Animals that only bite tourists.

It's not always fun to introduce visitors to your local flora and fauna. Dealing with tourists can be a real chore. So the habit of pulling their legs a bit can be a welcome bit of fun. It goes on all over the world, so when you are traveling, be aware that there may be a bit of poking fun going on ...especially if you're told of a scary local animal to beware.

A Snipe (Gallinago naivitus) is the classic animal used for practical jokes, as in the snipe hunt. The person upon who the joke is played is convinced to hold a bag while the others chase the snipe into it. Variations include using ridiculous methods of attracting and/or chasing the snipe. In the end, the patsy is left all alone for however long they will stay put. The term "left holding the bag" may have arisen from this trick. The snipe is supposedly a very difficult animal to shoot, therefore, a crack shot is called a "sniper." However, the word snipe refers to around 20 species of real wading birds.

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The Drop Bear (Phascolarctos carnivorous) is a truly scary animal. 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 resemblence to a koala, which is how the sneaky beasts fool you into standing under their trees. See the Drop Bear in action in this video starring Peter Holt.

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The Hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) is a ferocious animal native to Wisconsin. The black hodag was first discovered in 1893 and is the largest of the several hodag species. It has two horns and a series of spikes along its spine. There are also the sidehill dodge hodag, the cave hodag, and the shovel-nose hodag. See a video about a hodag sighting here.

More fearsome creatures, after the jump.

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The Jackalope (Lagomorpha fantasticus) is a cross between a rabbit and an antelope (or sometimes a goat or deer). Jackalopes only mate during electrical storms. They can be caught by using whiskey as bait, which will render them easier to sneak up on. Jackalope milk is suposed to have medicinal qualities. The German version is called the Wolpertinger (Crisensus bavaricus), which has wings. The legend of the jackalope may have come from sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papillomavirus, which causes hornlike growths.
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The Hoop Snake (Serpentus circulus) is native to the American west, although it has also been claimed by Pennsylvania and Australia. This snake has the ability to bite its tail and form a circle, then roll like a wheel, enabling it to chase people much faster than they can run away. It has a poisonous stinger in its tail, which can kill on contact. The only reliable sightings have been in carnival sideshows. See a video of a hoop snake in action here.

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The Wild Haggis (Haggis scoticus) is native to Scotland. Their distinctive feature is that the four legs are different lengths. There are two species, one with longer legs on the left, the other with longer legs on the right. They cannot interbreed, because the male loses his balance attempting to mate. You can tell the male haggis from the female because the male only runs on a clockwise direction, and the female runs counterclockwise. Haggis is also a traditional Scottish entree (shown on the right).

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The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) is an amphibious creature native to the Olympic National Forest in Washington State. The octopus is an endangered species, with an organization devoted to its survival. The site has been used in studies to determine how easily people believe what they see on the internet.

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Ice Worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) are real. Scientists have studied them for years. That hasn't stopped them from also becoming a hoax used to impress tourists in the northern regions. The Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail by Robert Service established the ice worm as a myth, and bars in Alaska and Canada still serve ice worm cocktails containing a piece of cooked spaghetti. The town of Cordova, Alaska has an Ice Worm Festival every February.

This list is far from inclusive. Are there other local animal legends you can add?

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September 13, 2007 - 12:48am
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