Article ID: CBB321558556

Pranked by Audubon: Constantine S. Rafinesque's description of John James Audubon's imaginary Kentucky mammals (2016)


The North American naturalist Constantine S. Rafinesque spent much of the year 1818 engaged in a solo journey down the Ohio River Valley to explore parts of what was then the western United States. Along the way, he visited a number of fellow naturalists, and he spent more than a week at the Henderson, Kentucky, home of artist and ornithologist John James Audubon. During the succeeding two years, Rafinesque published descriptions of new species that resulted from his expedition, including eleven species of fishes that eventually proved to have been invented by Audubon as a prank on the credulous naturalist. Less well known are a number of “wild rats” described by Rafinesque that include one recognized species (Musculus leucopus) and ten other, imaginary “species” fabricated by Audubon (Gerbillus leonurus, G. megalops, Spalax trivittata, Cricetus fasciatus, Sorex cerulescens, S. melanotis, Musculus nigricans, Lemmus albovittatus, L. talpoides, Sciurus ruber). Rafinesque's unpublished sketches of these anim...

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Authors & Contributors
Boewe, Charles E.
Boehme, Sarah E.
Browne, E. Janet
Irmscher, Christoph
Markle, Douglas F.
Fishman, Gail
Archives of Natural History
Journal of the History of Biology
Victorian Studies
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Journal of the History of Collections
University of Tennessee Press
M & S Press
University Press of Florida
Harry N. Abrams
Center for Ancient American Studies
University Press of Kentucky
Natural history
Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel
Audubon, John James
Bartram, William
Darwin, Charles Robert
Catesby, Mark
Bartram, John
North America
United States
North America: United States; Canada
California (U.S.)
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century, early
20th century

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