The Museum of Hoaxes
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The Great Space Monkey Hoax, 1953
Swiss peasants harvest spaghetti from trees, 1957
The Man-Eating Tree of Madagascar Hoax, 1874
Mencken's fake history of the bathtub, 1917
Taco Bells buys the Liberty Bell, 1996
The Case of the Vanishing Belly Button, 1964
Lord Gordon-Gordon, robber of the robber barons, 1871
Dog wins art contest, 1974
The Hitler Diary Hoax, 1983
Snowball the Monster Cat, 2000
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.