Welcome everyone to the final creature lesson of the year! Professor Cattercorn and I sincerely hope that you have had an excellent year in Care of Magical Creatures, and that you are excited for what the coming years will bring. While we are only covering one creature today, both Professor Cattercorn and myself will be teaching. Today’s creature contains quite a bit of material we need to cover, considering its popularity and importance, so you are completely prepared for the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams at the end of next year. This is a creature that you will run into, both directly and indirectly, so it is important that you know everything there is to know about them. Professor Cattercorn and I are excited to finally teach you all of the wonders of unicorns! There will be four sections to the lesson today: History and Evolution, Appearance and Reproduction, Behavior and Interactions, and Symbolism and Uses. I will be discussing the History & Evolution and Symbolism & Uses of unicorns, while Professor Cattercorn will discuss the Appearance & Reproduction and Behavior & Interactions.
History & Evolution
The evolution of the unicorn is very rich and technical. This is one of the first times we see a magical species go extinct, as well as a hybrid creature become such a large part of the wizarding world. When we look at unicorns on a genetic level, we see that they have 62 chromosomes. Chromosomes are tiny structures made of protein that are in the nucleus of our cells. They contain all of our DNA. When an egg is fertilized, it receives half of its DNA from one parent and half from the other, allowing the offspring to obtain a complete set of genetic material. With that being said, the unicorn actually started off as a horse-goat hybrid. Now, you have probably read about mules, horse-donkey hybrids, and about how they cannot reproduce. However, unicorns can reproduce. Why is this, you ask? Well, we have to look at the number of chromosomes involved! Horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62. If each parent contributes half of their chromosomes to their offspring, that means mules will end up with an odd number of chromosomes. Because the chromosomes aren’t matching up to make a perfect set number of pairs, it causes the offspring to have extreme difficulty forming eggs or sperm. This causes them to be sterile.
Earlier I mentioned that unicorns are actually horse-goat hybrids. Horses have 64 chromosomes, while goats have 60. When each parent provides half during the formation of an offspring, the horse parent will donate 32 and the goat parent will donate 30. While this gives the offspring an even number of chromosomes, it means that two of the horse chromosomes will bond with each other, rather than with those of the goat parent. This causes the horse-like appearance in unicorns. The horn comes from the DNA donated by the goat parent. Because we don’t see any genetic material for horns in horses, the entirety of this material comes from the goat parent..
Unicorns are currently native to Northern Europe, and though we now see them kept throughout the world, they were first bred by the people of Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks wanted to create the ultimate battle horse: one that could strike the enemy, even if its rider had lost his sword. While goats had horns, the animal was nowhere near the size the Greeks wanted for battle. Horses, on the other hand, were the right size, but lacked horns. The Ancient Greeks then decided to breed the two together, hoping the horns from the goat would appear on the horses. While mundane horses were used, the Greeks accidentally used a magical breed of goat, which is now extinct today. Of course, hardly anything was known about cross species breeding at the time, so the Ancient Greeks had no way of knowing if their breeding would be successful.
The Katsigali, which means “Great Goat” in Greek, was a breed of goat very similar to the modern day Boer goat. Known for its impressive horns and wide chest floor, a male Katsigali was bred to a female Horse. Eleven months later, the offspring was born. With the body of the horse and a horn from a goat, the Ancient Greeks named the new creature a unicorn. Very creative, I know! These creatures were gold in color until they were two years old, when they turned silver. The Ancient Greeks discovered that they could breed on their own, meaning they didn’t need to keep Katsigalis around. With the Katsigalis already a very rare species during this time, they eventually died out during the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The color change seen in unicorns comes from the Katsigali genome. Katsigalis also exhibited this trait in their offspring.
Unicorns began to live on their own after this time, migrating to Northern Europe. After living this way for several decades, the wizarding community in the area realized there was something special about the creatures. Remember, I said the Katsigali was a magical species of goat. Records document that the blood of a Katsigali could revive any dying plant or treat the wounds caused by any weapon. We see these properties amplified in unicorns, as their blood can bring a person back from the brink of death, but remember, it is always at a cost. I would now like to yield the floor to Professor Cattercorn, who will discuss the next two sections of the lesson with you.
Appearance & Reproduction
Thank you, Professor Anne. Hello everyone, I hope you are all well. I myself am extremely excited as I have been planning my part of this lesson for quite some time now. Unicorns are some of my favorite beasts and are actually a major influencer of my profession! Let’s go ahead and move forward to the next bits of information.
The appearance and reproduction of unicorns go hand in hand, so we will discuss both simultaneously as we progress through this section. Professor Anne did touch on the appearance slightly, but I will expand on it! Now when you picture unicorns in your mind, I’m sure you think of a white, horse-like creature with a single horn. And you aren’t wrong! However, unicorns don’t always look like that.
If you remember our lesson on hippogriffs well, this next bit of information should be simple to process. This is because unicorn reproduction is very similar to hippogriff reproduction aside from the fact that unicorns do not lay eggs. They actually have a live birth! In case you don’t remember how hippogriffs reproduce, I’ll review. But make sure you know this information before the next lesson!
When a female unicorn, or a mare, is ready to mate, she will lift up her tail and urinate, which reveals her vulva to a potential mate. If a nearby male unicorn (stallion) is interested in her, he will investigate the smell of the mare’s urine. This lets him determine whether or not she is sexually mature. To let the mare know that he is interested in her, he will approach her with drooped ears and nip at her. Once both have shown interest, the stallion will mount the mare so that they can mate.
