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Real-life inspirations for famous cryptids?

Ghoulish greetings, everyone! I’m Sarah and I work in our Ambassador Animals Department. This time of year is always so fun for me as someone who is a big fan of monsters and all things creepy. Unfortunately, the animals I work with are all so cute and, well, the opposite of creepy, that there’s not a lot to talk about with them when it comes to Halloween! So I figured we would talk about some animals that I don’t take care of – in fact, no one does.

I thought we could talk a little bit about cryptids. Those legendary animals that hide out in the deserts, forests, and mountains of the world, who inspire hot debate as to their existence and why it’s so hard to take a clear photo of them.  But more than just telling you about them, I thought it would be fun to talk about the real- life animals that could be behind these weird critters.

If you’ve ever been to the southwest United States, then you’ve probably seen art or even taxidermy of our first cryptid, the jackalope. Typically portrayed as a jackrabbit with deer or pronghorn antlers, these are one of my favorites out there. Now, even though they’re most popular in the desert, stories of horned rabbits have been found worldwide, dating as far back as medieval and Renaissance folklore. Up until the end of the 18th century, they were even described in natural history texts as a real animal. So what could be the inspiration behind a jackalope? This one is actually somewhat on the weird side – the real-life “jackalope” is usually agreed to be rabbits infected with a virus that causes them to have horn-like growths on their bodies. If you saw one off in the distance running away into the underbrush, it wouldn’t be crazy to think it was a rabbit with antlers.

Next up is the poster child for cryptids: Bigfoot. This large, hairy humanoid is said to be found throughout the forests of North America, although it’s particularly prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. Folklorists trace Bigfoot’s origins to a combination of folk tales and the mythology of indigenous cultures. Much like the jackalope, tales of creatures like Bigfoot exist throughout the world, ranging from the Asian Yeti to the Skunk Ape in Florida. What could possibly be the real-life animal people have seen? This one is not nearly as clear cut as the jackalope, with theories ranging from “it’s just a guy in a costume” to “escaped great ape making its way in the wild.” But, in my opinion, the theory that holds the most water is the idea that Bigfoot sightings may in fact be bears. One of the most common descriptors of Bigfoot includes seeing its eyes shine in the dark, which is not a trait that great apes or humans have, but bears sure do! In addition, the footprints that gave Bigfoot its iconic name have been found with claw marks. Not many people know this, but bears can walk plantigrade like a human, and their feet are surprisingly human with five toes, and of course giant claws!

Now, being from southern New Jersey originally, you know I had to talk about the Jersey Devil. This is a creature that comes right from my hometown, in fact! Many of you are probably already taking guesses as to what could be behind this one. The Jersey Devil is described as being a bipedal kangaroo-like animal with the head of a horse, bat wings, legs with cloven hooves, and a long forked or pointed tail. So what could it be? Possibly a deer seen standing on its back legs, its form distorted by underbrush on a cloudy night? Maybe a goat standing on something? The answer is obvious, my friends. The Jersey Devil is real, obviously. Surely the high-pitched screams that can be heard emanating from the Pine Barrens aren’t the calls of a fox. No, no. I will not be taking any further questions or comments on this one. This is, in fact, the only real cryptid. Probably … or am I just pulling your leg in the spirit of the holiday?

I hope you all have a spooktacular night, that all your candy bars are full size, and that the scariest monster you run into tonight is one of those animatronics from Spirit Halloween.

Sarah F.
Keeper II, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl