The term cryptid refers to any creature whose existence is not supported by science. This can include animals that were thought to be extinct but may still exist, as well as legendary creatures that exist only through stories and circumstantial evidence. Although most of these creatures are undoubtedly just myths, they do occupy a unique place in popular culture, and it’s worth noting that animals like the Giant Squid and even the Mountain Gorilla were once also the stuff of legend. Here’s a guide to some of the more famous creatures that might be lurking somewhere out there.
10. The Mongolian Death Worm
Supposedly found in Asia’s massive Gobi Desert, the Mongolian Death Worm is said to be reddish in color and measure anywhere from two to five feet in length. It is also known as the Allghoi khorkhoi, or intestine worm, because of its supposed resemblance to a cow intestine. The Death Worm is legendary among the nomadic tribes of the region, and it has even been blamed for several deaths. It is said that the worm moves beneath the desert sands, only surfacing to attack its unsuspecting victims by spitting some kind of venom or acid at them. The worm has also been said to possess the ability to emit an electric charge, and some have even credited it with psychic powers, saying that it can kill a person just by looking at them. In the early nineties, an expedition was mounted to interview locals and try to search for the Mongolian Death Worm, but it uncovered no evidence beyond stories, and even these were only said to arise after the nomads consumed hefty amounts of the local vodka.
“Thunderbird” is a blanket term for impossibly huge birds that are frequently spotted across North America. Known as “Rocs” in Europe and Asia, these massive creatures are purported to have wingspans as big as fourteen feet, and at least one story from the 1970s describes two Thunderbirds attacking a group of young boys and lifting one off the ground. Thunderbirds are frequently compared to the mythical Native American creature of the same name, a bird that was said to have the supernatural power to create thunder by flapping its wings. Perhaps the most famous story of the cryptid version of the creature dates back to 1890, when it is said two cowboys killed a lizard-like winged creature and dragged its corpse back to a town, but this story has been dismissed as an urban legend. For their part, ornithologists and other scientists say that such creatures could not survive in a modern ecosystem, and even if they could, they would be spotted and photographed by bird watchers. The picture is a fake.
8. Phantom Cats
Like Thunderbirds, the term “Phantom Cats” is a title given to any number of large predatory felines that have been spotted in Asia, Oceania, and Europe. They are also referred to as ABCs, or Alien Big Cats, and are said to resemble Jaguars or Cougars in appearance. The most famous stories of Phantom Cats come from the UK, where in the 1970s the so-called Beast of Exmoor was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of sheep. The British media jumped on the stories, with one paper offering a monetary reward for killing or capturing the creature. Even the British government got involved in the search, sending a number of Royal Marines to the area, but although several soldiers claimed to have seen the creature, no specimens were found. A similar creature, known as The Beast of Bodmin, surfaced in the nineties, but no conclusive evidence of its existence was ever uncovered, and a subsequent investigation concluded that the area simply doesn’t have the climate or food supply to support such giant cats.
Considered by some to be a modern dinosaur or even a spirit, the Mokele-Mbembe is a water creature said to exist in the Congo River Basin in central Africa. It is said to be a large, reptilian creature with a body like an elephant and a long neck. Stories and sightings of the Mokele-Mbembe can be found as far back as 1776, and since the early 1900s missionaries and explorers that visit the region have been told of a massive sauropod that dwells in the local rivers. Witnesses claim it resembles a dragon or a Brontosaurus, though no reliable photographic evidence of the monster exists. There are several stories of local hunters killing a Mokele-Mbembe with spears, with one tale relating that when the creature was brought back to the village for a celebration and cooked, all who ate some of it soon died. In recent years, a number of expeditions have gone to the jungles in search of the water beast, but no evidence of its existence has been uncovered.
The Mothman has been described as a large, man-sized creature with the wings of a moth and red eyes. It was spotted by a number of residents of Charleston and Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967 prior to the collapse of a suspension bridge that resulted in the deaths of 46 people. After the bridge collapse, sightings of the Mothman died out, leading many to speculate that the creature only appears before disasters. A number of explanations were put forth, among them that the Mothman was actually a large bird or owl, or that the sightings were all hoaxes, but others speculated that the creature was some kind of ghost or even an extra-terrestrial. The story had a huge impact on pop culture, thanks to a popular book and film about the events, and to this day the city of Point Pleasant continues to hold a “Mothman Festival” every year.
