Have you heard of the Rhinogradentia (“nosewalkers”)? A description of this odd group of creatures can be found in a 1985 European zoology textbook.1 Fig. 1 was taken from page 543 of this two-volume text; the original source is given as a monograph by H. Stümpke, a 1989 edition of which is still in print.2
Figure 1 Nasobema lyricum (after Stümpke)
Most readers of the textbook would have no reason to suspect that either of these sources was offering anything other than a straightforward scientific description3 of a group of creatures which had allegedly evolved a strange mode of life. They walked on structures extending from their nose!
Stümpke’s monograph gives many details of their shape, bony structure, evolutionary relationships—even their embryology. It tells of their discovery on a small archipelago called the Hi-Lay islands, which have since sunk after atomic testing. Just as Darwin proposed to explain the finch varieties on the Galápagos islands, we are told how a common ancestor has given rise to a diverse nosewalking fauna, adapted to many different modes of life (Fig. 2).
Who could wish for a more dramatic proof of the power of evolution/natural selection in small, isolated habitats? The monograph has an impressive-looking bibliography, incorporating some well-known names in European bioscience.
The problem is that no such creatures have ever existed—as can be verified by referring to any number of standard taxonomic lists. The Rhinogradentia (and their island home) are a bizarre demonstration of Darwinian inventiveness. They were concocted by a zoologist named G. Steiner, using “Stümpke” as a pseudonym.
Whether a deliberately deceptive hoax or just an intellectual’s prank, we have seen that this convincing evolutionary fantasy appears to have been presented in at least one standard European text as fact. Who “nose” how many have been led astray (as in the case of Piltdown man, a fossil hoax which convinced a generation of students that human evolution was a “fact”) by such seemingly factual “evidence”?
Figure 2 From H. Stümpke, Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia, Fischer, Stuttgart (first printing 1961).