roc

According to legend, the roc was a giant bird large and strong enough to carry an elephant in its claws. As incredible as it may seem, long ago people believed this bird of prey was real. Famous explorers like Marco Polo described the roc from travelers' tales. One source of these tales may have been an actual bird--the now extinct Aepyornis, a 10-foot tall bird that lived on Madagascar.

Description: giant bird of prey that carries elephants in its talons
Place of origin: Middle East
Significance: Appears in accounts of famous explorers and in Arabian legends.
Possible explanation: May have been inspired by giant extinct birds such as the Aepyornis.
Cool fact: In one account, the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan was given a roc "feather" as a gift. It may have been a branch from a large palm tree.

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