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Saturday, September 4, 2010

10 cryptids that turned out to be real animals

by Joan Seth

Throughout history, many people have described encountering animals that, either to contemporary views or evidence, are too fantastical to be true. Did you know that in the mid 19th century, European explorers visiting Africa were ridiculed after describing an ferocious animal which could stand upright like a man, with black hair and used their hands to feed? People had thought that this was a mythical creature.

It wasn't until many years later when dead specimens were brought back, that people came to believe in the existence of an animal called the Gorilla.

This could be what is happening currently. Many supposed cryptids have not been proven to be real animals sufficiently of their existence due to lack of proof or sightings.

So without further ado, this is a list of 10 animals which were once labelled as cryptids.

1. Kangaroo

Yes, first on the list is the Kangaroo, which could be surprising to you, since it is so common nowadays. But early settlers in Australia had described bizarre creatures never before seen by Europeans. They wrote of creatures with heads like deer that stood upright like men and hopped like frogs. The creatures sometimes sported two heads – one on their shoulders, and one on the stomach.

Such accounts were understandably disregarded and ridiculed by fellow colleagues. However, all changed in the 1770s, when a dead specimen of this odd beast was exhibited in England as a public curiosity.

A leaping Kangaroo

2. Cuvier's beaked whale

This whale is the only species of the genus Ziphius. In the Middle Ages, this animal was thought to be a monster with a fish body and a head of an owl. It was also said to be able to pierce ships with its sharp fins.

Today, this creature is found as far north as the Shetland Islands and as south as Tierra Del Fuego at the tip of South America. It is the only member of the genus Ziphius, which bears the name of its legendary identity. Georges Cuvier, a French naturalist, first described it in 1823.

A Cuvier's beaked whale swimming

3. evil Bird

The Devil Bird, or Ulama was described by Sri Lankan fokelore as a horned bird capable of producing blood-curdling screams similar to those of a wailing woman. Its screams were perceived as a omen of death. For centuries, the nocturnal cries of the Devil Bird were the only evidence of its existence; Western science wrote if off as mere superstition.

Then, in 2001, the Devil Bird was identified as a new species of owl, the spot-bellied eagle owl (bubo nipalensis). The largest of all Sri Lankan owls, the bubo nipalensis matches the description of the Ulama perfectly, down to its characteristic screech and tufted “horns”. Although some debate still remains as to the true identity of the Devil-Bird, the spot-bellied eagle owl stands as the most compelling source of inspiration for this mysterious creature.

A Spot Bellied Eagle Owl. Notice the horn-like feathers on its head.

4. Coelacanth

The Coelacanth first appeared in the fossil record in the Middle Devonian. It has been thought to be extinct for 80 million years, until the first Latimeria specimen was found off the east coast of South Africa, off the Chalumna River in 1938.

Local fishermen had long known about this fish, Hendrik Goosen, a ship captain had caught such a specimen in East London, South Africa in 1938. Unable to identify the species, he sought the help of the curator of the museum in East London. The curator failed to identify the fish too, until Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith positively identified it as the Coelacanth.

A Coelacanth, living fossil

5. Platypus

Early European settlers first encountered this strange creature in 1978. It was described as a egg laying mammal with a duck bill, beaver tail and venomous spikes. Even after a dead specimen was sent back to Britain, scientists thought it was a hoax - a elaborate sewn-together fraud.

Today, we know of the Platypus as the only mammals, as well as Echidnas, who lay eggs. It also swims with webbed feet, uses electrolocation to hunt, and possesses an ankle spur that, in males, can deliver a powerful injection of venom. While non-lethal to humans, this venom is excruciatingly painful and is not responsive to most pain-killers.

Platypus swimming

6. Sea Serpent

Throughout ancient history, Sea Serpents have been commonly described in many folklore and myths. From the Kraken to the Leviathain to Jörmungandr to the Loch Ness Monster, sightings of Sea Serpents have been plentiful.

Although classically regarded either as mis-identifications or hoaxes, some scientists believe that legendary sea serpent sightings can be attributed to certain animals.

The Oarfish is similar in appearance to a snake, it has a highly elongated body which can grow up to 17 meters long. Although commonly found in many parts of the world, it is elusive and rarely seen live; usually specimens are caught or collected when washed ashore.

7. Komodo Dragon

By the early 20th century, Western scientists viewed tales of monstrous land crocodiles with skepticism. Specimens were produced in Java, but research into these creatures failed into obscurity as World War I began.

In 1926, an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History confirmed that the tales of giant lizards were true. W. Douglas Burden, the leader of the expedition, returned with twelve preserved specimens and two live ones.

These lizards were once thought by the locals to able to either breathe fire or venom, also that they were the reincarnations of the fellow people.

A Komodo Dragon

8. Mountain Gorilla

As mentioned earlier, for centuries, tales of large “ape-men” in East Africa have captivated explorers and natives alike. Numerous tribes have legends of massive, hairy creatures that would kidnap and eat humans, overpowering them with their ferocity and strength. The creatures go by many names, among them ngila, ngagi, and enge-ena.

In the sixteenth century, English explorer Andrew Battel spoke of man-like apes that would visit his campfire at night, and in 1860, explorer Du Chaillu wrote of violent, bloodthirsty forest monsters. Up until the twentieth century, many of these tales were ignored or discounted.

n 1902, German officer Captain Robert von Beringe shot one of these “man-apes” in the Virunga region of Rwanda. Bringing it back to Europe with him, he introduced the world to a new species of ape.

Mountain Gorillas

9. Okapi

The Okapi was known to the ancient Egyptians; shortly after its discovery by Europeans, an ancient carved image of the animal was discovered in Egypt. For years, Europeans in Africa had heard of an animal that they came to call the 'African unicorn'.

Despite descriptions from explorers and even skins, Western science rejected the existence of such a creature, viewing it as nothing more than a fantastical chimera of real animals. Expeditions uncovered nothing, and it would seem the “African unicorn” was just as mythical as its namesake.

All that ended in 1901 when dead specimens and eventually live specimens were presented. Today, it is the only living relative of the giraffe, sharing a similar body structure and its characteristic long blue tongue. However, the markings on its back legs resemble that of a zebra’s stripes.

An Okapi

10. Giant Squid

Tales of giant squid have been common among mariners since ancient times, and may have led to the Norse legend of the kraken, a tentacled sea monster as large as an island capable of engulfing and sinking any ship.

The Lusca of the Caribbean and Scylla in Greek mythology may also derive from giant squid sightings. Eyewitness accounts of other sea monsters like the sea serpent are also thought to be mistaken interpretations of giant squid.

A portion of a giant squid was secured by the French gunboat Alecton in 1861 leading to wider recognition of the genus in the scientific community. From 1870 to 1880, many squid were stranded on the shores of Newfoundland. In 2004, a complete specimen was first collected, while in 2006, a live specimen was first filmed.

Since then, the giant squid has passed on from being a legend, into the animal kingdom.

A Giant Squid filmed for the first time in Japan, 2006

Some pictures and text in this article are granted permission to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; and as such are reproduced in this article.


  1. Oh sweet mama, well written!

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. :)

  3. Amazing post!
    It is really cool! I never realized that people were so skeptical of such things. I can understand that in the old days when not much was known, but like today it is Just considered the Norm. you would Not dare question the existence of a wallaby (sp?) or Kangaroo.

    I guess what I am trying to say is. We don't really Know everything. and Should learn to keep an open mind.

    Thanks for the informative and well researched and written article!
    Kudos ;)

  4. Awesome! I'm doing research on this so this really helps! Thanks!

  5. Do you think other cryptids are real?


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