The Museum of Hoaxes
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Fake Photos of Very Large Animals
The Cradle of the Deep, a literary hoax, 1929
The Great Wall of China Hoax, 1899
The Diaphote, a television hoax, 1880
Lord Gordon-Gordon, robber of the robber barons, 1871
Man flies by own lung power, 1934
Van Gogh's ear exhibited, 1935
Cat that walked 3000 miles to find its owners, 1951
The Lovely Feejee Mermaid, 1842
The Hoaxing Hitchhiker, 1941
The Charlton Brimstone Butterfly, 1702
Shortly before his death in 1702, butterfly collector William Charlton (1642-1702) sent a specimen to esteemed London entomologist James Petiver. Petiver thought it was quite remarkable. He wrote, "It exactly resembles our English Brimstone Butterfly (R. Rhamni), were it not for those black spots and apparent blue moons on the lower wings. This is the only one I have seen."

Carl Linnaeus had a chance to examine the rare butterfly in 1763 and declared it to be a new species that he named Papilio ecclipsis. He included it in the 12th edition (1767) of his Systema Naturae.

But thirty years later, in 1793, the Danish entomologist John Christian Fabricius examined it more closely and realized it was a fake. The black spots had been painted on the wings. The rare butterfly, the only one of its kind ever seen, was nothing more than a common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni).


The top and bottom specimens are fakes; the middle one is real.

When Dr. E.W. Gray, keeper of National Curiosities at the British Museum where the specimen was stored, heard of the deception, he is said to have become so enraged that he "indignantly stamped the specimen to pieces". The lepidopterist William Jones carefully created two replica specimens that are now preserved as "The Charlton Brimstones".

It is unclear whether this is an example of scientific fraud (i.e. Was Charlton hoping he would be credited with the discovery of a new species?), or if it was intended as a mere practical joke.

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.