Tag Archives: Britain

Leatherback turtles in the Orkney Islands

Species: Some cold turtles, seen off the coast of the Orkney Islands, probably leatherbacks (Demochelys coriacea), also some chilled-out pet tortoises (sp. unclear).

Source: Scotia Illustrata (Scotland Illustrated), a complete geography of Scotland written in early enlightenment Scotland by Robert Sibbald.

Date: First published 1684 CE.

Highlights: This blog post introduces, translates and comments what I believe to be the earliest record of a marine turtle (most probably a leatherback) from Britain. This record, from Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata has been overlooked by previous scholars because the book is only available in difficult Latin. It is a decade older, and more certain than the previous oldest record.

leatherback turtle bigger than himan

Photograph of leatherback turtle with Marian Garvie and other, unknown, taken by Steve Garvie, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
You too can grow up this big and strong on a diet of Natural History and jellyfish.


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The adder (Vipera berus) in the ‘Stanzaic Morte Arthur’ (Death of King Arthur)

Adder with lolface.

Adder (V. berus), licensed under CC AT-SA. Created by Piet Spaans. Altered by Amy Raye.

Species mentioned: One adder (V. berus) who successfully provokes every knight in Britain and brings about the death of King Arthur.

Source: The ‘Stanzaic Morte Arthur’, the immediate forerunner of Thomas Mallory’s more famous ‘Le Morte dArthur’.

Date of Source: Fourteenth century, probably c.1350.

Highlights: A concerned adder realises that there is a possibility Arthur might reconcile with Mordred, leading to another hundred pages of boring story for poor students to read. It heroically glides (honestly!) from its hiding place and bites someone. This stirs-up a blood bath with 100,000 knights slaughtered, including many of the most angst-ridden ones.  Soon afterward the text ends with no chance of a sequel. You’re welcome.

On a more serious ecological note, this text is symptomatic of the antipathy people had for snakes even in the medieval period.

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