Wrestling with Cryptid Categories

Wrestling with Cryptid Categories
By Jesse Durdel, cryptozoology enthusiast 

Different cryptozoologists use different “filing systems” to keep track of reports, evidence and types of cryptids. Descriptions of cryptids vary so widely that it stands to reason to have some kind of organization.  In this article, I’ll discuss George Eberhart’s ten cryptid categories, something I’ve been meaning to get into for quite some time.


About Cryptids

North America’s most prominent cryptid is Bigfoot (or Sasquatch, or whatever regional name it goes by in your area), Scotland’s cryptid of renown has been the Loch Ness Monster and Australia has the Yowie and it’s most popular cryptozoological representative. There are reports of a wide diversity of animals unrecognized by science all over the world from Dogmen in Wisconsin to Mokele-mbembe in Rhodesia. All the reports of these cryptids have been mired in controversy, and quite a bit of misunderstanding by the general public.

Contrary to popular belief, creatures that are considered to be cryptids don’t have to be of a supernatural nature.  They don’t all have to have some hidden power attributed to them. They don’t have to have the power to sense and draw out your deepest fears, to disappear on command or control the environment around them. Some of the paranormal attributes given to cryptids are most likely due to the emotional state or psychological upheaval experienced by the observer after witnessing something totally unexpected or unbelievable to them.

The majority of cryptids are probably… just animals. Animals that have yet to be classified that are driven by the scientific principles of biology with the needs, desires and motivations thereof.  Does that mean that there are no cryptids with supernatural attributes that are beyond our current understanding? Certainly not. As cryptozoology is an endeavour that deals with “unknowns” in the majority of the available literature, it is a logical (and appropriate) assumption that we do not know everything there is about any particular cryptid, because if we did know everything about it it would be classified as an animal.

The difference between a cryptid and an animal recognized by science is that sweet, sweet indisputable evidence. Although in the past some species may have been coined “verified” by science by means of photographic evidence [1] alone. However with the increasing ease of access and use of technology that can manipulate images and film (special effects programs) as well as the preponderance of hoaxers in the world it seems like, at least for any terrestrial animal, we may never again be able to rely solely on a visual image again to verify the existence of an animal.

The moving images and photographs we do have that allege to be of cryptid creatures are just blurry enough or shaky enough to be attacked by skeptics and scientists (sometimes rightfully so) and are relegated to being controversial and inconclusive. But there again lies the unknown. If all things were weighed equally, then inconclusive evidence should not be discounted, because in the end we really can’t know for sure. It is logical to accept that we don’t know everything.

The same logical conclusion should be applied to (dare I say) modern science. Where there have been natural laws established by science, increasingly we find that nature does not always abide by them. This is where I’m going to give props to skeptics that include phrases like “unlikely” or “there just isn’t enough information” because that’s when you know someone’s ego isn’t getting in the way of their critical thinking. The same attitude should be lauded in people on the other side of the isle, as no one is omniscient and variables are inevitable no matter what evidence is presented. The only thing that does not change is that everything has the potential to change, and as everything else, cryptozoology has changed over the years as well.

Cryptozoology has transformed (and some would say devolved) from being a field of study where royal societies in years far gone would fund extravagant and expensive expeditions into the unknown wilds of the world to search for alleged monsters and mythical beasts, to today where citizen scientists (cryptozoologists) must fund their own research, travel and education on the subject all the while scraping together whatever equipment they can muster. One of the remaining resources that cryptozoology has to its advantage (and sometimes to its disadvantage) are eyewitness accounts.

By all accounts the sheer variety of physical descriptions of these creatures can be vary greatly, and that has posed as a challenge to bring a little more order to an area of study such as cryptozoology. Being able to compartmentalize sightings, in my opinion, may help a great deal.  Many more experienced cryptozoologists have sightings and evidence filed under complex or efficient systems for easy and quick reference, and I’ll be looking to them for reference in trying to organize the National Cryptid Society Case Files in such a manner as well.

