Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Mia. Mia Wonders, “What is a Griffin?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Mia!

Would you like to pet a liger? Some people have been lucky enough to ride zonkeys and zorses. Are these animals new to you? Believe it or not, they’re all hybrids of other animals! A liger’s parents are a tiger and a lion. A zonkey comes from a zebra and a donkey. Where do you think zorses come from? That’s right, a zebra and a horse!

Animal hybrids have long been topics of mythology. Today, many of them are part of the real world. If ligers, zonkeys, and zorses are real, can we say for sure that mythical animals are not? Wouldn’t you love to swim with mermaids one day? How about running beside a centaur? We don’t know about you, but we’d like to take flight on the back of a griffin.

Have you ever heard of griffins? You may have seen griffins as statues or mascots. Some people mix up griffins and gargoyles, but they’re not the same thing. The griffin is a mythical creature. It has a lion’s body and an eagle’s head and wings. Take a second to picture that. Pretty frightening, huh?

Griffins are frightening for a reason. In myths, they guarded great treasures. Their job was to scare would-be thieves away. In Greek mythology, griffins also pulled the carriage of the Sun god, Apollo. As the strongest creature that could fly, griffins were the obvious choice to pull Apollo across the sky.

Griffins are common throughout Greek mythology. However, that’s not where their story began! Griffins started in Asia. Miners searching for gold in the Gobi Desert said they fought griffins often. Their stories said that griffins guarded the gold they were mining. Miners had to get past the griffins to make their riches! Asian travelers brought these tales with them to Greece. There, authors wrote down the stories and started including griffins in their own mythology.

What do today’s griffins look like? The animal has remained pretty much unchanged over the centuries. We still draw griffins with four legs, two wings, and a beak. There are, however, a few variations. Some artists make griffins with long snaked tails. Others claim that only female griffins have wings. Since no living person has laid eyes on the creature, no one can say for sure!

Some experts believe the griffin is based on a real animal. The dinosaur Protoceratops lived millions of years ago and looked similar to the griffin. It had a beak, four legs, and long shoulder blades that could be mistaken for wings. Most notably, Protoceratops fossils have been found in the Gobi Desert, the same place griffin myths began.

If the griffin is based on an animal that once lived, what about other mythical creatures? Will we find the bones of Pegasus one day? How about those of the basilisk? Grab a shovel and brush! You could make the next big discovery yourself.

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