Undying Tales: Endangered Creatures & Mythology is about highlighting endangered species from around the world,
and the mythologies and legends that humanity has woven through time around these creatures. We are inextricably
linked to the natural world, both in our physical being, as well as mentally in the tales we tell and that have lasted
through the centuries.
I will be exploring this list of species through the month of October, and
I invite any artist to join me in this celebration of nature in using this prompt list, and hashtag #undyingtales
Highlighting the plight of endangered species is one aspect of this project, but I feel that awareness is something we are already all feeling in the current news and social media climate. I'm taking things a step further and pledging that each of the 31 drawings I do over the course of this month, 100% of the profit from the sale of those originals will be going to various environmental charities. Some of these charities are dear and local ones near me, but some of them are international and have worldwide impact.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in purchasing one of the available originals, or to let me know if you want to be put on the daily mailing notification that will be sent out when each drawing is done in October.
Status: 10% (34) of the Hummingbird species are currently endangered.
Highlighted species: Honduran Emerald Hummingbird - Amazilia luciae
In Mayan legend, Tzunuum, the hummingbird was at first created very plainly by the Great Spirit, though she was tiny, delicate, and flew with great skill. She took pride in her flying ability and did not mind her plainness, but when it came time for her wedding, the other birds suprised her with a wedding dress and adornments donated from their own bright plummage, for the loved the humble and sweet Tzunuum. The Honeybees brought honey nectar and honey for the feast, and flowers, and the trees bowed down to let them reside among sweetly scented orange and plumeria blossoms. Butterflies danced at the site of the wedding.
Status: Fireflies are becoming more scarce because of human encroachment into their environments and light pollution have made it difficult for them to signal and communicate, as well as interfering with breeding. Turning off your lights at night is a simple measure that can help.
Highlighted species: Lighting Bugs from the family of insects Lampyridae
Range: Temperate and tropical zones worldwide
An Apache legend on the origin of fire: Tricky Fox wanted to steal fire from a firefly village. To distract the Fireflies, he suggested a festival, filled with song and dance. He offered to play the drum for them by tying a piece of cedar bark to his tail and beating on it with a stick. As the Fireflies danced and celebrated, Fox sneakily stuck he tail into the fire and lit the bark. He escaped from the village with the fireflies in persuit, and as he ran, his tail dropped sparks of fire everywhere. When he tired, he passed the bark to Hawk, who continued carrying the blaze and scattering more sparks in his wake, and this is how fire was spread over the Earth. The Fireflies continued to chase Fox until he took refuge in his burrow, and they told him that his punishment for his thievery was that he would never use fire himself!
Status: The forests where these ancient giants grow are crowded by development and agriculture, and so the land they are on needs protecting.
Highlighted species: Giant Sequoia - Sequoiadendron giganteum
Range: California Sierra Nevada range
Tule River Tribe in CA, Floyd J Franco Jr.: "In creation stories bald eagle represents the creator of all living things who lives in a tree growing in the sky. After the eagle creates other animals, people, water and land, the tree comes down to the land to become the first tree in the world. And although in our creation story the tree is not a giant sequoia, it is through these stories that Tribal members are taught to respect trees at an early age." - in a paper presented at the Symposium on Giant Sequoias
Status: About half of freshwater turtles and tortoises are threatened. The Eastern Bog Turtle, among others, is Critically Endangered.
Highlighted species: Eastern Bog Turtle - Glyptemys muhlenbergii
Range: Northeastern United States
Many of the indiginous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands share myths of a Turtle who carries the world upon his back. The Iroquois tell how Sky Woman fell to the earth. The animals tried to help her, for the world was covered with seas. Toad was able to dive down and gather mud, and then with the help of the other creatures, they spread the mud onto Turtle's back, and plants and trees and land grew upon Turtle's back. Sky Woman stepped onto that land, and created Stars and Moon and Sun in the sky.
Status: All species are endangered, some are critically endangered, mostly due to poaching.
Highlighted species: Indian Rhinoceros - Rhinoceros unicornis
Range: Northern India
Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Unicorn, mythological animal resembling a horse or a kid with a single horn on its forehead. The unicorn appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks, and it also was referred to in the ancient myths of India and China. The earliest description in Greek literature of a single-horned (Greek monokerōs, Latin unicornis) animal was by the historian Ctesias (c. 400 bce), who related that the Indian wild ass was the size of a horse, with a white body, purple head, and blue eyes, and on its forehead was a cubit-long horn coloured red at the pointed tip, black in the middle, and white at the base. Those who drank from its horn were thought to be protected from stomach trouble, epilepsy, and poison. It was very fleet of foot and difficult to capture. The actual animal behind Ctesias’s description was probably the Indian rhinoceros." https://www.britannica.com/topic/unicorn
Highlighted species: Lycalopex fulvipes
The Nguruvilu "fox snake" legend was first written of in the 1880s by a Jesuit priest Filpe Gomez de Vidaurre. The Nguruvilu of Mapuche looks like a fox, with a long snake-like body, clawed fingernails, and a long tail. It lives in rivers and lakes, and entices passersby to their death by creating an illusion of shallow and safe waters when in reality it awaits in a whirlpool that spells doom to the poor traveler. A safe crossing can be made via boat, and a nguruvilu can only be expunged by a sorceror.
