I am defining a "real" unicorn as any animal with a horn on its forehead and a resemblance to the mythical unicorn. It is a real animal in that it exists, but also referred to as a "false unicorn" because it is not the actually mythological creature. The examples presented below fall into four general categories.
1) Freak: An animal's horn or antler position may vary due to congenital defect or a trauma that relocates a horn bud to the central position where it heals and eventually attaches to the skull. This class of unicorn are often deer, photographed in the wild.
2) Construct: Most constructs are assemblages of dead animal parts. They differ from 'hoaxes' in not being presented as real--but made as works of art or craft. Live constructs are created when an animals horns are surgically relocated to the center of the forehead. The most common method being to relocate both horn buds so that they grow together in a single large horn. Constructs are most often goats, and sometimes cows,
3) Hoax: A physical hoax is when the bones or other parts of other animals may be combined with horns to create the appearance of a unicorn mummy or skeleton. There are also digital hoaxed made using Photoshopped pictures and faked videos.
4) Humanicorns: Humans with a grown on the skin the protrudes to give a horn-like appearance. A similar syndrome can occur in other animals such as mice.
If you came here with the question of whether the legendary unicorn does exist, my opinion is that they do not and never have--but this has not stopped people from trying to find or create them.
In 2008 Damien Hirst created pickled pony unicorn entitled The Dream. He also created a piece called The Broken Dream which is a sawed off unicorn's head, and a decayed unicorn head called Grotesque Unicorn.
Also in 2008 Borre Saethre created an art installation in New York that centered on a realistic unicorn in a glass-fronted room.
Sarina Brewer, a creative taxidermist has also created a unicorn.
The Ontario Science Centre produced a "real" unicorn video as part of their promotion of an exhibit on mythical creatures in 2010.
There is also the widely known Swiss hoax video shown below.
A unicorn female deer was taken by a hunter near Mt. Spokane in Washington (2014) and a deer with an even more impressive horn was taken in Slovenia, it's preserved skull can be seen here.
The Prato Unicorn
In 2008 the deer shown below was observed in an Italian research park. This roe deer has a normally horned twin. Although unicorns generally occur by injury or deliberate transplant, it was speculated that this deer-corn was produced by a congenital defect. (See also: Unicorn Deer). Some speculated that the Prato unicorn proved that unicorns had a basis in fact. There are some pictures from 2011 that seem to be of the same animal.
A similar deer is pictured (as a taxidermy specimen) here (2009).
Other less symmetrical one-horned deer have also been spotted (e.g. 2006)--a fate than cab also occur to other species such as impala and oryx. As well as the deer shown below (2007) and this example also from 2008.
Photographed in 2007 near Elma, New York, this deer (shown above) has a normal pair of antlers as well as a straight, central horn. However the perspective on this photograph may be deceptive, and the "horn" may just be an asymmetrical side spur of a normal antler. The New Jersey unicorn is a "honest hoax" photo from the same year.
For other examples see: India (2007).
Pictures of this small mummy can be found at various locations on the internet. I have not determined their source of even whether this is a hoax or just an art project (2007)
Unicorn Goats and Sheep
The California Unicorns
Otter G'Zell/Zell-Ravnheart created a series of unicorn goats, one of which (Lancelot) was exhibited in 1985 Ringling Circus. "The Living Unicorn" entranced and disillusioned a generation of children visiting "the Greatest Show on Earth".
These unicorn goats seem to have been produced by the same method as the 1936 Maine unicorn. I have given this entry a date of 1984 based on the filing date of a United States patent on producing this kind of unicorn.
There is also this rather less symmetrical unigoat, probably an accidental concurrence.
A presumably accidentally-produced unicorn sheep was observed in England (2009). It might be caused by displaced horn buds or a cutaneous horn.
1936 Maine Unicorn
This uni-cow was produced deliberately by transplanting both horn buds to the forehead so that they grow and combine into a single large horn.
2006 Eastern States Expo exhibit
Another unicorn cow was on exhibit in 2006. (Other pictures of this and another three-horned cow here).
A naturally occurring "unicow" with two normal horns and one unicorn-like horn has been reported in China.
For other example see: unlabeled uni-cow picture (2010)
1931 Ripley Exhibit
Perhaps the best know human with a cutaneous horn was a Chinese farmer known as Wang. He was documented for Ripley's Believe or Not and a wax likeness can still be seen today. [For more information see The Human Marvels]
Other example include:
These cutanous horns can occur on any place on the body, but are more common one areas exposed to the sun such as the finger or ear.
They also occur in other species, such as mice
1663 Otto Von Guericke's Unicorn
Otto Von Guericke assembled prehistoric bones from the so-called "Unicorn Cave" in Germany. into a putative unicorn. It was subsequently shown to be a hoax chimera assembled from the bones of the rhinoceros, mammoth and narwhal.
Throughout history, but particularly in the medieval period, there has been a trade in artifacts represented as unicorn horns. The horns were considered to have medicinal properties and also to bring good luck. Many surviving examples have been determined to be narwhal horns.
A person drinking from a goblet made of unicorn horn was thought to be immune to poison. These goblets were made predominantly from narwhal or rhinoceros horn.
A nine-year-old girl got through customs in a Turkish airport using a passport for a plush toy unicorn. The toy passport included featured such as a picture of the unicorn, and description of her as purple and 37cm in height.
- Dove, F. The physiology of horn growth: A study of the morphogenesis, the interaction of tissues, and the evolutionary processes of a mendelian recessive character by means of transplantation of tissues (1935) Journal of Experimental Zoology, 69
- Dove, F. Artificial production of the fabulous unicorn (1936) Scientific Monthly, 42, 431-436.
- Probst E. (2010). Unicorn mouse: cornu cutaneum in a mouse with dual malignancies.
- Thone, F. (1936). Unicorn no longer fabulous; biologist Has produced one. The Science News-Letter, 29, 312-313.
Maria on May 07, 2012:
The man with the horn on his head scares me.
Man from Modesto from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California) on February 27, 2012:
Nicely put together. Voted up and interesting.
LetitiaFT from Paris via California on February 08, 2012:
Isn't the modern world grand? Taking out a patent on a unigoat. That's a good one!
Leah Lefler from Western New York on November 01, 2011:
This is interesting! I wonder if myths about unicorns originated from congenital anomalies in deer? The guy with the cutaneous horn may give me nightmares, though! Thanks for an interesting read!
ShaNayNay (: on October 12, 2011:
i thnk unicorns r pretty :)) yayyy!!!!
sfrentz06 from Sterling Heights, MI, USA on February 27, 2011:
This is very interesting, I am amazed by all the variations of unicorns - so to speak, especially the man.
Vappysappy1 on January 28, 2011:
Wow. Love this!
Dorsi Diaz from The San Francisco Bay Area on November 24, 2010:
Very interesting read. Thanks for the research. I have always admired "unicorns" in art also. Thumbs up.
lightning john from Florida on June 25, 2010:
lightning john from Florida on June 24, 2010:
These are very interesting! Just when I think that I've seen it all, somone like you enlightens me.