Since the dawn of time there has been stories of the magical beast the Unicorn. A single-horned Horse with a Billy Goat’s beard, a Lion’s tail and cloven hooves. Its horn was highly prized, worth more than gold… not surprising as it was said to bestow magical powers on its bearer. A chalice made of the bone was said to protect from poisoning. Only the richest gentries curiosity cabinet contained the Unicorn horn. Prince Elizabeth I was said to be particularly fond of her carved and bejewelled horn, of course this was pre-Freud, and it was said to be worth “the cost of a castle”. Now we know that these magical Unicorn horns are actually the tusks of Narwhals.
Aaaaw I hear you cry, I know, but as smashing as it would be, the existence of a Unicorn is about as likely as the existence of a sober Scot, but bear with me dear reader for this Narwhal is a creature every bit as wonderous as the Unicorn.
In the seas above the Arctic circle these Sea Unicorns are found in pods of 10-100. The Narwhal gets its name from the old Norse word for corpse “Nar”, as its mottled skin is said to be reminiscent of a drowned sailor.
All interesting stuff but it’s pretty obvious that what propels this creature straight into the Proceedings of the Ever so Strange is its magnificent prong. At an incredible two to three metres long, the male Narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, like the tusk of an Elephant. The tooth grows out in a spiral form, usually from the left hand side of the jaw, it is the only helix formed tooth known to man, and it is indeed the only straight tusk. In fact it’s the most bizarre teething arrangement on the planet… closely followed by the British upper class.
Though what is really interesting about this rather obvious appendage is that no one is entirely sure what it uses it for. The most widely accepted theory is that put forward by Charles Darwin. That this tooth has evolved as a sexually selected characteristic, similar to the mane of a Lion or the tail of a Peacock. That is to say that there is no real advantage to it, indeed it may put the creature at a disadvantage, but it is an example of healthiness to the female of the species and the more impressive it is the more likely she will allow herself to be ravished by him.
Other theories include that it uses it for jousting other males, which is very likely to be tish tosh. Though Narwhals do exhibit a tusking behaviour, where they rub them together at the surface, which is thought to be to establish who is the boss. They may use them as a probe to look for Crustacea and other bits of grub, it has even been suggested that they use them as a pick to break Arctic Ice.
Though recently some really rather interesting research showed that there was more to these mysterious tusks than meets the eye. Learned types took an electron micrograph of the enormous tootsy peg and found that it contained an incredibly amount of nerve endings, ten million to be precise. To put that into context the most sensitive part of the human body is the female clitoris which has eight thousand, men have half of that number in their tallywhacker, imagine those dipping in and out of the Arctic sea! They’d give you a read out of environmental information… I’d say!
So the Narwhal tusk is an incredibly sensitive device, one can only imagine what sort of information can be picked up by it, further research will hopefully soon tell us, whatever is discovered it’s bound to be rather special, a sense organ so sensitive it will defy belief, super-natural almost… one could even call it magical.