"GURUVILU. Fox-snake, monstrous animal of some lakes in the kingdom [Chile in the colonial period was the kingdom or Reino de Chile]. The Araucanian [Mapuche] say that it swallows men. They do not agree upon its shape. Some make it long like a serpent with the head of a vixen; others nearly circular like an extended cow hide. I doubt that such an animal exists." - Filpe Gomez de vidaurre in Historia geographica, natural y civil del Reino de Chile
Status:A long lifespan and slow growth makes it hard for some cirrates to adapt and recover from hardships.
Highlighted species: Cirroctopus hochbergi
Range: New Zealand
Maori mythology: There is a story of a bitter man named Muturangi, who with magical powers ensorcerelled an octopus to become his creature. It was named Te Wheke-a-Muterangi. This octopus grew great and monstrous, and Muturangi used it to terrorize the villagers who had ostracized and cast him out, and steal their fish. Eventually, the warrior Kupe came to confront the beast, and Kupe and Te Wheke engaged in a titanic battle. Great gauges were carved into the land. Te Wheke's great arms caused boulders to churn up in long lines. At last Kupe split Te Wheke in two with a mortal blow. The land has since then reflected in its geology, the great struggle that took place.
Status: While the global population is hard to determine, the IUCN considers them to be endangered by to impacts of fisheries and vessel strikes.
Highlighted species: Rhincodon typus
Range:Tropical and warm-temperate seas.
Kenyan mythology tells of how the striking markings on a whale shark came about when the Creator sprinkled silver coins from the heaven.
Status: Loss of habitat has led to endangered status of these birds, as well as most crane species.
Highlighted species: Grus japonensis
Range: Japan, Russia, Korea, China EN
Across Asia, it is a symbol of luck, longevity, and peace. In Chinese, they are called "Fairy-crane" or "crane of the immortals", for the are Taoist stories of mortals who attain immortality and are transformed into or carried off by cranes.
Highlighted species: Madagascar Dragon Tree - Dracaena marginata
Range:Morocco, Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, Canary Islands
In ancient Greek mythology, in one of the tales of Hercules, he goes to slay Landon, the hundred-headed dragon in order to retrieve three of the golden Apples of Hesperedies. When the dragon is killed, Dragon Trees sprang up from Landon's blood, and as the blood flowed and spread, the trees continued to grow.
Highlighted species: Perognathus longimembris pacificus
A Miwok Legend of How Tol-le-loo Stole Fire: Tol-le-loo, the white-footed mouse saw that neighboring people who lived in the Valley had fire, and so he set out from the Mountains to steal it. Lulling the people to sleep with the sweet sound of his flute, he crept into their village and to the fire, placing the stolen bit into his flute. By turns, Robin, Falcon, Hummingbird came after him to try to recover the fire, but he outsmarted them.
Status: All of the tiger species are endangered, and in most cases critically endangered due to illegal hunting, and habitat loss from logging and forest destruction
Highlighted species: South China Tiger - Panthera tigris
The Tiger is a very special animal in Chinese Culture: The pattern on the forehead of a tiger is very similar to the Chinese character which means "king", so people believe that tiger must be the natural-born king.
There are three lucky animals: The Kierun, Dragon, and Tiger. Of the three, Tigers are special in that they exist in reality while the other two are mythical creatures of story only.
Status: Critically endangered because of pollution due to urbanization in areas around their lake habitats.
Highlighted species: Ambystoma mexicanum
The Axolotl was the animal form of the Aztec god Xolotl (twin of Quetzalcoatl). The two brothers traveled to the underworld to retrieve some bone relics. They tricked the goddess Mictlantecuhtli, and brought the bones to the light of the world above, and with the help of the gods from these ancient bones humans were born.
Highlighted species: Bubo blakistoni
Range: Riparian Asia
These great owls can be found on the island of Hokkaido, and the Ainu Cikap-kamuy is god of owls and land. He is often depicted as a great owl, who watches over of the country and villages, and his tears are said to be gold and silver.
