Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Chupacabra. The world is full of dark stories of fantastical animals. Everywhere you go on earth, people will tell tales of these strange creatures. They’re so common, people have devoted their lives to studying them—Cryptozoologists. It turns out, there’s a lot more to these mysterious beasts than meets the eye. Ever wanted to know more? Then check out these facts about the weird world of cryptozoology.
1. But What Are They?
There’s actually a technical name for these mythical monsters: cryptids. Being mysterious and elusive are the basic characteristics of a cryptid, and if the creature becomes too familiar, it’s not a cryptid, it’s just an animal.
2. Gathering Information
While some accounts of cryptids come from word of mouth, myth, and legend, most research is conducted the old-fashioned way—with leg work! Cryptozoologists visit labs, library archives, galleries, and museums. Since spotting a cryptid in the wild is incredibly rare, very little information can be gathered in the field. Can I still wear my expedition hat?
3. What’s 8 Feet Long and 100 Pounds?
Until 1910, the Komodo Dragon fell into the category of cryptid, and most people believed it to be nothing more than a rumor. Wanting to see for himself, Dutch Colonial officer Lt. Steyn van Hensbroek took an expedition to Komodo Island. There, to his surprise, he actually found and killed a six-foot dragon. This apparently wasn’t proof enough for the American explorer W. Douglas Burden, though. In 1926, he took an expedition to the island and caught two even larger specimens to bring back to New York. How’s that for evidence?
Deep in the Sumatran forest lives a creature known as Orang Pendek, or “short person”—maybe. Locals and researchers alike have spotted the animal. It’s somewhere between 2.5 and 5 feet tall and covered in golden brown or grey hair. It walks upright and has human-like facial features. Not surprisingly, the creature is amazing at avoiding human contact. Still, multiple photographers have captured it on camera, suggesting that it could be real. However, skeptics claim it’s simply people misidentifying orangutans. Only the jungle knows for sure.
5. Who You Gonna Call?
If you ever spot Nessie or the Abominable Snowman, make sure to have Loren Coleman’s number on hand! Coleman is one of the leading experts in the field and has been writing about his cryptozoological research since 1969. He’s published 17 books, 300 articles, and is a frequent flyer on radio and television. He’s traveled the world searching for evidence and interviewing witnesses of cryptids, and in 2003, he established a cryptozoology museum in Oregon. Can’t get more qualified than that!
6. That’s No Duck!
The platypus looks like somebody crossed a beaver with an otter and a duck, and until the start of the 19th century, most respectable scientists thought it was a hoax—and can you blame them? While attempting to describe the creature for a Nature Journal in 1799, English zoologist George Shaw admitted that even he was starting to doubt what he was looking at.
The rest of the European scientific community was also pretty skeptical. They thought some super talented Chinese taxidermists had manufactured the carcass. It wasn’t until several years later that researchers were able to actually prove the bizarre mammal was real.
7. A Sort of Unicorn
Once upon a time, unicorns actually existed, but they were far from the fairytale creatures we all know and love. The real unicorns lived in ancient Siberia and were a species of ancient rhino known as Elasmotherium sibericum. They were huge, hairy, weighed 3.5 tonnes, and could run faster than you’d think. Researchers long believed they went extinct between 100,000-200,000 years ago, but a recent study found that they lived as recently as 39,000 years ago, meaning they could have existed with humans.
8. It Was Only a Movie
The first Chupacabra sighting came from Puerto Rico in 1995. Terrified witnesses claimed the beast had two legs and a spiky back. Coincidentally, the creature bore a strong resemblance to the alien-human hybrid creature from the 1995 movie Species. And wouldn’t you know it, the witness had seen the film just a few weeks before her supposed sighting! In her interviews, she did claim that the monster resembled the creature in the movie, leading some to wonder whether her report was influenced by the movie, or if the movie unknowingly copied a cryptid.
At the same time, there were also reports of a batch of rhesus monkeys on the loose who walked on their hind legs, so it’s entirely possible that this is what she saw.
