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June 2003
 
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Curiosities

The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades by Dr. Harald Stümpke (1967)

PROFESSOR Dr. Harald Stümpke had only sixteen years to study the odd little creatures that inhabited the island of Heidadeifi in the Hi-yi-yi archipelago before he, they, and their island home were destroyed by A-bomb tests in 1957. Sic transit Stümpke, sic transit…the snouters. Or so says 1967's The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, in an epilogue penned by taxonomist Gerolf Steiner.

Well, truth be told, Steiner had a lot more to do with it. In fact, he made the whole thing up. With the goal of teaching his students something about how animals evolve in isolation, he decided that he'd give them something to really sink their teeth into: an order of mammals that walked and/or leapt on their noses. Some snouters fly, others hop, still others fish or lie in wait for their prey—but all use their nasal apparatus (or, in some cases, apparati) to survive.

With great zeal he created a text that detailed the snouters and their physiognomy, habits, and reproductive cycles, the necessary minutiae of Darwinian lore; then sprinkled it liberally with sketches and illustrations, not to mention an equally fictitious bibliography, all of it taken from his own fertile (some might say febrile) imagination. He did it so well that the book has been reprinted, is still being used in colleges, and has spawned a sequel of sorts by biologist Charles C. Davis.

Any chance I can still sign up for the course, Dr. Stümpke?

—Bud Webster

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