Imaginary Creatures, Real Biology

A #Balticon55 panel. You can find the panel, in full, on the BaltimoreSciFi youtube channel.

The panelists were as follows: Jeanne Adams as moderator, Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Seanan McGuire, John L. French, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail. The panel description fascinated me!

What if the creatures of folklore existed alongside us? How would we need to rearrange our taxonomic systems to incorporate them? What sorts of diseases would we need to watch out for? And what could you do to keep them away from your magnolias?

To start, a definition: creatures that are known and confirmed to exist are incryptids, all of the fabled and whispered or imagined creatures that we have no conclusive evidence of are cryptids.

If Fabled Creatures Were Real, What Would Our World Look Like?

Obviously, it depends. It depends both on which creatures we’re making real and which versions of the myths we buy.

  • Disney’s mermaids look a lot different than Seanan McGuire’s hungry ones.
  • Smaller creatures like turkey-sized velociraptors wouldn’t affect us nearly as much as larger creatures.
  • Sentient creatures and/or magical ones would be a lot more troublesome than simply large creatures. Humans have used teamwork to take down large animals since the cavemen. That’s why the cavemen drew images of mammoth hunts!
  • Human settlements would look different — based on what creatures made which areas their homes. Some parts would likely be ‘nature preserves’ for the snallygasters and other unfriendlies.
  • More dietary options, because we can’t see a creature without wondering what it would taste like.
  • Tourism for the creatures! Boat trips to swim with the Loch Ness monster or her close cousin, Chessy of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Zoos would have greater variety… but likely be just as interesting, because humans are good at getting used to things. (See Onward as an example. ‘Grab a broom, the unicorns are in the trash again!’)
  • We wouldn’t need this panel — or would we? No matter what creatures are real, there will always be legends of things no one has ever seen.

If We Could Domesticate or Bond With An Dinosaur, Which Would You Pick?

As Seanan McGuire noted, remember that domesticated animals don’t necessarily resemble their wild counterparts, whereas tamed is for individuals, not species. Consider the chicken versus a tamed crow. A tamed crow may be friendly to humans, as may chickens. But chickens will still peck each other to death and eat the remains.

Dr. Holt would like a T-rex if you’re actually bonding with the creature. Why not go for the king? But “realistically”, a hyphalosaurus or thescelosaurus would be more likely – smaller and plant eaters.

Did you know that Thescelosaurus... - Dinosaurs In The Wild | Facebook

Seanan McGuire prefers raptors, and suggested a deinonychus, with the hope it never evolved a taste for mammals. Sadly, Dr Holt put a stop to that dream, small mammals were prey for plenty of dinosaurs.

What Happens When The Creatures Are Sentient?

There are tons of ways this can change a world, depending on degree on sentience, favored habitat, and general outlooks. Are they very clever beasts? Or smarter and more advanced than humans? Or matching pace with us.

  • The indigenous creatures would have greatly modified our settlement locations
  • They would hunt (or war) with us, just as much as we already do with each other — if not more so
  • Our common disregard/disrespect for other creatures would inspire a large amount of conflict
  • Human religions would have been influenced by them
  • Oceanic civilizations wouldn’t have let us get away with as much ocean pollution as we did/etc

New Diseases

Christopher Columbus allegedly had carnal knowledge of a manatee. If there’s a way to be intimate with a species — or to buy it in a meat market — humans will. A lot of our diseases came to us, mutated from ones that infect animals. We’ll have a new variety of diseases.

What Real-World Creature Feels Like It’s Folklore?

  • The platypus tops the list!
  • Komodo Dragon — gives birth through pathogenesis, so it can mate with its own offspring without genetic issues. Can swim 20 miles. And is only venomous through the power of bacteria. (Fun fact: Rattlesnake antivenom and komodo dragon antivenom don’t mix. Try not to be bit by both in a short time frame. Thanks, Seanan.)
  • Turtles – All other reptiles make sense. Plus, how did their ribs get out there with their shoulders inside?
  • Bumblebees – How do they fly? What’s their wingspan? Their body structure is what?
  • “Frankenfish”/Northern Snakeheads can travel across small amounts of land to a new pool of water.

Can Science Make Fire-Breathing Dragons?

Not on earth. As Seanan says, if it could be done, Australia would have evolved it.

Possible options — more of an acid spit that burns like fire? Potentially an excrement of another sort, like the Bombardier beetle — passing… gas. Or sneezing.

What Mythic/Extinct Creature Would You Want To Exist?


Seanan McGuire votes for the thylacine, the jackalope, and a vote for moth-man for her friend. She would like to opt out of real fae. But there’s serious potential for a cactus cat — or other sorts of plant/animal cross-species.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail wants the Wonk. (I believe, a cuddly Koala-like bear, from the works of Muriel Levy).

Other suggestions include hoopsnakes and fu dogs.

We would not like basilisks.

What Imaginary Creature(s) Would Have Changed The World?

Going on the premise that most imaginary creatures would fill real world niches and be strange in other parts of the world — like a lion in Virginia — the panelists brainstormed what animals would have most disrupted our known timeline.

First, they supposed that animals that could be used as flying mounts would have affected the world the most: griffons, domesticated dragons, pegasi, or rocs.

Without the need for technology improvements toward aircraft, imagine a jet-setting middle ages?

Secondly, if unicorns and other magical creatures and plants could cure, would our medicine have evolved to how it is now? Or would we be farming for our health, utterly reliant on the plant and animal supply and demand?

What are your favorite created creatures? And what ways would you like them to change the world?


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