9. Across the Disciplines
Cryptozoologists will claim that their field incorporates multiple scientific disciplines. Aside from zoology, it also draws from paleontology (the study of dinosaurs), anatomy, ethology (the study of animal behavior), taxonomy (the science of classification), psychology, and more.
10. Show Me
The biggest problem with cryptozoology is that it’s very much an “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of science. Unfortunately, most of the evidence of the existence of cryptids is circumstantial and not based on something concrete like a carcass. These cryptozoologists really have their work cut out for them!
11. Where Haggis Comes From
Haggis is a Scottish delicacy made from the organs of a sheep and cooked inside its stomach (it tastes better than it sounds). However, there’s an old Scottish myth that claims Haggis doesn’t come from sheep—rather, it’s made from a small four-legged creature known as the Wild Haggis. The myth has become so believable that a survey found one in four American visitors to Scotland believed the creature was real.
In case you can’t afford to fly over the Atlantic, there’s also a similar mythical creature known as the sidehill gouger that supposedly lives in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. People claim it’s the same as the Wild Haggis in every way but its habitat.
12. Steller’s Sea Ape
In 1741, naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller claimed to have sighted an unusual creature in the waters near Southwest Alaska. He described the creature as having a head that was similar to a dog, and a round body covered in hair. Stellar assumed that it was some kind of marine primate and called it the Sea Ape. However, most people believe that he actually saw a monk seal or a fur seal, and poor lighting could be the reason for his misidentification.
In his defense, Steller did actually discover many real animals, and least five of them are named after him.
13. Beware the Kraken!
19th-century Scandinavian whalers spoke of the legend of the Kraken. Many claimed to have seen giant squid-like creatures below the waves, and to back up the theory, they sometimes found unbelievably thick tentacles inside the bellies of whales. The people back on land had a hard time swallowing this, but it was hard to ignore those tentacles. There was also the massive cephalopod carcass that washed up onshore in Denmark in 1853.
Johan Japetus Steenstrup, a professor of zoology from the University of Copenhagen, confirmed that this was indeed a giant squid. Today, scientists are well aware of the creature, who has deep-sea gigantism to thank for its size. Believe it or not, it’s not even the largest creature of its kind. That honor belongs to the colossal squid, which can reach 46 feet long. Neither can quite drag a ship below the waves, but still, pretty cool.
14. Of This World
Many people assume that all cryptids have some kind of supernatural origin, but this is not necessarily true. Cryptids generally don’t have paranormal powers, and the majority are just animals whose existence science hasn’t yet confirmed.
15. Not Enough
Once upon a time, a photograph alone might have been enough to get a cryptid recognized as an animal, but not so anymore! Thanks to modern technology that can fake or manipulate images, it’s impossible to know for sure whether or not an image is real. And here I’ve been thinking that South Park broke the scoop on the Manbearpig!
16. On Their Own Dime
Anyone who goes into cryptozoology expecting a well-funded lab with state-of-the-art equipment for research is dreaming. A long time ago, kings and queens would fund fantastical expeditions. Not any more—these days, the average cryptozoologist has to pay all of their own research, travel, and educational expenses, as well as somehow scrounge up the funds to buy whatever equipment they need. Definitely a pursuit of passion for that kind of hassle!
17. Cryptid Categories
The world-famous cryptozoologist George M. Eberhart separated cryptids into ten distinct classifications to distinguish them from each other. These include animals that are found well outside of their normal area, species that survive long past when they were thought to have been extinct, animals that have an unusual size or appearance, and animals that are not yet known to exist. Does that make Mr. Snuffleupagus a cryptid?
18. Not a Cryptid
In addition to his ten classifications of cryptids, Eberhart also had a few criteria for what is not a cryptid. Angels and demons, literal aliens (not just weird looking animals), zombies, and any creature that isn’t scientifically controversial. In other words, that really ugly cat is still just a cat!
