Research & Reference Art for Animated Film
Ancient Egyptian Animals
In 1996, DreamWorks SKG was going into production for its first feature-length traditional (hand-drawn) animated film, The Prince of Egypt, about the story of Moses.
With a background in the biological sciences, some experience in animation, and great respect for Mssrs. Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen, I prepared a portfolio for review — of the animals that played such a big part in the lives of the ancient Egyptians and in the deliverance of the Hebrews from bondage — in hopes of landing a position in house as a production researcher.
What follows and what you can view, print, or download as PDF documents at right are the text of of my research (including notes about how the animals moved, to help the animators draw) as well as my freehand-drawn (from various references) and handpainted illustrations that accompanied the text in my portfolio of Ancient Egyptian Animals:
© Copyright 1996 Douglas Drenkow. All Rights Reserved. Illustrations Drawn Freehand from Other Sources in Fair Use, for Reference Purposes Only.
Sitting at the crossroads of the Old World, the land, water, and air of Egypt have hosted a sumptuous variety of native, migratory, and imported species of animal life — the greatest variety in any ecosystem outside the tropical rain forests. To the south, the world’s longest river, the Nile, brings animals down from Sub-Saharan jungles and savannas. To the west, the world’s largest desert, the Sahara, surprisingly teems with wildlife; to the east lies the likewise living, Arabian Desert. To the north, the world’s largest landmass, Eurasia, brings forth yet other species. The Mediterranean Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water, as well as the Red Sea provide passage for aquatic animals from as far away as the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Moreover, the natural and artificial diversity of fauna was even greater in millennia past, when the Egyptians were the most prosperous people on Earth and our species had not yet extirpated all too many others.
Wild and domestic animals fulfilled a great many needs in the worldly lives and hoped-for afterlives of the ancient Egyptians. Animals fulfilled physical needs, serving as foods, medicines, pets, sport, and beasts of burden. Animals fulfilled aesthetic needs, inspiring designs for hieroglyphs, objets d’art, and such household goods as furniture or toys. And animals fulfilled spiritual needs, embodying the virtues worshipped as gods.
Various animals acted as agents of Divine Providence in the miraculous Exodus of the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. Frogs, “sciniphs,” flies, and locusts plagued their captors. The blood of Paschal lambs marked their doorposts. In the wilderness, scale insects evidently provided manna; and migratory quails, meat. And in the Promised Land, milk flowed from goats; and honey, from bees.
This work before you presents over 200 of these animals native to, migrating through, or imported into Egypt during the time of the pharaohs. Included are such invertebrates as the dreaded scorpions and the sacred scarab; such fishes as the playful Nile fish and the electric catfish; such amphibians and reptiles as the fearsome Egyptian cobra and the infamous Nile crocodile; such birds as the sacred ibis, the beautiful waterfowl, the awesome vultures, and the royal falcon; and such mammals as the sacred baboon, the beloved dogs and cats, the grave-robbing jackals, the majestic lion, the formidable hippopotamus, the graceful gazelle, and the host of helpful livestock.
For each animal, you will be presented with an intriguing and entertaining “character study,” consisting of a simple, yet accurate “color model” as well as text of biology (particularly behavior), Egyptology, and Bibliology (Biblical references).
For your convenience and creativity, the animals are numbered, lettered, and indexed: An index to the natural relationships in each group of animals appears as a table of contents for that section; and in the “Indexes” section, there are Habitat Indexes to the settings around ancient Egypt in which the animals lived as well as an Alphabetical Index to the animals’ common names.
In assembling this “bestiary,” I have researched various reliable resources, for truths “stranger than fiction.” For biology, I have relied especially upon Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia and The New International Wildlife Encyclopedia as well as Walker’s Mammals of the World, The Birds of North Africa, Domestic Plants and Animals: The Egyptian Origins, and the Los Angeles Zoo; for Egyptology, Amazing Facts About Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egypt (A Time-Life Book), Dictionary of Egyptian Civilization, and Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt; and for Bibliology, Living Animals of the Bible as well as The Good Book.
Ironically — but just as planned — the paintings and other artifacts in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians bring their natural and supernatural worlds back to life, thousands of years after their passing. With these antiquities as a background — and at the risk of having made a showcase of graven images — I offer for your enjoyment and edification these Ancient Egyptian Animals!
