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.

Things Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Sufferers Can Relate To


Chronic pain is a lifestyle, not just a list of symptoms. It’s hard to see the bright side of pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis, but it’s also not healthy to get bogged down in the negatives. There’s more to chronic pain than just pain, and it can help to look at it in a humorous way. When you’re dealing with a chronic condition, you need to be able to laugh at it sometimes or you’ll never get anything done. Here are a few things that bring me amusement, whether other people find them funny or not.

Blood Tests Are No Worry

Since I started my fibromyalgia diagnosis journey in 2015, I’ve had more blood tests than I can count. I used to be terrible with needles, but they’re not a problem anymore! I know the process by now. Pathologists are often surprised by how quickly I get in the chair and roll up my sleeve. There’s a strange point of pride in getting blood drawn without flinching – it’s a kind of pain that I can tolerate. 

Creaky Joints

Anyone who thinks arthritis is just something you get when you’re old is wrong. I’ve had it since I was seventeen, and it makes me sound like popping candy whenever I stretch. My ankles, wrists and neck are particularly bad. I’ve gotten into the habit of rolling those joints just to feel them crackle. Every person I’ve met with chronic pain is used to standing up with a big sigh because their knees or back wanted to complain; it’s not fun, but it is sometimes funny.

OTC Pain Medicine Isn’t Helpful

I can’t count the number of times someone has good-naturedly offered me some panadol for my pain, and I politely turn them down. While I appreciate the gesture, basic paracetamol doesn’t have much of an effect on me anymore. Unless I take it before the fibromyalgia symptoms kick in, it’s usually too late. I take a lot of panadol anyway because at least I’m doing something to combat the pain even if it’s a placebo. 

Always A New Symptom

Chronic pain and mental health have a heavy overlap. Personally, my chronic pain stems from stress and anxiety, which present in many physical symptoms. I think I know all there is to know about my conditions, but every few months I’ll notice something off and wonder if I need to see a doctor. I do a quick search online (taken with a grain of salt, of course), and see that the strange new sensation I’m experiencing could be linked to fibromyalgia. Do I see my doctor anyway and potentially waste my time and theirs? Or do I just let it be, if it seems relatively benign? In some ironic way, I can always look forward to discovering something new about my illness.

So Many Layers

Like many chronically ill people, I have trouble regulating my temperature. I have bad circulation in my hands and feet, so I tend to run cold. I love heavy jackets and woollen jumpers and I find it hard to change out of my pyjamas during winter. On the flip side, my fibromyalgia medication makes me sensitive to heat and easily dehydrated. Being in a heated room on a freezing cold day, or a cooled room during a burning summer, makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll be taking layers on and off as my internal temperature changes, and it won’t settle. It makes planning my outfits very difficult because the actual temperature tells me nothing about how I’ll feel.

Tossing And Turning

So many chronic pain symptoms lead to terrible sleep. Now, I think I have a pretty consistent sleep schedule in terms of when I go to bed and wake up, but the quality of my sleep is … not great. I need a lot of comfort items to easily fall asleep: I have a pillow under my knees to help my hips, a weighted blanket, and a wheat pack for cold nights. I can’t find a pillow that doesn’t give me neck pain, and my aches make it hard to get comfortable. It turns out that being in pain all of the time makes it hard to sleep. Who would have thought? 


Like I said before, it’s hard to see anything positive about chronic pain. But if there’s one upside that I’ve found, it’s other people who share my experiences. When I was diagnosed I felt so alone. None of my friends understood what I was going through. I was constantly gaslighting myself into believing I was making it up. But when I left high school and my world grew wider, I’ve met so many wonderful people who also have chronic pain. It makes a world of difference to share advice and complaints with similar people; just being able to share your stories with people who truly get it is a wonderful thing. And since I’ve started this blog, I’ve spoken to so many people with the same stories. 

Chronic pain is never easy, but having a community makes it go down sweeter.

Animals Mistaken For Mythical Creatures


Monsters and mythical creatures have always captured the human imagination. They are humanity’s answer to things we can’t explain, and proof that storytelling is our oldest art form. Before we had access to a great wealth of information about the world, there were a lot of things we had no name for. Palaeontology, the study of fossils, is a relatively new science and for a long time, so if someone dug up a bone and didn’t know what it belonged to, their imagination would run wild. 

We have many of our popular monsters due to one thing being mistaken for another. Pre-history, it was rare to know what a human skeleton looked like, let alone the skeleton of an animal you had never seen before. 

You’ve surely heard of most of these mythical creatures, but you might not know how they came to be. 


