There are hundreds of mysterious cryptids in the world, a mythical menagerie of barely-glimpsed monsters, lost species, and terrifying legends. But let's face it: most of them are pretty pedestrian lake monsters and Sasquatch variants. There are a few, however, that are so bizarre you kind of hope they're real. Here are our favorites.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, European explorers ventured into the jungles of West Africa and found dozens of undiscovered species like the bongo and the okapi. Along with confirmed species, they also brought back tales of bizarre beasts that they learned of only through African legends or brief glimpses along the shores of steamy jungle rivers. There are dozens such creatures, but the dingonek takes the prize as the weirdest. Called the "jungle walrus," big game hunter Edgar Beecher Bronson described it as, "fourteen or fifteen feet long, head big as that of a lioness but shaped and marked like a leopard, two long white fangs sticking down straight out of his upper jaw, back broad as a hippo, scaled like an armadillo, but colored and marked like a leopard, and a broad fin tail…Gad! but he was a hideous old haunter of a nightmare, was that beast-fish…Blast that blighter's fangs, but they looked long enough to go clean through a man."
The Flatwoods Monster
In 1952, witnesses in West Virginia headed into the woods to investigate an object in the sky, possibly a meteor. There they came upon a creature that stepped straight out of a nightmare: 10 feet tall, with a glowing red face in the shape of an ace of spades, wearing a cowl. Its body was covered in a pleated, dark green skirt, and it held out short, clawed arms. It hissed at them , causing the group to flee. They also reported an acrid smell, and witnesses later had convulsions with throat and nose irritation. This was likely a case of excited witnesses getting scared by a barn owl in a tree (the ace of spades face and clawed "arms" are a dead giveaway), then later getting so worked up about the monster that they developed the basic symptoms of hysteria. Still, it makes you wonder how you'd react if you ran into something like that at night in the woods.
One sure way to make a cryptid seem 100 times creepier is to give it human features, especially if it's on a body that really really should not have human features. Now it's not just a weird unknown animal, it's some kind of alien intelligence watching us and…waiting? Shivers.
Japan's Ningen is one of the best examples of this: picture a strange species of whale with pale white skin, humanoid arms and human-like eyes and mouth. Most of the photos of it are pretty unconvincing – frankly, they all look like Photoshops, flat out CGI fakes or just icebergs with somewhat humanoid shapes. But then there are the videos…
This South American beast is said to look like a giant black earthworm with two horns or tentacles on its head. And I mean giant: witnesses in the 1800s said it left massive trenches that diverted rivers and uprooted trees as it passed. A popular theory suggests the sightings represent a giant species of caecilian, amphibians with no legs and a segmented appearance that burrow underground and are native to South America. Seems somewhat plausible, since scientists are still discovering new caecilian species. This creature is so famous that a highway in São Paulo, the Via Elevada Presidente Artur da Costa E Silva, is nicknamed the Minhocão. "I vote for outer space. No way these are local, boys."
The Beast of Bray Road
This cryptid gets a spot on the list for a few reasons: 1). It's from Wisconsin, which just seems weird. Nothing about Wisconsin strikes terror into my heart, but apparently they have a beast. 2). It's got an awesome alliterative name. The Beast of Bray Road sounds very badass. 3). It's basically a straight-up werewolf. That seems unoriginal at first, but how many cryptid stories have the guts to just go right to "werewolf"? In truth, some of the reports from the 1980s suggest more of a Bigfoot type creature, or even just a crazed bear, but some describe a giant, upright, seemingly intelligent wolf creature. One witness saw a wolf creature with muscular arms, "jointed like a man's," holding food with its palms turned upward. The Wisconsin Werewolf!
Incidentally, the name "Beast of Bray Road" makes me think, for some reason, of the Bay City Rollers, which brings to mind an image of rollerskate wearing disco werewolves. This is turn brings me to the realization that somewhere there is a Hollywood producer utterly bereft of ideas (more than one, probably), sitting there working on 300 Part 2: 600!, or a gritty, angsty remake of My Mother the Car, when instead she could be pushing a rollerskate wearing disco werewolf project. This is why I don't believe in god.
The Lake Worth Monster
First sighted in 1969, Texas' Lake Worth Monster shares a heritage with other crazed goatmen (Maryland has a notable one). It attacked cars among other urban legend worthy behavior. If you're ever out parked in your car with your sweetie near Lake Worth, Texas, you should pretty much expect to be assaulted by a half-man, half-goat with scales and ragged clothing who may or may not hurl large objects like tires at you. There's one photo of the monster, but I don't really know what to make of it. This monster is extra awesome because of this piece aired by a local TV station that has that certain, "intern with too much time on his or her hands in the editing suite" flavor to it. Did we really need the intro explaining the other important non-goatman things that happened in 1969? Could there be a less smooth segue than Hendrix into the X-Files theme?
Scape Ore Swamp Lizard Man
Descriptions of attacks by this creature, first spotted in the late 1980s near Bishopville, South Carolina, sound like tales right out of a pulp comic book. It's a seven-foot tall reptilian humanoid that runs with alarming speed and is strong enough to seriously damage cars with its clawed hands. By some accounts, it can climb any surface with the gecko-like pads on its fingers. Reports are a bit shaky for this cryptid, mainly because a few of the sightings and pieces of evidence have been proven to be hoaxes. Is there a whole race of angry lizard men? Is it some kind of mutant?
We couldn't put Mothman on this list because we talked him recently and at great length (though he surely would have made the top 5). Instead, we'll go with the UK's Mothman analogue, Owlman. A strange, large flying creature has been sighted around Cornwall dating back to the 1970s. Two witness accounts give a clue as to the true nature of Owlman: "It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. Its feet were like pincers." "It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered with grey feathers. The claws in its feet were black. It flew straight up." Perhaps if it was like an owl, and had an owl face, it was an owl. It might seem odd how often Occam's Razor comes along and slices up weird paranormal entities into little owl-shaped paper dolls, but that's how science works.