- 1. Corals: Red Precious Coral etc.
- 2. Mollusks
- 2A. Seashells: Oysters (The Common European Oyster, The Great Pearl Oyster, etc.), Cowries (The Panther Cowry etc.), Conch Shells, and Murex Shells (The Spiny Dye Murex etc.)
- 2B. Snails: Swamp Snails, Land Snails, and Slugs
- 3. Annelids
- 3A. Earth Worms
- 3B. Swamp Worms
- 3C. Leeches: The Horse Leech and The Nile Leech
- 4. Arthropods
- 4A. Scorpions: The Sahara Scorpion etc.
- 4B. Spiders: Fishing Spiders, Web Spiders, etc.
- 4C. “Sciniphs”: Ticks, Lice, Gnats, or Fleas?
- 4D. Mayflies
- 4E. Dragonflies and Damselflies
- 4F. Locusts: The Desert Locust
- 4G. Aquatic Bugs: Water Striders, Water Measurers, Water Treaders, Water Boatmen, Backswimmers, and Water-Scorpions
- 4H. Scale Insects: Tamarisk Manna Scales
- 4I. Antlions
- 4J. Alderflies, Dobsonflies, and Fishflies
- 4K. Aquatic Beetles: Predaceous Diving Beetles, Whirligig Beetles, and Water Scavenger Beetles
- 4L. Scarab Beetles: The Sacred Scarab
- 4M. Caddisflies and Caddisworms
- 4N. Moths and Caterpillars
- 4O. Aquatic Flies: Crane Flies, Mosquitoes, Punkies (“No-See-Ums”), Midges, and Black Flies
- 4P. Filth Flies: The House Fly, The Stable Fly, etc.
- 4Q. Ants
- 4R. Hornets
- 4S. Honey Bees: The African Honey Bee
- 5. Bichirs: The Nile Bichir
- 6. Eels: The European Eel
- 7. Mormyrids etc.: The Electric “Eel” (Gymnarchus), The Playful Nile Fish (Gnathonemus), and Elephant-Trunk Fish (Campylomormyrus, including The Oxyrhynchus Fish)
- 8. Tigerfish: The Nile-Dog
- 9. Danios
- 10. Barbs
- 11. Catfish: The Electric Catfish and Upside-Down Catfish
- 12. Perch: The Nile Perch
- 13. Mouth-Breeders: The Egyptian Mouth-Breeder (Haplochromis) and The Nile Mouth-Breeder (Tilapia, or Chromis)
- 14. Mullets: The Golden-Grey Mullet
- 15. Pufferfish: The Nile Pufferfish (The Fahak)
- 16. Frogs: The Marsh Frog (akin to The Israeli Laughing Frog)
- 17. Turtles and Tortoises: A Nile Soft-Shelled Turtle, The Little Egyptian Tortoise, and The Spur-Thighed Mediterranean Tortoise
- 18. Lizards
- 18A. Geckos: The Common Gecko, The House Gecko, and Other Desert Geckos
- 18B. Agamas: The Desert Agama and The Egyptian Spiny-Tailed Lizard
- 18C. Chameleons: The European Chameleon and The African Chameleon
- 18D. Skinks: The Common Skink etc.
- 18E. Monitors: The Nile Monitor and The Desert Monitor
- 19. Snakes
- 19A. Boas: The Egyptian Sand Boa
- 19B. Cobras: The Egyptian Cobra (An “Asp”)
- 19C. Vipers: The Horned Desert Viper (A Sidewinder), The Avicenna Viper, and The Pale Carpet Viper
- 20. Crocodiles: The Nile Crocodile
- 21. Ostriches: The Ostrich
- 22. Pelicans, Cormorants, etc.
- 22A. Pelicans: The Eastern White Pelican
- 22B. Cormorants: The Common Cormorant
- 23. Herons, Storks, Ibises, etc.
