Inside: Cryptozoologists feel justified when one of their own is discovered. These five former cryptids brought smiles to the faces of many a cryptid hunter.
The Question, “What is fringe science?” Brings to Mind Cryptozoology
When you ask the question, ‘What is fringe science?’, cryptozoology is a term sure to come to mind. Former cryptids give cryptozoologists a reason to keep being excited by their field of study. Former cryptids give cryptozoologists street cred with their mainstream counterparts. Click To Tweet They give us hope that there are still interesting, unknown creatures to be discovered.
Patterns can be seen in the cryptids that have been identified as actually existing or in those having real counterparts that could be the inspiration for tales and legends:
- All found cryptids live in extremely isolated parts of the world.
- They are found in places that discourage human exploration and that has make the task of investigating their existence difficult with available technology.
- The creatures are usually solitary or display behaviors that make it unlikely they would be found interacting with humans.
These five former cryptids fall under one or all of the above categories and were at one time recognized only by legend and flimsy evidence. These are their stories.
Five Former Cryptids
1. Sea Serpents
There have been many ancient tales of sea serpents capable of sinking ships. Many of these sailor’s yarns are probably misidentification of sea debris or common animals. Some, however, are hard to dismiss. Some former cryptids must be explained by not one but a few living creatures. The stories of sea serpents seem to describe a few different creatures but two ocean dwellers, in particular, are considered the inspiration for many of the sailor’s yarns. [tweetthis]Giant eels and the oarfish are considered two heavy contenders for the identity of sea serpents.[/tweetthis]
A Sailor’s Yarn
One story that happened aboard the SS Tresco is interesting. The ship was sailing south of Cape Hatteras when a ship’s officer, Joseph Grey, saw what he at first thought was a derelict ship in the water.
“With a conviction that grew deeper, and ever more disquieting, we came to know that this thing could be no derelict, no object that hand of man had fashioned… Presently I noticed something dripping from the ugly lower jaw. Watching, I saw that it was saliva, of a dirty drab color, which dripped from the corners of the mouth.” —Joseph Ostens Grey, Second Officer, the SS Tresco
Joseph described a head that came out of water on a powerful neck. The creature was “dragon-like” with a body some 100 feet in length and eight feet across at its widest point.
The story was published in The Wide World Magazine but was considered merely a sailor’s yarn until the following entry from the Tresco’s log for Saturday May 30, 1903 was read:
10AM Passed school of sharks followed by a huge sea monster.
Deep-sea gigantism is a term used to explain the abundance of giant squid, crabs, tube worms and other creatures that sometimes emerge from the deepest oceans. In 1930, Danish marine biologist Anton Bruun captured a strange-looking creature in a fishing net near South Africa.
Although resembling a fish, it had thin, translucent body about six feet in length. Bruun knew it was a leptocephalus, an eel larva. However, he was somewhat perplexed as he knew adult eels could reach that size but their larva were usually on the order of 30 times smaller than their parents. An eel larva of 6 feet could thus grow into an adult of about 180 feet which is bigger than even a blue whale known at this point as the largest creature ever having lived. It is not hard to imagine, that an eel of this size breaching the surface would be mistaken for a ferocious sea monster.
Sea Serpent Sightings
Many sea serpent sightings have occurred in the Atlantic and describe a different kind of creature.
July 15, 1825, a man with some lady friends saw a large sea serpent while passing a tan pit in the harbor of Halifax. He described it as being 60 feet in length and it moved with a wiggling kind of motion about 180 feet from the shore. Another account of a similar creature was related on July 15, 1825, when a “gentleman, accompanied by some ladies”, saw a large sea serpent while riding past a tan pit in the harbor of Halifax. It was described as about 18 meters (60 ft) long and said to move “by a wiggling sort of motion” about 55 meters (180 ft) from the shore.
Another account happened on May 15, 1883. Several members of the British Army and two members of the Royal Navy on a boat heading for a fishing spot between St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay got bored and started taking pot-shots at some dolphins. Suddenly, the head and neck of a snake-like creature scared them when it breached the water’s surface. They thought the head was about 6 feet long while the visible part of the neck measured 80 to 100 feet. They described its width as equal to that of a medium sized tree.
