Studies Reveal that Rembrandt's Elephant Drawing Resembles Asian Foetus on Display at Natural History Museum
A new study shows that a pickled 'Asian' elephant foetus that was used to name the species is actually African.
A team of scientists has discovered that Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus unwittingly combined what we now know are two different types of elephant when he created the first description of an Asian elephant in the eighteenth century.
The study published today in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society is particularly surprising since Linnaeus is considered the father of taxonomy, the system for naming all living things.
When he first came up with the name Elephas maximus, Linnaeus used two elephant examples as his reference points.
One was a 5 cm-long pickled foetus in a jar from the collection of one of his contemporaries, Albertus Seba. The other was a Latin description of an elephant written by John Ray, a British naturalist who studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Albertus Seba and Carl Linnaeus
Seba was a Dutch pharmacist, who began cataloging animals after ship surgeons brought him exotic specimens he could use to prepare drugs. Linnaeus visited him twice in the Netherlands in 1735.
Seba's elephant: the pickled foetus is now known to be an African elephant
Seba published a thesaurus of animal specimens in 1734 and his elephant became known as the Asian elephant type specimen, which scientists have used ever since as the baseline reference for identifying the endangered species.
An international team of scientists, including Natural History Museum palaeontologist Adrian Lister, have now discovered that Seba's elephant is actually anAfrican elephant by analysing theDNA of the foetus.