Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Bird-day John James Audubon

Google reminds us that today is John James Audubon's 226th birthday. 

The above Audubon print is labled "Maryland Marmot" which is what Audubon called the Groundhog, Woodchuck or Whistle Pig, aka, Marmota Monax.

The ones below are from lesser artist-naturalists who either:  a) cannot draw, b) have another species in mind.



Jenn said...

The two below where likely drawn by European artists from skinned specimens. One of the things that Audubon did that was new - he modeled his drawings from observation. He also included habitat in his paintings, which was a novelty at the time.

The opossum was likely a mislabeled specimen. And the artist may have thought the tail was damaged in transport, and added the fur in to 'correct' the image. (Or do they have hair on their tails until the winter - I know 'possums live north of their comfort range and take a lot of winter damage...?)

PBurns said...

American, European and Asian marmots are essentially the same in structure -- only a little different in size, coloring and lifestyle; not enough for me to tell most of the time.

I think the short story here, as is so often the case with these old prints, is that the artists were BAD and frequently had never seen the animals they were drawing (the drawings were generally based not on skins but on descriptions and bad sketches drawn by others from memory). In the UK of old, the artists did not even know what a badger or a fox looked like, and they were all around them. Amazing. Not too different today, however. Ask someone to draw an eagle withou a photo and see if they don't draw a parrot!

The possum is clearly a mis-label at the engravers -- a slipped tag and the picture is captioned wrong forever.

The head on this possum-animal is too small, the tail not rat-like enough, the claws more like that of a squirrel than the space alien hands they should be, and the fur is more like that of a seal rather than the thin but long fluff-coat of a real possum, but at least it *sort of* looks right, even if the label is wrong. Possum tails never have fur -- they are fat little rat tails no matter how cold. In really cold weather, they spend a lot of time jungled up in burrows or hollow trees or brush piles or crawl spaces. They occassioanlly lose a tail or an ear to frost bite (coons do too) but it's not common.