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Folklore Files #4: What is a Cryptid?

Updated: May 2

Exploring the Enigmatic World of Cryptozoology

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In the realm of the unknown and the mysterious, cryptids hold a special place. These elusive and often legendary creatures, from Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster, captivate the imagination and provoke debate. But what exactly is a cryptid, and why do these creatures continue to spark such intense interest and controversy?

What is a Cryptid?: Exploring the Enigmatic World of Cryptozoology


Defining Cryptids

A cryptid is defined as an animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated. This term encompasses a wide range of creatures often rooted in folklore and reported sightings, yet they lack scientific evidence sufficient for formal recognition by the scientific community.

The term "cryptid" comes from the Greek "kryptos," meaning hidden. Thus, cryptids are the hidden animals of the natural world, existing in the shadows of our knowledge and understanding.

The concept of cryptids encompasses a variety of creatures reported across different cultures and regions. Cryptids often emerge from local legends or misidentified real animals and sometimes represent exaggerated versions of existing animals or mistaken interpretations of fossil remains.



The Field of Cryptozoology

Cryptids, monsters, legends

Cryptozoology, the study of cryptids, is often considered a fringe science or pseudoscience because it relies heavily on circumstantial evidence and lacks the empirical methodology typical of more conventional scientific disciplines. Despite this, cryptozoology has a large following, with enthusiasts and researchers dedicated to proving the existence of these creatures.

Bernard Heuvelmans, often regarded as the father of cryptozoology, advocated for a systematic study of cryptids. In fact, the term “cryptozoology” was coined by Heuvelmans in his book “On the Track of Unknown Animals.” He believed that just as zoology had once cataloged new species from remote parts of the world, cryptozoology could do the same for creatures that had so far escaped formal recognition.

While the scientific community generally views cryptozoology with skepticism, this field attracts significant public interest and cultural engagement. It taps into human curiosity about the unknown and the unexplored, maintaining a vibrant presence in popular media, folklore, and the collective imagination. Despite the controversies surrounding its scientific validity, the study of cryptids encourages a broader appreciation for mystery and exploration in the natural world.

*Suggested read: Cryptozoology A to Z


The Origins of Cryptid Lore

Cryptid lore

Cryptid lore can be traced back to the dawn of human civilization. Ancient cultures around the world have legends of creatures that today would be considered cryptids. These origins are deeply entwined with the ways in which early humans tried to make sense of their surroundings, often attributing mysterious or unexplained phenomena to the presence of mythical creatures. In many ways, these early tales of cryptids were the first attempts to make sense of the natural world's unknown and unseen aspects.

In ancient times, every culture had its own set of mythical creatures that were believed to inhabit their world. These creatures often served multifunctional roles in society, including explaining unknown natural phenomena, teaching moral lessons, or representing fears and hopes. For example, dragons in various forms appear in cultures all around the world, from the fire-breathing dragons of European lore to the more spiritually significant dragons of East Asian cultures. These creatures could be interpreted as personifications of natural forces—such as rivers, storms, or celestial events—that early humans did not yet understand.

During the Age of Exploration, as European explorers encountered the diverse wildlife of Africa, the Americas, and Asia, they sometimes interpreted unfamiliar animals through the lens of these ancient myths, leading to new cryptid stories. For instance, the okapi, once a creature of myth, was later discovered and recognized by science, proving that some cryptids do have a basis in reality.

*Suggested read: American Monsters


Cryptozoology Today

Cryptozoology today, modern cryptid

In more recent times, cryptid lore has been influenced by a combination of media, popular culture, and pseudoscientific investigation. The 19th and 20th centuries saw a rise in interest in these beings as newspapers and later television and the internet provided platforms for sharing stories of cryptid sightings. This period also saw the formalization of cryptozoology as enthusiasts sought to study these creatures using the methods of science, albeit often without rigorous scientific standards.

Modern cryptozoology uses a variety of methods to pursue evidence of cryptids. Cryptozoologists often analyze historical accounts, conduct field investigations, and examine any physical evidence that could substantiate the cryptids' existence. This evidence might include photographs, footprints, or even DNA samples. However, much of the evidence remains controversial and open to interpretation.

Despite the lack of scientific recognition, cryptozoology has contributed to the discovery of previously unknown species. This aspect of cryptozoology provides its practitioners with hope that some cryptids will eventually be recognized as real animals. It also fuels the ongoing debate about the nature of science and the exploration of the unknown.

*Suggested read: I Know What I Saw



Debating the Existence of Cryptids

Debating the existence of cryptids

The modern debate over the existence of cryptids is vibrant and multifaceted, involving a diverse range of viewpoints from staunch skeptics to ardent supporters. This debate centers on the veracity of evidence, the plausibility of creatures existing undiscovered, and the broader implications for science and understanding of potential discovery.

