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7 Legendary Monsters of South America

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It should be no surprise that a continent with extremely high mountains, extensive waterways, and dense rainforests filled with undiscovered species would have many legends of monsters. This is just a brief overview of some of South America's monsters. These legends are often known in more than one nation, with different names for the monsters.

1. Yacumama

The Yacumama is an ancient sea monster that lives in the Amazon River. It's a giant snake with a horned head, sometimes described as up to 160 feet long! The Yacumama engorges itself with water that it uses to spray and stun its prey. In modern times, anacondas in the Amazon rainforest have been described as up to 62 feet long, so there may very well be a real-live version of the Yacumama lurking in the wild. However, anyone encountering such an animal is not liable to stay around long enough to accurately measure it.

2. Cuero

El Cuero means "cow hide." The Chilean monster of that name lives in Lake Lacar in the Andes, and resembles a splayed hide with a hairless head and backbone. The legend may have arisen from sightings of freshwater stingrays, although El Cuero is larger and has eyes on stalks, as well as claws. It also has a mouth protruding from its midsection through which it sucks blood from its victims. In the Amazon region, a similar monster is called the Hueke Hueke, which is also described as a splayed hide, without the blood-sucking proboscis.

3. Hombre Caiman

El Hombre Caiman (the Alligator Man) haunts the coast of Colombia. According to legend, he was a human in love with a woman whose father, a rice merchant, did not approve. El Hombre ate rice in a restaurant and saw his love swimming in the sea, and left to join her. He repeated this habit day after day, until he became an alligator and the two swam away forever. Better finish all your rice, or El Hombre Caiman may come for your wife!

4. Encantado

Amazônia, os bichos / the animals

The Encantado (also known as the Mohana) is a dolphin, but one with evil powers. From Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader:

Encantado means "enchanted one" in Portuguese and refers to a special kind of boto, or long-beaked river dolphin native to the Amazon, that can take human form. Encantados are curious about humans and are especially attracted to big, noisy festivals, which they often attend as musicians, staying in human form for years. How can you recognize one? Look under its hat: They always have bald spots that are actually disguised blowholes. Encantados are usually friendly, but they occasionally hypnotize and kidnap young women and take them back to the Encante, their underground city. Sometimes the women escape and return...pregnant with an Encantado baby.

The legend sounds like a tale told to children to warn them away from dangerous waters -- and to warn young women away from musicians with bald spots. Photograph by Flickr user Luciana Christante.

5. Maricoxi

The Maricoxi is a South American ape-man, possibly analogous to Bigfoot, described by explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett (before he mysteriously disappeared) as enormous hairy savages that threatened his party with bows and arrows, but could not speak except for grunts. The Maricoxi fled when fired upon. Several types of Maricoxi have been described, ranging from dwarf-sized to 12 feet tall.

6. Huallepen

The Huallepen or Guallipen is a Chilean chimera with the head of calf, the body of a sheep, and twisted feet. The monster lives in rivers and lakes, and will mate with livestock, producing deformed offspring. Even the sight of the Huallepen can cause a pregnant woman to bear a deformed child.

7. Madremonte

La Madremonte (Mother Mountain) is a Colombian spirit reminiscent of the Irish Banshee. This large woman with bulging, glowing eyes lives in the forest. Her clothing is made of leaves and moss. Madremonte controls the weather and causes invaders to her territory to lose their way. The closest most people get to her is to hear her screams and wails coming from the woods on a dark night. See a video of La Madremonte in Spanish.

This list would be much longer if I could read Spanish or Portuguese better. Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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Big Questions
Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from “paraskavedekatriaphobia,” a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki. According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Street addresses sometimes skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. (One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.)

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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25 Bad Luck Superstitions from Around the World
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Spilling pepper, complimenting a baby, and cutting your fingernails after dark are just a few of the things that will earn you bad luck around the world.

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