There is a story where once, famine struke the land. Cikap Kamuy wished to send Crow with a message to heaven to inquire about the cause, but Crow fell asleep during the recitation of the message he was to memorize. Cikap Kamuy killed crow. Mountain Jay turned out to be no better, falling asleep as well. Finally it was Dipper Bird who took the message to heaven, and returned with the news that the gods were angry because humans had stopped showing proper respect. Cikap Kamuy went to humans and taught them rituals, and when proper respect was shown, the famine finally ended.
Highlighted species: Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas
Range: Atlantic and Pacific Ocean
Historian Mary Kawena Pukui tells a Hawaiian legend of a mystical sea turtle named Kauila. Her mother, Honupo'okea lay her versy special egg to be warmed by the Hawaiian sun, and she dug a pond as a freshwater nest. When Kauila hatched, she lived in the pond and frolicked with the children who came to play in the water, tickling them with her bubbles, and sometimes transforming into a little girl herself.
Highlighted species: Adansonia digitata
Range: Madagascar, mainland Africa, Arabia, and Australia
Shona Story Creation Myth: When god created the world, the Baobab was one of the first plants upon the African continent. It was a beautiful tree, and beloved of god, and as such it became very vocal of its opinions, and naughty in its words. After insulting the Zebra, Hyena, Stork, and other creatures, the creator could not take it any longer. Losing his temper, he tore the Baobab from the ground and drove it top-first into the soil, upside-down. And so the Baobab stands to this day with its root-like brances spread to the sky, and its naughty mouth under the soil where it can no longer insult others.
Status: Currently being petitioned for Endangered status, due to habitat loss and insecticides.
Highlighted species: Danaus plexippus
Range: North America
The Mazahua people of Mexico all monarchs "Daughters of the sun" for the brilliant color of their wings, and because the arrival of the monarch migration meant the arrival of the Spring sun.
The Aztecs called the monarch butterfly Xochiquetzal, which meant "precious flower".
Highlighted species: Lepus hainanus
The Chinese legend of Chang O: She was married to a hero, an expert archer named Hou Yi. One day Hou Yi saved the world because 10 suns rose instead of just 1, burning the land and causing disaster. He shot down 9 of the 10 suns and as a reward was gifted an elixir of immortality. However, he did not want to leave his mortal wife behind, and so he did not drink the elixir. When a greedy apprentice of Hou Yi's found out about the elixir, he tried to take it from Chang O by force, and in escaping him, she drank the elixir and floated to the moon. Her companion on the moon is a rabbit who pounds on a mortar and pestle to create pills of immortality.
Status:The are 8 species, 4 in Africa (Threatened), and 4 in Asia (Endangered) at risk because of poaching for traditional medicine, or ornamental trade.
Highlighted species: Giant Pangolin - Smutsia gigantea
Range: Northern Africa
Anthropologist Martin Walsh writes of a Zimbabwe Sangu belief that pangolins fell from tthe sky to the earth, sent by Sangu ancestors, to bond to a human. The human and pangolin then undergo a series of rites of seclusion, singing, and dancing, and that if the pangolin sheds tears while dancing it is a good omen of rain to come in the next year; dry eyes mean drought.
Status: Critically Endangered
Highlighted species: Lupus rufus
Range: Southeast United States
A Pawnee creation myth: The Wolf Star (Sirius) was angered that he had not been invited to the creation of the world, and so he sent a wolf to steal The Storm the Comes out of the West, a bag. When the wolf opened the bag, the first humans emerged and killed the wolf. The Pawnee also saw the dimming and brightening of the Wolf Star as the wolf coming and going down the Milky Way.
Status: All populations are in decline. African species is Threatened, while Asian are Endangered
Highlighted species: Asian Elephant - Elephas maximus
Range: India, Southeast Asia
In Burmese, Thai, and Sinhalese, the elephant is part of the animal zodiac, and it is celebrated for its incredible strenth, durability, and longevity.
When Thailand was the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, a historical iconic moment was that of King Naresuan atop an elephant. In a legendary battle, the king called out the crown prince of Burma to face him in single combat. He won, and thus secured their victory in the war.
It is said that on the eve of Buddha's birth, his mother had a dream in which a white elephant gave her a gift of a lotus flower.
Highlighted species: Bubalus arnee
Range: India, Southeast Asia
In the Chinese Zodiac, the Ox is the second creature in the cycle. This is because when the Zodiac beings were being determined, a great race was held, and the 12 winners would be awarded places in the calendar. The Ox and Rat were both in the lead, when they came to a great river near the finish line. The Rat asked if he could ride upon the Ox's back, and Ox being good-natured, agreed, only to have the duplicitous Rat leap off his back once they had crossed the river, and cross the finish line first.
Status: Not currently threatened, but heavily protected in their native habitat through conservation effots and regulated by Arizona.
