unicorn

Today, unicorns are creatures of fairy tales. But thousands of years ago, people believed these creatures were real, living animals. In Europe, Greek travelers told tales of unicorns, and naturalists described them in the books they wrote. Thousands of years earlier, Chinese were telling their own tales of the unicorn. In both Asia and Europe, people believed the unicorn was an elusive, powerful, and peaceful creature.

Distinct characteristic: Long horn protruding from forehead
Other physical features: In Europe, the body of a white horse, beard and cloven hooves of a goat, tail of a lion. In Asia, the body of a deer, head of a wolf, tail of an ox, with scaly, multi-colored coat in blue, black, red, white, and yellow.
Significance: Symbol of power, peace, magic
First stories: About 4,700 years ago (Asia); over 2,000 years ago (Greece)

Image credits: main image, AMNH/Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.