Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Umibozu

Yokai are Japanese spirits that range from harmless to monstrous.  Some dwell in the woods, some dwell among the clouds, and some  (like the Umibozu ) dwell underwater.  The Umibozu resembles a gigantic mound of black flesh -- smooth and hairless like a shaven head.  This trait gives the yokai its name, which translates to "sea monk".  Unlike its namesake, the Umibozu is far from harmless.  It menaces ships that pass nearby, rising from the sea without warning.  It will then wreck the helpless vessel, dragging all onboard to a watery grave.

Thankfully, attacks by the Umibozu can be avoided.  Usually, the yokai remains submerged, and might not attack unless provoked.  While sailing, it is best not to speak its name -- a surefire way of summoning it forth.  If an Umibozu does attack, it may not sink its target directly.  Sometimes, it will ask for a barrel, which it will fill with water and use to flood the ship.  If an Umibozu makes such a request, give it a barrel filled with holes -- the creature will be unable to collect water, and will leave in frustration.  This beast, evidently, is not one of the smartest yokai.

Through the years, many explanations have been proposed for the Umibozu legend.  These range from natural phenomena like rogue waves and storm clouds to living beings -- like sea turtles and jellyfish.  The theory I find most believable equates the Umibozu to a large octopus.  The heads of these creatures look extremely similar, with a saclike structure and bulging eyes.  Furthermore, the Umibozu's torso bears long, scrawny limbs -- which greatly resemble octopus tentacles.

Read more about the Umibozu:
Image (public domain) from

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Post Revamp: the Buru

The Himalayas are home to the Yeti, one of Earth's most famous cryptids.  But the western part of this mountain range once contained a lesser-known beast.  This aquatic creature, known as the Buru, dwelled in the river valleys of eastern India.  According to locals, it has been extinct for decades, but lived recently enough to be clearly remembered.

The Buru, it is said, was a reptilian creature between ten and fifteen feet long.  It had a long neck and forked tongue, along with claw-like feet well adapted for digging.  The beast had fish-like skin, a rounded tail and a flat snout behind which lay its eyes.  For a time, the Buru coexisted with the Indian inhabitants of its valleys.  But eventually, it came to be seen as dangerous, and the species was exterminated.  The marshes where it dwelled were drained, and its watery homes were filled with boulders.  No Buru has been seen since.

To most cryptozoologists, the Buru's traits suggested an aquatic monitor lizard.  Some of these lizards, like the Komodo dragon, can exceed ten feet in length -- and prehistoric varieties like Megalania grew even larger.  Furthermore, fossil monitors lived in India, meaning that finding one in the region wouldn't be improbable.  The downside of the monitor theory is that these lizards don't live in the water.  Some of them can swim fairly well, but the Buru was said to spend most of its time submerged.  Monitors are terrestrial reptiles; they need to warm themselves in the sun and hunt land-dwelling prey.  These energy requirements would be more profound, not less, in a gigantic species -- making an aquatic variant unlikely.

Another possibility is that that the Buru was a crocodilian.  Crocodiles spend much more time in the water than monitor lizards, and are generally far larger.  They also share the Buru's flat snout, rounded tail and claws.  Further evidence comes from the Buru's name -- which can also mean "crocodile" in the native languages.  The crocodile theory would seem a fairly good fit, but one piece of evidence undermines it.  The Buru, it is said, could hardly leave the water -- while crocodiles do so on a regular basis.  These cryptids, after their marshes were drained, remained buried in the mud at the bottom.  In a crocodile's marsh was drained, it could easily move around and hunt on the shore.

This odd discrepancy inspired Karl Shuker, a noted cryptozoologist, to pose another theory.  He proposes that the Buru was a gigantic species of lungfish.  These fish have skin resembling the Buru's, along with eyes at the back of a long, flattened snout.  They lack long necks or a forked tongue, but spend virtually all their time in water -- unlike any other Buru-candidate.  Personally, I don't think this the best of matches.  Lungfishes don't grow close to the Buru's size, and none are found in Asia whatsoever.  Besides, nobody would be in danger from a giant lungfish -- these creatures are absolutely harmless.  Personally, I favor the crocodilian explanation.

