In 1818, the prodigious and strange European naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque took a trip down the Ohio River Valley, collecting specimens and accounts of plants and animals along the way. During this venture, he often stopped to visit or stay with fellow botanists and naturalists. That’s how he found his way into the home of artist and naturalist John James Audubon in Henderson, Kentucky, in August of that year, reports Sarah Laskow at Atlas Obscura
During the stay, Audubon pulled a fast one on Rafinesque, describing and sketching for him 11 outlandish fish species, including the 10-foot-long Devil-Jack Diamond fish with supposedly bulletproof scales. Rafinesque even published accounts of the faux fish in his book Icthyologia Ohiensis, writes Kira Sobers, a digital imaging specialist at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Researchers identified the prank well over a century ago. But until now they didn’t realize that Audubon fed Rafinesque a lot more than fanciful fish. According to a new paper in Archives of Natural History, Audubon also fabricated two birds, a “trivalve” mollusk-like creature, three snails, and two plants. He also came up with nine “wild rats,” some of which Rafinesque later described in the American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review.