When I suggested that I write an article on cryptids, I was dismayed to learn that no-one in the office knew what they were. Sam, our esteemed editor, hadn’t even heard of them. To which I said, “exactly!”, whilst adjusting my monocle and twirling my moustache. You see, a “cryptid” is a “hidden” animal, one that eludes capture or investigation by modern science. Cryptozoology, the name of the study dedicated to them, is controversial in biologist circles and is considered a pseudoscience, but it still persists today, as skeptic societies, UFO hunters and other assorted kooks go hunting for these elusive beasts.
Most people have heard of the “big three” of the cryptozoological school—Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman or Yeti. But this is just the tip of the iceberg-that-may-or-may-not-be-a-giant-polar-sea-serpent-if-you-look-closely. For, you see, even stranger creatures exist out there, from deepest Africa to the polar regions of the Terra Incognita. According to George M. Eberhart, writer for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, for an animal to qualify as a cryptid, “[it] must be big, weird, dangerous or significant to humans in some way”. So here are ten of the biggest, weirdest and most dangerous cryptids I know.
Successfully resurrecting a dinosaur from what little fossil DNA has been recovered has been described as trying to rewrite the whole works of Shakespeare from a few sentences. Until we find an amber-trapped mosquito, our next best bet is to explore the uncharted forests and swamps around the Republic of the Congo, namely the Likoula swamp, where reports of large reptiles had been cited by explorers and locals in the 30s and 40s. While not strictly a dinosaur, one described is the Emela-Ntouka, meaning “the killer of elephants”. Eyewitnesses describe the beast as being elephant-sized, with a crocodilian tail and a single ivory horn on its head. Despite its vegetarian diet, it has been reported to violently gore elephants and water buffalos. Opinions are split on whether it could be a triceratops-like dinosaur or some undiscovered species of semiaquatic rhino. I personally lean toward the dinosaur explanation, because dinosaurs.
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Another native cryptid of central Africa is the pterodactyl Kongamato. Its name means “breaker of boats” in the Kaonde language, as it has been reported to overwhelm local fishermen and break their canoes. The Kongamato was first described by explorer Richard Melland in 1923 in his book In Witch-Bound Africa. Locals described it to him as boasting a wingspan of two metres, larger than any known bat, and fiery red skin. A later corroboration by the Duke of Windsor in 1925 with a local man attacked in a swamp confirmed that the beast best resembled a pterodactyl. Most artists depict the creature as resembling the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, which has a fossil record in nearby Tanzania and has a similar size wingspan. If animals like crocodiles and turtles have survived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, could it be that extinction have slipped a few cheeky pterosaurs past as well?
Aside from bacteria and fungal spores that have been found at 30,000 feet, no living thing on Earth survives solely in the air. However, every now and again, UFO hunters and photographers file reports of gigantic, near-translucent rod-shaped structures floating in the background of their pictures. These atmosphere beasts, also known as “skyfish” or “air rods”, are believed to be alien organisms that inhabit our atmosphere, or the evolved form of worms and fish that have been sucked up by the Earth’s water cycle. They feed on bacteria in the atmosphere like a whale feeds on krill, and suspend themselves on long ribbon-like fins that undulate along the length of their body in the manner of a stingray. Unfortunately, a lot of the reports of these creatures turn out to be camera bugs, literally. An investigation by CCTV (that’s China Central Television, not the spy camera network) found that these air rods were actually optical illusions created by the wingbeats of insects, which camera optics pick up as rod-like tracks of light. But I want to believe…
Our editor’s favourite cryptid, the Wild Haggis (Haggis scoticus), roams the highlands of Scotland and is believed to be the source of Scotland’s signature meat dish instead of the ignoble sheep. The left and right legs of the wild haggis are of different lengths, making it perfectly adapted to traipsing the highland terrain of Scotland, albeit only if it wishes to move in one direction. The wild haggis exists in both clockwise and anticlockwise-moving varieties, and because of this, mating of the species can only be achieved between one anticlockwise- and one clockwise-moving animal, so that the mounting male can maintain his balance upon a female. It is currently unknown which variety is the dominant or recessive trait, but Scottish locals have encouraged tourists to go haggis hunting in the hopes of better understanding this mysterious creature.
The Moehau Man
Aotearoa boasts a few cryptids of its own. You may have heard of the panther that stalks southern Canterbury or the “waitoreke”, the otter or platypus-like cryptid whose sightings extend back to early Māori settlement. We also have our own Bigfoot, the Moehau Man or the Maero, named after demonic humanoid creatures from Māori lore that were said to live in the uncharted forests of northern New Zealand. Specifically, he Moehau Man is believed to dwell around the Coromandel region. It stands around seven feet tall, is covered in fur and has arms that reach its knees. Reports of its existence from European settlers go back to the 1870s, when gold miners reported seeing large humanoid figures in the bush. Later reports in the 1950s and 70s believe that the cryptid might be an escaped gorilla or other large ape which, honestly, would still be pretty cool, or a tall tale told at the pub that got out of hand. In any case, I vote we get it on the new flag.
