This week’s entry: List of cryptids
What it’s about: The chupacabra, the jackalope, and the Jersey Devil are just some of the best-known names on a long list of cryptids, animals that probably don’t exist, although stories persist. While astonishingly, no one has managed to get a definitive photo of any of the creatures on the list even in the age of cellphone cameras, plenty of people still insist that the truth is out there.
Strangest fact: The U.S., Canada, and Iceland all share stories of the same hairy fish. The fur-bearing trout is purportedly native to the cold waters of the Great Lakes and rivers in Iceland, where the ice-cold water necessitates a thick coat of shaggy fur to keep the fish warm. Oddly, there have also been sightings in far-less-cold Arkansas, but the Arkansas variety owes its existence to several jugs of hair tonic being spilled into the Arkansas River. At least, that’s the scientific explanation. The fur-bearing trout was first spotted in America in 1929, when an account was published in Montana Wildlife. But tales of furry Icelandic fish go back to at least 1855, when the newspaper Nordri described a trout with reddish hair. Disturbingly, a folktale stated that if a man ate the fish, “he would become pregnant, and that his scrotum would have to be cut open to deliver the baby.” Sleep well tonight, fellas!
Biggest controversy: We’ve already discussed Jack The Ripper in this column, but London had an even more terrifying menace 50 years earlier. Spring-Heeled Jack captured the public’s imagination in Britain to much the same degree, despite not leaving a trail of bodies, except in urban myth. This Jack supposedly had claws for hands with metallic nails and glowing red eyes, could breathe fire, and leap tremendous distances. As nearly every tale ended with his victim escaping in the nick of time, he’s considered to be either an example of mass hysteria, or a series of macabre pranks. However, the Lord Mayor Of London took the stories seriously enough that he instructed the police to track down Spring-Heeled Jack, although he was skeptical that he was anything worse than a man in a costume.
Thing we were happiest to learn: There are plenty of Sasquatches out there. Well, not Bigfoot exactly, but there are numerous reports of large, hairy, mysterious primates roaming in wild places all over the world. Second best known is the Yeti, first sighted during a British expedition up Mount Everest in 1921. The Philippines have Amomongo, who lives in caves and feasts on the entrails of goats or chickens. The forests of Singapore are home to the Bukit Timah Monkey Man, a supposedly immortal creature locals have been sighting since 1805, who must be very good at hiding, since the rain forest he occupies measures only .62 square miles. The South American rain forest is the hiding place of the Maricoxi, ape-like creatures who have been reported to attack humans with bows and arrows. Scotland’s second-most-famous monster is Am Fear Liath Mòr, or the Big Grey Man, who haunts the summit of Ben Macdui, Scotland’s second-tallest mountain. Malaysians have been sighting Orang Mawas in the jungle of Johor since the 1870s, and after a fresh footprint was photographed in 2005, the government announced an expedition to find more evidence—the first time a country has acknowledged a cryptid officially.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The Loch Ness Monster has a whole lot of knockoffs to deal with. Affectionately known as “Nessie,” the Scottish lake-dweller is the world’s most famous cryptid, as well as the oldest, with the first sighting recorded by St. Columba in 565. But with fame comes hangers-on and wannabes, so now there’s a Bessie in Lake Erie; Bownessie in Lake Windermere, U.K.; Chessie in Chesapeake Bay; Issie in Lake Ikeda, Japan; Mussie in Muskrat Lake, Ontario; and Tessie in Lake Tahoe. There are also lake monsters in murky water all over the world, (so many, in fact, they have their own list), with at least the decency to have an original name.
Also noteworthy: While most of the cryptids lurking out there are animals, not all of them are. In fact, there are several man-eating trees out there. Central America has the ya-te-veo (literally, “I see you”), whose branches resemble “serpents in an angry discussion,” which attempt to devour passersby. Americans visiting Africa in the late 1800s also fed into the “dark continent” myth by describing man-eating tress in places as disparate as Madagascar and Sudan.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Some cryptids turn out to be the real deal. Wikipedia has a list of megafauna discovered in modern times, (the term “megafauna” usually refers to large, extinct animals like the wooly mammoth). The list includes animals wrongly believed to be extinct, like the coelacanth, and animals unknown from the fossil record who were nonetheless discovered in the flesh, including several varieties of tapir and squid, and even the bonobo. There’s also a short list of animals believed to be hoaxes until proven otherwise, like the giant squid. Yes, there was a time when no one thought the giant panda was a real thing.
Further down the Wormhole: Some cryptids are less unidentified animal and more supernatural creature. Such is the Aswang, a Filipino legend that combines elements of the werewolf, witch, and vampire. They’re related to the vampire-like Manananggal, which has been a Filipino horror-movie trope for decades. The Manananggal even made it into 2012 American found-footage horror anthology V/H/S. That film consists of a series of shorts, one of which involves three friends who discover a haunted house on Halloween. They’re in costume as a pirate, a teddy bear, and the Unabomber. The notorious luddite terrorist was captured 20 years ago, so we’ll relive his story next time, as The A.V. Club observes 1996 Week.