Oh deer.

Unicorn-Bambi, spotted in Prato, Italy.

This single-horned deer was born one year ago in a wildlife preserve near Florence, Tuscany, leading locals to think it might have magical powers, just like the mythical unicorn. (Read about it here or here.)

Unicorn horns were staples of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cabinets of curiosities. The mystical creature was believed to possess magical powers, and in Christian iconocraphy it is known as a symbol of purity and chastity (according to the fable, it takes a virgin to capture and tame it). As myth-informed natural philosophy gave way to empirical research and explorers erased more and more white spots from the map, the legend of the unicorn horn was replaced by empirical evidence: the spiralled curiosity turned out to be the single tooth of the male arctic narwhal.

No less marvellous, this protuberance continues to puzzle scientists to date: is it a tool to break pack ice, a ‘weapon’ to ward off rivals during mating season or a hydrodynamic sensing device capable of measuring water temperature, density and salinity?


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