- 23A. Herons: The Common (Great Gray) Heron, The Squacco Heron, and The Black-Crowned Night Heron
- 23B. Egrets: The Cattle Egret and The Little Egret
- 23C. Storks: The White Stork
- 23D. Ibises: The Sacred Ibis and The Glossy Ibis
- 23E. Spoonbills: The Spoonbill
- 24. Waterfowl
- 24A. Geese: The White-Fronted Goose, The Greylag Goose, and (less commonly) The Bean Goose and The Red-Breasted Goose
- 24B. Shelducks: The Egyptian (or Nile) “Goose” and The Ruddy Shelduck
- 24C. Ducks: The Pintail, The European Wigeon, and The Common Teal
- 25. Birds of Prey
- 25A. Kites: The Egyptian Scavenging Kite (A Black Kite) and The Black-Shouldered Kite
- 25B. Hawks: The African Sparrow Hawk and The Longlegged Buzzard
- 25C. Vultures: The Egyptian Vulture and The Griffon Vulture
- 25D. Eagles: The Short-Toed Eagle
- 25E. Ospreys: The Osprey
- 25F. Falcons: The Old World Kestrel and The Desert (Peregrine) Falcon
- 26. Fowl etc.
- 26A. Partridges: The Sand Partridge
- 26B. Quail: The Migratory Quail
- 26C. Guineafowl: The Helmeted Guineafowl
- 26D. Chickens: The Red Jungle Fowl (and perhaps Domestic Breeds)
- 27. Moorhens, Coots, Cranes, etc.
- 27A. Moorhens: The Common Moorhen
- 27B. Coots: The European Coot
- 27C. Cranes: The Common Crane
- 27D. Bustards: The Houbara Bustard
- 28. Sandpipers, Plovers, Gulls, Terns, etc.
- 28A. Sandpipers: The Common Sandpiper
- 28B. Avocets: The Old World Avocet
- 28C. Lapwings and Plovers: The (European) Lapwing, The Spur-Winged Plover, The White-Tailed Plover, and The Sociable Plover
- 28D. Painted Snipes: The African Painted Snipe
- 28E. Crocodile Birds: The Egyptian “Plover”
- 28F. Gulls: The Herring Gull, The Common Gull, The Little Gull, etc.
- 28G. Terns: The Gull-Billed Tern, The Whiskered Tern, The Common Tern, etc.
- 29. Pigeons, Doves, etc.
- 29A. Pigeons and Doves: The Rockdove, Domestic Pigeons, and The Turtle Dove
- Sandgrouse: The Spotted Sandgrouse
- 30. Owls
- 30A. Barn Owls: The Barn Owl
- 30B. Typical Owls: The Little Owl and The Eagle Owl
- 31. Nighthawks etc.: The Egyptian Nightjar
- 32. Swifts etc.: The Pallid Swift
- 33. Kingfishers etc.
- 33A. Kingfishers: The Lesser Pied Kingfisher and The Common Eurasian Kingfisher
- 33B. Bee-Eaters: The Little Green Bee-Eater and The Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater
- 33C. Hoopoes: The Hoopoe
- 34. Perching Birds (Song Birds etc.)
- 34A. Larks: The Desert Lark, The Bifasciated Lark, and The Crested Lark
- 34B. Swallows: The Common (Barn) Swallow and The Bank Swallow (The Sand Martin)
- 34C. Bulbuls: The White-Vented Bulbul
- 34D. Shrikes: The Great Gray Shrike (The Northern Shrike)
- 34E. Warblers: The Clamorous Reed Warbler, The Spectacled Warbler, The Sardinian Warbler, etc.
