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    this a bilby I see earlier than me – in Peru?? (public area)

    In my earlier ShukerNature weblog article
    (click on right here
    to entry it), I documented two surprising creatures depicted in a powerful
    mural-format pictorial encyclopaedia entitled Quadro de Historia Pure, Civil y Geografica del Reyno del Peru
    (‘Portray of the Pure, Civil and Geographical Historical past of the Kingdom of
    Peru’), or QHNCGRP for comfort hereafter
    on this current article. Consisting of quite a few miniature oil work and
    accompanying textual content on a wooden panel, it measures a really spectacular
    x 45.25 inches (325 x 115 cm).

    Accomplished in Madrid, Spain, in 1799 and
    now on show on the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid (Spain’s
    nationwide museum of pure historical past), which has produced an beautiful,  lavishly-illustrated web site devoted particularly
    to it (click on right here),
    QHNCGRP was authored by Basque-born
    however (for 3 a long time) Peru-based scholar José Ignacio Lequanda, who
    commissioned French artist Louis Thiébaut to provide the 194 work
    illustrating it. As famous above, most of those are miniatures, with tiny however
    voluminous textual content by Lequanda accompanying the entire 160 miniatures depicting
    fauna and flora of Peru or its South American environs.

    The overwhelming majority of those miniatures
    depict readily-recognisable Neotropical species, together with a big noticed
    rodent named the paca, a South American zorro or ‘fox’ (really a species of Dusicyon canid), an otter, tapir,
    manatee, numerous monkeys, trumpeter chicken, cock of the rock, spoonbill,
    hummingbird, Humboldt’s penguin, skunk, caiman, large anteater, fulgorid lantern-fly,
    llama, vicuna, armadillos, coati, and opossum, to say however a number of.


    of QHNCGRP in its entirety – click on to
    enlarge for viewing functions (© Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales –
    reproduced right here on a strictly non-commercial Truthful Use foundation for
    academic/evaluation functions solely)

    Additionally current, nonetheless, are sure
    decidedly mystifying zoological portraits, comparable to that of a dramatically
    out-of-place Madagascan black-and-white ruffed lemur and one in every of a putative
    residing floor sloth, each of which I documented in my earlier QHNCGRP article.

    Since writing that, I’ve been paying
    additional shut consideration to this marvelous pictorial menagerie, and I’ve noticed
    a number of further examples included inside it which are nothing if not curious
    or controversial, for numerous differing however equally attention-grabbing causes. So
    right here they’re – make of them what you’ll!

    Take, as an illustration, the very distinctive
    creature portrayed within the QHNCGRP
    miniature that opens this current ShukerNature article. Whereas I’m not conscious
    of any South American mammal matching its morphology, I’m conscious that it bears
    a exceptional resemblance to a sure species of solely Australian
    marsupial – particularly, the lesser bilby (aka lesser rabbit-eared bandicoot) Macrotis leucura.


    big-eared, long-snouted, plume-tailed QHNCGRP
    mammal (above) and a portray of a lesser bilby from English zoologist Oldfield
    Thomas’s Catalogue of the Monotremes and
    Marsupials within the British Museum (Pure Historical past)
    (under) (public area)

    Actually, its lengthy snout, prolonged plumed
    tail, and really sizeable ears all correspond very intently to these of the latter
    species. True, its forelimbs are a lot the identical dimension as its hind ones, whereas
    these of the lesser bilby are shorter, and its fur is white moderately than brown
    just like the bilby’s. Nonetheless, the limb discrepancy could merely be an error on
    Thiébaut’s half, particularly if his topic’s preserved pores and skin had turn out to be
    distorted through shrinkage. Furthermore, preserved skins incessantly blanch if uncovered
    too lengthy to mild (the taxiderm thylacine that was on public show in
    London’s Pure Historical past Museum once I visited in 2014, for instance, was so
    light, predominantly cream in color throughout, that its diagnostic stripes had

    Deriving its English identify from its very
    giant, slender, rabbit-like ears, and characterised by its tail’s lengthy white
    bushy plume, the lesser bilby was as soon as native to the deserts of central
    Australia, however has not been conclusively sighted because the Nineteen Fifties, so is now
    deemed extinct. Again when QHNCGRP was
    created, nonetheless, it was nonetheless in existence, with preserved specimens in

