Cryptozoology is the study of animals that are hypothesized to exist, but concrete physical evidence to prove their existence has not yet been found. These “unknown animals” could be either undiscovered species or living specimens of species thought to be extinct. The term is derived from the Greek, and means literally “the study of hidden animals.” Individuals who study and search for these animals are referred to as cryptozoologists, and the elusive animals investigated are called cryptids.
The origin of the term cryptozoology is widely credited to Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian zoologist. However, in Heuvelmans’s own book, On the Track of Unknown Animals, written in 1955, he credits Ivan Sanderson, a Scottish explorer, with coining the term in 1947 or 1948.
Cryptozoology is a combination of biology and anthropology. It relies heavily on eyewitness accounts and circumstantial evidence. Stories, legends, and local folklore attract cryptozoologists, who then expend most of their energy trying to establish the existence of a creature. Then a live specimen has to be found. Throughout history Western explorers have dismissed these tales as fantasy, only to be proven wrong years later. When first reported by natives, the giant squid, mountain gorilla, platypus, and panda, to name a few, were considered hoaxes by European explorers.
Most people have heard of the more extreme examples of cryptids. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Yeti are familiar, but there are literally hundreds of species rumored to exist. Cryptozoology generally does not refer to newly discovered small organisms. New species of insects and frogs, for example, are not uncommon. They are not especially difficult to find, there is simply the time factor involved in cataloging them. Cryptozoology also does not refer to ghosts, UFOs, psychics, or anything paranormal. It is also not intended to describe out- of-place animals, such as exotic pets released into the wild by disenchanted owners.
Cryptozoology has acquired a bad reputation as a pseudoscience. Critical thinking and solid research are necessary when investigating claims of a new species. An individual who hunts for a sasquatch one month and a sea serpent the next may have little background in either. A primatologist or physical anthropologist studying evidence of a sasquatch would be more likely to synthesize and apply known data properly to new evidence. Likewise, scientists with a degree in marine biology would be better able to evaluate claims of sea serpents or lake monsters. Until detailed, methodical research becomes standard practice among cryptozoologists, the field will remain disrespected by more traditional biologists and zoologists.
See also Anthropology; Extinction and Evolution; Fossil Record; Fossils, Interpretations of; Paleontology
Arment, C. (2004). Cryptozoology: Science and speculation. Landisville, PA: Coachwhip.
Coleman, L. (2007). Mysterious America: The revised edition. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Coleman, L., & Clark, J. (1999). Cryptozoology A to Z: The encyclopedia of loch monsters, sasquatch, chupacabras, and other authentic mysteries of nature. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Newton, M. (2005). Encyclopedia of cryptozoology: A global guide to hidden animals and their pursuers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Shuker, K. (1995). In search of prehistoric survivors: Do giant “extinct” creatures still exist? London: Blandford.