- 34F. Buntings: The Ortolan Bunting
- 34G. Sparrows: The House Sparrow
- 34H. Orioles: The Golden Oriole
- 34I. Ravens, Rooks, and Crows: The Brown-Necked Raven
- 35. Insectivores
- 35A. Hedgehogs: The Long-Eared Desert Hedgehog and The Ethiopian Desert Hedgehog
- 35B. Shrews: The Lesser White-Toothed Shrew
- 35C. Elephant-Shrews: The North African Elephant-Shrew
- 36. Bats
- 36A. Fruit Bats: The Egyptian Fruit Bat
- 36B. Tomb Bats: Short-Tailed Tomb Bats and Long-Tailed Tomb Bats
- 37. Primates (Non-Human)
- 37A. Baboons: The Sacred (Hamadryas) Baboon and The Anubis Baboon
- 37B. Other Monkeys: The (Long-Tailed) Grass Monkey (A Guenon)
- 38. Primitive Carnivores
- 38A. Weasels: The North African Banded Weasel
- 38B. Otters: The Eurasian River Otter
- 38C. Genets: The Common (Small-Spotted) Genet
- 38D. Mongooses: The Egyptian Mongoose (The Ichneumon)
- 38E. Hyenas: The Striped Hyena and The Aardwolf
- 39. Canines
- 39A. Wolves and “Wolf Dogs”: The Egyptian (or Libyan) Gray Wolf and Pariah Dogs (Feral Mutts, like Dingoes)
- 39B. Domestic Dogs: (Pointer/Hunter) Basenji-types, (sleek) Greyhound/Saluki/Ibizan/Pharaoh Hound-types, (short-legged) Dachshund-types, (small- to mid-sized) Terrier/Pomeranian-types, (large) Mastiff-types, and (mixed-breed) Mongrels
- 39C. Jackals: The Golden Jackal and The Black-Backed Jackal
- 39D. Foxes: The Fennec and The Sand Fox
- 39E. Wild Hunting Dogs: The African Wild Dog
- 40. Felines
- 40A. Domestic Cats: Orange Tabbies (Abyssinian- or Mau-/Miw-types)
- 40B. Small to Medium-Sized Wild Cats: The African Wild Cat, The Caracal (The Desert “Lynx”), and The Jungle Cat (The Swamp “Lynx”)
- 40C. Big Cats: The Leopard, The Cheetah, and The Lion
- 41. Elephants: The African Elephant
- 42. Sea-Cows: The Dugong
- 43. Hyraxes: The Coney (The Abyssinian Rock Hyrax)
- 44. Horses and Rhinoceros
- 44A. Wild Asses: The Nubian Wild Ass
- 44B. Domestic Asses: The Donkey
- 44C. Domestic Horses: Arabian-type
- 44D. Rhinoceros: The African Black Rhinoceros
- 45. Swine and Hippopotamuses
- 45A. Wild Swine: The Wild Boar
- 45B. Domestic Swine: The Domestic Pig
- 45C. Hippopotamuses: The Hippopotamus
- 46. Primitive Ruminants
- 46A. Camels: The Arabian Camel (including The Dromedary, a riding breed)
- 46B. Giraffes: The Nubian Giraffe
- 46C. Deer: The Persian Fallow Deer
- 47. Oxen
- 47A. Wild Bulls: The North African Aurochs
- 47B. Domestic Cattle: Egyptian Longhorn, Shorthorn, and Hornless (Fancy)
- 48. Antelope
- 48A. Hartebeest: The North African Hartebeest
- 48B. Oryxes: The Scimitar Oryx, The Arabian Oryx?, and The Addax
- 48C. Gazelle: The Dorcas Gazelle
- 48D. Dibatags: The Dibatag
- 49. Goats and Sheep
- 49A. Domestic Goats: Screwhorn-types
- 49B. Wild Goats: The Nubian Ibex
- 49C. Wild Sheep: The Egyptian Barbary Sheep
- 49D. Domestic Sheep: Barki-type (Saharan-type)
- 50. Rodents
- 50A. Rats: The Black Rat
- 50B. Mice: The House Mouse and The Egyptian and Sinai Spiny Mice
- 50C. Jerboas: The Desert Jerboa
- 50D. Porcupines: The Crested Porcupine
- 51. Hares: The Cape Hare
The Nile Crocodile
Related to the dinosaurs (as well as to the birds), the Nile crocodile is the “king of African reptiles.”
For most of the day, particularly in the morning and the late afternoon, crocodiles sun themselves onshore. As the temperature rises towards midday, the crocodiles cool themselves by basking with their mouths wide open.
Although they are typically sluggish, crocodiles have “swift feet” (as the ancient Egyptians noted), capable of occasional sprints, probably trotting (apparently only young crocodiles truly gallop). In walking, a crocodile typically raises its body well off the ground, each lower-leg fairly vertical, each upper-leg fairly horizontal. On soft mud, the webbed feet of a crocodile act like snowshoes.