Common depictions of unicorns come from medieval Europe, but they’ve been around for a long time. These horned horses became a symbol of Christianity, representing purity and dedication. They’re the epitome of virtuousness and are said to be so rare that if one approaches you, it’s considered a blessing. In the Middle Ages, unicorn horns were highly sought after and they were believed to have healing properties. These horns were sometimes crushed up into a powder as medicine. 

But where were these horns coming from? 

Rhinos were the most likely inspiration for these magical creatures. Through word-of-mouth stories and illustrations based on vague descriptions, it’s easy to see how a quadrupedal beast with a horn on its head could become a unicorn. So that explains the creature, but not the physical horns that were found. 

These horns actually came from narwhals, large whales with an eight-foot-long canine tooth protruding from their head. The spiral shape and ivory colour are strikingly similar to unicorn illustrations. 


Cyclopes – yes, I’m a pedant, so I’m using the early plural – were a race of one-eyed giants in Greek mythology. The original cyclopes were the sons of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), and forged powerful weapons for the gods. Later, in Homer’s Odyssey, the cyclops Polyphemus is a brutal shepherd who eats several of Odysseus’s men. 

Giants exist in some form in nearly every culture. The concept of “human but big” plays on primal fears. So where does the single-eyed mythical creature factor into the equation? Some believe that the ancient Greeks found the skull of an extinct species of elephant, and mistook it for a cyclops’ skull. This would be an easy enough mistake to make; these skulls had a large single hole for the elephant’s trunk. 


Human-like creatures with aquatic tails are a cornerstone of many mythologies, including Greek, Roman, and African. Due to their huge cultural significance worldwide, there’s no single definition of a mermaid. Sometimes they’re benevolent fey creatures who save people from drowning; other times, they’re vicious beings who purposely drown sailors for their own enjoyment. Traditionally they’re depicted as human from the waist up, and fish from the waist down. But modern interpretations make them more fish-like all over, giving them scaly green skin or serrated teeth like a shark’s. I love both versions, but I’m really fond of monstrous mermaids. You can get really creative with how they look!

So these mythical creatures have existed since ancient times, but there have been reported sightings of them well into the modern age. How is this explained? 

Manatees. These aquatic mammals feed on sea grass and kelp. They’re famously mild-mannered and unafraid of humans. Many sailors during America’s colonisation, including Christopher Colombus, claimed to see mermaids on their travels. From a distance, and possibly with heat-induced madness, it would be easy enough to mistake a manatee for a mermaid. 


Popularised through Ancient Greek mythology, these mythical creatures were brilliant red-and-yellow birds whose eggs could only hatch by being consumed by flame. The Greek version of these birds resembled peacocks in illustrations, but the phoenix was actually borrowed from a different Ancient Egyptian creature; the bennu. Bennus were associated with Ra, the Sun God, which is where they get their bright colours. But these illustrations don’t look like peacocks; their tails are less ornamental, and they’re a dark pink colour. Was the bennu purely imaginary, or did it have roots elsewhere?

Many believe the bennu was inspired by flamingos. They match the colour description, and they live in tropical areas. As I mentioned in my flamingo post, they make their nests in incredibly hostile environments, including salty water capable of stripping your skin. Seeing these majestic birds rising out of the salt pans during a heatwave would have certainly been inspiring.

Top 3 Symbiotic Relationships in Nature


“Survival of the fittest” is an oft-quoted, oft-misunderstood saying that implies it’s every animal for themselves in the wild. But the truth is, many animals of different species co-exist peacefully, even having mutually beneficial relationships. When two different kinds of animals work together in symbiotic relationships, it’s known as mutualism. Unlike parasites, both parties get something out of this arrangement. There are so many incredible examples it was hard to narrow it down to just three, but here goes!  

Oxpecker Birds 

These African birds form symbiotic relationships with a number of large mammals. You might have seen, in any number of cartoons, a small bird perched on top of a rhino. That’s an oxpecker, and they also make friends with zebras, wildebeest, antelope and more! The birds, as their name suggests, peck ticks and other parasites off of their host. It keeps the larger animal clean and healthy, and provides the oxpecker with an easy meal. These relationships go beyond free food; the oxpecker will raise the alarm when danger is approaching, which is especially helpful for rhinos with terrible eyesight. 

Clownfish and Anemones 

Many of you will recognise this from Finding Nemo. Clownfish shelter within  anemones, a tentacled sea creature whose stinging neurotoxins the clownfish are immune to. The anemone uses these tentacles to catch and eat small invertebrate, but the brightly-coloured clownfish attracts bigger prey for the anemone to devour. Not only that, but clownfish also help out their tendriled friends by eating up parasites and scaring away potential threats. It’s still unknown why the fish aren’t affected by the anemone’s neurotoxins; it could be due to a layer of mucus on the fish’s body. Either way, these are a great example of symbiotic relationships. 