Read more about the Buru:
Image (public domain, of a swimming water monitor) from

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Minhocao

According to legends, something massive dwells beneath the forests of Brazil.  It bores enormous tunnels through the soil, large enough for a child to walk through.  It uproots trees, destroys crops and leaves water-filled ditches in its wake.  Natives call it the Minhocao -- and its nature has been discussed for over a century.  Granted, little evidence for the beast has been found since the 1800s.  But the stories alone give us much to work with, and allow us to deduce its identity.

The traditional description of the Minhocao resembles a giant worm.  Legends detail a gigantic serpentine beast, dozens of feet long and covered in black scales.  The Minhocao, it is said, has two stalk-like tentacles portruding from its head -- but it lacks eyes altogether.  This amalgamation of features is rather confusing.  Several creatures share a few of these traits, but none exhibit all of them.

Let's look at some possible candidates for the Minhocao's identity.  One, suggested by cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, is the caecilian.  These wormlike amphibians are capable of burrowing, and can be found throughout South America.  They sometimes have a scaly appearance, and on occasion have head-tentacles -- but caecilians are relatively small in size.  The largest is not five feet long, certainly incapable of making massive tunnels.  These biggest of these creatures are no thicker than a human arm.  Legless lizards and blind snakes, while they also share traits of the Minhocao, are unlikely for the same reason.

Bernard Heuvelmans, the father of cryptozoology, had a far different theory -- and it's the one I find most probable.  He believed that the Minhocao was a prehistoric armadillo relative called the glyptodont, and that the stories of its appearance were entirely fanciful.  Unlike snakes or caecilians, glyptodonts (if they burrowed at all) could make monster-sized tunnels.  Furthermore, their fossils are found in South America, and the Amazon is relatively unexplored.  There's plenty of habitat in which they could dwell, despite the improbability of their survival.  Now, I don't generally advocate for prehistoric cryptids, and I'm not saying I believe in this one.  But this fossil animal is the best Minhocao candidate yet suggested.

Read more about the Minhocao:
Image (public domain) from

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Montauk Monster

In 2008, shortly after BeastPedia began its five-year hiatus, a strange carcass washed up near Montauk, NY.  It was clearly a decaying mammal, with visible paws and patches of grey hair.  But what exactly was it?  Photographs of the beast, circulated on the internet, caused rampant speculation.  Some thought the creature an alien, some thought it a cryptid, and some thought it a genetic experiment.  An animal research center, they pointed out, was only a few miles away.  What if one of the subjects had escaped?

The creature, as it turned out, was nothing so exotic.  It was a decomposing raccoon, rendered near-unrecognizable by the forces of the tides.  Several posts ago, I mentioned taphonomy -- the study of how living things decay.  This is another mystery solved by that useful science.  Let's look at the carcass in detail, examining it step by step, until we can bring the "monster" back to life.

First of all, we know this creature was a mammal.  There are patches of fur clinging to its hide, which clearly isn't reptilian.  A second photo shows visible testicles, and the creature's dentition is visibly mammal-like.  So are its ears, its toes, the position of its legs, and virtually everything else we can see.  How big was it?  A fly on the carcass' back gives us a sense of scale -- and tells us it was about the size of a dog.

Thus far, we know we're dealing with a mid-sized North American mammal -- and a carnivore, based on the shape of the teeth.  This leaves us only a few options, including dogs, cats and raccoons.  The Montauk Monster looks like none of these -- but only because it's decomposed.  When a body floats in water, it rapidly bloats and begins to lose its hair.  That's what has happened here, and what makes the creature look so deformed.  The second thing to decompose is the snout -- which contains plenty of soft tissues.  When these fall apart, the premaxillary bones are exposed, producing the monster's "beak."

