What Is A Cryptid, Really?

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, March 8, 2016
“I think Bigfoot is blurry, that’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault. Bigfoot is blurry, and that’s extra scary to me. There’s a large, out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside. Run, he’s fuzzy, get out of here.” —Mitch Hedberg

In A Nutshell

For skeptics, the idea of cryptozoology is paranormal bunk that has more to do with looking for mythical monsters than real science. In 2004, Chad Arment’s cryptozoology textbook outlined the four different types of cryptids that should be under investigation: animals outside their usual geographic range, individuals within a species that have some extraordinary characteristic, creatures that look like a species declared extinct, and creatures that are completely unlike anything accepted by science. This is an attempt to make cryptozoology a little more accepted in the scientific community and to get rid of the idea of other types of cryptids, like those whose existence is passed down in folklore and myth.

The Whole Bushel

The word “cryptid” conjures up some very specific images. Most of those are along the lines of the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot.

But the actual definition of a cryptid is massively broad, and throughout the history of cryptozoology, those involved in it have been unable to agree on how to classify, define, and identify a cryptid.

There are plenty of ideas of what makes a cryptid, and the disagreement within the community means there are a lot of different ways to define the concept.

According to one of the most famous cryptozoologists, Loren Coleman, the study is devoted to the discovery of creatures that are not formally recognized by modern science. That’s probably the most well-known description of a cryptid, but Coleman says that cryptids can also be creatures that were thought to be extinct, but are now rumored to still be in existence.

The term “cryptid” was first coined in the 1980s, followed by several years arguing about what it meant.

Bernard Heuvelmans, often referred to as one of the pioneers of cryptozoology, took a broader approach to the idea when he stated that a cryptid is any animal that has left behind circumstantial or testimonial evidence but no physical evidence.

Other proposed categories of cryptids are out-of-place animals that show up in locations well beyond where they’re expected to be seen and even ghostly animals that are reported to have an otherworldly appearance, like glowing eyes, a spectral form, or the ability to mysteriously appear and disappear without a trace.

Heuvelmans scoffs at this idea, as the closer to the paranormal and mythology you get, the farther outside the realm and practices of science you get.

Heuvelmans did, however, add something distinctly unscientific to the definition. In order to be a cryptid, he said, an animal should be unexpected or different in some way, but it could also be “emotionally upsetting.” With this distinction, Heuvelmans digs a little deeper into the idea of creatures from myth and folklore as cryptids. When something half-seen in the middle of the night is terrifying, stories are told about it. Stories are re-told, become local folklore, and the creature becomes a cryptid.

In 2004, Chad Arment wrote the first cryptozoology textbook, and laid out some specific guidelines for the different types of creatures that should be considered cryptids, and he did so with an eye toward science.

For Arment, cryptozoology isn’t the investigation of the paranormal; it’s part of the same science that led to the discovery and confirmation of the existence of animals like the okapi and the lowland gorilla, once thought to be fanciful exaggeration.

His four different types are: animals that bear absolutely no resemblance to any known species past or present, creatures that reportedly bear a strong resemblance to a species thought to be extinct, creatures that show up out of their accepted and normal geographic range, and individuals within a species that are extraordinary in some way (e.g., size, coloring, or shape).

Show Me The Proof

Loren Coleman: The Meaning of Cryptozoology
Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids, by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero
Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs, by Gregory L. Reece
Hidden Animals, by Michael Newton