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16 Cryptids That Might (Or Might Not) Exist

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Cryptozoology is the study of creatures whose existence has yet to be—or else cannot entirely be—proved or disproved by science. These creatures, known collectively as cryptids, include examples like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Himalayan Yeti, yet these famous cases are by no means the only ones on record. In fact, practically every country and corner of the globe has its own legendary monster or mystery creature that supposedly dwells there, from giant bats in Java to enormous water hounds in Ireland.

1. AHOOL

Ahools are enormous carnivorous bats that are said to inhabit the rainforests of Java in Indonesia. Believed to have a wingspan in excess of 10 feet (making them roughly the same size as a condor), ahools are said to be covered in a thick brown or black fur like fruit bats, but unlike bats have long, powerful legs and claws and are supposedly capable of pouncing on and snatching up live prey—including humans, if the stories are to be believed—from open ground. Sightings of ahools are often dismissed simply as mistaken glimpses of owls, eagles, and other large birds of prey that inhabit the same rainforests, but some sources claim the creatures do indeed exist, and may even be an isolated and as-yet undiscovered species descended from pterosaurs.

2. AKKOROKAMUI

The native Ainu people of Japan have long believed that Volcano Bay off the south coast of Hokkaido is home to an enormous octopus called the Akkorokamui. Numerous sightings of the creature have been made over the years; British missionary named John Batchelor, who was working on Hokkaido in the early 1900s, recorded one such sighting in his book The Ainu and Their Folklore, writing that “a great sea monster with large staring eyes” had attacked three local fishermen and their boat: “The monster was round in shape, and emitted a dark fluid and noxious odour… The three men fled in dismay, not so much indeed for fear, they say, but on account of the dreadful smell. However that may have been, they were so scared that the next morning all three refused to get up and eat; they were lying in their beds pale and trembling.”

3. ALTAMAHA-HA

The Altamaha-ha is a 20- to 30-foot long river monster with large flippers and a seal-like snout that is said to inhabit the mouth of the Altamaha River near Darien, Georgia. Although numerous accounts of sightings of the Altamaha-ha have apparently been made over the years, the fact that Darien was founded as New Inverness by a band of Scottish Highlanders in 1736 seems to suggest that the legend is probably nothing more than a descendent of the Scots settlers’ tales of the Loch Ness Monster.

4. DOBHAR-CHÚ

The Dobhar-chú, or “water-hound,” is a legendary otter-like animal that supposedly lives in isolated freshwater loughs and rivers in Ireland. Usually described as a half-dog, half-fish hybrid with a long snaking body covered in thick fur, the Dobhar-chú is large and heavyset, but can move very fast both in the water and on land—even, according to one story, being able to keep up with a galloping horse. Sightings of the creature date back several centuries in Ireland, and there are at least two gravestones (including one, in County Leitrim, dating back as far as 1722) of people who were reportedly attacked and killed by a Dobhar-chú.

5. EMELA-NTOUKA

A number of native Central African tribes believe the swamps of the Congo basin to be inhabited by an enormous semi-aquatic creature known as the emela-ntouka. Similar to but larger than a hippopotamus, and armed with a single long bony tusk or horn in the center of its forehead, the emela-ntouka is apparently herbivorous but like the hippo has a reputation for being dangerously confrontational when disturbed, and has even been known to turn on and kill creatures even larger than itself; its name means "elephant killer."

6. FILIKO TERAS

The waters off the coast of Cape Greco National Park in Cyprus are supposedly home to a seamonster known locally as To Filiko Teras, or “the friendly monster.” As its name suggests, the monster has apparently never attacked humans, but it has nevertheless gained a reputation for destroying fishermen’s nets and upturning smaller boats. Stories of the Filiko Teras are probably inspired by the Greek legend of Scylla, a huge seamonster that attacks Odysseus’s boat in The Odyssey, but in truth sightings of the creature are probably nothing more than mistaken sightings of squids or octopuses.