    As apparently occurred with the ruffed
    lemur, is it attainable, subsequently, that Lequanda and/or Thiébaut noticed a museum specimen
    of the lesser bilby at Madrid’s celebrated Royal Pure Historical past Cupboard
    (based in 1771, opened to the general public in 1776, and whose contents had been very
    acquainted to Lequanda), and even elsewhere, and mistakenly assumed that it was a
    Neotropical species? Or would possibly Thiébaut have based mostly his miniature upon some
    pre-existing art work by one other artist? There’s a notable QHNCGRP–linked precedent for this latter chance.


    zebra-striped QHNCGRP thriller monkey
    (prime left), Compañon’s earlier art work upon which Thiébaut’s was based mostly (prime proper),
    and a South American tree porcupine (under) (public area / public area / (©
    Eric Kilby/Wikipedia –
    CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

    One of many a number of monkeys depicted as
    miniatures in QHNCGRP by Thiébaut is
    the extraordinary-looking striped instance proven above. Its daring zebra-like physique
    and limb markings immediately set it aside from any currently-known monkey
    species, as does the mid-dorsal row of spines working down its again. These are
    additionally alluded to by Lequanda, in his accompanying textual content. He referred to this fascinating
    fasciated creature as a casacuillo, and likewise talked about that it lived upon fruit.

    Quite than basing his illustration of this
    casacuillo upon first-hand observations of a residing or preserved animal,
    nonetheless, Thiébaut used as his inspiration a pre-existing 18th-Century
    illustration. Particularly, a water-colour ready some years earlier with 1,410
    others for inclusion within the Codex Martínez
    , a luxurious nine-volume manuscript made by Baltasar Jaime Martínez
    Compañon, Bishop of Trujillo, Peru. This water-colour can also be proven right here, for
    comparability functions alongside Thiébaut’s oil portray.

    Furthermore, in keeping with author Carmen
    Martínez, writing in a web-based article from June 2021 dedicated to QHNCGRP (click on right here
    to entry it), this creature just isn’t a monkey in any respect, however is as an alternative a South
    American tree porcupine or coendou, of which there are various species, all
    sporting a prehensile tail. Nonetheless, to me it seems to be no extra like a tree porcupine
    than it does a monkey! Coendous should not striped and their nice spines are
    current profusely over their complete physique, not merely alongside their again. So I’m
    unconvinced by this identification.


    striped carrot on legs!! One other of Triébaut’s bemusing thriller beasts included
    by him in QHNCGRP (public area)

    And talking of zebra-patterned thriller
    beasts depicted in QHNCGRP, what are
    we to make of the instance proven above? It seems to be for all of the world like a striped
    carrot on legs! It appears to be furry, eared, and whiskered, and is included within the left-hand block of 30
    mammal miniatures, so we should assume that it’s certainly mammalian – or ought to

    In spite of everything, additionally included on this similar
    block of miniatures is the next weird beast, popularly if improbably(?)
    deemed to be a portrait of an iguana in keeping with numerous sources consulted by

    But this latter beast is itself a serious
    thriller. For it appears to own a stiff pointed tail wholly in contrast to the extremely
    versatile tail of an iguana, in addition to lengthy curved fangs rising from its
    jaws, and a pair of wings pressed tightly in opposition to its flanks!


    supposed iguana depiction by Thiébaut in QHNCGRP
    (public area)

    Most unbelievable of all, nonetheless, should
    certainly be the following instance offered right here. What on earth (or within the air!) is
    this extraordinary squirrel-like entity that sports activities not solely two pairs of limbs
    and a bushy tail but additionally a pair of wings – and that are clearly practical,
    provided that Thiébaut has portrayed it flying above a considerably bigger, rodent-like
    mammal in the identical miniature?

    May or not it’s the wrong results of
    Thiébaut portray not from direct statement of some bodily specimen, however
    as an alternative merely from a verbal description of a flying squirrel? True, the identify of
    these rodents is one thing of a misnomer, seeing that they turn out to be airborne not
    with the help of wings however as an alternative through a pair of gliding membranes (patagia),
    linking their wrist and ankle on all sides of their physique. But when a verbal
    description of such a creature doesn’t make this distinction clear to an
    artist in search of to depict it, the consequence would possibly nicely be an illustration of a
    squirrel-like creature boasting a pair of bona fide wings.