19. Oversized Cats
Witnesses first saw the “Phantom cats” or “Alien cats” in the UK in the 1970s. One particular cat, the Beast of Exmoor (named for the area where it hunted), supposedly killed 100 sheep over a period of three months by slashing their throats. The Daily Express offered a bounty for any information on the killings, and the armed forces sent Royal Marine snipers to kill it, but to no avail.
The most likely theory is that a large cat, such as a puma or lynx, escaped captivity and went on the prowl, but we may never know for sure.
20. It’s Not Photoshop!
Is it a zebra, a donkey, an antelope, or all of the above? The okapi is a solitary creature most commonly found in the Ituri Forest of Central Africa. The indigenous people of the area knew of it through droppings and hoof prints, but Europeans thought it was no more real than a unicorn. In 1901, zoologist Sir Harry Johnston was able to get a skeleton and send it back to the British Museum for classification, and non-believers finally had to admit that it was more than just a legend.
21. Your Senses Deceive You
When people claim to have spotted a cryptid, usually it’s their senses fooling them. In one instance, a man who believed he saw a Yeti thought he saw something move but wasn’t able to stick around to find out. One year later, he returned to the site and discovered that what he thought he saw moving was really…a cluster of rocks. Not quite as exciting.
22. Oops! It Was Me!
In the summer of 2017, Bigfoot 9-1-1, a North Carolinian Facebook group, claimed to have spotted Bigfoot in the mountains of North Carolina. However, upon hearing about it on the news, Gawain MacGregor stepped forward and said they had actually seen him “participating in a sacrament” by wandering through the forest in animal skins. You’d think that would be the end of it, but the moderator of the group insisted that it couldn’t have been him. They claimed the creature was eight feet tall, covered in fur, had a snout, and moved faster than any human.
There have been hundreds of reported sightings in Western North Carolina and the Appalachian Mountains, but police caution people not to shoot, as it’s still most likely a person in a costume.
23. A Ghostly Cow
For three decades, residents of Griggstown, NJ believed a mysterious cow was haunting them. The majority of the people who spotted it described it wandering around the town’s canal and the surrounding area. In 2002, a water authority employee put the legend to rest when they discovered a sick bull stuck in a ditch near the canal. They captured the bull but sadly had to euthanize it. After, no one ever saw the ghost cow again.
24. Coining the Term
French researcher Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans coined the term “cryptozoology.” He used it in his 1955 book On the Track of Unknown Animals. However, Heuvelmans himself credited the term to a student, Ivan Sanderson, who had used it a few years earlier. Regardless of who used it first, Heuvelmans dedicated his professional career to the study of cryptozoology. Imagine inventing the job you spend your life doing!
25. Hunting Bigfoot
The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization began in 1995 and is the largest organization of its kind. The BFRO is a virtual community of scientists, journalists, and specialists of many different backgrounds. Their mission is to solve the mystery of Bigfoot and find conclusive proof of its existence. With enough time, maybe one day they will!
26. Sinking the Submarine
In 1918, near the end of WWI, a British service ship patrolling the North Atlantic off the coast of Ireland discovered the German submarine UB-85 floating on the surface. The sub’s captain, Gunter Krech, swore under interrogation that they had surfaced the night before to recharge when something rocked the submarine. They then saw a creature emerge from the Black Sea, “a strange beast with a small head, glistening teeth, and a horny skull.”
The creature attached itself to the starboard bow, and the sailors started shooting at it until it returned to the ocean. However, it stayed long enough to damage the forward deck plating, preventing the craft from submerging. No official mention of the creature exists in naval documents, but who would have believed it anyway?
27. What’s the Difference?
Most people think that Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, and Abominable Snowman are all the same thing, but that isn’t technically true. Sasquatch is another name for Bigfoot, and the same goes for the Yeti and the Abominable Snowman, but Bigfoot and Yeti are not the same. The biggest difference between them is regional: The Yeti is from Asia, and Bigfoot is native to the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot is also mostly a 20th-century phenomenon, while tales of the Yeti reach back centuries.
However, some cryptozoologists believe that they are all the same creature and that Yeti simply migrated to North America, but that seems highly unlikely. At least, more unlikely.