7. GROOTSLANG

The grootslang, or “great snake,” is a legendary monster said to dwell in the caves of the Richtersveld, a mountainous desert region in northwestern South Africa. In local mythology, grootslangs were primordial creatures comprised of the head and front of an elephant and the back and tail of an enormous serpent. When the Earth was created, the grootslangs were all apparently destroyed, but according to legend, some survived and retreated to the deepest caves of the Northern Cape province. Tales of enormous tusked snakes—probably inspired by real-life sightings of enormous pythons that live in the same area—have rumbled on in South African folklore ever since; the mysterious disappearance of a British diamond magnate named Peter Grayson in the Richtersveld caves in 1917 is sometimes blamed on a grootslang.

8. JERSEY DEVIL

The Jersey Devil is a cryptid said to live in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. According to legend, the creature was the unwanted thirteenth son of one of the state’s earliest settlers, Mother Leeds, who offered her son to the Devil on his birth in 1735 because she and her husband couldn't afford to raise another child. Ever since then, hundreds of reported sightings of a grotesque two-legged, hooved monster with a sheep-like head and large scaly wings have been reported in the Pine Barrens, including one famous incident in the winter of 1909 when a long trail of hooved footprints, crossing under fences and over walls and rooftops, mysteriously appeared in the snow one night.

9. MAPINGUARI

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Mapinguari is a large ape-like creature said to inhabit the rainforests straddling the border between Brazil and Bolivia. According to local folklore, the Mapinguari stands around 8 feet tall, has a tough (and apparently bulletproof) covering of scales on its back, thick red fur on its head and belly, long, curved claws, and, if all of the stories are to be believed, a second mouth in the center of its stomach. When approached by humans, the Mapinguari is said to rear up on its hind legs like a bear and can supposedly produce a foul-smelling scent to ward off potential hunters. As recently as 2007 a sighting was reported in The New York Times.

10. OGOPOGO

The Ogopogo is a vast water serpent said to reside in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia. Sightings of the Ogopogo date back to the early 1800s, when the creature was originally known by the native name n’haitaka , meaning “lake devil.” The name Ogopogo wasn’t adopted until the 1920s, when it was lifted from the title of a popular English musical hall number called The Ogo-Pogo: The Funny Foxtrot: “I’m looking for the Ogo-pogo, / The funny little Ogo-pogo. / His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale, / I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.”

11. OLGOI-KHORKHOI

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The name olgoi-khorkhoi means “large intestine worm” in Mongolian, but this 4-foot-long subterranean cryptid is more like a giant earthworm than a parasitic tapeworm. Also known less subtly as the “Mongolian death worm,” the olgoi-khorkhoi apparently lives beneath the sands of the southern Gobi Desert, only coming up to the surface in the warmer summer months or when the ground becomes too wet for it to survive. Sightings of the worms date back several centuries amongst the native Mongolians, many of whom claim the olgoi-khorkhoi is able to spit venom or even acid from its mouth, while its body is apparently coated with such a toxic slime that anyone who happens to touch it will be instantly killed.

12. MOMO

“Momo”—short for “Missouri monster”—is a mysterious apeman similar to Bigfoot, which is said to inhabit the forests alongside the Mississippi River as it passes through Missouri. First reported in 1971, Momo is described as 7 to 8 feet tall with a broad pumpkin-shaped head, and is supposedly covered head to foot in thick dark fur. According to some accounts, the creature is notoriously aggressive, and like the South American Mapinguari, is able to produce a grotesque smell—even worse than a skunk’s—in order to ward off would-be attackers.

13. SHUCK

The folklore of the British Isles is littered with tales of mysterious black dogs that supposedly haunt rural towns and villages across the country. The Shuck—a huge black hound said to dwell in East Anglia, on the far eastern coast of England—is probably one of the most famous, having apparently attacked a church in the village of Bungay, Suffolk, during a thunderstorm in 1577. According to local records, while the villagers were sheltering from the storm in the church, a huge black dog burst through the church door, killing a man and his son, and pulling down one of the pillars supporting the church steeple, which collapsed into the nave. As it fled the church, the Shuck apparently left scorch marks in the wood of the church door that can still be seen to this day.