    But even when that had been true, there’s nonetheless
    a elementary downside in making use of it as an evidence for this aerial anomaly as
    portrayed right here, as a result of though flying squirrels are broadly distributed in
    North America, they don’t happen wherever in South America. So why would
    Thiébaut have depicted one in QHNCGRP?
    Yet one more occasion of somebody wrongly assuming {that a} given creature is
    Neotropical when it undoubtedly just isn’t?


    bewildering winged squirrel in QHNCGRP
    (public area)

    My concern with the ostensibly
    unidentifiable thriller creatures from QHNCGRP
    documented by me right here is that, as already famous, a lot of the animals depicted
    in it by Thiébaut are readily recognisable. In order these had been all precisely
    represented by him, why ought to the thriller beasts right here not be too? But in the event that they are correct representations, why can we
    not determine them?

    May at the least a few of them not have
    arisen via misapprehensions relating to the origins of specimens utilized as
    topics, and even on account of poor verbal descriptions of such, however as an alternative
    be bona fide native Neotropical species which have turn out to be extinct earlier than ever
    changing into identified to European scientists, so their morphological look is
    wholly unfamiliar to us?

    The final anomalous animal to be
    thought-about right here could present key proof that a few of Thiébaut’s miniatures
    depict important creatures that had been nonetheless unknown to science on the time
    when he depicted them.


    supposed lowland tapir depicted in QHNCGRP
    (public area).

    Just some hours after I posted my
    earlier QHNCGRP-themed ShukerNature
    article, on 22 December 2022, I acquired a really attention-grabbing, thought-provoking
    remark from a reader with the Google username Andrew, and which I duly posted
    beneath my article. It considerations the QHNCGRP
    miniature of what’s formally assumed to be a specimen of the lowland (Brazilian)
    tapir Tapirus terrestris, the most important
    species of native mammal identified to be alive at present in South America, and
    occurring broadly right here, together with in Peru. Right here is Andrew’s remark:

    Thiébaut’s depiction of the
    tapir seems to be prefer it might have been based mostly on descriptions of the
    then-undiscovered mountain tapir, moderately than the lowland species. It has no
    crest, its coat is sort of black with a slight chestnut tint, and it appears to have
    white lips.

    Smaller and darker in color than the
    lowland tapir, the mountain tapir T.
    is a really distinctive species that’s certainly uncrested and
    white-lipped. Additionally it is noticeably woolly, and looking out on the tapir miniature in
    close-up its physique floor does seem like bushy. Furthermore, of explicit
    historic notice is that this species, which is certainly native to Peru (occurring
    in its far north’s montane cloud forests), was not formally described by
    science till 1829 – 30 years after the creation of QHNCGRP.


    A lowland
    tapir (prime) and a mountain tapir (backside) (© Dr Karl Shuker / (© Richard
    Sifry/Wikipedia –
    CC BY 2.0 licence)

    Briefly, if the tapir miniature in QHNCGRP really depicts a mountain
    tapir moderately than a lowland tapir, which means Thiébaut had portrayed a
    main mammalian species three a long time earlier than its official discovery. This in flip begs the query: what specimen
    was utilized by Thiébaut as the topic for his illustration?

    Whichever it was, and wherever it was,
    its taxonomic significance as representing a dramatic new species had clearly
    not been acknowledged or appreciated by scientists of the day.

    As I’ve revealed many occasions in my trio
    of books on new and rediscovered animals, it is a unhappy state of affairs that has occurred
    numerous occasions down via the centuries, with obscure museum specimens having
    been lengthy missed earlier than belatedly receiving critical consideration, just for
    them then to be revealed as extraordinary new species whose existence had by no means
    beforehand even been suspected, not to mention confirmed. So the potential instance
    documented above has loads of precedents, that is for sure!


    three books on new and rediscovered animals (© Dr Karl
    Shuker/HarperCollins/Stratus Publishing/Coachwhip Publications)