To use a simple definition, cryptids are animals whose existence is unproven.
Is there, for example, a winged beast with cloven hooves and the head of a goat stalking the New Jersey Pine Barrens? The answer is almost certainly “no.”
Reported sightings of this so-called “Jersey Devil” go way back. It’s said that Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon‘s brother, encountered the thing sometime in the 19th century. Yet no corpse or live specimen has ever been documented by the scientific community.
Take it from skeptic Michael Shermer, who wrote the following breakdown in his foreword to “Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie and Other Famous Cryptids” by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero:
“In order to name a new species, taxonomists [scientists who name and classify organisms] must have a type specimen — a holotype — from which a detailed description can be made, photographs taken, models cast and a professional scientific analysis published.”
How then should we deal with cryptid claims and anecdotes? Shermer writes that “until a body is produced, skepticism is the appropriate response.” Still, whether you believe in any of these unverified creatures or not, nobody can deny their cultural significance.
Some cryptids are economic powerhouses, drawing tourists to places that might otherwise get overlooked. Cryptids have also been immortalized by soap brands, Minor League Baseball teams and low-budget Disney movies. Heck, at least one of them prompted an official memo from the U.S. Embassy in Nepal.
From Mongolian Deathworms to Mokele-Mbembe, here are 12 cryptids that have garnered celebrity status.
1. The Loch Ness Monster, aka Nessie
“Loch Ness monster Spotted Again!” declared the Sept. 25, 2021, edition of the New York Post. Drone footage appearing to show a huge, long-necked animal beneath Loch Ness — a 22-square-mile (56-square-kilometer) lake in northern Scotland — had been recently uploaded to the internet, as reported by the Post.
Plesiosaurs, for the record, were seagoing reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs between about 201 and 66 million years ago. Many species had long necks, small heads and needle-shaped teeth.
Perhaps what people are really seeing is some type of misidentified native fish. Or maybe Scotland’s geology is playing tricks on us.
Loch Ness is bordered by a natural fault line that sometimes produces tremors. Those can send bubbles and waves dancing across the water’s surface. Viewed from a distance, such disturbances might possibly be mistaken for the thrashings of a giant lake beast.
2. The Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman
Most “eyewitness” testimonies say this cryptid has brown, black or red-brown fur. So why are Hollywood yetis almost always white-haired? (The “Monsters Inc.” depiction of the mysterious animal leaves Pixar with some explaining to do.)
A shaggy biped with ties to Central Asian folklore, the yeti is said to dwell in the Himalayan Mountains and Tibetan Plateau. Cryptozoologists usually interpret it as some kind of primate — possibly akin to the orangutan.
Stories about weird footprints in the snow beds around Mt. Everest made yetis world famous during the early 20th century. Eventually, the U.S. government took notice. On Nov. 30, 1959, the American embassy in Nepal released a document outlining the official regulations for yeti hunters in the area.
Believers will tell you the creature’s got glowing red eyes. Other attributes include massive wings and a tall, vaguely humanoid stature.
In 1966, the “Point Pleasant Register” started reporting on Mothman sightings. When the nearby Silver Bridge over the Ohio River collapsed Dec. 15, 1967 — killing 46 people — there were rumors that Mothman was connected to the disaster.
Those rumblings inspired John Keel’s 1975 book “The Mothman Prophecies” and its 2002 film adaptation (which starred Richard Gere and Laura Linney).
Mothman wasn’t the only cryptid to go Hollywood, as it were.
In case you hadn’t heard, this thing is supposed to be a huge water monster resembling the herbivorous, long-necked and very much extinct dinosaur, Brontosaurus (aka Apatosaurus).
During the early 20th century, animal merchant Carl Hagenbeck popularized the belief that non-avian dinosaurs were still at large in Africa. Back in his day, a lot of museum displays portrayed Brontosaurus and its kin as water-bound lake creatures.
Yet there’s no evidence to support this. Indeed, thanks to bone and trackway evidence, it’s now clear that the magnificent animals were fully terrestrial landlubbers.
What on Earth drove the mayor of Canovanas, Puerto Rico, to form an armed posse with 200 people and a caged goat?
Monster stories, that’s what.
The year was 1995 and there’d been some horrific reports about a mysterious beast slaughtering domestic animals left and right. It was said the creature drained the blood of its victims, leaving fatal injuries behind.
Eventually, it became known as “El Chupacabra,” which means “the goat sucker” in Spanish.
