What is a cryptid? A zoological cryptid is an animal or plant whose existence has been suggested but has not been discovered or documented by the scientific community. Many of these cryptids are one-of-a-kind animals, as in there’s exactly one of them.
Example of cryptids you are probably familiar with are Bigfoot/Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster. Skeptics say that evidence for the existence of cryptids is limited to hearsay and doesn't hold up under scrutiny by the general zoological community.
However, for decades, sometimes centuries, tales have been handed down telling of mysterious creatures. Some of them with features so similar it makes you wonder if it really is true.
Could the stories be right? Are there ever animals that are the stuff of myth but then one day are proven to really exist?
Yes, there are.
We’re going to take a look at some now.
Title photo credit left flickr/therussian - Title photo credit right: pinterest/johndrauss
Top 10 Cryptids That Turned Out to be Real
Table of Contents
This is not the man who rolled a rock up a hill for all of eternity. That’s Sisyphus. A Ziphius is a large water creature that looks almost like the spawn of a dolphin and a manatee.
According to the Ziphius myth, this creature had the head of an owl and was just called the “water owl.” The reason it grew to mythical status was that its sharp beak was said to puncture hulls of ships. It seems to have been, to make a zoological pun, scapegoated for the sinking of ships.
In any case, we now know this animal as the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, which ironically, hightails it in the opposite direction whenever a ship comes by.
Clearly this animal has read the mythology.
9) Hoan Kiem Turtle
As the Loch Ness Monster is specific to one body of water, so is this turtle. Its home, in Vietnamese myth, was Hoan Kiem Lake (“Sword Lake”).
Unlike the Ziphius, this large turtle didn’t quite puncture hulls of ships. Maybe it did something a bit worse. It had the turtle-merity to pull the magic sword from the emperor Le Loi who was boating.
Well, in short, as was the case with Loch Ness, people tried and tried to find this turtle, to no avail. Yet, they did find it, by videotaping the shell-bearing chap in 1998.
Plenty of photos of the turtle now exist, and it turns out that the animal might not have been quite as fanciful as the myth has said. It does have some creepy-looking flesh around its mouth, though.
8) The Devil Bird
This bird, aka the Ulama, was long known only by its long cry. It developed into myth as a way of explaining disturbing, loud cries in the region.
People who apparently equate the devil with womanhood decided to call this bird the Devil Bird to describe and explain its long, haunting cries.
These cries were sees as omens of death. Its cry was said to describe, with insane specificity, the cry made by a young boy being strangled. This bird was featured on the 80’s TV series Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World.
Well, sightings starting to happen.
While various owls were thought of as good candidates, scientists were finally able to nail down a type of owl that made this cry. It became a new species, the spot-bellied owl.
It would be great to know a bit more about how the myth of this gorgeous, funky creature developed. However, the people who started spreading the story of this creature didn’t want it to come across as true.
I mean, who would come up with a myth of a story that is basically shaped like a horse, but with ears like a giraffe (and a kind of long neck) and zebra stripes on the legs?
The okapi was made for mythology since it was said to move about on its own, not in herds. Likely story, right?
Well, what made matters worse was that the male of the species was said to have a couple of little horns (it’s true, we now know). That means one can compare it to a unicorn, so the animal became known as the African Unicorn.
Enter Sir Harry Johnston, a colonial administrator, who, as those chaps often did, liked to collect animals.
You bet he wanted a piece of the African Unicorn, and a piece is exactly what he got. He got two skulls and a skin and sent them to London.
Scientists were able to nail down the animal, figure out that it was the animal we now know it as, actually a close relative of the giraffe.
You’ve never doubted the existence of kangaroos, right? However, a whole lot of people did.
When British explorers went to Australia and returned with tales of these giant hopping machines with long tails, not to mention a little pouch for babies, they were of course greeted with serious skepticism.
Now, in 1770, someone conveyed a dead kangaroo to England and dispelled the myth that they were myths. What’s interesting is that some people talk about kangaroos existing in North America.
People generally say any such animal sighted must have escaped from the zoo, and in some cases, write the whole thing off as a hallucination.
5) Sea Serpents
A lot of people fear snakes, and a lot of people fear big creatures that can hoist their heads out of the water and take a chunk out of you. As you can see, the sea serpent is both of those things, particularly fearsome and creepy.
