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10 Legendary Monsters of Australasia and Antarctica

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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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Animals
7 Myths About Bats
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Though in China bats are said to bring good luck, and ancient Egyptians believed they could cure an array of diseases, our feelings about bats are often negative. Perhaps these rumors started because bats are so mysterious—with their nocturnal flying and dank, dark habitats, they’re hard to study! But the world’s only flying mammal isn’t nearly as bad as our fears make it out to be. Keep reading for seven misconceptions, as well as explanations of what really goes on in the batcave.

1. BATS ARE TOTALLY BLIND.

Though we love to talk about things being "blind as a bat," bigger bats can see up to three times better than humans, according to Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bat vision varies across species, but none are actually blind. In addition to working peepers, bats also use echolocation (emitting sound to navigate)—which means they probably have a better idea of where they’re going than many of us.

2. BATS ARE FLYING RATS.

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, not Rodentia; they’re actually more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They also don’t share behavior with rodents. For example, bats don’t chew on wood, metal, or plastic, and usually aren’t nuisances. In fact, bats eat pests, which brings us to ...

3. BATS ARE ANNOYING PESTS.

Bat flying in a forest at night
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Quite the opposite! According to National Geographic, bats can eat up to a thousand insects in an evening. Their bug-eating prowess is so notable it carries economic importance. A recent study showed that bats provide “nontoxic pest-control services totalling $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year”! Bats also pollinate plants and distribute seeds, and their droppings—called guano—are used as fertilizer.

4. BATS WANT TO DRINK YOUR BLOOD.

Only three of the roughly 1200 existing bat species are vampire bats, and none of them live in the United States or Canada. Vampire bats don’t even really drink blood—Mies says the feeding process is more like that of a mosquito. While mosquitos will take blood from humans, though, vampire bats primarily feed on cattle. Fun fact: a medication called draculin is currently being developed from bats’ saliva, which has unique anti-blood-clotting properties.

5. BATS WILL FLY INTO YOUR HAIR AND BUILD A NEST.

An old myth claims that bats fly into hair, get stuck, and build nests. While it’s possible this rumor started to deter young women from going out at night, bats do sometimes swoop around people’s heads. The reason isn’t because they’re shopping for a new home, however: our bodies attract insects, and bats are after their next snack. So don’t worry—your spectacular updo is safe.

6. IN FACT, BATS DON'T NEST AT ALL.

Unlike birds or rodents, bats don’t build nests. Instead, they find shelter inside existing structures. Caves, trees, walls, and ceilings are favorites, as are rafters of buildings. They don’t always hang upside down, either. According to Dr. Thomas Kunz from Boston University, bats are frequently horizontal when roosting in small crevices, not vertical.

7. BATS WILL ATTACK YOU AND GIVE YOU RABIES.

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Nope. Shari Clark, president of the Florida Bat Conservancy, says that statistically bats contract rabies much less frequently than other mammals. And if they do get rabies, it manifests differently than in raccoons or foxes. Rabies-infected bats become paralyzed and can’t fly or roost. This means that as long as you stay away from bats on the ground that are behaving weirdly, you’re pretty much in the clear. Phew.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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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.

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