What identifies the Montauk Monster as a raccoon (as opposed to a dog or cat) is the shape of its teeth.  All families of mammals have fairly unique dentition, which can be told apart by an expert.  Skull shape is a major indicator of taxonomy, and to a mammalogist, this carcass screams "raccoon."

Read more about the Montauk Monster:
Image (public domain) from

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bloop

Most cryptids have never been caught on video.  Many have never been photographed.  A handful have never even been witnessed -- their presence is inferred from physical evidence or second-hand tales.  But there is only one cryptid that has never been seen at all.  It's called the Bloop, and it's the first ever "acoustic cryptid."  Our only knowledge of this creature, if a creature at all, is the sound that it makes.

The Bloop was first documented by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.  For decades, they had been monitoring the sounds of the sea -- recording and documenting everything their microphones picked up.  Most of these sounds were identifiable, such as whale calls and submarine engines.  But one of them was not.  Dubbed "the Bloop", it was phenomenally loud, and came from the deep Pacific.  The noise was clearly not man-made in origin, and did not match common oceanographic events.  So what was it?

One scientist at the NOAA attributed the sound to a massive animal.  Its sonic profile, he said, did not fit anything geological.  It was most likely a living being, due to the specific frequency alterations found within the sound.  If this were the case, the Bloop would have to be a new species.  And it would be something unlike all known sea creatures.  Blue whales are the loudest animals in the ocean, but the Bloop dwarfed the volume and the depth of their songs.  One scientist estimated, based on sonic force alone, that the Bloop would have to be 250 feet long.

For years the Bloop went unexplained, the subject of rampant speculation.  But finally, in 2013, NOAA scientists announced that the mystery had been solved.  The Bloop, they said, was not organic at all.  In fact, it was the sound produced by massive icequakes.  These quakes (scientifically called "cryoseisms") are caused by stress fractures in massive blocks of ice.  When they finally split apart, their soundforms are identical to the Bloop -- which was merely such an icequake on a massive scale.  I'll admit I'm disappointed that the Bloop isn't organic.  But would you really want to swim with a 250-foot monster?

Read more about the Bloop, and listen to it at the first link below!
Image (public domain) from

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Trinity Alps Salamander

In the mountains of California, so the legend goes, there once lived truly massive salamanders.  According to one witness, who popularized the cryptid in the 1920s, they could grow up to nine feet in length -- smaller speciens measured five.  These reports spawned great interest even among mainstream scientists.  Several expeditions were launched between the 1940s and the 1960s, all hoping to prove the creature's existence.

Though several sightings took place during this period, no expedition returned with physical evidence.  Even fairly exhaustive searches failed to turn up giant salamanders -- though small ones were found in abudance.  Since the mid-20th century, this cryptid has been witnessed only scarcely, and few hold out hope for its existence.  If such a creature ever lived, by now it may be extinct.

Now, my posts always take a rational tone -- and that means I do lots of debunking.  But in this case, I think our cryptid deserves a second look.  Personally, I don't think large salamanders are ridiculous, and there are plenty of reasons why.  First of all, the Trinity Alps are great salamander territory.  Plenty of species live in the region, including one (Dicamptodon) that grows to a foot in length.  The climate of the Trinity Alps is also ideal.  It strongly resembles that of Japan -- where the world's second-largest amphibian dwells.

I'm talking about the Japanese giant salamander -- a species five feet in length.  Its Chinese cousin can grow even longer, into the range of the Trinity Alps giants.  Yes, these creatures live thousands of miles from California -- but their biological family is very widespread.  In fact, a close relative of the giant salamanders lives right here in America.  It's called the hellbender, and it's our largest native amphibian, at almost two feet in length.  This is a lot smaller than the Trinity Alps cryptid, but still quite impressive.

Now we have a possible scenario.  What if a member of the giant salamander family, which does exist in America, grew to massive size?  It's certainly possible, as such gigantism already exists in similar climates.  The lack of sightings is troublesome, and I'm not sure the Trinity Alps really houses such a monster.  But I don't think giant salamanders are impossible, especially in Asia and western America.  Don't get your hopes up, but don't write this one off!

