and I’m surprised they aren’t more popular. A group of benevolent, shape-shifting witch hunters who come to be seen as the very thing they fight against … doesn’t that sound just perfect for a young adult book series?

There’s so much more to learn about the Benandanti than I’ve covered here. If you want more information about their complex history, check out this article!

If you’re in an arty mood, have a look at my RedBubble store for prints like these!

Creature Feature: The Slimy Salamander


The salamander is not a singular species, but a family of amphibians (animals that can live on land and water). This family includes true salamanders, newts, and some fun names like hellbenders and mud puppies. They all have tails, stumpy bodies, and generally slimy skin. Some of them are plain, some are brightly coloured, but all of them are wonderfully bizarre creatures. 


Unlike lizards, the salamander actually has a larval stage not unlike fish and bugs. These larval forms have gills and teeth, but no eyelids. Some species of salamander keep these traits throughout their lives, like mudpuppies and axolotls. They come in many different sizes, with the smallest being 6 inches long, and the Japanese giant salamander is the largest at 6 feet from head to tail. 

Some salamanders use their skin as camouflage to hide from predators, while others boast impressively bright colours as a warning to other animals. These vibrant hues in nature are often bluffs to seem like a creature is poisonous, but for some salamanders, it’s not a lie. These species have special glands that emit toxic fluid. Salamanders can also regrow their tail if they lose it.

In fact, scientists are studying limb regeneration in salamanders to learn how we can apply it to humans! Axolotls have been genetically engineered so that their cells are fluorescent and cell division can be tracked. 


The salamander lives on a carnivorous diet of insects, worms, snails, small lizards, and even other salamanders. They need to absorb water through their skin, so they make their homes close to water and in humid areas. To preserve body heat, they hibernate when the temperature goes below freezing. Because they are cold-blooded, it takes them a lot of energy to stay warm during the winter. Hibernation saves them from having to burn this energy and lets them rest instead. Most of them are nocturnal, hunting by night and hiding during the day. 

While a few select species give birth to live young, nearly every salamander lays eggs. Baby salamanaders are similar to tadpoles: they are born without legs in clear, jelly-like eggs and released into the water. 

Salamanders have quite a long lifespan for amphibians. Depending on their size, they can live to 55 years


The salamander appears frequently in different mythologies. If you’re like me, you might associate salamanders with fire. Many stories sprang from the tendency of salamanders to hide in rotting logs. When people used these logs for firewood, the salamander would scurry out, making it look like they were created from the fire. 

Pliny the Elder, my favourite natural philosopher, wrote that “A salamander is so cold that it puts out fire on contact. It vomits from its mouth a milky liquid; if this liquid touches any part of the human body it causes all the hair to fall off, and the skin to change color and break out in a rash.” They were thought to be so toxic that it could poison a fruit to such a degree that if that fruit fell into a well, it would kill anyone who drank from it. 

There are so many distinct salamander species that I’d love to get into someday, but hopefully this was a good general overview! They’re such interesting creatures, and I’ll admit I only knew the tiniest amount before writing this post. Leave a comment on what animal you’d like me to write about next!

Also, I have a RedBubble store now! You can buy prints of my illustrations, like this salamander, for mugs, shirts, pins and more!

The Story Behind The Little Mermaid


Hans Christen Anderson’s The Little Mermaid is a classic fairytale of magic, transformation, and forbidden love. Most people know the Disney version, where the prince falls in love with Ariel and they live happily ever after. The original version was much darker and bleaker, and likely came about because of an event in Anderson’s personal life. 

The original 1837 version includes a few gruesome details that would not have been good for Disney’s family-friendly image. Along with not being able to speak, the little mermaid’s every step felt as if she were walking on broken glass. An important detail of this version is that mermaids do not have souls, so if she dies she will turn into seafoam instead of going to heaven as humans do. 

The mermaids in Anderson’s version visit the surface when they turn 15, returning to tell their families about their experience. The youngest princess becomes enamoured with a human prince, and saves his life when his ship crashes. She watches from a distance as women from a nearby temple tend to him. The prince believes that one of these women saved him, not the little mermaid. 

She returns home and asks her grandmother how long humans live. When she learns that they have short lifespans, she longs for a soul so she can be with the prince. The little mermaid seeks out the sea witch, who gives her a potion to grow legs with the warning that if the prince marries another, she will die of a broken heart and dissolve on the waves. Each step will feel like she is walking on broken glass, and she will have to give up her voice. 

The prince finds her on the beach, and though she cannot speak, she becomes the prince’s constant companion. However, he shows no signs of loving her. 

His parents announce his engagement to the neighbouring princess, who happens to be the woman from the temple. They marry on a ship, and the little mermaid is in anguish. That night, her sisters catch her attention in the waves. They cut off all of their beautiful hair in exchange for a dagger from the sea witch. If the little mermaid kills the prince with the dagger, she can become a mermaid again. 

She enters the prince’s chamber, but seeing him asleep with his new wife, she can’t bring herself to kill him. She throws herself off the ship to become sea foam, rejoining the ocean and sparing the love of her life. But before she dissolved, she transforms into a spirit called a Daughter of the Air. Because of her good deeds in life, she now has the chance to gain her own soul.

This version of the story is certainly tragic, but I find it more poignant. Some people interpret it as a religious narrative, with the Daughter of Air being angels. The storybook that I had as a child cut off this ending, which makes it a tale of tragic, unrequited love without the cushioning of the mermaid’s redemption. I prefer this version – to me, it warns against being taken advantage of by people who will never truly care about you. It is also about self-sacrifice and learning to let go; instead of punishing the prince for loving someone else, she frees herself from the pain caused by pretending to be someone she is not. This fairy tale does not have a happy ending, but it is beautiful in its melancholy. 

As I mentioned before, The Little Mermaid may reflect some aspects of Hans Christian Anderson’s personal life. Theorists believe the story was a love letter dedicated to a man named Edvard Collin. Collin was engaged to a young woman, and around this time Anderson sent him a letter which said  “I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench… my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.” 

The parallels are clear. A person falls deeply in love with someone who is unable to reciprocate, despite changing everything about themselves. The story reflects Anderson’s pain in this unrequited love; the mermaid’s loss of her voice might represent Anderson’s inability to confess his feelings publicly. 

As a queer person myself, I loved learning that one of the most famous fairytale authors loved men, and it made me love the story even more. It’s a brilliant story impacted by the author’s own life, and it’s no wonder that we still tell it today.

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