Ravens and Wolves

This is my favourite! Sometimes an unkindness of ravens and a pack of wolves will form symbiotic relationships in the wild that go beyond a mere transactional exchange. Ravens are incredibly intelligent and tactical, and have a great vantage point when it comes to seeking prey. But they’re not as equipped to open up a carcass as wolves are, so they invite them to the hunt. Ravens are often at the sight of a wolf’s kill, and sometimes make off with the majority of the food. It really seems like ravens form a close bond with certain wolves, seeing them more as team members than a free meal ticket. Ravens will play with wolf cubs, engaging in games of tug-of-war and teasing them by holding sticks in the air for them to jump for. Ravens have even been known to tug on a grown wolf’s tail, purely just to cause mischief. Usually, the wolves don’t mind too much. 

There are plenty more examples of this kind of relationship: aphids and ants, bats and pitcher plants, sharks and tiny fish. Nature is full of different species working together to survive, and it really shows just how diverse the ecosystem is. 

The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger


Humans have long been the reason for many species of animals going extinct. In prehistoric times this was understandable. How was anyone to know there were only a few of those animals left? But today I’m going to talk about an animal that went extinct right before our eyes, when we had every means of saving them: the Tasmanian Tiger, more accurately known as the thylacine. 

Behaviour and Appearance

The thylacine got its nickname because of the stripes on its back, but it like many native Australian animals, was a marsupial. All members of the species had a pouch, although it faced backwards. They also had a long, stiff tail like that of a kangaroo, but thinner. 

Its jaws were particularly interesting. It could open up its jaw to 80 degrees, and its mouth contained 46 teeth. 

I spoke about convergent evolution in my hyena post, but it also applies here: the thylacine evolved to fill the ecological niche usually belonging to dogs. Australia is short of native canines, so the thylacine developed a skull most similar to the red fox. 

It’s hard to know much about thylacines for several reasons. They were nocturnal hunters and tended to live very solitary lives, which made them hard to observe in the wild. Most of our observations come from subjects in captivity, which is not a good indicator of how an animal behaves in the wild. They were exclusive carnivores, and it’s likely that ground-dwelling birds were a favourite meal of theirs. They may have even hunted emus! 


The biggest threat to these animals were, unsurprisingly, humans. While dingos were competitors for similar food sources, humans actively hunted thylacines to extinction. It was thought that thylacines posed a threat to livestock, but it was discovered in 2011 that the thylacine had an incredibly brittle jaw. It wouldn’t be strong enough to take down a sheep, which was the main concern. 

They went extinct on mainland Australia a long time ago, possibly 2,000 years. This was likely due to human population growth and the introduction of wild dogs by Europeans. Incredibly, thylacines survived in Tasmania until the 1930s. The rarer they became, the more popular they were and active efforts were made to preserve the species. However, animal captivity was not up to the same standards we have now. A disease that affects canines and similar animals spread through zoos and sanctuaries. It took out enough thylacines that zoologists believe their extinction could have been prevented, if not for that. 

The last known wild thylacine was shot by a farmer in 1930 after he found the animal in his hen house. Protections for thylacines had existed since 1901, but they weren’t properly enacted until 1936. 


The last living thylacine died in captivity. It was known as Benjamin, but there’s still debate over whether it was male or female. Benjamin died of neglect in 1936 after being locked out of its shelter at night during extreme Tasmania cold. Benjamin’s death was not reported right away, because the zoo believed they would find a replacement. The last known living thylacine had died of entirely preventable causes, and no one knew. 

Though their extinction was a tragedy, we have actual video footage of the last captive specimen, something that can’t be said of many extinct animals. In 1933 a 45-second clip was filmed of Benjamin pacing in its enclosure. In 2021, this footage was fully colourised for National Threatened Species Day. 

This footage is as close as most of us will get to seeing the thylacine in the flesh. It’s a very emotional video for me, because of how close we came to saving this species. We can see how they moved, how big they were. They could still be here as an important part of the ecosystem, but we lost our chance nearly a century ago. 

Since Benjamin’s death, there have been a few alleged thylacine sightings, but nothing confirmed. They live on as a kind of urban legend. A lot of people think of extinct animals as being prehistoric, yet we have actual digital footage of this dog-like marsupial. It’s a reminder of how fragile our environment is. It shows just how much of a difference we can make in the world, for better or worse.

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