In search of water, crocodiles may travel some distance overland, sometimes wandering into human settlements; and during cold or hot weather, young crocodiles may dig burrows into riverbanks, by taking mouthfuls of dirt out of the bank and shaking them out underwater.
During the midday heat, crocodiles either walk on their legs into the shade or paddle with their legs and slide on their bellies (down well-polished riverbanks) into the water (in whose insulating environment the cold-blooded creatures also seek refuge at night). In particular, although it could be found under willow trees on the ancient riverbank, the Nile crocodile prefers to hide amongst the floating leaves of pondweed in sluggish areas of the river as well as in swamps and other large, shallow bodies of water. Although it generally avoids open water, the Nile crocodile has been known to swim out to sea.
Crocodiles are well adapted to life in the water, with a streamlined body, webbed feet, and a powerful tail for swimming; closable nostrils, for submerging; and nostrils and eyes high atop the head, for ambushing prey.
With stones lying heavy in its belly, just the top of its head breaking the surface of the water, and the length of its body resembling a harmless piece of driftwood, the Nile crocodile is infamous for lying in wait and then ambushing thirsty mammals as they come down to the river to drink. Sometimes stunned by a blow from the crocodile’s head or tail, the prey is seized by the reptile’s jaws, dragged into the water, and drowned before being eaten. Likewise, large prey seized on land, as on game trails, is typically taken back to the water to be eaten.
Although (as the ancient Egyptians noted) crocodiles have “terrible jaws,” which seize their prey effectively, their teeth do not tear food well. Small prey is typically swallowed whole, but the skin and flesh of large prey (after its ears and tail have been bitten off) must be softened before it can be torn into: To do so, the crocodile typically stores the kill in a hollow underwater until it is partially decayed. When ready to eat, the large carcass is again seized by the jaws of the crocodile, which then spins underwater violently lengthwise, tearing the cadaver to pieces, each of which it swallows at the surface with a jerky motion of its head. Note, too, that although they can snap a timber in two, the jaws of a crocodile can be held shut by hand (The musculature is leveraged to close, not open) and that unlike alligators, crocodiles have a relatively narrow snout and a prominent fourth tooth on the lower jaw (which fits into a groove in either side of the upper jaw but remains visible even when the jaws are closed).
Although they fulfill a vital niche in the environment, Nile crocodiles are notoriously aggressive, especially when guarding their young (See below) or when cornered in shrinking pools of water (as during a drought or perhaps as the floodwaters of the Nile receded in the fall). Although “man eating” apparently happens mostly by chance, when people come down to the water, there are isolated reports of crocodiles actually leaving the water to go after people. Most crocodiles, however, feed mainly on fish.
Large crocodiles do feed significantly on other vertebrates (primarily antelope but also such species as cattle, giraffes, young hippos, lions, wild dogs, hyenas, porcupines, birds, and turtles); and young crocodiles feed significantly on invertebrates (although larger prey can be taken, by stalking, then pouncing on the victim, the young crocodile then moving its head sideways as it snaps its jaws).
Crocodiles also feed on carrion in the water, such as bull hippos that have been killed in fights, the crocodiles often feeding together peaceably.
Crocodiles, however, do not feed on “crocodile birds” — typically the Egyptian “plover” (28E) but sometimes such birds as the spur-winged plover (28C) and the common sandpiper (28A) — which feed on parasitic ticks and insects that they find in between the scales on the tough hide of a crocodile, as it basks in the sun. Reportedly, crocodile birds may even venture into the wide-open mouths of the giant reptiles, for leeches and pieces of meat (The crocodiles have no movable tongue with which to clean their own teeth): While sunbathing, crocodiles are apparently not interested in feeding (Moreover, some waterbirds build their nests near those of crocodiles, where they are indirectly protected but not directly threatened by the mother standing guard). In addition to the “cleaning service” provided by crocodile birds, crocodiles benefit from hearing any warning calls issued by the birds: With such disturbances, the crocodiles immediately slide into the water.
During the mating season, bull crocodiles lift their heads, open their mouths, and let out long, rolling bellows. Full-grown male crocodiles stake-out territories; and although they tolerate females and younger males, they fight rival males, sometimes to the death.