Highlighted species:Saguaro Cactus - Carnegiea gigantea
Range: Sonoran Desert
To the native Tohono O’odham people, the saguaro cactus is considered an honored relative that sustains them both spiritually and physically. According to their mythology, the first saguaro was created when a young woman sank deep into the earth and rose back out as a giant cactus, arms raised toward the heavens. Once a year during the hot months of June and July, that majestic saguaro maiden dresses up with striking white flowers in her hair, then bears a crimson fruit called bahidaj in the O’odham language.
Highlighted species: Urocissa whiteheadi
Range: Southern China, Northern Vietnam, Laos
The tale of the Cowherd and the Weavergirl originated in the Han Dynasty, two romantic lovers who were separated by the gods and only allowed to be together for one night out of every year, the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, when a bridge of Magpies would fly across the river of the Milky Way and allow them to briefly meet.
Status: Critically Endangered
Highlighted species: Leucogeranus leucogeranus
Among the Siberian natives, Yakuts and Yukaghirs - the white crane is a sacred bird associated with sun, spring and kind celestial spirits ajyy. In yakut epics Olonkho shamans and shamaness transform into white cranes.
Status: There are several Endangered and Critically Endangered species of Ibis, but conservation efforts have helped at least the Northern Bald Ibis step back from the brink.
Highlighted species: Northern Bald Ibis - Geronticus eremita
Range: semi-desert, Middle East, N Africa, S europe, EN
In the Old Testament, the Ibis was mentioned as a fertility messenger, and was one of the first birds that Noah released from the arc. Also, hieroglyphs can be found in ancient Egyptian artifacts, as alongside the sacred ibis, it was regarded as the embodiment of Thoth, scribe of the gods.
Highlighted species: Balaenoptera musculus
In Ancient Greek myths, cetea were leviathan sea creatures. The Ancient Greeks imagined them as sea monsters, but they were most likely inspired by sight of enormous whales. In one tale Queen Cassiopeia was overly proud of her daughter Andromeda's beauty. She boasted that Andromeda was more lovely than the Nereids (sea nymphs). This angered Poisidon, who sent a sea monster Cetus to attack the city of the boastful queen. In fear, the king and queen consulted an oracle, who told them they must sacrifice their daughter Andromeda to appease Poisidon, and so they set about to do so, but the hero Perseus swooped in and managed to save the day by defeating the sea creature.
Status: Endangered from habitat destruction
Highlighted species: Woodland Caribou - Rangifer tarandus caribou
Range: Northern United States and Canada
From the Innu Tribe: Caribou Man is one of many Animal Master characters in Innu mythology. The Animal Masters are supernatural beings who lead and care for various species of animals and, among other things, give the Innu permission to hunt them for food and materials. Caribou Man is the most powerful of the Animal Masters and sometimes serves as their leader or spokesperson. He is often said to have been an Innu man who fell in love with a caribou woman and turned into a caribou himself. If the spirit of the caribou or other game animals are not properly respected, Caribou Man may become angry and withhold the animals, causing famines. For this reason the Innu are always very careful to follow traditional hunting rituals to show respect to the caribou and other animals, and also to pay homage to Caribou Man himself. The Innu used to use shaking tents to communicate with Caribou Man and the other spirits, although this tradition has fallen into disuse today. The Caribou Master, variously known as Kanipinikassikueu, Katipenimitak or Papakashtshishk, is a powerful spirit in traditional Innu an Indigenous people of present-day Canada and Quebec. In the myth, an Innu man goes to live with the Caribou. He marries one of the does, and is himself transformed into caribou form. He becomes the master of the caribou, and the provider of caribou for the Innu people.
Status: Although invasive in its domesticated form, they are Vulnerable in native wild populations
Highlighted species: Common Carp - Cyprinus carpio
Range: lakes and rivers in Europe & Asia
The Dragon Gate legend: The lowly carp spends its life trying to swim up the Yellow River. At the source of the river is a great roaring waterfall. If the koi were able to swim up that waterfall, it would be rewarded and transformed into a dragon. Thus, the koi is a symbol of personal advancement, perseverance, determination in the face of impossible obstacles, and inner strength. The journey of the carp to become a dragon was a metaphor for young scholars passing the Chinese state exams and become a mandarin.
Highlighted species: Otus thilohoffmanni
Range: Sri Lanka
This creature was transformed from a woman in grief over her child's murder by her husband (served to her in a gristly curry where she finds a severed finger, how's that for October Halloween darkness?), and its voice haunts the jungles. It is a blood-curdling sound, that can be heard in the night, and it is said that to hear it means a death is portended.
Highlighted species: Cacicus koepckeae
The Evil Bird: The bird is said to be black feathers, and large bulging eyes, that penetrate and can see fear. According to legend if one saw it perched on the roof of a house, the inhabitant was soon to die. The Evil Bird lives in the countryside, in the most beautiful trees.