The Beautiful Oarfish
Oarfish probably represent the inspiration behind these sea serpent sightings. They can grow longer than 56 feet and swim like a snake at the ocean’s surface. The Oarfish is the largest bony fish discovered thus far. It is still capable of sending people who see it fleeing for their lives but in reality, these fish are harmless plankton eaters normally living at depths of 3300 feet.
These beautiful fish from the family Regalecidae are silver with iridescent blue blotches. Oarfish do not have scales. They have tubercules (wart-like projections) and are coated with silvery guanine. Also, they have striking bright red fins including a body length fin along their back and a mane-like crest. Oarfish are adapted to survive the high pressure of extreme depth. Their bodies are compressed making them look ribbon-like and they have large eyes to take in as much light as available in the depths of the ocean.
“In the open ocean they are perfectly adapted to blend in with the water. People are attracted to them when they wash up. It’s like making contact with aliens.” — Rick Feeney, ichthyology collections manager Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
It is not often that these creatures make their way to the surface but they may do so when sick or dying or when tossed to the surface by strong currents. [tweetthis]It is not hard to see how sailors might mistake the little known oarfish for man-eating sea serpents.[/tweetthis]
2. Mountain Gorilla
For centuries, tales of large “ape men” in East Africa frightened both natives and explorers. [tweetthis]Numerous tribes have legends of enormous hairy creatures they gave various names – n gila, ngagi, enge-ena.[/tweetthis] It is said they would kidnap and eat humans by overpowering them with their extreme strength and ferocity. Andrew Battel, in the 16th century, told of man-like apes that watched him at his campfire at night. The explorer DuChaillu, in 1860, recorded tales of violent, bloodthirsty forest monsters.
Ape Men of Rwanda – No Longer Former Cryptids
However, creatures matching the descriptions were not believed to exist by Western scientists until two were shot dead in 1902. Captain Robert von Beringe killed the beasts in the Virunga region of Rwanda and became responsible for introducing the world to a new species of ape. Gorilla gorilla beringe was named for the Captain and is better known as the Mountain Gorilla.
Unlike the descriptions and legends, the Mountain Gorilla is a communal, largely docile creature. It is a herbivore that lives in the Virunga Mountains of Central Africa. It is extremely endangered as a species due to poaching and civil unrest in its habitat. No more that 400 of these majestic beasts are thought to exist in the wild today.
One of the earliest written accounts of this beast comes from Hanno the Navigator who was a Carthagian explorer. He wrote of his travels along the African coast in 500 BC. He described a tribe of “gorillae” (which means ‘hairy people’). It is not known for sure whether he was referring to another species of ape or humans but his description stands as inspiration of the modern name – gorilla.
It is no wonder this cryptid was not confirmed until more recent times. Its habitat is highly isolated. One of its natural habitats is called the Bwindi (Impenetrable) Forest. [tweetthis]It’s not hard to imagine people making contact with the Mountain Gorilla would see them as ferocious man-beasts.[/tweetthis] In fact, they are most likely the inspiration for pop culture’s cryptozoological depiction of King Kong.
3. Devil Bird
The Devil Bird was a former cryptid of Sri Lanka locally known as Ulama or Ualama. The cry of this bird, according to legend, is an omen predicting death much like the Banshee legend of Ireland. Its blood-curdling, human-like shrieks are heard in the forests at night. Many have heard it but few have seen the source of the terrifying screams. Those who have caught a brief glimpse describe a massive bird with a large tail and horns protruding from its head. Most disturbing are the piercing black or glowing eyes that seem to see into your soul.
Devil Bird Legend
According to legend, the Devil Bird is the soul of a woman who lost her child to the murderous rage of her husband. He did not believe his son was his so murdered him, cooked him into a curry which he fed to his wife. Upon discovering a finger of her son she ran off into the forest and killed herself. Her spirit became the Devil Bird, forever screaming in anguish over the loss of her son.
Identity of the Devil Bird
There is still some disagreement as to the creature that is the Devil Bird but consensus has identified the unusual Spot-bellied Eagle Owl (Bubo nipalensis) as the most likely candidate. Thus, the Devil Bird has lost its status as former cryptid. This new avian species was discovered in Sri Lankan forests in 2001. It has very long, almost horizontal ear tuffs which could appear as horns. Its typical vocalization is a low, deep double hoot lasting two seconds – “hoo hoo“. However, it also utters a mournful, mewing scream that rises and then falls in pitch. This one second – “njaauuuw” could certainly be mistaken for the shrieking of a mournful mother. The Devil Bird is reported as being a huge creature which again supports the theory of this bird as inspiration for the Devil Bird as it is the largest of all Sri Lankan owls.
