Whatever they are, the experts who study them call them "cryptids." And the experts who study cryptids call themselves "cryptozoologists." For a while there was a thing called the International Society of Cryptozoology, which was a professional organization based in Washington, DC and active between 1982 and 1998. They published a journal called Cryptozoology. They had conferences. They were an all-around repository of knowledge about unverified and possibly imaginary animals.
While the society is gone, the cryptids still roam the globe. Here is GlobalPost's guide to the world's best unverified animals.
The most popular cryptid, by far, is the lake monster. Just about every lake has one. Live near a lake? Google it. You have a lake monster. Most of these beasts look like Plesiosauroids, a type of large marine reptile from the Jurassic period. Basically a Brontosaurus that knows how to swim, but not technically a dinosaur.
The Loch Ness Monster is the clear stand-out in this category. "Nessi," as you already know, lives in a lake in the Scottish Highlands and is the Michael Jordan of imaginary animals: the best there's ever been. But there are plenty of other lake monsters worth checking out.
Canada, for example, is crushing the lake monster game. There's Champ, who lives in Lake Champlain. Manipogo chills in Lake Manitoba. Igopogo haunts Lake Simcoe, Ontario. There's also Ogopogo in Okanagan Lake in British Colombia. He's got a cool statue.
Statue of Ogopogo via Wikimedia Commons.
Leaving Canada, we've got plenty more watery beasts.
England has Bownessi, who hangs out in Windermere Lake, the largest natural lake in England.
In Russia, you'll find the Brosno Dragon, sometimes called Brosnya. He lives in Lake Brosno near Andreapol in West Russia and has been the topic of regional legends going back to the 13th century.
Japan, of course, has a couple. There's Issie (or Isshi) in Lake Ikeda, on Kyusha Island. According to folklore, some lady was once a white mare whose foal was kidnapped by a samurai. Distraught, she jumped into a lake and turned into a monster. She still regularly appears on the surface looking for her foal. Elsewhere, in Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, there's Kussie.
South Africa has a weird one. Mamlambo, who is also a deity in South African and Zulu mythology is a monster who lives in the Mzintlava River. He's known as the "brain sucker," apparently because he enjoys eating peoples faces and sucking out their brains.
Most lake monsters have one long neck and one face, but not all of them. The Ayia Napa Sea Monster lives in Cyprus near a popular tourist resort and has lots of necks and faces. Local fisherman call him "The Friendly Monster." Tourists apparently like to look for him.
Ayia Napa Sea Monster via Wikimedia Commons
Tall Hairy Dudes
Almost as popular as lake monsters, there are tall hairy dudes running around forests, jungles, and mountains everywhere you look. Most of them are large, bipedal creatures that look like people in gorilla costumes.
Winner in this category, arguably, is Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch. He's the Loch Ness Monster of tall hairy dudes. He lives in North America’s Pacific Northwest region and is best known for his hairiness, blurriness, and all-around swag.
Bigfoot. Frame 352 from Patterson-Gimlin film, 1967 via Wikimedia Commons.
The Yeti is Bigfoot's main contender for best all-around tall hairy dude. It's something of a Pele v. Maradona situation. So take your pick. The Yeti stalks the Himalayas. He is known for rocking (or once rocking) this haircut:
Purported Yeti Scalp at Khumjung Monastery in Nepal via Wikimedia Commons.
There are lots of other hairy bipeds.
Central Asia has Almas, which means “wild man” in Mongolian. He has been sighted in the Caucasus and Pamir Mountains of central Asia and the Altai Mountains of southern Mongolia since the 15th century. There’s the Barmanou in Pakistan in Northeast Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Vietnam, Laos, and Borneo you'll find Batutut, who was, reportedly, once spotted by a platoon of American soldiers. The Bigfoot of Malaysia lives in the jungle of Johor and is called either Orang Mawas or “hantu jarang gigi,” which means “snaggle-toothed Ghost.” And there's Chuchunya in Siberia, Russia.
These cryptids are possibly just one very well traveled, tall, hairy dude.
Things with Wings that Drink Blood and Eat Babies
Lake monsters and tall hairy dudes rule the world, but there are also terrifying vampires.
The Philippines has a couple of vampire cryptids. The Aswang is, worringly, a combination of a vampire and a werewolf. Some were thought to live as townspeople by day and transform by night to eat fetuses and children. Spanish colonists reported as early as the 16th century that the people they were busy colonizing were terrified of this thing. Then there's the Manananggal, whose name comes from a Tagalog word meaning "to separate," because it searches out victims by separating its torso, growing wings, and flying around. Often representated as female, the Manananggal tends to prey on pregnant women and suck blood from whatever fetuses the Aswang had missed. She's been the subject of a few horror movies in the Philippines, understandably.
Artist's rendering of the Manananggal. Gian Bernal via Wikimedia Commons.
Indonesia also has some blood-sucking cryptids. The island of Seram has the Orang-bati, which supposedly looks like an orangutan with wings. And Java has the Ahool, a giant, jungle-dwelling bat that some non-cryptologists think might be the Javan Wood-owl.
There are at least two giant worms out there. The Minhocão is a scaly black earthworm that burrows massive trenches in the forests of South America and has tentacles on its head.
Artist's rendering of the Minhocão via Wikimedia Commons
Slightly more awesome is the Mongolian Death Worm, which lives in the Gobi Desert and is said to be 2 to 5 feet long. It spews acid that's corrosive enough to kill a human and can apparently also use electricity as a weapon. It was the inspiration for the graboid in Tremors (1990).
Artist's rendering of the Mongolian Death Worm, via Wikimedia Commons.
Dinosaurs that Survived the Asteroid
Lake monsters aren't the only dinosaur-looking cryptids. Two of the better dinosaur cryptids live in Africa.
In the savannah of Cameroon, there's Ngoubou, who looks like a ceratops or a styracosaurus. He's got six horns and apparently likes to fight elephants, even though it’s only about the size of an ox. Seriously tough.
Styracosaurus skeleton at Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario. D Gordon E Robertson via Wikimedia Commons.
Then there's the Muhuru, a heavily armored cryptid in the jungles of Kenya. Looks like a Stegosaurus. Fairly tough.
Drawing of Stegosaurus via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprisingly murderous, these trees. One of the best man-eating trees is the Ya-Te-Veo, which means "I see you." Creepy. So if you're in Africa or Central America, keep an eye out for trees with branches that look like serpents.
Ya-te-veo. J.W. Buel, Sea and the Land (1887) via Wikimedia Commons.
Cryptids that Turn Out to be Real Things
If someone told you there's an animal that looks like a taxidermy mashup of a giraffe, a zebra, and a donkey, you'd probably think, "Thanks. That's not a real thing." If you were a British colonizer colonizing Africa and locals told you about this mashup of a beast, which they called the Atti, you might respond the way those colonizers did, by calling this imaginary animal the "African Unicorn." Well, colonizers aren't always the brightest. This animal turned out to be real. It's called the Okapi. It's more closely related to the giraffe than the zebra and lives in the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Okapi. Jan-Philipp Strobel/AFP/Getty Images.
The Okapi became the official emblem of the International Society of Cryptozoology and gives hope to cryptozoologists everywhere that other imaginary animals might also turn out to be real. And imaginary animals everywhere look to the Okapi and know that they, too, are real.
So look out for these cryptids. If you spot one, be sure to post a blurry photo in the comments.