MYTH MONDAY: Centaurs

(This article is a part of a new weekly segment, “Myth Monday,” featuring scientific explanations to popular myths and legends.)

The majestic Centaur. Half man, half horse, Centaurs are an integral part of the mythos of numerous fantasy novels. Generally, they are strongly associated with nature, and live deep within forests (also, they tend to be very shirtless; female centaurs are rarely depicted). Obviously, they aren’t real, but there is always a grain of truth in every story, no matter how ridiculous. So, where did this “grain” come from?

Although it is little known, scientists do have a theory regarding the Centaur, and among those interested in the subject, it is fairly widely accepted. Although Centaurs are usually described as seven or eight feet tall, these estimates seem to be exaggerated; in reality, Centaurs are the misinterpretation of the five-foot tall insect, the Man-Beetle.

The comparisons are difficult to ignore. For one thing, Centaurs, whatever they really were, must have been some kind of insect. Between their arms and their four legs, they each have six limbs (a signature insect trait). The very curious thing about the Man-Beetle, however, is the same thing that gives it its name; the Man-Beetle has a massive horn on the top of its head, shaped exactly like a human torso. Extended from the torso are two long antennae, which are movable, and shaped to appear like human arms (Every member of the species has a horn that is shaped like a human male. This is why female centaurs are so rare in fiction; that, and the aforementioned shirtlessness thing).

Man-Beetles actually have six legs, which is confusing at first. Centaurs had four legs, and two arms, and the “Arms” of the Man-Beetle are actually antennae. Upon further investigation, however, it seems like two of the legs were in the very rear of the insect, and vestigial, joined together to form what appears to be a “tail.”

It’s often hard to decipher if Centaurs are gentle, or extremely proud and violent. Between different works regarding Centaurs, there are different stories. The reason for this is the species-wide case of bipolar disorder that affects the Man-Beetle; and, even stranger, they all seem to have synchronized emotional states. So, one person might see them, and find them to be very kind, and then, a week later, another individual might encounter the same “herd” and find them to be incredible aggressive.

Sadly, the Man-Beetle is now extinct; they were hunted to extinction by the ferocious 17-foot wingspan bird, the Giant Pheasant, which were, in turn, made extinct by the 40-foot tall Giga Fox, which was then made extinct because there was no longer anything big enough to sustain the appetite of those creatures. Although it is disappointing that none of us can actually witness the inspiration for the Centaur, it is probably for the best that we no longer have five-foot-tall insects with mood swings roaming around the planet.

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