The Okapi is an elusive creature described for years by Central African tribes and by ancient Egyptians. Europeans gave it the name “African Unicorn” because like the Unicorn of European folklore, the Atti or O’api as it is known locally, was believed to be a myth.
Despite descriptions and some skins Western science refused to believe that this animal, described as a cross between a zebra, donkey and giraffe, existed. [tweetthis]The Okapi was considered a chimera of real animals, a hoax, more so after expeditions found no sign of the animal.[/tweetthis]
However, in 1901, Sir Harry Johnston, a British governor of Uganda, received a skull and significant pieces of striped skin.
This evidence, along with the capture of a live specimen resulted in Okapi johnstoni being recognized as a real animal by mainstream science. They are no longer former cryptids.
Mixed-bag Creature Like the Platypus
Okapi are the only living relatives of the giraffe having a similar body structure to them and the same long blue tongue. It is interesting to note that some consider the giraffe as a found cryptid also. However, unlike the giraffe, the Okapi have stripes on their back side and back legs like those found on a zebra. The zebra-like stripes are thought to give camouflage for hiding in the partial sunlight filtering through its dense forest home. The dense, isolated forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo are believed to be the only area it is now found. It is believed to be locally extinct in Uganda. It is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List due to war, poaching and deforestation from agricultural practices.
Legendary, many armed sea creatures have been reported in the world’s oceans for hundreds of years. The Greek legend of Scylla, a monster with many ‘heads’ that Odysseus had to sail past in his travels was likely the Kraken. In Scandinavian mythology, the Kraken was said to be a giant sea creature about 1 mile long that attacked ships. It was described as having many arms and in some accounts it was said to be so huge its body could be mistaken for an island. Later Kraken stories shrink the monster somewhat and in drawings it is depicted as a multi-armed monster still capable of taking down ships.
[tweetthis]The Kraken of legend is now considered to be the Giant Squid of the genus Architeuthis.[/tweetthis] Some earlier scientists considered it might be a giant octopus but squid are more aggressive and more likely to come to the surface where they would be seen by sailors. Sperm whale carcasses have been found with sucker scars indicating that these squid have wrestled whales.
More recent sightings have been reported of squid-like monsters attacking vessels.
Could a large squid about 100 feet long and weighing 2 to 3 tons attack a small ship by accident and capsize it? Some ocean-crossing vessels were relatively small – Columbus’s Pinta was only 60 feet in length. It is a distinct possibility a ship of that size could be destroyed by a very large squid.
Squid pieces have been found in the belly of sperm whales and based on the size of those pieces it is estimated that some giant squid grow over 100 feet in length. Some unconfirmed studies suggest they might grow even longer.
Recent Kraken Accounts
A number of fairly recent stories of giant squid and monsters have kept the legend of the Kraken alive:
- In the 1930’s, the royal Norwegian Navy’s 15,000 ton tanker, Brunswick was attacked three separate times by a giant squid. Each account describes a squid rushing the tanker, striking it and wrapping its tentacles around the hull. The squids died when they were ripped apart by the engine propellers. The attacks were seen as deliberate and suggest that the giant squid may often be the aggressor.
- One night during World War II, a British Admiral trawler was anchored off Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. One of the crew, A.G. Starkey was on deck alone fishing. He reported seeing the following:
“As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb I suddenly realized was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually I realized that I was gazing at almost point-blank range at a huge squid.”
He ran the entire length of the ship finding the tail at one end and the tentacles at the other. The ship was over 175 feet long.
- In 2010, a French yachtsman taking part in the Jules Verne Trophy said a 26 foot long squid clamped onto his boat. Obviously he survived to tell the tale.
For centuries, the reports of the Kraken were dismissed as sailor’s yarns and thought of as legend only, figments of the imaginations of weary sailors. Even when squids measuring over 30 feet in length were found washed up on the beach, few believed the wild tales. Today we know these sea monsters really do exist. The Giant Squid is generally recognized as the Kraken of legend and is no longer considered former cryptids. Sailor’s yarns? – perhaps they should not be so easily dismissed.