Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Animals of Folklore

Stacy Conradt

We all know about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox - especially if you grew up in Minnesota, where images and statues of the gigantor lumberjack and his cobalt companion are as common as the Golden Arches and Starbucks. But how about the axehandle hound? I bet a few of you are familiar, but there is some folklore out there that isn't quite as, um, huge, as Paul and Babe. Here are 10 of them.

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3. The Hoop Snake. This guy dates all the way back to at least 1784, when it was mentioned in a book called Tour in the U.S.A.. Snakes are scary for some people to begin with, but when you imagine a snake that is intelligent enough to grasp its tail in its mouth and roll after prey quickly like a wheel, they get downright terrifying. Some versions of the legend say the snake rolls up on its victim incredibly fast, then straightens itself out at the last possible second and sinks its fangs in. The only way to escape the beast is to dodge at that last second, causing the fangs to sink into a tree instead. Despite a $10,000 reward offered for anyone who could produce physical evidence of a hoop snake, one has never actually been brought in.

4. The snallygaster, according to folklore, is a dragon sort of a creature that lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Maryland. He (or she, I suppose) dates way back to the 1700s, when the German immigrants there spotted a beast and referred to it as "schneller Geist," which is a word used to describe a fast-moving spirit responsible for slamming doors and sudden gushes of air. The German word eventually evolved into "Snallygaster" "“ you can see it, can't you? Reports started appearing in the Middletown Valley Register in 1909; it was even rumored at the time that Teddy Roosevelt himself was interested in hunting the thing. He popped back up again in the Prohibition Era, when more accounts of loud, strange screeches from the Blue Ridge Mountains surfaced. These days, snallygaster is sometimes used as a generic term for something scary, kind of like the bogeyman. To me, it sounds like something Roald Dahl would have come up with.

5. The teakettler is perhaps the feline counterpart of the axehandle hound. Also located in Minnesota and Wisconsin, this little guy is a mix of cat and dog, walks backwards, and emits a sound like a boiling tea kettle for a meow (or a howl). Oh, and steam does, in fact, pour out of its mouth when it makes this noise. They're very shy, so few first-hand accounts of the creature have ever been recorded, but lumberjacks know that whenever they hear a boiling teapot in an improbable place for an actual pot of tea, it's definitely the teakettler.

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8. The Joint Snake. If you thought the Hoop Snake was a bit fearsome, this one is worse. You can try to kill it by chopping it into pieces, but it's just going to reassemble itself like the T-1000. In fact, if you cut it up and then leave the knife you used sitting next to the piece, it will be sucked up into the regeneration and become part of the snake. I bet even Samuel L. Jackson would even cower to a knife-wielding snake. However, there may be a little nugget of truth to this one "“ likely, people have seen a type of legless lizard called the Glass lizard (so called because they are easily "broken") that can drop their tails off when a predator attacks. The tail then breaks into pieces and continues moving to distract the predator while the real lizard makes a hasty escape. Ummm"¦ creepy. Cool, but creepy.

9. The Wild Haggis proves it's not just Americans who make up silly creatures. The Haggis scoticus is, well, what a haggis looks like before it's caught and prepared. It looks somewhat like a cross between a badger, a skunk and a long-haired dog, apparently. Some "reports" say that the wild haggis has legs that are longer on one side of the body than the other, making for quick movement but only in one direction. The side of the body varies, though. The Wild Haggis is native to the Scottish Highlands.

10. The Wapaloosie is another lumberjack tale (I'm getting the impression that they needed to amuse themselves a lot). It lives in Pacific Coast forests and can get as far east as northern Idaho. It's about the size of a wiener dog, but has the feet and toes of a woodpecker, which helps it grip tree trunks so it can climb them like an inchworm to eat fungus.

Of course, you've also got the jackalope, the hodag and the Wampus Cat, but I figured those are more well-known than these (especially since the hodag and the Wampus Cat are sports mascots). Got any other obscure folklore creatures? Let's hear "˜em! After all, we need to know what to watch for"¦