5. The Jersey Devil
Perhaps the only cryptid to be the mascot of a major sports franchise (in this case the New Jersey hockey team), the Jersey Devil is one of the most well known folk creatures. Its legend dates back to the 1700s, when it is said to have been borne of a witch called Mother Leeds and “the devil himself.” The creature supposedly has a horse’s head and hooves, a long neck, and large, bat-like wings. It’s eyes are said to glow red, and when spotted it gives out a terrifying, high-pitched squeal. It is purported to haunt the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, and over the years it has been credited with the deaths of a number of livestock, and is even said to have poisoned local creeks and streams. There have been countless sightings of the Jersey Devil in and around the Pine Barrens over the years, but most famously in 1909, when thousands of people as far away as Pennsylvania claimed to have spotted it. In the 1960s, a $10,000 reward was offered for the capture of the Jersey Devil, but it has gone unclaimed, and new sightings of the creature are reported every year.
Also known as “The Abominable Snowman,” the Yeti is a large, ape-like creature that is said to exist in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet. The creature is well documented in the oral history and myths of the local people, but its legend grew as soon as westerners began to climb Himalayan peaks like Mt. Everest. Dating back to the 1800s, a number of climbers have reported seeing a large primate walking on two legs, and even more have discovered impossibly large footprints in the mountain snow. Famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reported seeing such footprints during their historic trek up Mt. Everest, though both would later deny the Yeti’s existence. As recently as 1984, an American mountaineer reported being stalked by the creature as he climbed Everest, but he was unable to produce any convincing photographs. Like most of the more well known cryptids, the Yeti legend has given rise to many hoaxes, including a famous piece of film faked by a Fox television show. Still, though most remain skeptical, the Yeti legend has been given an unusual amount of credibility among scientists, if only because the remoteness and sheer size of the Himalayas has prevented any kind of adequate investigation from being undertaken.
3. El Chupacabra
El Chupacabra is one of the most well known cryptids in popular culture, and has supposedly been spotted in the U.S., Latin America, and even Russia. Its name literally means “goat sucker,” because of its supposed method of attacking and drinking the blood of goats and other livestock. El Chupacabra was first spotted in Puerto Rico in the mid-nineties, and is said to be reptilian in appearance, with a row of spines on its back and sharp fangs. Witnesses claim the creature’s eyes glow red, and it is said that it leaves behind a distinct scent of sulfur. Victims of El Chupacabra, which have included cows, goats, and chickens, are typically found dead and drained of all blood, usually with fang or puncture marks somewhere on the body. The creatures have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of livestock around the world, and unlike most cryptids, a number of supposed Chupacabras have even been killed and examined, but nearly all have been determined to be dogs or coyotes with severe cases of mange.
Perhaps the most recognizable of all the famous cryptids, the Sasquatch is a bipedal, ape-like creature that is alleged to inhabit the forests of the American Pacific Northwest. Also known as the “Bigfoot” because of its especially large footprints, the creature is said to weigh more than 500 pounds and stand anywhere from seven to ten feet tall. The Sasquatch legend dates back to the Lummi Indian tribe, who passed down stories of the Ts’emekwe, a large, brown-haired ape creature that was said to stalk the forests. The modern Bigfoot story began in 1958, when a bulldozer operator in California discovered a number of huge footprints at one of his work sites. The Associated Press eventually picked up a story about the find, and soon people around the country were searching for the Sasquatch. Another breakthrough came in 1967, when two men named Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin claimed they had filmed the Bigfoot walking through the woods near Bluff Creek, California. Their footage, now known as the Patterson-Gimlin film, remains the most famous evidence of the Bigfoot’s existence, despite a later claim by a friend of Patterson’s who said he had dressed in an ape suit to help the men engineer a hoax. Real or not, the Sasquatch phenomenon has been a source of constant debate and speculation for over fifty years, and stories of similar creatures, like the Yowie in Australia and the Yeren in China, can be found all across the world.
1. The Loch Ness Monster
Probably the most well known of all cryptids is the Loch Ness Monster, a famed lake creature supposedly found in Scotland’s Loch Ness. Its legend dates back to the sixth century, when an Irish monk called St. Columba is said to have confronted a water beast after it killed a man by dragging him underwater. Since then there have been thousands of sightings of the creature, which is affectionately known as “Nessie.” Supposed photos of the monster are frequently put forth to prove its existence, but most are inconclusive, and many, such as the famous “Surgeon’s Photo,” have been revealed as hoaxes. Opinions differ on just what Nessie is, with some claiming it to be a giant eel, while others have said it could be a massive reptile or even a Plesiosaur. Many expeditions have been mounted in search of the monster, but none have been successful in either proving or disproving its existence. Scientists generally dismiss Nessie as a fantasy, but cryptozoologists and other believers have argued that the Loch, which has depths of over 700 feet, could support such a massive creature, which they hypothesize might be able travel from the ocean to the loch via an underwater passage. Whatever the case, the Loch Ness monster and its enduring mystery have proven to be a multi-million dollar industry, with countless tourists visiting the site each year in search of the elusive water beast.