Occasionally an event occurs in cryptozoology that is so momentous the entire world is forced to take notice. This event, the holy grail of the cryptid world, is the transition of a creature from cryptozoology to scientific record — or simply zoology. This event is rare, but throughout history, it has happened on several occasions. Here are five possibly real cryptids with scientific evidence for their existence.
1. The Kraken
Tales of the deep sea monsters have been around for as long as there have been seas to sail, and it’s easy to see why. Imagine yourself in the middle of the ocean on a 75-foot schooner, several weeks from land with way to communicate with anyone in 1814. Not only do you have to fear the weather, imprecise locations, other country’s ships, starvation and dehydration, but now, around your ship you notice a creature you’ve only ever heard stories about. It’s easily half the length of your ship with unrelenting tentacles and a vice-like grip. Surely, this is the stuff of cryptozoology. At least, it was until the giant squid was scientifically identified and studied.
In 1857, naturalist Japetus Streenstrup set out to identify this cryptid, with nothing but a random beak, centuries-old stories of at-sea encounters, and some information from washed-up specimens and smaller cephalopods.
Today, the giant squid remains rather elusive to scientists, not being photographed until 2004. Several key facts, however, are known about this mysterious creature. They’re predatory animals that live all over the globe in the deepest depths of the oceans. Examples have been found in the intestines of whales, indicating at least one natural predator. Opposingly, tentacle scars have been noted on sharks and whales, demonstrating that it isn’t a complacent bobbing blob but an active aggressor. Size estimates are 30 to 40 feet for the average giant squid, but with so few specimens and such variability among the ones we’ve seen, 60 feet or more may not be out of the realm of possibility.
The final piece of evidence proving that this mystery of the deep is in fact the real-world giant squid is the demonstration that it’s willing to attack ships. This BBC article from 2003 shows exactly that. If a 25-foot squid can terrify people sailing on a modern-day yacht, imagine seeing a 40-footer attached to a small ship over 200 years ago.
Proof of unicorns has been around for a while now — just not in the form popularly imagined in the medieval ages, which proliferates throughout today’s culture. The Siberian Unicorn was a rhino-esque creature with a shaggy coat and a single massive horn on its forehead. According to fossil findings, it would have stood 6 feet tall, 12 feet long, and weighed over 8,000 pounds!
Up until recently, it was believed these unicorns died out over 350,000 years ago. A finding in southwestern Siberia, however, carbon dates the fossil to only 29,000 years ago. This means that it was possible for humans to coexist with unicorns for thousands of years.
As far as taming unicorns goes, it’s highly unlikely anyone has ever ridden one. Domesticating animals didn’t start until settlements began to exist almost 20,000 years after this specimen died. Further, modern rhinos have never been domesticated or tamed in any capacity, making it unlikely that its distant cousin was either. It is, however, possible that these unicorns were hunted for their meat and hides.
The creatures’ extinction easily accounts for its rarity. The rhino-like shape and wooly fur for Siberian survival explain the more modern depictions of unicorns as horse-like. To account for the spiral horn, one has to look at another well-known animal: the narwhal.
In medieval times, travelers would peddle narwhal horns as unicorn horns. Having not seen many single-horned beasts, it becomes easy to accept that this novel horn must be from a unicorn.
If we combine the fossils, the human-unicorn overlap, extinction, narwhal horns, and a little bit of human misremembrance and storytelling, we can see how the unicorn of today’s culture came to exist in our imaginations.
3. The Griffin
The griffin is an ancient cryptid, known for having the body, legs and tail of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle. It lays its eggs in a burrow, and there’s no way this creature is real, right?
While this might sound absolutely ridiculous to most of us, there is evidence for the existence of such a blending: the platypus.
The platypus is a venomous, egg-laying, beaver-tailed, web-footed, duck-billed Frankenstein of a mammal. To top it all off, it hunts using electrolocation.
To be clear, this isn’t to suggest that the platypus itself is the embodiment of the griffin, but it may be possible that a cousin of the odd creature once roamed the Earth. While not the strongest of evidence in the list, it shouldn’t be ignored. If the platypus exists, then the griffin may be out there somewhere.
Pro Tip: As of right now, those wishing to see the platypus outside of Australia must venture to the San Diego Zoo.
While the mermaids of legend have never been found, several centuries of sailors have noted that the manatee is responsible for such sightings. Christopher Columbus, himself mistaking the sea cow for a mermaid, notes of one such encounter:
On the previous day [8 Jan 1493], when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [Haiti], he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.
One might wonder just how a robust, manly looking sea creature could be misconstrued as a beautiful siren-like mermaid. The manatee has several characteristics in its favor. First, they’re curious and fond of watching ships, which brings them within the view of old-time mariners. Next, their body structure allows them to do tail stands, much like trained dolphins, and rise out of water. While out of the water, their necks allow them to twist their heads like humans and unlike many common sea creatures. Finally, finger-like flippers allow them to grasp objects in their hands.
Manatees, consisting of several species, inhabit three distinct areas of the globe, but they can travel quite far when desired. West Africa, the West Indies, and Amazonian rivers are the sighting grounds for the manatee. This correlates well with weary sailors staring into the vast shimmering ocean and mistaking the manatee for mermaids.
5. King Kong
For centuries, stories have been told of large, hairy humanoid creatures living in the depths of Africa. While today we know these creatures to be several different species of Gorilla, they remained cryptids for thousands of years.
Credit is given to Hanno the Navigator for the first descriptions of the Gorilla in his account of an exploration of the African coast. Specifically referencing his 18th point:
In this gulf was an island, resembling the first, with a lagoon, within which was another island, full of savages. Most of them were women with hairy bodies, whom our interpreters called ‘gorillas.’ Although we chased them, we could not catch any males: they all escaped, being good climbers who defended themselves with stones. However, we caught three women, who refused to follow those who carried them off, biting and clawing them. So we killed and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage. For we did not sail any further, because our provisions were running short.
We cannot tell if these are gorillas as we know them today, another species of great ape, or even a Stone Age tribe of indigenous African people. Unfortunately, the skins were lost in the Roman burning of Carthage several hundred years later. As such, the stories swirled and a cryptid was born.
Knowing Hanno’s trip took place in the 6th century BCE and that the Romans waged war against Carthage in the 3rd century BCE, it seems reasonable that the veil would be lifted from this humanoid cryptid within a few hundred years. Considering the Roman fascination with foreign beasts (and their use in the arenas), the inability to identify and capture gorillas only made Hanno’s story that much more implausible.
Fast forward to 1847: Thomas Savage discovers a never before seen skull. He recognizes this as a new species of great ape and pens a scientific description of the new finding. With this description, the gorilla officially leaves the realm of cryptozoology. Within a decade, gorillas are being hunted and sent around the world to be studied.
This, however, did not stop the stories of the humanoid figures lurking in the heart of Africa. The gorilla was smaller and less hairy than the beast of legend. Enter German Captain Friedrich Robert von Beringe, who discovered the Mountain Gorilla in 1902. In order to survive the harsher mountain climate, Mountain Gorillas are heavier set and have more hair than the previously known Lowland Gorilla, explaining the difference in the description.
With Captain von Breringe’s discovery, the hairy humanoid beast of Africa is proven to exist. While the stories have swirled to the size of King Kong, the real deal can be seen around the world in zoos at 4 to 6 feet tall and almost 500 pounds.