During the dry season, a female Nile crocodile uses her forefeet to dig a pit 8 to 20 inches deep (the sand pushed away by her hindlegs) perhaps 30 feet from the water on a sandy beach; and in it, at night, she lays over 40 eggs, which she then covers with grass or with the soil she had dug-out of the hole. The mother then guards her nest, by lying atop, moving only during periods of extreme heat, to cool herself in nearby shade or to briefly immerse herself in nearby water. During the rainy season (teeming with insects), the young — still within the eggs underground — grunt or squeak loudly enough for their mother to hear them; and she promptly digs them out. At this critical time, the mother will even attack people on land who venture too near (an otherwise uncharacteristic behavior). During their first week or so of life, the foot-long hatchlings (retaining their yolk sacs) closely follow their mother, like ducklings after a mother duck: They greet their mother with grunts; climb onto her head and snout; swim after her if she submerges; yap if they get lost; forage for insects everywhere, even up into trees; and boisterously squeak, grunt, and snap at one another.
Despite the growling, snapping protection of their mother, many of the eggs and hatchlings of the Nile crocodile are eaten by such predators as ants, catfish, soft-shelled turtles, herons, storks, eagles, ospreys, and baboons by day and owls, mongooses, and hyenas at night. The #1 nest-robbers, however, are monitor lizards, which boldly dig-up the eggs (sometimes right under the body of the mother), take them to cover (one by one), break them open, and eat their contents. Although crocodiles sometimes nest close together and although mother crocodiles often protect 2- to 3-week-old young from several nests that have come together (before they go out on their own, under cover), crocodiles occasionally raid each other’s nests; and given their cannibalistic habits, growing crocodiles bask or otherwise associate only with others of their own size!
Mortal enemies of adult crocodiles are few but include leopards, lions, and elephants; and hippos will vigorously defend their young against the hungry reptiles.
Living up to a century or more, the Nile crocodile may grow to 20 feet or more long!
“Crocodile” was a given name, presumably implying formidability. Such items as wax toys were shaped like crocodiles, and such a toy was even the subject of a popular story.
The Nile crocodile was “The Aggressor,” attacking bathers, women filling waterpots, laundrymen (a very undesirable occupation), herdsmen and their herds drinking or crossing water, survivors of shipwrecks, and anyone else who came down to the otherwise life-giving Nile (along stretches of which barriers were probably erected). Such ever-present threats from crocodiles were “abetted” by magicians.
To appease its hunger for human flesh and to appreciate that — like the sun — it arose out of the waters each morning, the crocodile was worshipped as Sobek — god of the sun, earth, and water — typically depicted wearing the crown of Osiris, adorned with reeds, ostrich feathers, and ram’s horns (although the worshippers of Osiris and Horus often deemed this “Rapacious Creature” an ally of their immortal enemy Seth, typically represented by that other denizen of the waters, the hippopotamus). To the dismay of the many who worshipped various fish, those who worshipped the crocodile considered fish “rebellious” and fishing holy! Moreover, as the provider of water, Sobek was the patron god of such oasis-cities as Crocodilopolis, in whose temple pools select crocodiles were worshiped by priests: The lucky reptiles were presented with regular gifts of cakes and honey wine and annual sacrifices of beautiful virgins; they were adorned with such jewelry as pendants of gemstones or gold for their ears and bracelets for their forelegs; and upon their death, these chosen crocodiles were mummified and laid to eternal rest in sacred coffins. Other Egyptians, however, as in Elephantine, despised crocodiles and even ate their flesh!
Finally, the goddess Ammut — with the head of a crocodile, the body of a lionness, and the hindquarters of a hippo — was the Devourer of the Dead, who would eat the heart of any of the deceased judged unworthy for the afterlife (See also the jackal (39C), as Anubis).
Ezekiel mentions (in Hebrew) a great, fearsome “tannim” as living in the rivers of Egypt — probably the Nile crocodile (although sometimes translated as a “dragon”). In several passages (as in Job), the Old Testament mentions a “livyatan,” an aquatic leviathan with massive jaws, terrible teeth, closefitting scales, and sharp claws — probably a crocodile (although sometimes translated as a whale).
After crossing the Mediterranean, the Nile crocodile at one time lived in the coastal waterways of Israel.