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15 Mysterious Tidbits About Yetis

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Skeptics and believers alike will be going ape over this tantalizing trivia.

1. The Nepalese and U.S. Governments Have Regulated Yeti Hunting

You’ve got three basic ground rules. A 1959 U.S. embassy memo states that American citizens need special permits before they can legally start tracking yetis inside Nepal. Also, while photographs and live captures are A-Okay, killing them is a big no-no, “except in an emergency arising out of self-defense.” Finally, any evidence that turns up (including live specimens) must be immediately handed over to the Nepalese authorities. Happy hunting! 

2. Fossils Show That Giant Prehistoric Apes Once Did, In Fact, Roam Asia

Sam Wise, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Gigantopithecus is a genus of massive simians whose fossils have been found throughout China, India, and Vietnam. In their heyday, these guys would’ve made a silverback gorilla wet himself—certain species weighed an estimated 1,100 pounds and could stand over nine feet tall! Gigantopithecus likely died out around 300,000 years ago. 

3. Yetis Are Usually Cited as Having Dark Hair

Yeti movies—yes, that’s a genre—almost always throw shaggy white primates at us. This contradicts the lion’s share of accounts provided by most so-called “eyewitnesses,” who overwhelmingly describe them as “brown or reddish-brown.” 

4. A Newspaper Columnist Coined the Term “Abominable Snowman”

While trekking around Mt. Everest in 1921, British Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury spotted huge footprints that were roughly “three times” the size of a normal human’s. These, his guides announced, had been left by something called a “met-teh kangmi,” or “man-sized wild creature.” 

Soon his story was picked up by Henry Newman of the Calcutta Statesman, who made a fateful gaffe. Instead of “met-teh kangmi,” Newman printed “metch kangmi,” which he mistranslated as meaning “abominable snowman.” The rest is history… 

5. Yeti-Sightings Have Been Reported in Several Different Countries

China, India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Russia are all members of the international “we-might-have-yetis” club (t-shirts pending). 

6. Jimmy Stewart’s Wife Smuggled a “Yeti Finger”  

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You read that correctly. She was married to the Jimmy Stewart—as in the star of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Here’s what went down: In 1959, adventurer Peter Byrne visited the Himalayan Pangboche Temple, where a severed yeti’s hand was said to reside. Carefully, he removed one of its fingers and replaced it with a human double he’d been given by British primatologist William Osman Hill for this precise purpose.  

After making a clean getaway, Byrne’s team sent their digit back to the U.K. with some help from an unlikely partner. It turned out that Jimmy and Gloria Stewart were hunting in India at the time and would be stopping in London before heading home. Once Byrne paid them a visit, he convinced Gloria to slip the finger into her lingerie case, which no customs official would dare open.

Thanks to the Stewarts, the finger safely made its way to Hill, and it’s been stored at the Royal College of Surgeons ever since. Ultimately, however, Byrne’s work was in vain: Geneticists recently concluded that his prized steal was human after all. 

7. The Cold War Raised the Stakes For Yeti Researchers

1958 saw American and Soviet teams both embarking on organized hunts for these beasts. “It is now an international race for the yeti” said cryptozoologist Gerald Russell, who led the U.S. campaign.

8. The Etymology of “Yeti” Is Very Uncertain

Most sources will tell you that “yeti” comes from “yeh-teh,” or “small, man-like animal.” Japanese researcher Makoto Nebuka isn’t one of them. Instead, he believes the word’s really descended from “meti,” which means “bear” in some dialects. 

9. In 1994, One Tracker Claimed His Camera Froze Before He Could Snap a Definitive Yeti Photo

On the slopes of Dhaulagiri—Earth’s seventh-tallest mountain—“Yeti Project Japan” leader Yoshiteru Takahshi purportedly found a cave belonging to one of these legendary beasts. What a lousy time for an equipment malfunction

10. Siberia’s Getting a Yeti Resort

Complete with a museum and hotel, this odd, Russian park is currently in development. Once open, visitors will be encouraged to capture the elusive apes—anyone who does so can expect the equivalent of over $30,500 from regional governor Aman Tuleyev.

11. Hybrid Bears Might (But Probably Don’t) Explain Away Yeti Tales

Polar and brown bears frequent the world’s yeti belt. Terrifyingly, these animals may also be interbreeding. Perhaps, as some suggest, travelers spent centuries mistaking their mixed offspring for massive humanoids. Yet, critics point out that crossed ursids haven’t actually been documented in Asia. Their North American counterparts, on the other hand, are a lot more open to “experimenting” with each other: 

12. One Estimate Contends that Two Hundred Now Reside in Northern Russia

This number was put forth by Professor Valentin Sapunov of the Russian State Hydrometeorological University in St. Petersburg. 

13. A Collection of Yeti Footprint Snapshots Were Just Sold for £5,500!

That’s $7,437.82, American mental_floss readers! Taken by mountain climber Eric Earle Shipton in 1951, these photos feature what appears to be several dozen footprints allegedly found 16,000-17,000 feet above sea level. The set was auctioned off last September. 

14. Several Supposed Yeti Hair Specimens Have Been Debunked

Buzzkill alert! In 2013, human genetics expert Bryan Sykes exhaustively gathered 30 hair samples believed to have come from yetis, sasquatches, and other undiscovered apes. Subsequent DNA analyses revealed that every single strand had actually come from mundane, run-of-the-mill creatures like horses, bears, raccoons, and cows.

15. This Winter, Boston Got its Very Own Yeti  

If Februarys like that last one become a regular occurrence, Bean Town might rechristen itself “Yetiville, USA.” Lately, the area’s been blessed with a local eccentric who calls him- or herself “The Boston Yeti.” 

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

This mysterious Bay State hero currently boasts 8,000-plus Twitter followers and can often be seen roaming snowy streets or helping average citizens dig out their cars. “Snow storms are funny because a sense of camaraderie develops in the community,” the still-anonymous Yeti told ABC news. “For me, I wanted to lend a claw and do my part, too.”

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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
iStock

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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