10 lesser-known U.S. monsters and cryptids
From harmless lake monsters to aggressive lizard men, Bigfoot isn't the only unidentified creature rumored to live in the United States.
Thu, Oct 18 2012 at 5:37 PM
Photo: Michael Martin/iStockphoto
You've likely heard of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Perhaps you're even familiar with tales of blood-sucking chupacabras and West Virginia's Mothman. But there are numerous other creepy creatures and mythical monsters throughout the world that cryptozoologists and thrill-seekers are eager to find. Here's a look at 10 lesser-known cryptids right here in the United States.
1. Skunk Ape (Florida)
This large, hairy bipedal mammal is said to inhabit the Southern United States, but it's most often spotted in Florida. It gets its name from its unpleasant odor, which is said to be similar to rotten eggs or methane. Although reports of the creature were most common in the 1960s and 1970s, sightings continue today, but the most famous one took place in 2000.
That year, two photographs of an animal alleged to be the Skunk Ape were mailed to the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department in Florida, along with a letter from a woman who said she’d photographed the creature in her backyard. She said that the cryptid had entered her yard for three nights and taken apples from her porch. She was convinced the animal was an escaped orangutan, but the police dispatched to her house several times never saw the animal. The National Park Service says the Skunk Ape is a myth that developed from Native American legends, but according to the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, the creature might be part of the same species as Bigfoot.
2. Tahoe Tessie (California and Nevada)
Stories of this aquatic creature in Lake Tahoe can be traced back to members of the Washoe and Paiute tribes in the mid-19th century, who said the cryptid lived in an underwater tunnel beneath Cave Rock. Sightings of Tessie — who got her nickname from the famous Nessie of Loch Ness fame — continue today, with witnesses describing the creature as being between 10 and 80 feet long, having a serpentine body and coloration ranging from black to turquoise.
There are several theories surrounding Tessie, the most popular being that the animal is a Plesiosaur, Icthyosaur or Mosasaur because fossils of these creatures have been found in the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, scientists say this is unlikely because the lake formed in the last Ice Age, long after those animals went extinct. Other Tessie theories say she could simply be a large sturgeon or an unidentified species of freshwater eel, but believers point to a quotation from undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau who’s alleged to have emerged from a submarine expedition in Lake Tahoe and said, "The world isn’t ready for what’s down there.”
3. Pope Lick Monster (Kentucky)
This legendary human-goat hybrid has a deformed human torso, goat legs and a horned head, and it’s said to haunt the railway trestle over Pope Lick Creek in Louisville, Ky. Numerous urban legends exist about the creature’s origins. Some stories say the monster is a circus freak who vowed revenge after his mistreatment, while others claim it’s a reincarnated farmer who sacrificed goats in exchange for Satanic powers. Stories of how it claims its victims are equally diverse. May believers think it uses voice mimicry to lure trespassers to their deaths before oncoming trains. Some say it slays its victims with an ax, while others say that simply the sight of the Pope Lick Monster is so terrifying that people jump to their deaths. These legends have turned the Pope Lick Train Trestle into a destination for thrill-seekers, and there have been a number of deaths at the location despite the 8-foot fence meant to keep visitors out.
4. Ozark Howler (Ozark Mountains)
Witnesses describe this creature as a large black cat with horns and glowing eyes, and it gets its name from the loud, eerie howl it emits throughout the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Cryptozoologists have suggested that the creature could be an unrecognized big cat, while anthropologists have speculated that the stories of the cryptid were simply inspired by the black dogs of death found in British folklore. However, evolutionists who believe in the Ozark Howler say it could be a mutated mountain lion breed or a hybrid of a mountain lion and another animal.
5. Iliamna Lake Monster (Alaska)
The locals call her Illie, and reports of the cryptid have been around since the indigenous Aleut people lived on the shores of Alaska’s Iliamna Lake. However, the lake monster wasn’t brought into the public eye until the 1940s when pilots reported seeing a large fish swimming in the waters below. By the 1950s, there were consistent reports of large, aluminum-colored fish in the lake, and in 1979 the Anchorage Daily News offered $100,000 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence of Illie’s existence. So far no evidence has been found, but sightings of the fish continue today, and Illie was even featured on Animal Planet’s show “River Monsters.” But scientists say there’s no monster in Lake Iliamna — many have suggested that what people are seeing are actually sleeper sharks. These fish can exceed 20 feet in length and swim into rivers and lakes to find food, and scientists say that Illie sightings are often consistent with the sharks’ shape and colors.
6. Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp (South Carolina)
This reptilian humanoid cryptid is described as being 7 feet tall, bipedal and having scaly lizard skin, and it’s said to live in the swamplands in Lee County, S.C. The first reported sighting of the creature was in 1988 when 17-year-old Christopher Davis saw the creature running toward him while he was changing a tire beside Scape Ore Swamp. Davis got in his car to escape, but the Lizard Man jumped onto the roof and clung to it as the teen tried to throw it off. When he returned home, Davis found that his side-view mirror was damaged and there were deep scratch marks across the car’s roof.
For the next month, there were further reports of an aggressive lizard-like creature and more reports of unusual scratches and bite marks on cars parked near the swamp. Police were skeptical, but stated that a sufficient number of sightings by reliable people led them to believe that something was being seen — although they thought it was likely a bear. The sheriff’s department made plaster casts of what appeared to be large three-toed footprints to send to the FBI, but decided against sending them after the S.C. Marine Resources Department said they were unclassifiable. Reports of the Lizard Man declined over the next few years, but in 2011 a couple reported that their car had been mauled and the former Lee County sheriff said the damage was similar to the 1988 incidents.
7. Altamaha-ha (Georgia)
Although no physical evidence of this aquatic creature exists, stories of a large snake-like animal swimming in the waters of Georgia’s Altamaha River date back to the 18th century. The Tama Indian tribe has legends of such a creature, and alleged sightings of Altamaha-ha continue to be reported today, with most reports involving swimmers bumping into the creature. It’s been described as looking like a sturgeon, but having the head of a crocodile, and cryptozoologists have speculated that Altamaha-ha may be an ocean cryptid that spawns in the freshwaters at the mouth of the river.
8. Jersey Devil (New Jersey)
Since the 1700s, there have been thousands of reported sightings of this cryptid in the New Jersey Pinelands. Described as a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns and a forked tail, the animal is said to prowl through the marshes of Southern New Jersey and spook people with its hideous appearance. Although there are many stories about the creatures origins, the most commonly accepted is that in 1735 there was a woman called Mother Leeds who had 12 children. She stated that if she gave birth to another child, it would be the Devil, and when her 13th child was born, it transformed into the Jersey Devil, killed its mother and flew screaming into the woods. To this day, residents of cities near the Pinelands have reported hearing the devil’s screams late at night. However, skeptics say the creature is nothing more than a story created by English settlers.
9. Loveland Frog (Ohio)
This humanoid creature with the face of a frog was first spotted in Loveland, Ohio, in 1955. A businessman said he saw several creatures with green skin, webbed hands and wide mouths squatting under a bridge, and one of the creatures reportedly held up a bar-like device that emitted sparks, leaving a strong odor of alfalfa and almonds behind. There were no further sightings of the Loveland Frog until 1972 when police, including Officer Mark Matthews, said they saw a frog-faced man jump over a rail and into the Little Miami River. Weeks later, a farmer reported seeing the creature riding a bicycle, and then officer Mark Matthews saw the Loveland Frog for a second time. This time it was lying in the road, and Matthews shot at it but it escaped. However, in 2001, Matthews retracted his story, saying it wasn’t a monster and was probably just a pet lizard that got too large for its aquarium.
10. Chessie (Maryland and Virginia)
Chessie is another sea monster named in the style of legendary Nessie, but this cryptid reportedly lives in the waters of Chesapeake Bay. There have been numerous sightings of the creature, which witnesses describe as 25 to 40 feet long, serpent-like and finned. There were a rash of Chessie sightings in the 1970s and 1980s, but an alleged photograph of the creature turned out to be a manatee. A 1982 videotape of the creature shows a brownish object moving from side to side like a snake, but the video hasn’t been substantiated. The last notable sighting of Chessie was in 1997.
More cryptid and monster stories on MNN:
Click for photo credits
Photo (Skunk Ape): Wikimedia Commons
Photo (Pope Lick Train Trestle): Wikimedia Commons
Photo (Lizard Man): Linda Bucklin/iStockphoto
Photo (Jersey Devil): Wikimedia Commons
MNN tease photo of monster signs: iStockphoto