This post was written by ScIU Undergraduate Social Media Intern Leecy Davis.
Cryptozoologists study cryptids: creatures whose existence has yet to be (or cannot entirely be) proven. Bigfoot, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster (yes, she has a name!), the Jersey Devil, El Chupacabra, Mothman, and werewolves are just a few of the many creatures that are studied in the world of cryptozoology. But, did you know that some real species we know about today were once considered cryptids?
1. Komodo dragon — until 1910, stories of a giant lizard on the island of Komodo in Indonesia were laughed at by any respectable scientist. However, when Lieutenant Steyn van Hansbroek caught and killed one, things changed. Explorer W. Douglas Burden wasn’t happy with just a dead specimen and decided to travel to the island to capture a live one. He returned to New York City with a few dead specimens and not one, but two live komodo dragons. The dragons were put on display at the Bronx Zoo and inspired Merian C. Cooper to write the 1933 classic King Kong.
2. Platypus — if you weren’t familiar with a platypus and looked at a picture of one, it would be easy to believe it was a photoshop of a duck, otter, and beaver all put together. Naturalists, scientists, and most Europeans in the 18th century didn’t believe such a creature could exist! The second Governor of New South Wales, Captain John Hunter, sent a pelt and sketch of a platypus to scientists of the European community in 1798, shortly after one was discovered. Zoologist, anatomist, ethologist, and physician Robert Knox was convinced it was a hoax and that the pelt was made by an Asian taxidermist. He even convinced botanist and zoologist George Shaw; who at the time believed the platypus could be real, but had his doubts; to take scissors to the pelt to find stitches. Several years later, after many expeditions, the platypus was proven to be real.
3. Okapi — also known as the forest giraffe, the okapi is a blend of a zebra, donkey, deer, and antelope. Yet, its closest genetic link is giraffes. Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries called this animal the “African Unicorn.” Of course, Africans knew the okapi existed, since these animals inhabit the Ituri Forest in central Africa. Because opakis are rarely seen and are extremely hard to find, they were classified as a cryptid for many years. In 1901, Sir Harry Johnston found an okapi skeleton and skin and sent it to the British museum, where it was classified as a new species.
4. Gorilla — I bet you didn’t expect to see gorillas on this list! In fact, most European explorers thought that gorillas were “monster-like.” The first attributed sighting of a gorilla by a non-African was made in the 5th century BC by Greek explorer Hanno. Most scientists today believe Hanno was describing either chimpanzees or baboons from his account. However, his interpreters called the creatures that he saw “gorillae” (interesting, right?).
Another explorer, Andrew Battel, recounted seeing human-like “monsters” visit his campfire every morning after he left for the day. Of course, he had to mention they didn’t know how to put more wood on the fire to keep it going. Yet, gorillas remained cryptids until 1847, when Thomas Savage found gorilla bones in Libera. He, alongside Harvard anatomist Jeffries Wyman, wrote a formal description of the new species, calling it Gorilla gorilla. A decade later, anthropologist Paul du Chaillu hunted live gorillas in order to obtain specimens to be analyzed. One gorilla species, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei), stayed a cryptid until 1902, when German captain Robert von Berigne first identified one.
5. Giant squid — Many people still consider the giant squid to be a cryptid. Similar to most cryptids, which tend to live in habitats that are difficult for humans to find, giant squid live in the deep ocean. The first images of a giant squid were taken in 2004 by researchers in Japan, and in 2006, scientists from Japan’s National Science Museum caught a live 24-foot female giant squid. Every few months, there’s another news report of a dead giant squid washing ashore. Even though some people consider the giant squid to be a hoax, the scientific evidence says otherwise.
6. Bondegezou — Bondegezou is one of the ancestral spirits of the Moni people in Western Papua New Guinea. Its ties to Western Papua New Guinea mythology made the bondegezou a cryptid for decades. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Tim Flannery, an Australian scientist, took the first picture of a bondegezou. Mr. Flannery identified the animal as a tree-dwelling marsupial that looked like a tiny man. It has black and white fur and even walks around on two legs! Unfortunately, the bondegezou is on the Endangered species list.
7. Kangaroo — It’s hard to believe that kangaroos were once cryptids! The first description of a kangaroo was made by Amerigo Vespucci in 1499, when he was traveling along the southern coast of Australia. He described it as a monstrous beast with the head of a fox, the hands of a man, the tail of a monkey, and a bag that is used to carry its young. In 1629, Francisco Pelsaert captured a kangaroo, but it died on his voyage. It wasn’t until Sir Joseph Banks rediscovered the kangaroo on Captain Cook’s voyage in 1770 that the kangaroo changed from an enjoyable myth to an actual species!
This post describes just a few cryptids that have become official species. The field of cryptozoology shows us that there’s a lot of animals on our planet we don’t understand. But, just because we don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it can’t exist. Earth is a beautiful planet filled with all kinds of weird, creepy cryptids lurking where we least expect. There’s still hope that more cryptids, like Bigfoot, The Jersey Devil, El Chupacabra, The Orange Pendek, and others, may one day have their existence proven, too.
“Cryptids proven to be real give us hope for these 5 others.” Gaia.
“Mythical animals that turned out to be real.” Animal Planet.
Than, Ker (2010). “Rumor or reality: the creatures of cryptozoology.” Live Science.
Edited by Kat Munley and JiHae Koo