Cryptozoology is the study of creatures whose existence has yet to be—or else cannot entirely be—proved or disproved by science. These creatures, known collectively as cryptids, include examples like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Himalayan Yeti, yet these famous cases are by no means the only ones on record. In fact, practically every country and corner of the globe has its own legendary monster or mystery creature that supposedly dwells there, from giant bats in Java to enormous water hounds in Ireland.
Ahools are enormous carnivorous bats that are said to inhabit the rainforests of Java in Indonesia. Believed to have a wingspan in excess of 10 feet (making them roughly the same size as a condor), ahools are said to be covered in a thick brown or black fur like fruit bats, but unlike bats have long, powerful legs and claws and are supposedly capable of pouncing on and snatching up live prey—including humans, if the stories are to be believed—from open ground. Sightings of ahools are often dismissed simply as mistaken glimpses of owls, eagles, and other large birds of prey that inhabit the same rainforests, but some sources claim the creatures do indeed exist, and may even be an isolated and as-yet undiscovered species descended from pterosaurs.
The Ainu people of Japan have long believed that Volcano Bay, off the south coast of Hokkaido, is home to an enormous octopus called the Akkorokamui. Numerous sightings of the creature have been made over the years. British missionary John Batchelor, who was working on Hokkaido in the early 1900s, recorded one such sighting in his book The Ainu and Their Folklore, writing that “a great sea monster with large staring eyes” had attacked three local fishermen and their boat: “The monster was round in shape, and emitted a dark fluid and noxious odor … The three men fled in dismay, not so much indeed for fear, they say, but on account of the dreadful smell. However that may have been, they were so scared that the next morning all three refused to get up and eat; they were lying in their beds pale and trembling.”
The Altamaha-ha is a river monster, measuring 20 to 30 feet long, with large flippers and a seal-like snout that is said to inhabit the mouth of the Altamaha River near Darien, Georgia. Although numerous accounts of sightings of the Altamaha-ha have apparently been made over the years, the fact that Darien was founded as New Inverness by a band of Scottish Highlanders in 1736 seems to suggest that the legend is probably a descendant of Scots settlers’ tales of the Loch Ness Monster.
The Dobhar-chú, or “water-hound,” is a legendary otter-like animal that supposedly lives in isolated freshwater loughs and rivers in Ireland. Usually described as a half-dog, half-fish hybrid, with a long snaking body covered in thick fur, the Dobhar-chú is large and heavyset, but can move very fast both in the water and on land—even, according to one story, being able to keep up with a galloping horse. Sightings of the creature date back several centuries in Ireland, and there are at least two gravestones (including one, in County Leitrim, dating back as far as 1722) of people who were reportedly attacked and killed by a Dobhar-chú.
A number of Central African tribes are said to believe the swamps of the Congo basin are inhabited by an enormous, semi-aquatic creature known as the emela-ntouka. Similar to but larger than a hippopotamus, and armed with a single long bony tusk or horn in the center of its forehead, the emela-ntouka is apparently herbivorous. But, like the hippo, it has a reputation for being dangerously confrontational when disturbed, and has even been known to kill creatures even larger than itself; its name means “elephant killer.”
6. Filiko Teras
The waters off the coast of Cape Greco National Park in Cyprus are supposedly home to a sea monster known locally as To Filiko Teras, or “the friendly monster.” As its name suggests, the monster has apparently never attacked humans, but it has nevertheless gained a reputation for destroying fishermen’s nets and upturning smaller boats. Stories of the Filiko Teras are probably inspired by the Greek legend of Scylla, a huge sea monster that attacks Odysseus’s boat in The Odyssey. Sightings of the creature are probably nothing more than glimpses of squids or octopuses.
The grootslang, or “great snake,” is a legendary monster said to dwell in the caves of the Richtersveld, a mountainous desert region in northwestern South Africa. In local mythology, grootslangs were primordial creatures comprised of the head and front of an elephant and the back and tail of an enormous serpent. When Earth was created, the grootslangs were all apparently destroyed, but according to legend, some survived and retreated to the deepest caves of the Northern Cape province. Tales of enormous tusked snakes—probably inspired by real-life sightings of enormous pythons that live in the same area—have rumbled on in South African folklore ever since. The mysterious disappearance of a British diamond magnate named Peter Grayson in the Richtersveld caves in 1917 is sometimes blamed on a grootslang.
