The Jersey Devil, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 1909.
The Jersey Devil,
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 1909.

Cryptozoology (from Greek κρυπτός, kriptos, "hidden" + zoology; literally, "study of hidden animals") refers to the search for animals which are considered to be legendary or otherwise nonexistent by mainstream biology. This includes looking for living examples of animals which are considered to be extinct, such as dinosaurs; animals whose existence lacks physical support but which appear in myths, legends, or are reported, such as Sasquatch and el Chupacabras;1 and wild animals dramatically outside of their normal geographic ranges, such as the British Big Cats.

According to authors Ben Roesch and John Moore, "Cryptozoology ranges from pseudoscientific to useful and interesting, depending on how it is practiced." They ague that it is "not strictly a science", that "many scientists and skeptics classify cryptozoology as a pseudoscience" and that "papers on the topic are rarely published in scientific journals, no formal education on the subject is available, and no scientists are employed to study cryptozoology."2 This, though, is not strictly true, as, for example, the academic qualifications of Bernard Heuvelmans or Karl Shuker clearly show.

Those involved in cryptozoological study are known as cryptozoologists. The animals they study are often referred to as cryptids, a term coined by John Wall in 1983.3


Invention of the term "cryptozoology" is often attributed to zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, though Heuvelmans attributes coinage of the term to the late Scottish explorer and adventurer Ivan T Sanderson.4 Heuvelmans' 1955 book On the Track of Unknown Animals traces the scholarly origins of the discipline to Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans and his 1892 study, The Great Sea Serpent.5 Heuvelmans argued that cryptozoology should be undertaken with scientific rigor, but with an open-minded, interdisciplinary approach. He also stressed that attention should be given to local, urban and folkloric sources regarding such creatures, arguing that while often layered in unlikely and fantastic elements, folktales can have small grains of truth and important information regarding undiscovered organisms. Loren Coleman, a modern populariser of cryptozoology, has chronicled the history and personalities of cryptozoology in some of his books.6

Another notable book on the subject is Willy Ley's Exotic Zoology (1959). Ley was best known for his writings on rocketry and related topics, but he was trained in paleontology, and wrote a number of books about animals. Ley's collection Exotic Zoology is of some interest to cryptozoology, as he discusses the Yeti and sea serpents, as well as relict dinosaurs. The book entertains the possibility that some legendary creatures (like the sirrush, the unicorn or the cyclops) might be based on actual animals, through misinterpretation of the animals and/or their remains. Also notable is the work of British zoologist and cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, who has published 12 books and countless articles on numerous cryptozoological subjects since the mid-1980s.


Cryptozoology has been criticised because of its reliance on anecdotal information7 and because some cryptozoologists do not typically follow the scientific method89 and devote a substantial portion of their efforts to investigations of animals that most scientists believe are unlikely to exist.10

As historian Mike Dash notes, few scientists doubt there are thousands of unknown animals, particularly invertebrates, awaiting discovery; however, cryptozoologists are largely uninterested in researching and cataloging newly-discovered species of ants or beetles, instead focusing their efforts towards "more elusive" creatures that have often defied decades of work aimed at confirming their existence.11 The majority of mainstream criticism of cryptozoology is thus directed towards the search for megafauna: cryptids such as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster which appear often in popular culture, but for which there is, arguably, little or no scientific support. Some scientists argue that mega-fauna cryptids are unlikely to exist undetected in great enough numbers to maintain a breeding population,12 and are unlikely to be able to survive in their reported habitats due to issues of climate and food supply.13 For example, many experts on the subject consider the Bigfoot legend to be a combination of folklore and hoaxes.14


Cryptozoologists argue that the inventory of even large animals is incomplete.15 For example large marine animals continue to be discovered and there is reason to believe more will be discovered in the future.16. The Vu Quang ox and several species of muntjac have been found in the poorly explored regions between Vietnam and Laos in recent decades.17 Therefore cryptozoologists claim their hunt for disputed animals is not unreasonable.

Some cryptozoology proponents contend that mainstream scientists evaluate cryptozoological 'evidence' based on prevailing paradigms or world views rather than on its merits or failings.18 Supporters of cryptozoology cite the case of the Minnesota Iceman associated with Ivan T Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans, which they perceive to have been well-attested despite a lack of any support by the scientific community.19

Supporters claim that as in legitimate scientific fields, cryptozoologists are often responsible for disproving their own objects of study. For example, some cryptozoologists have collected evidence that disputes the validity of some facets of the Bigfoot phenomenon.202122

Cryptozoology proponents further cite as support instances in which they claim that species accepted by the scientific community were initially considered superstition, hoaxes, delusions or misidentifications.23 For example, they claim that the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) was previously dismissed as folklore/myth, due to lack of evidence and fossils, before being confirmed in 1902.24 Similarly, they claim that the Hoan Kiem Turtle was thought to be a local legend25 before conclusive evidence for its existence was accepted around 19982002.

Cryptozoologists have cited the 1976 discovery of the previously unknown megamouth shark off Oahu, Hawaii to argue that cryptozoological claims about oceanic cryptids should be given more credence. While zoologist and cryptozoologist Ben S Roesch agrees the discovery of megamouth proves "the oceans have a lot of secrets left to reveal," he simultaneously cautions against applying the "megamouth analogy" too broadly to hypothetical creatures, as the megamouth avoided discovery due to specific behavioral adaptations that would not fit most other cryptids.26 In essence, he argues that the Megamouth is not a useful analogy to support the existence of marine "cryptids" in general.27

The 2003 discovery of the fossil remains of Homo floresiensis, thought to be a descendant of earlier Homo erectus, was cited by paleontologist Henry Gee of the journal Nature, as possible evidence that humanoid cryptids like the orang pendek and Yeti were "founded on grains of truth." Additionally, Gee declared, "cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."28

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Related Pages

Further Reading

  • Arment, Chad, 2004. Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation. Landisville, Penn.: Coachwhip.
  • Arment, Chad (ed), 2006. Cryptozoology and the Investigation of Lesser-Known Mystery Animals. Landisville, Penn.: Coachwhip.
  • Arnold, Neil, 2007. MONSTER! The A-Z Of Zooform Phenomena. Bideford: CFZ Press.
  • Bille, Matthew, 1995. Rumors of Existence. Surrey, British Columbia: Hancock.
  • Clark, Jerome, 1993. Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena. Detroit: Visible Ink Press.
  • Coghlan, Ronan, 2004. Dictionary of Cryptozoology. Bangor, Northern Ireland: Xiphos.
  • Coleman, Loren, 2003. Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Coleman, Loren, 2002. Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology. Fresno: Linden Press.
  • Coleman, Loren and Clark, Jerome, 1999. Cryptozoology: A to Z. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Eberhart, George M, 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.
  • Newton, Michael, 2005. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.
  • Radford, Benjamin and Nickell, Joe, 2006. Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Shuker, Karl, 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. London: Blandford.
  • Shuker, Karl, 1997. From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn.
  • Shuker, Karl, 2003. The Beasts That Hide From Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals. New York: Paraview Press.
  • Weidensaul, Scott, 2002. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press.

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