One look at the fur bearing trout has most scoff at the poorly constructed attempt at a crypto-zoological hoax, and it is no wonder because the fur bearing trout specimens are for the most part a rabbit fur poorly glued to a taxidermied trout. Upon coming across one such specimen at the Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas, the question that lingered with me was why would someone do this? A quick google search left me even further intrigued by the fact that this fur bearing trout was not the singular handiwork of a taxidermy enthusiast with too much time on their hands, but a constructed creature about which there was a large degree of history and folklore on North America and Canada.
The legend says that the furry trout grow a thick coat of fur to maintain their body heat during the winter months, shedding it when the waters become warmer. An account of this creature appeared in an article in a 1929 edition of Montana Wildlife, written by J.H. Hicken. Hicken further embellished the legend, adding that upon catching the fish, the temperature variation between the water and the air would cause the trout to spontaneously explode, separating both the skin and the fur from the flesh of the trout and leaving the fishermen with both a perfectly preserved pelt, and a fish that was already scaled and skinned for eating.
A farcical account of the fur bearing trout is localized to Arkansas, where it is told that the fur-bearing trout is a result of two bottles of hair tonic that were accidentally spilled into the Arkansas river, polluting the waters and causing the fish to sprout hair. The tale is rendered even sillier by the recommendation that successful fishing involved acting the part of a barber and enticing the fish with an offer of a free shave.
The most common story of origin of the hoax tells the tale of a Scottish settler who had emigrated to Canada in the 1700’s. Amazed with the snow filled new world he wrote a letter home to his family in Scotland describing the winter wonders and remarked on the diversity of “furried animals and fish” that he had never seen before. As a lesson in the importance of the oxford comma, his family back home mistook his writing to mean that the fish in the new world were covered in fur and excitedly wrote back to request he send them one of these fantastical specimens. Rather than explain the confusion, the man decided instead to send his family back a trout with rabbit fur attached.
The story is still circulated to this day, most recently with a May 2015 claim from a Wisconsin man who claimed to have caught a fur bearing trout. The picture was posted on the website of a local news station and started the rounds on the internet. While some argue that the fur bearing fish may be a result of fur like fungus that infects and covers the fish, this mold has only ever been validated as patchy growths that withers when removed from water, not the thick locks of the rabbit fur covered specimens.
Either way, the sheer number of specimens that can be found suggest that this is one animal that has captured the imagination enough for a number of people to start engaging in the practice of gluing rabbit fur to dead fish.
Picture Credit: Wikipedia