The Scientist Who Tried To Pass Off A Monkey's Butt As A New Animal

No one can say that Charles Waterton was not a talented and interesting man. Instead, they said he was eccentric, which, when translated from 19th-century-aristocratic-British-scientist-speak, meant "so crazy we're pretty sure that he removed his own brain and jammed it in again backwards."


The guy traveled all over the world, perfected the art of taxidermy, and continuously performed experiments at his estate in England. And he had views — among them was that Hanoverian Protestants had introduced rats into England. He liked neither the protestants nor the rats. He also wasn't a fan of John James Audubon or Charles Darwin, probably because they used scientific nomenclature, which he also disliked. That, however, folded into his general nuttery. He liked to bark like dogs and talk to bugs (if he had gotten bugs to bark like dogs or made a bug-to-dog dictionary, it would have been amazing), and once tried to "navigate the atmosphere" (in other words, fly) from the top of his outhouse. Why an outhouse? We can't say, and he never explained.

Waterton wasn't interested in explaining. He was more interested in crafting tableaux of famous Protestant figures using taxidermied lizards; that alone should have put some people on guard. After a trip to South America, he came back with both drawings and the taxidermied head of something called the Nondescript. It looked a bit like an orangutan, with a bare face fringed by orange fur. It looked even more like a customs official with whom Waterton had argued. When people pointed out that second part, Waterton published a jocular reply, remarking that it had to be coincidence as no one was skilled enough to make such a detailed taxidermied specimen without an animal.

The specimen turned out to be a monkey's butt. Not many people found it as funny as Waterton did. Many think that Waterton was the reason that no one believed that the platypus was real when a taxidermied specimen was sent to England, although that's not quite true. Waterton was only a teenager developing his crazy when the first platypus got to England. However, he probably delayed the acceptance of the platypus for some time. People were gun shy about frauds, and he expanded what they believed could be done to fake the existence of an animal. Some people even cited him in articles cautioning against accepting the platypus, saying "Surely this animal is a beaver and a duck hot-glued together."


[Via The Rogue Taxidermist, Charles Waterton, A Taxidermological Satirist]

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