Skeptics' Viewpoints

Skeptics of cryptids typically include biologists, zoologists, and other scientific professionals who emphasize the lack of empirical, scientific evidence as the cornerstone of their skepticism. They argue that in the age of satellite imagery, advanced tracking, and biodiversity studies, it is increasingly implausible that large, unknown animals could remain undetected, especially in regions well-traveled by humans.

  • Lack of Concrete Evidence: Skeptics point out that most evidence for cryptids, such as grainy photographs, shaky video footage, and anecdotal eyewitness accounts, lacks the scientific rigor required for new species discovery. They highlight that such evidence is often susceptible to misinterpretation, hoaxes, or mistaken identity of known species.

  • Scientific Methodology: They argue that cryptozoology does not adhere to the stringent methodologies of established science. Without reproducible evidence, controlled experiments, and peer-reviewed findings, the claims of cryptozoology don't meet the standards required to be deemed scientifically credible.

  • Biological and Ecological Implausibility: Many skeptics also cite biological and ecological reasons why certain cryptids are unlikely to exist. For example, the ecosystem impact and food supply chains necessary to support a large unknown animal would likely have been detected through environmental studies and other wildlife research.

*Suggested read: Abominable Science!

Supporters' Viewpoints

Supporters of cryptids include cryptozoologists, enthusiasts, and even some academics open to the possibility of undiscovered species. They often cite historical precedents and the continuous discovery of new species as bases for their arguments.

  • Historical Precedents: Supporters frequently reference the discovery of animals once thought to be mythical, such as the gorilla, the giant squid, and the okapi. These examples serve to bolster claims that the world still holds hidden species waiting to be discovered.

  • Vast Unexplored Areas: Proponents argue that vast expanses of the planet remain largely unexplored, particularly deep oceans and dense forests. They suggest that these regions could easily harbor species that have not yet come into contact with humans or have been overlooked by mainstream science.

  • Eyewitness Accounts: Supporters also value the numerous eyewitness accounts from various credible sources who claim to have seen these creatures. While anecdotal, these accounts are often used to justify further investigation and exploration.

  • Cultural Testimonies: Many cryptids are deeply embedded in the traditions and histories of local cultures, which supporters argue is indicative of their possible existence. These cultural testimonies are seen as a form of collective historical evidence that deserves further scrutiny and respect.

The debate over the existence of cryptids encapsulates a broader discussion about the nature of evidence, the limits of scientific discovery, and the ever-present human fascination with the unknown. While definitive proof of cryptids remains elusive, the search for these creatures continues to inspire, intrigue, and provoke scientific and public debate. Whether or not cryptids are ever proven to exist, their study highlights important questions about what we accept as known, and how we approach the mysteries that remain in the natural world.


Well-Known Cryptids

The list of cryptids is long and varied, reflecting the rich tapestry of human culture and folklore. Some of the most famous cryptids include:

Bigfoot cryptid

  • Bigfoot (North America) - Perhaps the most famous cryptid, Bigfoot is typically described as a large, hairy, ape-like creature living in the forests of North America. Sightings and footprint casts have been central to Bigfoot lore, with the Pacific Northwest being a particularly active area for reports. *Suggested read: The Historical Bigfoot

Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, cryptid

  • Loch Ness Monster (Scotland) - Often called "Nessie," this cryptid is purported to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. The most common depiction of Nessie is of a prehistoric marine reptile, like a plesiosaur, although evidence remains anecdotal and is often based on grainy photographs. *Suggested read: The Loch Ness Monster

Chupacabra cryptid

  • Chupacabra (Latin America and Southern United States) - First reported in Puerto Rico, the Chupacabra is said to be a creature that attacks livestock, especially goats, and drinks their blood. Descriptions vary, but it is often portrayed as reptilian with spines along its back, or as a strange, hairless wild dog. *Suggested read: Tracking the Chupacabra

Mothman cryptid

  • Mothman (West Virginia, USA) - Reported in the 1960s in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Mothman is described as a large, winged creature with glowing red eyes. Its appearance is often associated with ominous events, adding a layer of mystique to its legend. *Suggested read: The Mothman Prophecies

Yeti, abominable snowman, cryptid

  • The Yeti or Abominable Snowman (Himalayas) - Similar to Bigfoot, the Yeti is said to be a large, bipedal creature living in the Himalayas. Often depicted as covered in white or grey fur, it is a central figure in local folklore and a subject of interest in cryptozoology. *Suggested read: My Quest for the Yeti



Whether real or imagined, cryptids occupy a fascinating niche at the intersection of myth, culture, and science. They challenge our understanding of the natural world, testing the limits of our knowledge and the breadth of our imagination. Cryptozoology, as a field, reflects a human trait as old as any: the deep and abiding curiosity about the unknown and the unexplored. It reminds us that the world is still full of mystery, and perhaps, hidden among the shadows, there are still wonders yet to be discovered.


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