Before Bigfoot and Yeti, There Was the Legendary Wampahoofus of Vermont

Mt. Mansfield, Vermont
Mt. Mansfield, Vermont
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Long before Bigfoot and Yeti became well-known in Western popular culture, another legendary creature was said to roam the woods of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Quite possibly a distant cousin of the rackabore, a pig-like creature, and almost certainly a near-relative of the whangdoodle, which has no defined character, the wampahoofus was a large mammal that evolved with legs longer on one side than on the other. The result was either a left-leaning or right-leaning beast that could move rapidly around mountains and hillsides—but only in one direction, clockwise or counterclockwise. (By some accounts, the males always went clockwise, and the females counter-clockwise.) If, by some chance, it reversed course and ended up on the wrong side of a hill on the short side of its body, it could tumble down the slope to its death.

Although details vary, the wampahoofus (also called the gyascutus or gouger) was said to resemble a mix between a deer and wild boar. While the Vermont varieties had fur, a version with scales is also said to have existed elsewhere. Its color varied from a dark green to an almost glowing orange. Some were three-toed, others had five. There’s even mention of a cloven-hoofed wampahoofus, and one that grew a whistle at the end of its tail.

Males and females usually ignored each other, except during courtship and mating. When that period ended, they’d wander around the mountains, grazing on the vegetation and enjoying the sights below. Yet their herbivore lifestyle was not without its threats.

Although there are few reports of them being hunted, the wampahoofus was always on guard. Their unique limb structure only enabled them to move in certain areas—they never entered the valleys or climbed beyond a certain elevation. Only the females sometimes ventured higher than they should, and then only to nurse their calves. In a piece for Nature Compass, a publication from the Green Mountain Club, writer Maeve Kim said her dad’s great-grandfather once came across five of these “ungainly cows [wampahoofuses], each caring for one nursing calf," and that it was “quite a sight.”

The origins of the wampahoofus are a source of spirited debate. References to similar creatures can be found in records dating back hundreds of years, and not just in America. Sir Thomas Browne, for example, wrote in the 17th century that British Badgers or “Brocks” had legs of varied sizes. “That a Brock or Badger hath the legs on one side shorter then [sic] of the other, though an opinion perhaps not very ancient, is yet very general; received not only by Theorists and unexperienced believers, but assented unto by most who have the opportunity to behold and hunt them daily," he recorded.

However, most agree that this particular hybrid originated in the 1800s before the Civil War, and while Vermont seems the likely “birthplace,” there’s also speculation it was first spotted in northern Maine. Experts (a term used lightly) believe the wampahoofus came to life in the lumber camps of the northern woods.

Back then, logging was the largest and most profitable industry in Vermont and much of New England. Before railways and working roads, logs traveled down lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Lumberjacks spent months deep in the woods cutting trees and sending them off for processing. At night, around the blazing campfires, these hard-working men killed time sharing far-fetched stories and crafting all sorts of mythical and legendary creatures. Their vivid imaginations may well have sparked the tales of the wampahoofus and related variations elsewhere.

In Fearsome Critters, one of many collections of lumberjack folklore, author Henry Tyron described the migration of the wampahoofus, which he referred to as gougers, from east to west. “Normal Gougers must obviously, travel around the hillside, and in making their daily rounds for food they wear the characteristic, partly gouged-out paths so familiar to woodsmen. These paths were once very common in New England, but today they are thought to be most frequently seen in the partly forested regions of the West,” he wrote. One source told him that the gouger population had grown “too thick” in New England, and “There warn’t enough food to go around and somebody just had to move out.”

Other accounts claim that a pair of entrepreneurial New Englanders brought a wampahoofus (here called a gyascutus) south on a circus-style traveling show, although all that the eager crowd ever witnessed was a set of furry feet peeking from below an elaborate curtain. The showman would poke at the drape, causing the creature to wail and scream. Amidst the chaos, an alarm went off and the creature would escape unseen. A Midwestern newspaper warned residents of this “formidable animal" on the loose, stating that “there is no knowing the amount of mischief he may occasion while roaming at large and disturbing the cogitations of those quiet people who know nothing about him.” Yet, somehow, the Yankees always recaptured the devious beast and had it ready for the next show a few towns away.

Fact or fiction, evolution didn’t work out well for the wampahoofus. Although a left-leaning wampahoofus could mate with a right-leaning one, the result was a severely deformed offspring with mismatched legs—a poor hybrid that could not move and often perished soon after birth. As time passed, both the left-leaning and right-leaning wampahoofus’s legs became shorter and shorter. Eventually, mating became impossible and the species died out.