Now, sailors and myths go hand in hand. So when people from this trade came along with stories of huge swimming serpents who could grab onto a ship hull, not many people believed it.
Well, at one point, people began actually sighting these monsters. Sadly, they’re really not as creepy or scary as made out to be, not once people found out what they really are. The real animal is the giant oarfish.
In 2013, after many sightings had already been reported, a young marine biologist named Jasmine Santana was snorkeling off Santa Catalina Island when she made a sighting.
It took fifteen people to drag the 18-foot monster ashore. What’s beautiful about the oarfish—or serpent—is that they remain rare, and thus still enshrouded in mystery. Mystery is good.
This creature probably couldn’t and wouldn’t kill a human.
It doesn’t have scales or strong jaws or razor-like teeth. So that’s no fun, right? Let’s include Bondy anyway, since it does have some interesting mythology behind it. The Moni people of Western Papua New Guinea had several spirit animals, and one was the bondegezou.
This branding of the animal as a spirit may have led to its status as a possible myth. Because of the upright shape of the animal’s body, as well as the bipedal stance it often takes, it was described as a mini, furry person.
The face is a bit narrower than that of a human, but an analogy can easily be drawn. Yet, it is sometimes compared to a kangaroo. Or, more accurately, the bondegezou is nicknamed the tree kangaroo.
Pictures of the animal landed in the hands of an Australian scientist named Tim Flannery in the 90’s. He then conducted a field survey and established Bondegezou as a distinct species. It is real. Very real.
Tonight you will dream of a small furry forest person.
3) Komodo Dragon
For centuries, people speculated about giant land lizards of various kinds. Obviously, the classic dragon, huge and green, fire-breathing, was one variation on this. But people finally concluded that all these stories of huge, land-dwelling lizards were all just the stuff of fairy tales.
So, when people who visited Indonesia came back with tales of “land crocodiles,” very long lizards with three or four foot tails, people put these stories in the myth file.
It wasn’t until 1926 that some sort of big lizard was verified as an actual creature. An expedition in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History brought back several Komodos, including two living specimens.
It was then found that these beasts could grow up to ten feet. That combined, with their claws and fangs, makes them quite fearsome indeed.
2) Giant Squid
The giant squid has a tremendous place in mythology and in popular fears and imaginations. Here, the fear is of the creature literally smothering a boat or submarine.
The Kraken, of Norse mythology, is a good example of the fabled creature. Because of some of the stories, and the fact that they appeared in stories that were clearly myths, the squid was categorized as unreal.
In the 1870’s, tentacles of enormous squid began to wash ashore in Newfoundland and Labrador. The examination of these parts, as well as other entire bodies, established that indeed giant squid existed.
They lived in a type of limbo for a while, scientifically recognized but still very rare, thought to live only very deep in the ocean. However, specimens have been collected over the years, some over 30 feet long and over 100 pounds.
1) Mountain Gorilla (“Ape Man”)
Metaphor is everything. If you tell people you’ve seen a gorilla or an ape, no problem. But if you say you’ve seen an “ape man,” problem. Various tribes of Africa talked of large animals that were similar to humans in so many ways in terms of physique and way of doing things.
Of course, what made these creatures sound mythological was that they were described as so strong—naysayers would’ve just thought it was another story of something that was like man, yet different.
The fact that some stories had them actually eating men didn’t help in the credibility department.
Well, the gorilla, commonly known now, became part of mankind’s stock of knowledge in the early twentieth century. A German soldier named Robert von Beringe shot one in Rwanda.
The world found out that they were indeed hairy and that, according to concepts of Darwinian Evolution, they were somewhere in the same family tree as humans. Turns out, though, that these beasts like popping leaves into their mouths when they’re ravenous. Whoops.
Hey, we still have old black and white movies with scary ape monsters.
What’s fascinating about the story of these former cryptids is that the belief in the existence of these creatures was ridiculed...
Yet they turned out to be true!
There’s something to be said for the creature, striped, giant, hairy, or otherwise, whose very existence is doubted and who comes through with proof of realness.
What is imagined and fantastical can be a lot more real than people think. What creatures said to be "mythical" today will be proven to exist tomorrow?