Read more about the Trinity Alps Salamander:
Image (public domain, picturing a Chinese giant salamander) from

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "lake monster?"  If you're anything like me, you think of a Nessie-like creature.  It lives in a deep, remote lake; it's large and mysterious; it's reptilian, and probably serpentlike.  Igopogo defies virtually all of these expectations.  Lake Simcoe's native cryptid is an unusual beast -- small, mammalian and remarkably close to civilization.

A monster in Lake Simcoe has been reported for centuries -- tales of the beast date back to Huron legend.  But modern sightings began just decades ago, peaking during the '60s and '70s.  By this point, several other lake monsters had risen to global prominence.  While Nessie was the most famous, it was Ogopogo (a fellow Canadian) which gave the Simcoe Monster its name.  Locally, it is also known as Kempenfelt Kelly and Beaverton Bessie.

As I said, Igopogo is a fairly strange lake monster.  The easy accessibility of Lake Simcoe is odd enough -- it's only an hour north of Toronto.  But that's just the beginning.  Igopogo, according to witnesses, sounds nothing like your classic "sea serpent."  One (likely hoaxed) photo shows a multi-humped creature-- but few other sources describe it this way.  Generally, it is cited as small and doglike, about nine to twelve feet in length.  The beast is usually seen in the water, but is occasionally said to bask on shore.

The most famous Igopogo sighting was actually recorded on video.  While racing hydroplanes, an unnamed witness was shocked to see the beast emerge right in front of him.  Cryptozoologist John Kirk believes the creature in the video is a pinniped -- a relative of the seals and sea lions.  These animals do seem a good match for the Simcoe cryptid.  The largest of them can reach twenty feet in length -- making Igopogo seem modest by comparison.  There are also plenty of seals in Canada, making the explanation parsimonious.

The seal theory has one major downside -- Lake Simcoe is hundreds of miles inland.  Seals live on the coast, not in lakes -- and it's easy to wonder how one could end up there.  Theoretically, one could travel through the river system and migrate short distances across land.  But what could motivate it to do so?  And why would seals do this in sufficient numbers to establish a population?  Furthermore, if there were seals living in Simcoe, surely they would be seen more often.  All mammals have to surface for air, and though Lake Simcoe is large, it's not exactly remote.  It's hard to believe seals could live there and remain undetected.

Read more about Igopogo:
Image (public domain and probably hoaxed) from

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Hugag

The Hugag is a "fearsome critter" of the Great Lakes region.  Superficially resembling a moose, this hairy quadruped can weigh in excess of three tons.  It has toes instead of hooves, and a long, horselike tail.  But there all comparison to normal creatures must end.  The Hugag has a number of bizarre traits not seen in other mammals.  For one, its head is completely bald -- though the rest of its body is shaggy.  For another, its ears are corrugated like the tail of an Anhinga.  The purpose of these features is completely unknown.

The Hugag's strangeness does not end there.  Also unusual is the animal's upper lip -- which is swollen to such proportions that it hangs near the ground.  This lip is used to scrape needles and twigs off of pine trees.  The Hugag eats some of these needles, while covering itself with others in place of hair.  These needles are held in place by pine-sap, which oozes from the Hugag's pores.

This beast's most unusual feature is the jointlessness of its legs.  All four are completely rigid, unable to bend in any direction.  The Hugag is thus an extremely awkward traveler, rocking back and forth as it waddles through the forest.  If it ever lay down, the Hugag could not stand again -- and so it is forced to sleep standing up.  To accomplish this, it leans against one of the pine trees off which it feeds.

Hunters, noticing this habit, developed a method to hunt the creature.  They would pay attention to which trees the Hugag frequented -- identifiable due to their lack of pine-needles and bent posture.  These trees would be sawed partially in half, so that they remained standing but were extremely unstable.  When the Hugag next leaned against one of these trees, trunk and animal would both crash to the ground.  The hunters, lying in wait, would then slaughter the helpless beast.

