10 Legendary Monsters of Australasia and Antarctica

You'd think that there are enough scary animals in Australia that monstrous legends wouldn't be necessary. Apparently the deadly creatures that terrorize people on a regular basis aren't scary enough. The continent also includes New Zealand, and I slid a monster of Antarctica in here as a convenience. Ningens and Bunyips and Yowies, oh my!

1. Yara-ma-yha-who

The Yara-ma-yha-who is an Australian vampire from Aboriginal folklore. He is a short, red, uh, man, resembling a demon. He has no teeth, which is unusual for a bloodsucking vampire. The Yara-ma-yha-who waits in a tree for a victim to stop beneath, then jumps on him and sucks blood out through the octopus-like suckers the Yara-ma-yha-who has on his hands and feet. If this demon eats someone, he will take a nap and then vomit the meal back up. Luckily, the victim may still be alive! However, if the same person is victimized in this manner too many times, he will himself become a Yara-ma-yha-who.

2. The Hawkesbury River Monster

The Hawkesbury River Monster is sort of a cousin to Nessie, the Scottish Loch Ness Monster. The Hawkesbury River in New South Wales, Australia, is a very deep river, and the monster it accommodates is described as up to 24 meters long. Aboriginal paintings thousands of years old hint at sightings of the monster, which resembles a prehistoric plesiosaur. Although there are quite a few modern sightings, no one has been able to get a picture of the river monster.

3. Bunyip

A Bunyip is a spirit monster from Australian Aborigine culture. It sleeps in rivers, swamps, and billabongs during the day, but prowls the land at night, looking for people or animals to eat. Its screams can be heard for long distances. Some Aboriginals claim to have seen a Bunyip, but descriptions vary. Does it resemble a snake, a wild human, or a furry mammal? Some theorize that while the Bunyip may be legendary, the tales have been passed down for thousands of years, from back in the days when now-extinct large predators prowled Australia. See a video of a children's song featuring the Bunyip.

4. The Gippsland Phantom Cat

The Gippsland Phantom Cat is a large cat spotted in the Grampians region since the 1970s. The consensus among experts is that there have been sightings of large cats, probably feral descendants of house cats. U.S. soldiers stationed in Victoria during World War II had a pair of pumas as mascots, and some think the two animals may have been set free and then reproduced in the wild, possibly mating with feral house cats over the years. There is no conclusive evidence for this. In 2005, hunter Kurt Engel shot a large cat with a 26" tail. Mitochondrial DNA tests on the large feral cat show it was a common domestic cat species, at least on its mother's side. The Gippsland Phantom Cat is not to be confused with the Lion of Gripsholm Castle.

5. Muldjewangk

The Muldjewangk are monsters (or maybe just one monster) that inhabits the Murray River and Lake Alexandrina into which it flows in South Australia. The tales of the monster are told to keep children away from the dangerous water. One story tells of a European steamboat captain that shot a Muldjewangk, and was rewarded with a slow lingering death from creeping red blisters that covered his body. The Muldjewangk is also blamed for boat wrecks. Beware the seaweed growing in the lake -that's where the Muldjewangk hide!

6. Yowie

The Australian version of a giant ape (Bigfoot) is the Yowie. It is described as a bipedal gorilla who lives in wilderness areas (which means most of Australia). The term Yowie is also used for a legendary aboriginal animal which is not an ape, causing some confusion in conversations. The Aboriginal Yowie is thought to be a regional name for the Bunyip. Yowie hunter Paul Compton took the above photo near Glen Innes in 2007.

7. Moehau

New Zealand has its own cryptid ape-man called the Moehau, although it is also called Maero, Matau, Tuuhourangi, Taongina, and Rapuwai. The large hairy creatures which haunt the Coromandel Ranges are aggressive and are thought to be responsible for the deaths of a prospector and a nearby woman in 1882. The woman had been abducted from her home and was found with a broken neck. The prospector had been partially eaten. Moehau are the size of a normal man, with an apelike face, long shaggy hair, and extremely long fingers and sharp fingernails or claws.

8. Taniwha

The Maori monster Taniwha lives in the ocean but also lurks in the rivers, lakes, or watery caves of New Zealand. It resembles a shark, dragon, or whale, or a shapeshifter that can appear like any of those animals. This monster eats people. In some legends, the Taniwha is a personal or tribal guardian, but still a danger to outsiders. Taniwhas are named characters in many old Maori and Polynesian stories. Illustration by DeviantART member lemurkat.

9. Drop Bear

The Drop Bear is the creature that visitors to Australia are most often warned about. A marsupial native to Australia, it is a vicious carnivore that attacks its prey by hiding high in a tree and dropping onto unsuspecting tourists. Photos of a drop bear show a startling resemblance to a koala, which is how the sneaky beasts fool you into standing under their trees. Defenses against the Drop Bear include sticking a fork into your hair or smearing Vegemite behind your ears. See the Drop Bear in action in this video, or its advertising equivalent here. Photograph found at reddit.

10. Ningen

Ningen is a Japanese word meaning "human." But there's something definitely inhuman about the stories of the Ningen that live in the waters off Antarctica. These sea monsters are white and have been reported up to 30 meters long! Ningen have humanoid eyes and mouths, but descriptions of their bodies vary. They may have fins or arms and legs, or sometimes arms with fingered hands and fins instead of legs, like a mermaid. Ningen sightings may turn out to be icebergs, whales, dolphins, rays, or maybe even too much to drink.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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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). Some street addresses also 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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11 Myths About Ticks, Debunked
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It’s officially summer, which means tick season is in full swing. Like other creepy crawlies that feed on our blood and spread disease, ticks can cause a lot of anxiety, which has led to plenty of misinformation regarding how dangerous they are, how they find prey, and the best ways to get rid of them. Before venturing outdoors, read up on the most common myths about ticks.

1. THE MYTH: BURNING THEM WORKS BETTER THAN TWEEZERS.

After spotting a tick latched to their body, some people make the problem worse by grabbing a lighter. According to the myth, burning a tick off your skin is the most efficient way to remove it, but Kirby C. Stafford, the chief entomologist at the Connecticut Department of Entomology, says this thinking is misguided. “Imagine trying to burn something the size of a sesame seed or poppy seed or smaller attached closely to your skin,” he tells Mental Floss. In addition to being potentially painful and dangerous, this method also puts you at a higher risk of infection. According to a paper from 1996, people who had dealt with ticks using non-tweezer methods were more likely to contract a tickborne disease. People who removed them by pinching them with tweezers close to their skin and lifting them off, as Stafford recommends, were less likely to get sick.

2. THE MYTH: SWABBING THEM WITH SOAP IS AN EFFECTIVE REMOVAL METHOD.

If you’re squeamish about plucking off a tick with tweezers, smothering it with a cotton ball soaked with liquid soap, nail polish remover, or rubbing alcohol may sound like a tempting alternative. But this is another bogus method experts recommend you avoid. Creating an inhospitable environment for the tick in the hopes of it detaching on its own takes more time than removing it with tweezers, and that creates more opportunities for pathogens to enter your bloodstream. Only swab with rubbing alcohol after the tick has been removed—it's a good way to kill lingering microbes.

3. THE MYTH: YOU CAN FEEL A TICK BITE WHEN IT HAPPENS.

Don’t count on a tick alerting you to its presence when it digs in to feed—most tick bites are painless, so unless you’re looking for it, a tick can go undetected on your body for days or however long it takes to get its fill. So instead of assuming you’ll feel the tick if it's there, make a habit of scanning your clothes and body whenever you come in from the outdoors, using a hand mirror to check the spots you can’t see.

4. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE ONLY A PROBLEM WHEN YOU’RE HIKING OR CAMPING.

People tend to worry about ticks when they’re on a weekend camping trip or a long hike through the woods—not so much when they’re safe at home on their own property. But according to Stafford, most people pick up deer ticks close to their houses. Even if you don’t live in a heavily wooded area, certain spots of your yard may be harboring them. “They can be found in groundcover, mixed unkempt grassy vegetation, and similar areas,” he says, “even on a trip to the mailbox on the street or by the garden hose next to the front porch.”

5. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE EASY TO SPOT.

Many people have only seen a tick after it has been feeding on their blood for days. This doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what the arachnid looks like most of the time: When they’re engorged, female deer ticks are two to three times their normal body size and darker than usual. In order to catch a tick before it has a chance to make a meal of you, you need to look for a reddish-brown speck that’s roughly 3 to 5 millimeters long, or the size of a sesame seed, while nymphal ticks—which are responsible for the majority of infections—are the size of a poppy seed.

6. THE MYTH: TICKS DISAPPEAR IN THE WINTER.

You’re most likely to encounter ticks during the warmer months, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down completely come winter. While adult ticks are dormant for most of the season, they can be active as long as the weather is warmer than 40°F—and with climate change raising temperatures year-round, unseasonably warm winter days are more likely than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control, illnesses spread by ticks more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, and experts pin part of the blame on the weather.

7. THE MYTH: ONLY DEER TICKS ARE DANGEROUS.

Deer ticks are notorious for transmitting Lyme Disease, an illness that can cause serious symptoms, especially if it's not caught early. While deer ticks and the related western blacklegged tick are the only tick species in America known to spread Lyme, the American dog tick of the eastern half of the U.S. is a common carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be life-threatening when not treated with antibiotics. The lone star tick, which is native to the southern and eastern U.S., made news last year for producing a spontaneous allergy to red meat in some of its victims.

8. THE MYTH: TICKS JUMP FROM TREES.

Ticks are bad enough without having to worry about them raining down on you every time you walk under a tree. Fortunately, these kamikaze-style attacks are just a myth. Ticks can’t fly or jump, and they much prefer hanging out near the ground where they can attach to the legs of passing mammals to lurking in tree branches far from their prey. But that doesn’t mean your scalp is safe. As Stafford says, “Most are picked up on the legs and they can crawl up amazingly quickly.” He says a deer tick is capable of scaling a leg in a few minutes or less.

9. THE MYTH: A TICK HEAD IS STILL DANGEROUS AFTER YOU REMOVE THE BODY.

Ideally when you pull off a tick with tweezers you should remove the whole thing—not just the body without its head. But if you aren’t 100 percent sure you got the full tick off on the first try, don’t panic. A disembodied head or biting apparatus attached to your skin won’t be able to transmit disease, move on its own, or grow back into a full tick. It might irritate the skin around it, but usually it will fall out on its own.

10. THE MYTH: TICKS CAN SMELL BLOOD.

Ticks have a keen sense of smell they use to hunt their prey, but it isn’t blood they’re searching for. They’ve evolved to sense carbon dioxide, a.k.a. the gas you emit every time you exhale. When a tick detects CO2, it might (depending on the species) react by dashing toward its potential host—and unless you can hold your breath whenever you’re outside, there’s not much you can do to hide from them.

11. THE MYTH: LYME DISEASE ALWAYS COMES WITH A BULLSEYE RASH.

If it’s been several days since you were bitten by a tick and there’s still no sign of the telltale bullseye rash at the bite site, you may assume you’re in the clear. But according to the National Center for Health Research, fewer than 50 percent of all Lyme infections produce this symptom. A more accurate way to check if you have the disease is to look for several early symptoms instead of just one—these might include muscle weakness in the face, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, fever, and joint pain. These signs usually appear within a month following a tick bite if you’ve been infected.

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