Today, the last traces of this elusive creature can be seen along Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, where the Wampahoofus Trail intersects the journey to the summit. (The path was reportedly named by a professor who thought a nearby rock formation looked like the legendary creature.) These days, hikers may giggle at the trail's name, and some might snap a picture—but few know the woods are a place where a strange, wobbling creature once roamed.

5 Hilarious Discoveries from the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images
andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images

Each September, the Ig Nobel Prizes (a play on the word ignoble) are given out to scientists who have wowed the world with their eccentric, imaginative achievements. Though the experiments are usually scientifically sound and the results are sometimes truly illuminating, that doesn’t make them any less hilarious. From postal workers’ scrotal temperatures to cube-shaped poop, here are our top five takeaways from this year’s award-winning studies.

1. Left and right scrota often differ in temperature, whether you’re naked or not.

Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa were awarded the anatomy prize for testing the scrotum temperatures in clothed and naked men in various positions. They found that in some postal workers, bus drivers, and other clothed civilians, the left scrotum is warmer than the right, while in some naked civilians, the opposite is true. They suggest that this discrepancy may contribute to asymmetry in the shape and size of male external genitalia.

2. 5-year-old children produce about half a liter of saliva per day.

Shigeru Watanabe and his team nabbed the chemistry prize for tracking the eating and sleeping habits of 15 boys and 15 girls to discover that, regardless of gender, they each produce about 500 milliliters of spit per day. Children have lower salivary flow rates than adults, and they also sleep longer (we produce virtually no saliva when we sleep), so it seems like they may generate much less saliva than adults. However, since children also spend more time eating than adults (when the most saliva is produced), the average daily levels are about even—at least, according to one of Watanabe’s previous studies on adult saliva.

3. Scratching an ankle itch feels even better than scratching other itches.

Ghada A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, and their colleagues used cowhage (a plant known to make people itchy) to induce itches on the forearms, ankles, and backs of 18 participants, whom they then asked to rate both the intensity of the itch and the pleasure derived from scratching it. Subjects felt ankle and back itches more intensely than those on their forearms, and they also rated ankle and back scratches higher on the pleasure scale. While pleasure levels dropped off for back and forearm itches as they were scratched, the same wasn’t true for ankle itches—participants still rated pleasurability higher even while the itchy feeling subsided. Perhaps because there’s no peace quite like that of scratching a good itch, the scientists won the Ig Nobel peace prize for their work.

4. Elastic intestines help wombats create their famous cubed poop.

In the final 8 percent of a wombat’s intestine, feces transform from a liquid-like state into a series of small, solid cubes. Patricia Yang, David Hu, and their team inflated the intestines of two dead wombats with long balloons to discover that this formation is caused by the elastic quality of the intestinal wall, which stretches at certain angles to form cubes. For solving the mystery, Yang and Hu took home the physics award for the second time—they also won in 2015 for testing the theory that all mammals can empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.

5. Romanian money grows bacteria better than other money.

Habip Gedik and father-and-son pair Timothy and Andreas Voss earned the economics prize by growing drug-resistant bacteria on the euro, U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar, Croatian luna, Romanian leu, Moroccan dirham, and Indian rupee. The Romanian leu was the only one to yield all three types of bacteria tested—Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci. The Croatian luna produced none, and the other banknotes each produced one. The results suggest that the Romanian leu was most susceptible to bacteria growth because it was the only banknote in the experiment made from polymers rather than textile-based fibers.

Visit Any National Park for Free on September 28—or Volunteer to Help Maintain Them

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Nick Hanauer/iStock via Getty Images

By the end of September—which always seems especially busy, even if you’re not a student anymore—you might be ready for a small break from the hustle and bustle. On Saturday, September 28, you can bask in the tranquility of any national park for free, as part of National Public Lands Day.

According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll, but there is an added incentive to volunteer: You’ll get a one-day park pass that you can use for free park entry on a different day. Opportunities for volunteering include trail restoration, invasive plant removal, park cleanups, and more; you can see the details and filter by park, state, and/or type of event here.

If you’re not sure how you should celebrate National Public Lands Day, the National Park Service has created a handy flowchart to help you choose the best course of action for you—which might be as simple as sharing your favorite outdoor activity on social media with the hashtag #NPLD.

National public lands day celebration flowchart
National Park Service

There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t parks in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area on this interactive map.

For those of you who can’t take advantage of the free admission on September 28, the National Park Service will also waive all entrance fees for Veteran’s Day on November 11.

And, if you’re wishing a free-admission day existed for museums, you’re in luck—more than 1500 museums will be free to visit on Museum Day, which happens to be this Saturday.

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