8. Jersey Devil
The Jersey Devil is a cryptid said to live in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. According to legend, the creature was the 13th son of one of the state’s earliest settlers, Mother Leeds, who offered her son to the devil upon his birth in 1735 because she and her husband couldn’t afford to raise another child. Ever since then, hundreds of sightings of a grotesque, two-legged hooved monster with a sheep-like head and large scaly wings have been reported in the Pine Barrens, including one famous incident in the winter of 1909 when a long trail of hoof prints, crossing under fences and over walls and rooftops, mysteriously appeared in the snow one night.
The Mapinguari is a large ape-like creature said to inhabit the rainforests straddling the border of Brazil and Bolivia. According to local folklore, the Mapinguari stands around 8 feet tall, has a tough (and apparently bulletproof) covering of scales on its back, thick red fur on its head and belly, long curved claws, and, if all of the stories are to be believed, a second mouth in the center of its stomach. When approached by humans, the Mapinguari is said to rear up on its hind legs like a bear and can supposedly produce a foul-smelling scent to ward off potential hunters. As recently as 2007, a sighting was reported in The New York Times.
The Ogopogo is a vast water serpent said to reside in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia. Sightings of the Ogopogo date back to the early 1800s, when the creature was originally known by the name n’haitaka , meaning “lake devil.” The name Ogopogo wasn’t adopted until the 1920s, when it was lifted from the title of a popular English musical hall number called The Ogo-Pogo: The Funny Foxtrot. According to the lyrics, the singer is “looking for the Ogo-pogo, / The funny little Ogo-pogo. / His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale, / I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.”
This 4-foot-long subterranean cryptid is somewhat like a giant earthworm. Also known as the “Mongolian death worm,” the olgoi-khorkhoi apparently lives beneath the sands of the southern Gobi Desert, only coming up to the surface in the warmer summer months or when the ground becomes too wet for it to survive. Sightings of the worms date back several centuries among Mongolians, many of whom claim the olgoi-khorkhoi is able to spit venom or even acid from its mouth, while its body is apparently coated with such a toxic slime that anyone who happens to touch it will be instantly killed.
“Momo”—short for “Missouri monster”—is a mysterious apeman similar to Bigfoot, which is said to inhabit the forests along the Mississippi Riveri. First reported in 1971, Momo is described as 7 to 8 feet tall with a broad, pumpkin-shaped head, and is supposedly covered head to foot in thick dark fur. According to some accounts, the creature is notoriously aggressive, and like the South American Mapinguari, is able to produce a grotesque smell—even worse than a skunk’s—to ward off would-be attackers.
13. The Shuck
The folklore of the British Isles is littered with tales of mysterious black dogs that supposedly haunt rural towns and villages across the country. The Shuck—a huge black hound said to dwell in East Anglia, on the far eastern coast of England—is probably one of the most famous, having apparently attacked a church in the village of Bungay, Suffolk, during a thunderstorm in 1577. According to local records, while the villagers were sheltering from the storm in the church, a gigantic black dog burst through the church’s door, killing a man and his son, and pulling down one of the pillars supporting the church steeple, which collapsed into the nave. As it fled the church, the Shuck apparently left scorch marks in the wood of the church door that can still be seen to this day.
Tatzelwurms are lizard-like creatures that are supposed to inhabit the most isolated regions of the Alps. Although accounts of their size and appearance vary, they are said to be around 2 to 5 feet in length, with a broad cat-like head and a wide gaping mouth. Their forelimbs are short and armed with long claws, but they have no hind legs and instead their bodies taper into a long snake-like tail. Numerous sightings of the creatures—which are known as tatzelwurms in Germany, arassas in France, stollenwurms in Switzerland, bergstutzens in Austria, and basiliscos in Italy—have been made all over the Alps, including a recent spate of sightings reported in Italy’s Il Giorno newspaper as recently as 2009.
Tahoe Tessie is a lake monster said to live in the waters of Lake Tahoe on the border of central California and Nevada. Sightings of Tessie date back to at least the 19th century and usually describe a big snake-like creature with a long neck and humped back, which swims so fast that it can even keep up with sailboats. According to local folklore, Tessie sightings are always more common in even-numbered years than odd.
Yowies are a species of Bigfoot-like apes said to inhabit the Australian Outback. Usually described as tall and stocky, and covered head to foot in thick black or dark red fur, most accounts of yowie sightings claim the creatures are shy and very easily spooked, although some tales claim they can be confrontational and can produce a blood-curdling scream when threatened. Today, the creatures are generally considered a myth, but in the 19th century, sightings were remarkably common. In 1892, an Australian amateur adventurer and scholar named Herbert J. McCooey—who had supposedly spotted a yowie near Bateman’s Bay in New South Wales several years earlier—wrote to the Australian Museum in Sydney, offering to capture one of the creatures for a fee of £40 (about $5783 in 2023). He failed.
A version of this story was published in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.