Studying animals that are alive and present is a difficult enough business. But cryptozoology, the speculative “science” of undiscovered, hypothetical, and quasi-legendary animals, adds the additional wrinkle of inherently not having tangible specimens to work with. Cryptozoology enthusiasts, who hold anywhere from lighthearted to deadly serious feelings about the creatures they seek to prove real, have come up with thousands of pieces of claimed evidence over the years for the biggest names in mythic beasts: Bigfoot seems to show up in every Canadian backyard, for example, and Nessie has literally been sitting in that freaking lake for hundreds of years. But overgrown wookiee-hobbits and improbably long-lived relict plesiosaurs are practically prosaic compared to some other cryptids of note.
My hometown monster, the Jersey Devil, can’t be explained by toxic waste dumps mutating any sort of normal animal, so don’t even think about making that particular joke. (We’re called the Garden State because we really do have some lovely greenery. Try a Jersey Fresh tomato sometime!) In fact, Jersey Devil sightings date back all the way to before the Revolutionary War. In 1735, a woman–some say a witch–in the Pine Barrens named Mother Leeds had twelve children and was pregnant with the thirteenth, which she said would belong to the Devil. When the child was born on a stormy night, it had bat wings and a goat-horned horse head, killed the midwife, and flapped off screaming out of the window. The Jersey Devil has stalked the Barrens and menaced random passers-by ever since. A long list of notables supposedly encountered the monster, including War of 1812 naval commander Stephen Decatur and Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph, and hundreds of people claimed to have been attacked in Southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1909. One apparent explanation for the Devil is the lovely but scary-voiced bird, the sandhill crane. At least real examples exist in the form of the three-time Stanley Cup champions, the New Jersey Devils.
Let’s get the confusing part out of the way first: “Chupacabras” is Spanish for “goatsucker” because these things suck the blood of goats. There are real birds, nightjars, which are called “caprimulgiformes”–that’s Greek for “goatsucker shaped” because the ancient Greeks were gullible and weird enough to believe they sucked the milk of goats. Thanks to Scooby-Doo and other pop culture sources since the first chupacabra sightings in the mid-1990s, most people probably have some idea of what these are claimed to be. Except… the only thing the various sightings, mostly in South America and the Southwestern US have in common is the livestock exsanguination. Consistently two vampire-style neck fang puncture wounds and then wild variations: no two alleged chupacabra finders can agree on what one looks like. Generally it’s assumed to be scaly, and the size of a small bear, with a row of spines down its back, though there have been mammalian chupacabra reports which have almost conclusively been determined to be very mangy coyotes. The most outstanding things about the chupacabra are the number of sightings and the consistent modus operandi. If the chupacabra is real it’s either got an extremely specific diet it needs to fill, or it’s a disgruntled Chicago Cubs fan.
The dingonek is the platypus of cryptids–composed of recognizable parts of real animals combined in a fever-dream configuration. But the platypus’ egg-laying duck-beaver poison-mammal shape looks positively logical next to a description of a dingonek. This deadly cryptid is–I’ll give this to you straight–a killer walrus with pangolin plates and a scorpion tail. It is the kind of thing a video game modder would come up with if they played Skyrim and decided the horkers just weren’t enough of a challenge. The only in-person encounter with a dingonek we have in writing comes from explorer John Alfred Jordan in 1907, who said that during his travels in Kenya he found a curved-tusked gray plated beast with reptilian claws and a bone-spiked tail that menaced him when he entered its territory. A shot from a massive-caliber rifle managed to do nothing and piss it off, in that order, and Jordan got while the getting was good, not being able to collect any evidence for eminently obvious reasons. Dingonek believers also point to a South African cave painting depicting a similar animal, because no painter has ever portrayed a fictional subject, it seems.
Mongolian death worm
First of all, dibs on that for a band name. Second of all, if you thought that the dingonek had way too much going on and way too many reasons to run away, hoo boy, you may wanna sit down for this. The death worm–called olgoi-khorkhoi, or “intestine worm” in Mongolian for reasons that will be swiftly apparent–is merely the most unbelievable of the many fatal dangers of the Gobi Desert. For centuries Mongolian travelers have described a five-foot-long bright-red worm that pops out of the dunes to attack anything that comes near. The monster annelid not only spits arcs of bilious yellow acid that kills people and horses on contact and corrodes everything it touches, it can also launch an electrical discharge over an unspecified distance. That’s not a real animal, that’s something a Dungeon Master comes up when he wants to end his friendship with the adventurers. A number of cryptozoologists have conducted televised searches for the death worm, because apparently none of them had anything left to live for, but all came up empty-handed. Even if all we have is folklore, though, it’s best to avoid sand, worms, and strong acids just to be safe.