The breeding months for unicorns are from May to August. The gestation period for unicorns is an 11 month process, so they will always give birth in the springtime. This season is the best time for a unicorn to give birth because the seasonal conditions are the most ideal for a foal’s survival. At the time of birth a mare will usually have one baby, however, twins are not uncommon!
When foals are born, they have pure golden coats and hooves. They will have this lovely golden color until they reach age two. At this age, their coats will turn silver and remain that color for another two years. At age four, this silver will fade and their adult coats will begin to show. It is also at age four when the horn starts to come in. Finally, unicorns will reach adulthood at around age seven. Their adult coats will be a lovely, pure white color. The white unicorn is so luminous that it has been said to make even snow look grey. It is important to note that their hooves will stay gold for their entire lives. The oldest known unicorn was 65 years old, but the average lifespan ranges from about 45-50 years. We knew how old the unicorn was because it had been raised from the time it was born.
Behavior & Interactions
On to the next topic of our lesson! Unicorns are social creatures when it comes to their own species. The young will stay close by their mothers until they become adults themselves. Staying with their own herd (magizoologists refer to groups of unicorns as teams) is a common behavior.
However, their behavior towards humans is different, as one might suspect. It is actually a very interesting topic, so listen well and take notes.
When interacting with humans, mares and stallions alike would much rather have contact with a woman. Unicorns associate women with purity and innocence. They often fear men. If you are male and you have managed to gain the trust of a unicorn, consider yourself lucky! If you are a man, you might have a better chance of interacting with a unicorn if a female is there with you.
Interestingly enough, the foals are more lenient when it comes to this characteristic, and have no preference over gender when they deal with humans. Again to the males - if you ever want to work with unicorns, it is probably best to start off by building a relationship when they are at a young age. Their trust for you will be stronger. But good luck getting their mother to like you! She will be very protective.
Capturing a unicorn would prove to be very difficult as they are incredibly fast. Their speed is even greater than a werewolf’s. Capturing a unicorn out of the wild is nearly impossible and not recommended; their trust for you would be damaged. It is best if they are willing. If you are able to capture one, it is best to immediately offer them greens, as they are herbivores and food will calm them down.
Symbolism & Uses
Unicorns are most frequently seen as a symbol of grace and purity to all. They can also be viewed as haughty beasts. The people of Scotland have this view, and because of this, they made the unicorn their national symbol, showing the world that they are to remain unconquered and sovereign, like the unicorns that roam their land. In runes, a single, straight unicorn horn is used to represent the number one.
Unicorns also have many different uses in the wizarding community. Firstly, the hair from the tail is used as a very effective bandage binding because of how strong it is. It is an essential part of any magizoologists first aid kit, because of its durability and strength. The blood of a unicorn can also give life to someone that is extremely close to death. However, there are costs to using it for this advantage. You will forever live a half-cursed life, because you took the life of a creature with the utmost beauty and grace. Because of the properties it carries, unicorn blood is considered a Class A Non-Tradeable Item. As you also know from Potions, unicorn tail hair is used as an ingredient in a variety of potions.
I would now like to welcome Professor Penrose to discuss the use of unicorn hair as a wand core!
Thank you, Professors Anne and Cattercorn, for allowing me to join you today to discuss the use of the unicorn tail hair as a wand core! Though my primary passion has always been defending against the Dark Arts, I quickly found, through my school experience, that I was intrigued by my wand and what exactly made my wand unique and why this wand chose me. Many people buy their wands from Ollivander’s, or Gregorovitch, or any number of other wandmakers, but few consider what exactly their wand properties actually mean. When looking at a magical core, you are actually looking at the heart of the person.
This makes a unicorn tail hair core unique. As was mentioned earlier in the lesson, unicorns are a known symbol of purity, a creature that would never consider the Dark or acting with Dark intentions. This becomes reflected in the owner of a wand with a unicorn tail hair core. A wand with this core will never choose a person who has strong potential for Darkness in their hearts; it will only ever choose a person whose heart is pure. A person chosen by a unicorn tail hair core will never be drawn in by or tempted by the Dark Arts - if they are, the wand will actually rebel against them and, in certain circumstances, actually break itself.
Another thing that makes a unicorn tail hair core unique is that there actually is a right and wrong way to gather it. While Potioneers and Healers can gather them by finding loose ones hanging on trees, Wandlorists must gather them from the unicorn itself - the wand will create a bond with another human being and that bond will not form as strongly if you just pick up a unicorn tail hair. The weakened bond here will also affect the magic that can be channeled through the wand; the wand will not be able to channel nearly as much magic and, therefore, will often require more willpower to be used in obtain the same results as a person whose bond is at its strongest.
If the core has been gathered properly and the witch or wizard is pure of heart, there is almost nothing that the owner cannot accomplish. A wand with a unicorn tail hair core may not produce the strongest spells, especially in comparison to a dragon heartstring core, but it will produce the most stable magic - these wands have the least chance of backfiring. They also have an affinity for defensive spells meant to repel the Darkness, so spells like the Patronus Charm (a spell that will be taught in Defense Against the Dark Arts Year 6) will be learned and mastered more easily by a magical person whose wand has a unicorn tail hair core.
If any of you have further questions about unicorn tail hair cores, or want to discuss Wandlore in general, please feel free to contact me! For now, I will give you back to the capable hands of Professors Anne and Cattercorn. Best of luck on finishing this term and on your O.W.Ls!
Thank you for joining us today, Professor Penrose. That is actually going to wrap up this long awaited lesson. We have been looking forward to this one as much as you have! Professor Anne and I will see you both next time for our final lesson of the year. Make sure you study well. Have a great rest of your day, everyone!
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