Over in Mexico and the southwestern United States, coyotes and raccoons suffering from mange — which can render them all but hairless — are occasionally misidentified as chupacabras.
6. Mongolian Death Worm
On his expeditions to Mongolia during the 1920s, American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews heard stories about a bizarre animal called the “allergorhai-horhai.” Since then, it’s picked up a wicked nickname: the “Mongolian Death Worm.”
As recounted by Scientfic American, he told these tales in a 1922 Asia Magazine article, writing that the organism “is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor legs and is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert, whither we were going.”
Cryptozoologist Ivan Mackerle later added to the mythos, claiming the worm could kill full-grown men with a high-voltage electrical attack.
7. Sasquatch, aka Bigfoot
Sasquatches need no introduction. A 2020 poll found that 11 percent of U.S. adults believe the legendary, ape-like creature really does exist.
The term “Bigfoot” originated in a 1958 newspaper column. Written by Andrew Gonzoli of the Humboldt Times, the piece describes mysterious footprints that were found at a construction site in northern California.
Fast-forward to 2003. That year, Raymond Wallace — a logger who’d worked on the site — passed away at age 84. Wallace’s surviving children told the press their late father had faked those monster prints in ’58. His tools of choice? Feet-shaped wooden carvings.
Photos and plaster casts of other alleged Bigfoot tracks have been met with skepticism from zoologists. But, at least we’ll always have “Harry and the Hendersons.”
The jackalope is supposedly a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope. The antlered critter is rumored to be quite the singer and able to mimic human sounds.
Originating from the American West, taxidermy pranks gave rise to this mythical creature; seeing “dead” jackalopes mounted alongside actual taxidermied animals prompted tales of “live” jackalopes.
Its presence in pop culture, spanning advertisements and tourist attractions, underscores its cultural significance. Wyoming has even tried to have the jackalope declared the state’s official mythical creature!
9. The Jersey Devil
We briefly mentioned the Jersey Devil at the beginning of this article, but we didn’t give it a proper introduction. The mysterious animal with a horselike head, bat wings, hooves and a forked tail may be one of the more famous cryptids, but it has a far more famous creator: Benjamin Franklin.
That’s right, one of the most important figures in U.S. history is at the root of the Jersey Devil legend. A rival publisher didn’t take too kindly to Franklin’s jests in print, which led the Founding Father to further prod the rival and link him with Satan.
The joking rumors evolved over the years, and more than a century later, the Atlantic Monthly published an article that cited one southern New Jersey woman’s sighting of “the Leeds Devil” (now known as the Jersey Devil) in the woods outside her small, rural town.
10. Wampus Cat
The Wampus cat is a legendary creature steeped in Appalachian folklore. Rooted in Cherokee mythology, the tale tells of a woman who, after eavesdropping on a tribal ceremony, was cursed to transform into a half-human, half-feline beast.
Descriptions vary, but it’s often portrayed with a human face, feline body and a haunting cry. There have been reported sightings in the Smoky Mountains region, particularly in Tennessee.
Described as a long-necked aquatic creature resembling a plesiosaur, Champy is essentially the Northeast’s answer to the Loch Ness monster. The elusive creature allegedly inhabits Lake Champlain (hence the name “Champy”), which borders Vermont and New York.
The first sighting was in 1609, when French cartographer Samuel de Champlain allegedly spotted something strange in the lake’s shadows. Eyewitness reports from one local resident after the next surged in the 20th century, the most famous of them being tied to the 1977 Mansi photograph.
While the photo showed no signs of tampering, it’s still not considered concrete proof of the the lake monster’s existence. Skeptics attribute repeated sightings to logs or fish, but local communities embrace the Champy legend through festivals and tourism.
12. Honey Island Swamp Monster
Originating from Louisiana’s Honey Island Swamp (we know, really creative naming on this one), the creature’s myth involves a circus train derailment in the 1960s, supposedly releasing chimpanzees into the wild. Given how similar the Honey Island Swamp Monster‘s appearance reportedly is to Bigfoot’s, it seems particularly unlikely that such a creature descended from chimps.
Described as ape-like with gray hair, yellow or red eyes, and a foul odor, the monster’s been linked to lore of native tribes such as the Choctaw and Houma. Two air traffic controllers reported the first documented sighting in the 1960s, and though there have been numerous others, skeptics have dismissed each one as a random bear attack or just another hoax.
This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.
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