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Mythical Biology and How it Works

In high school I, like most students, took biology to learn all about plants and animals and the systems that help keep them alive. I really enjoyed the class, but I ended up with a lot of questions that my teacher, for “some reason”, would not/could not answer.

I always had silly questions, such as 'is a ghost a vertebrate or invertebrate?', which my teacher found amusing but irritating. However, for me and my friends, they helped us get more excited about the subject and remember key bits of information.

I've outlined some of these questions below and my thoughts on them, although I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. These ponderings are obviously for fun since we can't go out and find the answers ourselves, but if considering the anatomy of mythical creatures interests you, then you're definitely at the right place.

 An early photograph said to capture a ghost from Wiki Commons

An early photograph said to capture a ghost from Wiki Commons

Are ghosts vertebrates?

Depends on what type of ghost, I would assume. Ghosts tend to appear as either transparent humans, glowing orbs, or ectoplasmic blobs.  I would say both the orb and blob varieties are invertebrates since one is pure energy and the other is basically jello. They both also tend to be in shapes not even resembling a living human or animal, so why should we assume they retain the same kind of bone structure?

'Transparent Human' shaped ghosts however, are a bit trickier. Technically they do not have any mass so they couldn't have a rigid backbone, but they also retain the shape of their living counterpart, who did have a vertebra. Perhaps they have a misty, ghost version of a backbone somewhere in their transparent bodies, but does it really count if is not made of matter?

I would say that unless ghosts can return to physical form, then they are all invertebrates.

Are mermaids really half-human, half-fish?

If mermaids are half-human and half-fish and the fish half was the lower half, that would mean they likely laid eggs. I would also assume that they would have a lot of health problems since fish and humans have very different circulatory, respiratory, etc. systems in their bodies.

I believe it is more likely that mermaids are half-human, half-porpoise. Since porpoises are mammals, the same as humans, they would have much more similar regulatory systems in their bodies, making their chances of survival more likely while still looking very similar to the current depictions of them as being half-fish.

If a werewolf landed on the moon would they constantly be transformed?

Assuming they were always on a section that was facing the sun, so as to reflect that light back up at the werewolf, then it would seem likely that they would constantly be transformed. This is because being on the moon, they would never have different phases; it would just be a constant 'full moon' from their perspective.

 A werewolf begins his night out in this image from Wiki Commons

A werewolf begins his night out in this image from Wiki Commons

However, this also brings up the question why werewolves don't transform during the day. A full moon is necessary for a werewolf to change, but the light from the moon is just a reflection of the sun. Therefore wouldn't a sunny day at noon create the same effect? In werewolf lore, werewolves obviously don't transform during the day, but it does seem a bit odd they don't. However, the original creators of the myths, I'm sure, weren't aware of the moon's and sun's lights being one and the same.

If a werewolf was on a different planet, like Jupiter, would its moons make them transform?

Since all we know about werewolves are based on the Earth's moon and its phases, it's hard to say how being on a different planet would affect their transformation cycle. Especially since most other plants have several more moons than Earth. Jupiter, for instance, has at least 67 moons, that means that there could be a full moon almost every single night or possibly even multiple full moons each night. (Would a werewolf's transformation be even more powerful if there were multiple full moons at one time?)

However, being on a different planet could also negate the effects of the transformation, assuming that there is something specifically special about our moon that effects werewolves as opposed to just any moon. And considering that werewolves don't transform in daylight, even though the light of the moon is just a reflection of the sun's light, this would most likely be the case.

Are Ents and Dryads plants or animals?

 Dryad exploring outside of her tree, from Wiki Commons

Dryad exploring outside of her tree, from Wiki Commons

It would seem obvious to call them animals over plants since they have humanoid features and mannerisms. However, they do also photosynthesize, communicate with trees, and have 'skin made of bark'. Some can even change in and out of being a literal tree at will. This, to me, says they are in fact plants and not animals.

Many plants can move on their own. Some parasitic plants and vines don't even have roots, and will move based on where they can sense their next host is based on chemicals that the host plant creates. Using these chemicals that plants give off, they can also communicate with each other. Plants with symbiotic relationships with ants, for instance, can signal to their ant friends when they are under attack so that the ants can protect them.

However, Ents, Dryads, and the like could also be parasitic fungi, such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, or the zombie fungus. (And yes, fungi is technically different than plants.) The zombie fungus operates by infecting an ant with it's pathogen and then possesses it to climb to the highest leaf it can find, bite down securely so it won't fall off, and die. The fungus then can grow out of the dead ant to make more spores and infect more ants.

This especially makes sense for Dryads since Dryads have such a strong connection and will to keep their tree or forest from harm by any means. Couldn't the Dryad have at one point been a person who was possessed by a fungi to serve it? This would also explain why they have abilities and features similar to a plant and an animal, because they would be both a plant (fungus) and an animal.

Where's Hagrid when you need him?

Do you ave any crazy mythical questions that your teachers won't answer? What do you think about werewolves being astronauts?

Until next time,

Caitlin