What is Cryptozoology?

Cryptozoology is the study of organisms whose existence has not yet been proven by science. It involves the investigation of creatures that have appeared in the folklore of various cultures, as well as creatures who have supposedly been observed by multiple individuals, despite few or no specimens being available for scientists to examine.

Cryptozoology is often thought of more as a “subculture” than a true scientific area of study, but investigators in the field are determined to learn all they can and hopefully prove the existence of “cryptids”, as the creatures have come to be known.

Many cryptids, such as the Yeti or Bigfoot, have their roots in legends that go back a long time. Others, like the Mothman, are based on more recent sightings. While the evidence of these animals’ existence may be scant, there is still much that we don’t know about the creatures that exist on Earth, and new discoveries are being made every day, so you never really know what might be uncovered. The coelacanth, for example, was a fish that was believed to be extinct for millions of years until one was caught off the coast of South Africa in the 1930s.

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Clockwise from top left: Yeti, Coelacanth, Kraken, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Furry Trout, Jackalope
 

While it’s important to retain a healthy skepticism, it’s also fun to have a look at legendary creatures who – you never know – might be lurking just out of view. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular cryptid types and see if we can get any closer to solving the mystery!

 

Legendary Lake Monsters

One of the most well-known cryptids by far is the legendary monster of Lake Loch Ness in Scotland. Reports of a mysterious creature in the Loch appear as far back as 565 AD. Reports often describe a large animal with a long neck, and at least one hump protruding from the water. Because of this description, some believe the Loch Ness Monster, or “Nessie” as it’s affectionately called, may be an extinct marine reptile known as a plesiosaur that somehow made its way into the lake long ago.

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Elasmosaurus, a type of plesiosaur
 

 

This speculation was bolstered by the so-called “surgeon’s photo”, a picture of the supposed monster taken in 1934 that appears to show a long-necked creature rising from the water. However, there are some problems with this theory. Loch Ness is a freshwater lake, and plesiosaurs are only known from saltwater environments. Additionally, Loch Ness is only about 10,000 years old, and plesiosaurs were believed to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago. The famous “surgeon’s photo” was also revealed to be an elaborate hoax, with a fake neck placed atop a toy submarine.

However, a plesiosaur isn’t the only theory. Some believe it could be a large eel, or a Greenland shark, or some other type of giant fish (such as a catfish or sturgeon). Others believe it may be some type of as-yet-unidentified amphibian or invertebrate. 

otter harp seal
River Otter Harp Seal
   

More skeptical minds believe it is more likely to be merely a seal, otter, or diving bird. However, despite searches of Loch Ness never offering definitive proof of its lake monster, the legend has endured for hundreds of years. And Nessie is far from the only “Lake Monster” cryptid; others include “Champ” of Lake Champlain in New York and Vermont, and Ogopogo of British Columbia, Canada.

 

Abominable Ape-Men

Legends of ape-men persist throughout the world, with two of the most famous being that of Bigfoot in North America, and the Yeti in the Himalayas.

 

Tales of giant man-like creatures in North America date back hundreds of years to several First Nation and Native American tribes. The creature that would become known as “Bigfoot” was called sásq'ets by these early Americans, a word that would later evolve into the creature’s other common name: Sasquatch.

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Bigfoot, or Sasquatch
 

 

Bigfoot is known from many sightings in the Pacific Northwest area. It is also known from a number of large footprints, which gave rise to its nickname. The most compelling piece of “evidence”, however, comes in the form of a video shot in 1967 that has become known as the “Patterson film”, or “Patterson-Gimlin film” after its filmmakers, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. In the video, filmed in Northern California, a large and human-like furry creature can be seen walking across a streambed. 

Many efforts have been made to authenticate or debunk the footage, but its popularity among Bigfoot enthusiasts has endured in the decades since it surfaced. Several individuals have come forward claiming that they were involved in creating the video as a hoax, though Patterson and Gimlin have always maintained their sincerity.

In another part of the world, in Tibet and Nepal, a different ape-like creature is believed to stalk the snowy Himalayan mountains. This creature, mostly known from sightings, footprints, and a few suspicious hair specimens, is known as the Yeti. In Tibetan, the name means “bear from the rocky place”.

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The Yeti, or Abominable Snowman
 

Its other common name, the Abominable Snowman, is believed to have been a mistranslation of the name “metoh-kangmi”, which means “man-bear snowman”. While interviewing members of a returning expedition to Mount Everest, Henry Newman translated the word “metoh” as “filthy” instead of “man-bear”. He used the more eloquent sounding “abominable” and the name stuck.

There are many other ape-like cryptid sightings from around the world, including the skunk-ape of Florida, the Batutut of Vietnam and Laos, and the Yowie of Australia. What could be the explanation for these creatures? Some believe they are escaped apes from zoos, or that the footprints are misidentified wolf or bear tracks.

True believers, however, are convinced that these creatures are represent a prehistoric but still-living member of the primate order, such as the ancient ape Gigantopithecus.

 

Mysterious Moth Creatures

One legendary creature from a more recent era is the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. For about a year between 1966 and 1967, numerous people reported seeing a large, man-sized creature with huge wings and glowing red eyes.

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Mothman
 

In addition to the Mothman, many people in the Point Pleasant area during this time period reported seeing “men in black”, unidentified flying objects, and other strange occurrences. All of this activity led up to a tragic bridge collapse in December of 1967.

Since then, the Mothman has come to be associated with predicting catastrophic events, and in more recent times the Mothman has been sighted in many other areas, including Chicago, Illinois and Moscow, Russia.

What could the Mothman be? Some believe it’s a supernatural creature, or an alien, or the result of a military experiment. The skeptics believe it could be a large bird, like a heron, an owl, or a sandhill crane, that people are mistaking for the cryptid.

A similar cryptid, known as the Flatwoods Monster, was also seen in West Virginia about fifteen years before the Mothman. Like the Mothman, its description has led many to believe that an owl might be the most likely explanation.

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Could this be the Mothman?
 

No one knows for sure what people are seeing, but the Mothman’s popularity continues. It has achieved a certain degree of internet fame, and has been the subject of several movies. There’s also a yearly festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia that began in 2002, and a 12 foot tall statue of the Mothman was unveiled in the town in 2003.

 

Fearsome Folklore

The previously discussed cryptids represent just a small example of the creatures that some believe are out there somewhere, despite the lack of concrete evidence supporting their existence. Many of these creatures have their roots in local folklore, like the Jackalope or the Furry Trout, both of which appear in the “Fearsome Critter” legends of early North American lumberjacks. Another well-known cryptid, the Jersey Devil, is rooted in the folklore of New Jersey and Philadelphia, and is said to stalk the woods of the Pine Barrens.

While some of these critters might be more likely to exist than others, the bottom line is the same: These mysterious maybe-creatures continue to fascinate and captivate us. Despite the wealth of scientific knowledge available to people today, there is still much that remains unknown. We are constantly discovering new and amazing things that shed new light on the world as we know it.

Sometimes, we even get some answers. The legendary Kraken, for example, was an octopus-like beast of Scandinavian folklore that was believed to attack ships. Today, we know that the sailors who told tales of the Kraken were likely describing giant squids. While tales of the Kraken date back to around 1250, the creature we now know as the giant squid wasn’t described until around 600 years later, when stranded specimens washing up on the beach became relatively common.

Giant Squid
Giant Squid
 

On top of that, it wasn’t until 2002 that we would have our first ever images of a living adult giant squid. And video footage of a live adult would not be obtained until 2006. It just goes to show – you never know when a creature that begins as a legendary beast of folklore will turn out to be a species eventually recognized by science!

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