The platypus, the okapi (the giraffe’s only living relative), the komodo dragon and even the giant panda were all considered made-up at some point in history before cryptozoologists and ordinary scientists alike had proven that they actually existed. But the real king of told-you-so goes to the discovery of the kraken. You may know the colossal shipwrecking cephalopod of Scandinavian myth as either the heraldic animal of House Greyjoy, what Liam Neeson released in Clash of the Titans, and/or a particularly delectable brand of spiced whisky. Scientists today know it as Architeuthis or the giant squid. The mythology ends and the biology begins around 1853, and further oceanic investigations were met with skepticism, with one French Academy of Sciences member in 1861 calling the kraken “contradiction of the great laws of harmony and equilibrium that which have sovereign rule over living nature”. But once many specimens began to wash up on beaches, and still do today, giant squids will now and forever be a big middle tentacle to non-believers and cryptozoo-haters the world over.
Forget the Abominable Snowman, the Ningen is like an Abominable Slenderman, stalking boats and generally freaking people the fuck out. The Ningen was first documented by a Japanese whale “research” vessel in the Antarctic Circle that took photos of the arms, head and torso of a 30 ft long white humanoid figure in the water. Hence its name, which is the Japanese word for “human being”. The Ningen is either wholly or semi-aquatic, perfectly comfortable in the polar waters of the Antarctic Ocean, and blending in alongside the icebergs. They also only come out at night, making them difficult to document. They are a particularly popular discussion topic in Japanese cryptozoology and UFO-ology forums, with few photos of the beasts existing online. The full reports on the first encounter have been covered up by the Japanese government, only adding to the mystery.
Mongolian Death Worm
To the horror of Gobi Desert dwellers but to the delight of Dune fans, there supposedly exists a giant sand worm in Mongolia, known as the olgoi-khorkoi or “large intestinal worm”. The first mention of its existence was in 1926 by Roy Chapman Adams in his book On The Trail of Ancient Man, who first heard the creature described to him by the Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar. In fact, the worm is one of the rare political cryptids—the online encyclopedia The Cryptid Zoo states that “communism hampered investigation for many years” into the animal’s habitat and biology. Fortunately, enough proletarian accounts have been put together to give a relatively consistent report on the creature’s look and demeanor. The worm grows to a maximum of five feet long and can rapidly burrow through sand at high speeds. The worm has numerous methods of inflicting lethal wounds on its victims, either spitting acidic venom or generating a paralysing shock similar to the electric eel. Legends say it possesses the power to kill people from a distance by biting their footprints.
For centuries, reports of sea serpents and lake monsters have come all over the globe. Aside from the famous Loch Ness Monster, there’s also Ogopogo of British Columbia, Champ of Lake Champlain, Lariosauro of Italy, Issie of Japan, and the countless reports of sea serpents encountered on oceanic voyages. One current theory that unites all these disparate loch-a-likes is that they are all members of this species. Zeuglodon is the second name of the species Basilosaurus, which is not a reptile as its name would suggest, but actually a prehistoric whale. Palaeontologists used to assemble their bones into a upright cobra pose, assuming they were giant snakes. In reality, whales from 40 million years ago went through an awkward teenage phase of evolution where they were serpentine in shape with pointed toothy snouts like a dog, before settling into the blubbery piscine shape we all know and love. Analysis on their hip and thorax bones seem to suggest that they swam in a more eel-like fashion instead of the up-and-down tail strokes of modern era whales. The fossil record for the Zeuglodon stops around 20 million years ago, but it is believed that they survived to today and evolved to adapt to freshwater habitats, explaining the sea serpent sightings today.
Between 12 and 15 November 1966 two different couples in Point Pleasant, West Virginia reported a strange flying creature following their cars late at night. The creature was a five foot tall winged humanoid with a five foot wingspan. His eyes glow bright red in the manner of bicycle reflectors. And so the nocturnal flyer came to be known as the Mothman. The 1966 sightings became the basis for The Mothman Prophecies written by John Keel in 1975, who believes the Mothman is an alien emissary sent to warn humankind about future calamities, which he “corroborated” with UFO sightings and reports of Men in Black. These days, the Mothman is considered a local legend and since become a commercial sellout, its image used to promote community events in West Virginia and drum up local produce sales and garner attention from the local media. On a completely unrelated note, you can read all about its distaff counterpart, the Mothwoman, in my fortnightly comic Escape from Conspiracy Earth, which returns to Salient on the first week of the second trimester.