28. Lizard Man
It was the middle of the night when 17-year-old Christopher Davis blew a tire while driving home in rural North Carolina. He pulled over to the side of the road to change it, and just as he finished, he heard a loud thump. Suddenly, a terrifying creature charged toward him and the car. He narrowly managed to get inside and close the doors before the creature jumped on the roof. He described the beast as bipedal, covered in green scaly skin, with three clawed fingers on each hand and red eyes.
Police investigated and found nothing, but they did see the damaged door mirror and claw marks on the car. People still report sightings of the lizard-creature to this day, so maybe it wasn’t just a figment of his imagination.
29. Cold Fish
The fur-bearing trout is a cryptid that supposedly lived in the waters of Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and the Great Lakes. The most popular version of the story is that the waters of these rivers and lakes are so cold that the trout evolved into a species that could grow fur to keep warm. Another story claims that jugs of hair tonic spilled into the Arkansas River and caused the fish to grow fur.
Great stories, but what probably happened is that relatives misunderstood a Scottish immigrant’s letter. He wrote about plentiful furred animals and fish. We assume he meant only the animals were furred, but we can see the confusion. When they asked him to send them a specimen, he made one up. A more scientific explanation is Saprolegnia, a mold that causes tufts of a fur-like growth to appear on the body. Eventually, it kills the fish, but the fungus keeps growing and covers the entire body.
30. Sloth Monster
“Sloth” and “Monster” might seem like odd words to see together, but rumors of a giant beast resembling a sloth or an ape roaming the rain forests of South America have circulated for years. While the creature moves at a similar speed to a sloth, it’s seven feet tall standing up and has long, inward curling claws. “Mapinguary” is one name for the beast, meaning “roaring animal” or “fetid beast.”
While most researchers think it’s merely an urban legend, the description somewhat matches the prehistoric Megatherium, or giant ground sloth. The creature has long-been extinct, but there are still reported sightings, suggesting that it could still live deep in the Amazon rainforest. The Mapinguary emits a putrid scent, so if it is real, you’ll know it when you smell it!
31. Just Bears
The yeti is one of the most popular cryptids, and you can find yeti “samples” all over if you look hard enough. However, many of these supposed samples have turned out to be various species of bear, such as the Tibetan blue bear, Himalayan brown bear, and Asiatic black bear. Further contributing to the theory is that in many of mountaineer Reinold Messner’s expeditions searching for the yeti, locals took him to bear dens and insisted that the brown or blue bears they saw were yeti.
It’s very possible that the tales of the yeti are simply over-exaggerated or mistranslated stories about these bears.
Medieval folklore describes a monstrous sea creature that had the body of a fish, the head of an owl, and a sword-like fin that would pierce the hulls of ships. Today, we know that this cryptid, known then as the Ziphius, is actually the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale or the Goose-Beaked whale. However, it’s very likely that some ancient mariners also mistook orcas and great white sharks for the Ziphius as well.
33. Hairier than Bigfoot
Believe it or not, there might be a creature living in Wisconsin that is hairier than bigfoot. We repeat: Hairier than Bigfoot! A woman first spotted the creature when she was driving along a country lane known as Bray Road. The figure, covered in thick, greyish-brown fur, had claw-tipped hands and the head of a wolf. After her report, other people came forward with their own sightings of the upright-standing creature.
A local journalist investigated and found that sightings extended beyond Wisconsin. She has since published books of her research on “America’s Wolfman.”
34. Supersized Snake
The giant snake of the Congo is a rare case of a cryptid that has seemingly legitimate photographs to back up its existence, as well as testimony from a credible witness. Colonel Remy Van Lierde, a fighter pilot serving in the Belgian Air Dorce in the Congo, first spotted the snake from his aircraft in 1959. He made several more passes so his co-pilot could get a picture, and analysis of the photo suggests that the snake was somewhere between 40 and 100 feet long.
Until the day he died, Van Lierde insisted that the photo was real, but no one has ever been able to scientifically prove or disprove its accuracy. You’d have to get pretty close to it to find out for sure, so maybe that’s for the best!
