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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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9 Victims of King Tut's Curse (And One Who Should Have Been)
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When King Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered on November 26, 1922—after more than 3000 years of uninterrupted repose—some believed the pharaoh unleashed a powerful curse of death and destruction upon all who dared disturb his eternal slumber.

Like any urban legend or media sensation, the alleged curse grew to epic proportions over the years. Here are nine people who might make you believe in such things, and one who should have been a direct recipient of Tut's wrath but got off with nary a scratch.

1. GEORGE HERBERT, 5TH EARL OF CARNARVON

The man who financed the excavation of King Tut's tomb was the first to succumb to the supposed curse. Lord Carnarvon accidentally tore open a mosquito bite while shaving and ended up dying of blood poisoning shortly thereafter. This occurred a few months after the tomb was opened and a mere six weeks after the press started reporting on the "mummy's curse," which was thought to afflict anyone associated with disturbing the mummy. Legend has it that when Lord Carnarvon died, all of the lights in his house mysteriously went out.

2. SIR BRUCE INGHAM

Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb, gave a paperweight to his friend Ingham as a gift. The paperweight appropriately (or perhaps quite inappropriately) consisted of a mummified hand wearing a bracelet that was supposedly inscribed with the phrase, "cursed be he who moves my body." Ingham's house burned to the ground not long after receiving the gift, and when he tried to rebuild, it was hit with a flood.

3. GEORGE JAY GOULD

Gould was a wealthy American financier and railroad executive who visited the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923 and fell sick almost immediately afterward. He never really recovered and died of a pneumonia a few months later.

4. AUBREY HERBERT

It's said that Lord Carnarvon's half-brother suffered from King Tut's curse merely by being related to him. Aubrey Herbert was born with a degenerative eye condition and became totally blind late in life. A doctor suggested that his rotten, infected teeth were somehow interfering with his vision, and Herbert had every single tooth pulled from his head in an effort to regain his sight. It didn't work. He did, however, die of sepsis as a result of the surgery, just five months after the death of his supposedly cursed brother.

5. HUGH EVELYN-WHITE

Evelyn-White, a British archaeologist, visited Tut's tomb and may have helped excavate the site. After seeing death sweep over about two dozen of his fellow excavators by 1924, Evelyn-White hung himself—but not before writing, allegedly in his own blood, "I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear."

6. AARON EMBER

American Egyptologist Aaron Ember was friends with many of the people who were present when the tomb was opened, including Lord Carnarvon. Ember died in 1926, when his house in Baltimore burned down less than an hour after he and his wife hosted a dinner party. He could have exited safely, but his wife encouraged him to save a manuscript he had been working on while she fetched their son. Sadly, they and the family's maid died in the catastrophe. The name of Ember's manuscript? The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

7. RICHARD BETHELL

Bethell was Lord Carnarvon's secretary and the first person behind Carter to enter the tomb. He died in 1929 under suspicious circumstances: He was found smothered in his room at an elite London gentlemen's club. Soon after, the Nottingham Post mused, "The suggestion that the Hon. Richard Bethell had come under the ‘curse’ was raised last year, when there was a series of mysterious fires at it home, where some of the priceless finds from Tutankhamen’s tomb were stored." No evidence of a connection between artifacts and Bethell's death was established, though.

8. SIR ARCHIBALD DOUGLAS REID

Proving that you didn't have to be one of the excavators or expedition backers to fall victim to the curse, Reid, a radiologist, merely x-rayed Tut before the mummy was given to museum authorities. He got sick the next day and was dead three days later.

9. JAMES HENRY BREASTED

Breasted, another famous Egyptologist of the day, was working with Carter when the tomb was opened. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly returned home to find that his pet canary had been eaten by a cobra—and the cobra was still occupying the cage. Since the cobra is a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy, and a motif that kings wore on their headdresses to represent protection, this was a rather ominous sign. Breasted himself didn't die until 1935, although his death did occur immediately after a trip to Egypt.

10. HOWARD CARTER

Carter never had a mysterious, inexplicable illness and his house never fell victim to any fiery disasters. He died of lymphoma at the age of 64. His tombstone even says, "May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness." Perhaps the pharaohs saw fit to spare him from their curse.

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That Hilarious Story About Taft Getting Stuck in His Bathtub? It’s Not True
Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Ask your average American what they know about their nation’s 27th president and 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and they’ll probably say something like, “well, he was so fat that he got stuck in the bathtub.” The Schadenfreude-laced tale, in which six men had to be called to dislodge William Howard Taft from his bath time predicament, is legendary. Yet the problem with the anecdote isn’t just that we’ve been body-shaming Taft for an entire century—it’s that it's a big fat lie. Despite the story’s ubiquity in the popular imagination, it probably never happened.

Historian Alexis Coe, co-host of the podcast Presidents Are People Too!, did some digging into the myth, and found that there is no proof that the event ever happened, as she explained in The New York Times in September 2017. Coe traces the story back to Irwin Hoover, a 42-year veteran of the White House staff. In his memoir, published in 1934, Hoover wrote that big-boned Taft would “stick” in the bathtub and have to be helped out, but never mentioned who did the helping or how they pulled him out. Another former White House domestic staffer, Lillian Rogers Parks, describes Taft getting stuck in the bathtub, but the account was secondhand—she heard it through her mother, who worked for Taft, but she herself didn’t start working for the presidential residence until Herbert Hoover took office.

The story's salience is perhaps not surprising, since Taft’s size was a pop culture touchstone even in his time. At his heaviest, he weighed around 340 pounds, and newspapers would regularly print jokes about his weight. But there is no substantial, historical proof of the great bathtub-sticking incident during Taft’s White House tenure. It seems to have been just a piece of gossip with incredible endurance.

None of this is to say that Taft didn’t love a good bath—he certainly did, and he went to great lengths to take them. In 1909, the 2000-pound, 7-foot-long custom bathtub he brought with him on a trip to Panama on the USS North Carolina was the subject of an entire article in a journal called the Engineering Review, one that ran under a photo of the bathtub with four men resting inside.

The tub’s manufacturers told the journal that it was the largest tub they had ever made. As most people would do with a bathtub custom-made for them, Taft took the bathtub along when he moved into the White House later that year. And according to the National Constitution Center’s Constitution Daily, it wasn’t the only extra-large bath he carted around. He also had a super-sized tub installed on his presidential yacht in 1910.

But by all historical accounts, it appears that the 7-foot-long custom tub was, in fact, large enough to accommodate Taft’s sizable girth. The famous photo of the four men in Taft’s bathtub is often mislabeled as showing the men who installed the new tub after Taft got stuck in the White House bath, but his trip on the USS North Carolina, where the photo was taken, predated his presidency entirely.

Taft did, however, have a verified bathtub incident that had nothing to do with getting stuck: In 1915, while attending a bankers’ conference after he left office, he went to take a bath in the New Jersey hotel where he was staying. He didn’t quite get the water level right, though, and when he stepped in, so much water surged out that it flooded the floor and water began trickling down through the floor into the hotel’s dining room, where the bankers who were waiting for Taft to finish his bath and come back downstairs were sitting.

The unfortunate flood made it into The New York Times, among other papers, but the former president took it in stride. The Times reported that at one point as his trip came to a close, he looked out at the ocean and said, “I’ll get a piece of that fenced in some day, and then when I venture in there won’t be any overflow.”

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