A photo of a deformed cougar, or, mountain lion, depending on how scientific you want to be about it, has gone viral, and Idaho officials are insisting that the animal depicted in the photo is a real animal with a real mutation, and not a hoax, KSL-TV in Salt Lake City is reporting.
In the photo, which you can see below, a dead mountain lion, shot in Idaho in late December, appears to have teeth, hair and whiskers growing out of its forehead. [Warning: do not proceed any further if you do not want to see a photo of a bloodied, dead cougar with a hideous growth coming out of its head.]
The hunter killed the deformed cougar on December 30. According to state law, he or she brought the cougar — a female, estimated to be about a year old — to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) station to be checked. The state gathers a tooth from each legally killed mountain lion to keep track of their ages.
IDFG spokesperson Jennifer Jackson said she recognized right away that something was different about this particular cougar.
“A hunter brought it in, and there was something extra. We haven’t seen anything like this in our region. In the process of harvesting the animal we had an officer check it, and we determined something really interesting was going on.”
After officials photographed the animal, they allowed the hunter to take it home. IDFG officials then sent photographs of the deformed cougar to East Idaho News, which shared the photos with various veterinarians and biologists.
Some thought it was a hoax.
Since the animal was sent home with the hunter who shot it, it has not been examined by a veterinarian in person. However, those who have seen the photographs and don’t believe it’s a hoax, such as biologist Zach Lockyer, have come up with a few theories, according to IFL Science.
“It has all of us scratching our heads. It’s a bizarre situation and a bizarre photo.”
The first — and least likely — theory is that the deformity could be the result of an injury to the cougar’s mouth or jaw, and it just healed in an exceptionally bizarre way. Lockyer says this theory is unlikely because photographs of the cougar don’t appear to show any damage to her mouth or jaw.
Another theory is that the deformity is a the remnants of a chimera — that is, a conjoined twin absorbed by the mountain lion in utero.
The most likely explanation is that the cougar’s deformity is what’s known as a “teratoma” — that is, a tumor that is capable of growing discernible features such as hair or teeth. Some teratomas have even grown eyes or limbs. If you’re interested in losing your lunch and/or having nightmares for the next few days, you can do an image search for “teratoma” on your favorite search engine. The Inquisitr, however, will simply show you a CT Scan of one found in a human — one that has grown a tooth.
These tumors are incredibly rare in humans, but have been known to appear in animals from time to time. IFL Science reports that such tumors have been observed in dogs, horses, and other mammals.
Idaho Fish and Game officials are hoping the hunter who shot the deformed cougar will bring it back so officials can x-ray the animal to get a definitive idea of what caused the strange growth.
[Image via Shutterstock/bikerinlondon]