35. Tall Tale
In 1918, taxidermist Rudolf Granberg created a creature called the “skvader,” part hare, part wood grouse—but he didn’t invent it himself. It originated from a tall-tale told by Håkan Dahlmark at the beginning of the 20th century. He claimed to have shot the animal during a hunt in 1874. As a gag, his housekeeper presented him with a painting of the creature for a birthday gift some years later, and he in turn donated it to a museum shortly before his death.
Granberg heard the story from the museum director, who asked him to reconstruct the creature. Since then, it has kept a permanent spot at the museum, which also still displays the painting.
36. Can You Spot It?
There is a new brand of tourism gaining popularity called cryptid-tourism. As the name suggests, cryptid-tourism involves traveling somewhere in hopes of spotting a cryptid. According to the travel-booking site HolidayPirates, the fad is mostly a result of tourists clamoring for a picture to post on Instagram in the hopes of viral fame. It also has the side benefit of encouraging tourists to venture off the beaten path and away from overcrowded areas. Sounds like a win-win, as Bigfoot seekers alone draw over $140 million to the US each year.
37. Press Record
If you’re planning to hunt for a cryptid, don’t expect to travel light. Cryptozoologists will typically carry motion-sensitive cameras, night-vision cameras for spotting creatures in the dark, and audio equipment. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have plenty of batteries and to press record as soon as you enter the site. There’s nothing worse than missing your shot because you couldn’t get your camera out fast enough!
38. Enormous Octopus
According to the Ainu people of Japan, the Akkorokamui, a creature resembling an enormous octopus, lives in Volcano Bay off the south coast of Hokkaido. In his book The Ainu and Their Folklore, British missionary John Batchelor recorded a story about a great sea monster that had attacked three fishermen and their boat. The monster was round, had a terrible smell, and produced a dark fluid. The three men immediately fled, claiming that the smell drove them off and not fear, but the next morning they were supposedly still shaking in their beds! Sounds like fear to me!
39. Original Mermaids
Mermaids have inspired folk tales for millennia, but while their sultry songs are the stuff of legend, they may have a slightly less enticing origin. Manatees will commonly rise vertically out of the water, and their forelimbs have joints. In his logs, the mermaids that Christopher Columbus described seeing sound suspiciously like manatees, and if he was seeing them from a far distance, it’s entirely possible he might have thought they looked human.
40. But What About Geology?
The one thing that cryptozoologists tend to leave out of their findings is the question of geology. Many cryptozoologists claim that lake monsters survived to the modern-day by living deep under prehistoric ice. Skeptics Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have a problem with that theory. In their book which analyzes the history of the myths and the creatures, the pair point out that most cryptozoologists ignore the most important question of all: how did the creatures end up in these land-locked lakes in the first place!
41. A Plan for Proof
For nearly a century, the Loch Ness Monster has captured the interest of people all over the world. There have been numerous recorded sightings, but scientists have disproved nearly every one, including Colonel Robert Wilson’s iconic 1934 photograph. Despite the probability of the creature being fiction, the Scottish Government has a genuine plan of how to handle a potential true discovery of Nessie or any other new species. If anyone ever manages to capture the creature, they are to take a DNA sample and release it back into the loch to live out the rest of its life in peace. However, the myth of the monster draws a huge amount of tourism to Scotland each year, which obviously is good for the economy, so they’re probably hoping that it stays a myth.
42. Bigger Than Jaws!
One of the most terrifying cryptids is Carcharodon megalodon: The Meg. A megatooth shark many times larger than a great white. This prehistoric beast lived somewhere between 15.9 and two million years ago and could have been as much as 50 feet long. Some reports suggest that it could open its mouth wide enough to swallow an elephant whole, and though it’s been extinct for millions of years, there have been sightings as recently as the 1960s. No solid proof exists that the creature still exists, but if it is, there’s pretty much nothing alive that would stand a chance against it! Except maybe Jason Statham.