14. TATZELWURM

Tatzelwurms are lizard-like creatures that are supposed to inhabit the most isolated regions of the Alps. Although accounts of their size and appearance vary, they are typically said to be around 2 to 5 feet in length, with a broad cat-like head and a wide gaping mouth. Their forelimbs are short and armed with long claws, but they have no hind legs and instead their bodies taper into a long snake-like tail. Numerous sightings of the creatures—which are known as tatzelwurms in Germany, arassas in France, stollenwurms in Switzerland, bergstutzens in Austria, and basiliscos in Italy—have been made all over the Alps, including a recent spate of sightings reported in Italy’s Il Giorno newspaper as recently as 2009.

15. TESSIE

Tahoe Tessie is a lake monster said to live in the waters of Lake Tahoe in central California. Sightings of Tessie date back to at least the 19th century and usually describe a vast snake-like creature with a long neck and humped back, that swims so fast that it can even keep up with sailboats. Strangely, according to local folklore, Tessie sightings are always more common in even-numbered years than odd.

16. YOWIE

Yowies are a species of Bigfoot-like apes said to inhabit the Australian Outback. Usually described as tall and stocky, and covered head to foot in thick black or dark red fur, most accounts of yowie sightings claim the creatures are shy and very easily spooked, although some tales claim they can be confrontational and can produce a bloodcurdling scream when threatened. Nowadays, the creatures are generally considered a myth, but in the 19th century, sightings were remarkably common, to the extent that in 1892 an Australian amateur adventurer and scholar named Herbert J. McCooey—who had supposedly spotted a yowie near Bateman’s Bay in New South Wales several years earlier—wrote to the Australian Museum in Sydney, offering to capture one of the creatures for a fee of £40 (around US$3000/£1,800 today). He failed.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted.

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Mythical Yetis are Actually Bears, According to DNA Analysis
Walkabout Films via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Walkabout Films via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 1959, the U.S. government advised hunters that they were permitted to kill a Yeti only in self-defense. The decree was prompted by findings from earlier expeditions—huge footprints, hides, and bones from a large, unidentified creature native to the Himalayas—which explorers thought could be from the mythical hominid that local Sherpas called the Yeti, or "wild man."

But now, researchers at the State University of New York in Buffalo and their colleagues have concluded that folklore about abominable snowmen in the Himalayas was just that. After testing evidence collected from the Tibetan Plateau and from museum collections, they found the biological root of the Yeti legends to be local bears.

In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers analyzed 24 hair, bone, tooth, skin, and scat samples. Nine of the samples were purported to be from Yetis, while the rest were gathered recently from the Tibetan brown bear, Himalayan brown bear, and Himalayan black bear. The team assembled complete mitochondrial genomes for the Himalayan brown bear and black bear for the first time, then analyzed and compared all of the samples. Of the nine allegedly from Yetis, eight were actually from Asian bears. One was from a dog.

While these particular findings suggest that the Yeti stories probably emerged from humans' encounters with bears, the study provides valuable genetic data that could shed light on how the bears evolved. The mitochondrial genomes—which are based on the genetic information passed down only through females—could reveal when the rare subspecies and more common bear species last shared a maternal ancestor, and how genetically dissimilar they are today, Science notes.

The genomic analysis showed that Tibetan brown bears share a close ancestry with North American and Eurasian brown bears. But the Himalayan brown bears branched off from their common ancestral tree about 650,000 years ago, when glaciers expanded over the Tibetan Plateau—which may have separated those bears from the larger gene pool. Understanding how the subspecies evolved could illuminate the environmental history of the region, said Charlotte Lindqvist, an associate professor of biological sciences at SUNY Buffalo and the study's lead scientist, in a statement. The genetic data may assist conservation of these vulnerable and endangered animals.

Lindqvist said that their technique could also be a useful tool for exploring the roots of folklore about large cryptids—as well as real beasts.

"Our findings strongly suggest that the biological underpinnings of the Yeti legend can be found in local bears," she said. "Our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other, similar mysteries."

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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.

Three bats hanging upside down on a branch
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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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