Read more about the Hugag:
Image (public domain) from

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Funeral Mountain Terrashot

I've posted about several folkloric creatures in the last few days.  Many of these "fearsome critters" were jokes, but others were used to explain everyday phenomena.  Today, we cover the Funeral Mountain Terrashot -- which provides an example of folk etymology.  It was invented, so it seems, to explain the name of California's Funeral Range.  And its story is about as bizarre as you'll see on this blog.

The Funeral Mountain Terrashot resembles a living coffin.  It waddles around the mountains on four stumpy legs, wobbling precariously from side to side.  It is easy for the beast to tip over -- though as we'll see, that's the least of its traveling problems.  Normally, the Terrashot dwells in peace, gathering and breeding in alpine meadows.  But when its population grows sufficiently large, the creature's migratory instincts set in.  At this point, the entire Terrashot clan leaves the mountains, trundling in a single-file line across the desert.

These migrations, unfortunately, are very short-lived.  When a Terrashot touches the desert's hot sands, it begins to swell uncontrollably.  Eventually, it explodes like a shotgun shell in a cloud of brimstone.  Even after seeing the death of their leader, the other Terrashots march on like lemmings.  One after the other, each creature detonates, punching a grave-shaped hole into the sand.

Supposedly some mormons witnessed this abortive migration and named the Funeral Range after the phenomenon.  No Terrashots have been seen since; perhaps the last of them were struck by fatal wanderlust.  Only their name lives on -- or so the story goes.

Read more about the Funeral Mountain Terrashot:
Image (public domain) from

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Axehandle Hound

This week's been a slow one on BeastPedia -- I've been extremely busy, and haven't been able to write as much as I'd have liked.  It was much to my surprise, then, when yesterday's post resulted in more views than I'v ever seen on this blog.  I guess you all like fearsome critters!  As an apology for my slack posting, I'll send a couple more your way before moving back to cryptids.  Today, I bring you the Axehandle Hound.

Thousands of years ago, humans domesticated the wolf-- more or less by accident.  Wolves skirted the edges of our campfires, picking up scraps of meat and feeding on our garbage.  Over the centuries, they lost their fear of humankind and became fairly easy to tame.  The result was man's best friend -- the household dog.  The Axehandle Hound, according to lumberjack folktales, got its start the same way.  This doglike critter frequents the edges of logging camps in search of food to steal.

But there's one big difference between this creature and the wolf.  Wolves feed on meat, but Axehandle Hounds eats... wait for it... axe handles.  This makes them a great nuisance for lumberjacks, whose tools the critters would destroy.  Axehandle Hounds are said to prefer the Peavey brand, and detest handles made of red oak.  This latter quirk is a handy one.  A foolish lumberjack, so the story goes, once domesticated a Hound.  But he had lost his leg in a logging accident, and used a wooden axe-handle to replace it.  His pet continually gnawed on the thing, until he fed it a piece of red oak and it ran away.

The story of the Axehandle Hound is a strange one, full of inside references to lumberjack culture.  Clearly, it was invented to explain the loss of axe handles -- an extremely common event.  After all, they were made of wood and their heads fell off easily.  When dropped on the ground, they were nearly indistinguishable from any other stick in the forest.  Why do Axehandle Hounds prefer the Peavey brand?  Because lumberjacks did, regarding it as superior and using it with great frequency.  Since more Peavey axes were used, more Peavey axe-handles were lost.  According to joking woodsmen, it must have been the hound.

Red oak handles, on the other hand, were largely regarded as useless.  A lumberjack spent hours every day working with his axe -- it was his main tool and source of livelihood.  The quality of that axe was thus very important, and a weak handle simply would not do.  Red oak was an "inferior" wood -- theoretically, it wasn't strong enough to bear an axe head.  Handles made of this material were therefore spurned.

Read more about the Axehandle Hound:
Image (public domain) from