From Bigfoot to Nessie: 7 Legendary Cryptids That'll Keep You up at Night

By: Mark Mancini  | 

Born from the ashes of cremated oxen, the legendary Hodag have roamed the northwoods of Wisconsin for more than a century, avenging abuse suffered at the hands of their masters. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)

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.

That matters.

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 seven cryptids who've garnered celebrity status.


1. The Loch Ness Monster, aka: "Nessie"

Robert Wilson's iconic 1934 shot turned out to be a hoax and nothing more than a toy submarine with a plastic head stuck on it.
Keystone/Getty Images

"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.

Alas, the video turned out to be a hoax. Someone had clearly edited the footage and its "monster" bears a striking resemblance to one mass-produced plesiosaur toy.

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.

The first modern "sighting" of a giant monster in Loch Ness dates back to August 1933. Many subsequent accounts describe an animal that sounds a bit plesiosaur-esque.

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"

The movie poster for "The Abominable Snowman," a horror flick released in 1957.
LMPC/Getty Images

Most "eyewitness" testimonies say this cryptid has brown, black or red-brown fur.

So why are Hollywood yetis almost always white-haired? ("Monsters Inc." has 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.


3. Mothman

"The Legend of the Mothman" statue by Bob Roach graces the streets of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The riverside city of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, has a museum, a statue and a recurring festival all dedicated to the one and only "Mothman."

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).


4. Mokele-mbembe

Mokele-mbembe is supposed to be a huge water monster resembling the long-necked and very much extinct dinosaur, Brontosaurus.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 4.0)

Mothman wasn't the only cryptid to go Hollywood, as it were.

"Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" is a 1985 Disney movie about 20th-century dinosaurs who live off the grid in the Congo River Basin. The picture drew inspiration from Africa's fabled Mokele-mbembe.

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.

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.


5. Chupacabra

Chupacabra is said to drain the blood of its victims, leaving fatal injuries behind.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 4.0)

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, the cryptid 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

Graffiti in Kharkiv, Ukraine depicts the Mongolian Death Worm.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)

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"

In 1967, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin were in northern California, when they supposedly spotted a female Bigfoot. Roger Patterson took out his camera and shot the now-iconic footage of the creature.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 4.0)

Sasquatches need no introduction. A 2020 poll found that 11 percent of U.S. adults believe the legendary, upright-walking apes really do 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."