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Recently, a question was posted about how a creature like the mythical Charybdis could evolve. Today I want to talk about Charybdis' mythical counterpart: Scylla.

Most depictions of Scylla look something like this: It's Scylla!

This already looks strange enough, but classical descriptions were even weirder.

While Scylla was bathing in the sea, the jealous Circe poured a potion into the sea water which caused Scylla to transform into a monster with four eyes and six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of 12 tentacle-like legs and a cat's tail, while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.

(Source)

In this form, she patrolled the Messina Strait opposite Charybdis, snatching sailors with her many heads.

Needless to say, a creature like this would likely not evolve naturally. When I saw this design, I couldn't even think about how it would move or support itself, let alone pick up a bunch of sailors.

I think that the artistic depiction had a good idea with adding the front legs of the dogs to support the front of the body instead of just sticking dog heads onto the abdomen. With how Scylla is posed in that painting, her weight would crush their little windpipes.

Here's my question: How can we realistically get as close as possible to a classical depiction of Scylla?

I'm willing to flex and go with the artistic depiction if that helps. The only constant is that Scylla be able to snatch and eat sailors with devastating precision.

Anatomically Correct series can be found here.

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  • $\begingroup$ My favourite depiction of the Scylla is that from the game Age of Mythology - there Scylla is the water-based counterpart to Hydra. How about that depiction? Too far from your goal or acceptable as well? $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Oct 28 '17 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ Fun question. Not got time to answer, but possibly some form of cephalopod with specialised murdertentacles/movytentacles/sensetacles? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 28 '17 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T I looked at the linked page, and the Scylla of that game is described as a naval equivalent of a hydra. Pretty neat, but I don't think it would really mesh with what I'm thinking, sorry to say. There is an anatomically correct entry on the hydra, so that should give you an idea of how that depiction could work. $\endgroup$ – Lot-Of-Malarkey Oct 28 '17 at 10:31
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Let's start with Lot-Of-Malarkey's quote, rather than the artwork, which is an entirely different barrel of fish:

While Scylla was bathing in the sea, the jealous Circe poured a potion into the sea water which caused Scylla to transform into a monster with four eyes and six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of 12 tentacle-like legs and a cat's tail, while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.

My first question is, how would the six necks and heads come to be? Well, two-headed snakes are rare (about 1 in 10000 births might produce one, according to this YouTube video. You can also check out this article).

OK, so Polycephaly is an accident of birth, the resulting creature is probably a Siamese twin, or in the case of Scylla, a Siamese sextuplet. The chance of this happening would of course be tiny, but a limited breeding pool might introduce enough mutation into the genes to make the likelihood greater.

The original, un-mutated creature would have one blind head (so perhaps using something like sonar), with, four eyes (probably not very well-developed) situated on its torso (these might even be spaced around the body evenly, similar to a spider) and a mouth with three rows of sharp teeth. I would posit a creature similar to an octopus or squid, so this single creature would have twelve tentacles neatly arranged around its body. Like a squid, this creature would have a second mouth below its body, in the middle of the tentacles. The head and mouth with many teeth would be for offensive or defensive purposes, while the lower mouth would be for feeding.

As mentioned previously, the number of these creatures available to breed would be tiny, probably due to the very impracticality of its design, meaning that even though they probably spawn large numbers of eggs with many resulting births, few of the young reach maturity to breed.

Thus, mutation of the young would not be uncommon and Scylla is one of the more extreme results. Firstly, Scylla is actually a conjoined sextuplet, hence the six heads with only one body. The dog heads are in fact the secondary mouths, so there would be five or six, depending on whether the bottom mouth between the tentacles developed correctly. Surrounding the misplaced secondary mouths are malformed tentacles which may, from certain angles give the appearance of dog heads.

Since Scylla has survived to adulthood with six heads and six brains who are probably somewhat at odds with each other, I would imagine it to be a very irritable creature.

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  • $\begingroup$ A cephalopod design is actually pretty appropriate, because the reason why Circe did this to Scylla was because a sea god was in $\endgroup$ – Lot-Of-Malarkey Oct 29 '17 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ Technical problems. I meant to say that the cephalopod design would be appropriate considering that Scylla was cursed by Circe because of a love triangle with a minor god of the sea (long story). I had thought people would change the tentacles to something else because of all the mammal parts, so good job. $\endgroup$ – Lot-Of-Malarkey Oct 29 '17 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ Well, @Lot-Of-Malarkey, while the picture is certainly at least partially humanoid, nothing in your description suggested that Scylla looks like a human in any way. $\endgroup$ – Rissiepit Oct 29 '17 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ That's fair. I was referring to the dog heads and random cat tail when I was mentioning the mammal parts. $\endgroup$ – Lot-Of-Malarkey Oct 29 '17 at 9:29

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