I’ve decided to start out by organizing the reports into categories based on the work of author George Eberhart. In 2005, George M. Eberhart wrote an article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration [2] in which he placed cryptids (or reports of cryptids) into ten distinct categories.  Eberhart explained his categorization in the article in reference to his book Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology.  

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Eberhart’s Categories:

1. Distribution Anomalies: Known animals observed in geographic areas they are not indigenous to such as North American Black Panther [3] or Anomalous Big Cats of the UK [4].  Eberhart would exclude many “erratics” saying “the out-of-place alligator, boa constrictor, or kangaroo that turns up in an odd spot, undoubtedly through human agency, is not a zoological mystery.” An example of which would be the recent case of the kangaroo on the loose in South Carolina [5]. Would this category include invasive species? I guess that would depend on your interpretation and how established an invasive animal species is within their new habitat.

An invasive species would be animals that are not indigenous to a geographic area, but the conditions of the area is favorable to the animals in question and they thrive and multiply (providing there are enough of them to maintain a breeding population). Moreover, invasive species tend to out-compete indigenous species that occupy the same or similar environmental niche, therefore replacing them and habitat out of balance causing the numbers of indigenous competitors to fall and in some instances, disappear entirely. Florida has unique and diverse wildlife suited to the environment of the state.  However, the conditions are also favorable for tropical species that do not belong there.

Such is the case with “herpes-excreting” rhesus macaques of Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. The monkeys don’t just carry the virus in their bodies, but herpes-B is also found in their saliva and other bodily fluids [6].  Although these rhesus macaques are technically a distribution anomaly, being this is an established and well-documented (and large [7]) population, you could just as easily leave them out of this category unless reports arose from areas where there have been no monkeys observed or expected.

2. Undescribed, Unusual or Outsized Variations of Known Species: These may be common animals with notable deformities or attributes.  This may also include known animals that are the rare giant of that species, or suffer from a form of gigantism. We’ve taken some reports of giant turtles [8] that fit into this category. There are also stories of giant snakes in the Amazon, and for good reason: there are giant snakes in the Amazon.

What fascinates me about this category is the potential for any animal species (known or unknown) to be classified as a cryptid just by being the odd variant that reaches extraordinary physical proportions.  This does not have to be at the level of “movie monster” sizes, but a creature observed at double or triple the size of their normal-sized peers in the same species would be bewildering to an observer familiar with that animal, and could easily lead to a misidentification of the creature on the observer’s part.

3. Survivals of Recently Extinct Species: The recent sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger [9] would fit into this category. Sightings of this type are of animals that have been declared extinct in modern times, yet have been observed alive after the fact. Some examples in North America would be the Mexican Grizzly, Florida Black Wolf and the Great Auk [10].

4. Survivals of Species Known Only from the Fossil Record into Modern Times:  Several witness accounts over the years allude to the survival of prehistoric species although they have been determined by modern science to be extinct.  The most popular of which are aquatic reptiles such as the plesiosaur or similar creature being responsible for many sightings of sea serpents or lake monsters.  The best known and documented case that really defines this category would be the coelacanth; a rare bony fish known only from the fossil record until 1938, when a museum curator was perusing a fish market in South Africa [11].

5. “Lingerlings” or Survivals of Species of Species Known from the Fossil Record Much Later Into Historical Times than Currently Thought: An example of this would be a frozen (or otherwise preserved) woolly mammoth carcass being determined to be a few hundred years old rather than several thousand years deceased (although there are some accounts of mammoths being observed in modern times [12]).

6. Animals Not Known from the Fossil Record but Related to Known Species: An obscure example of this category would be (as Eberhart describes as well) Beebe’s White-Banded Manta. This manta is similar to known manta rays in size and shape. However, the notable difference in this unrecognized species are large white bands of coloration on the otherwise black body of the ray. The Pine Barrens Institute has a wonderful profile of this creature on their website [13].

7. Animals Not Known from the Fossil Record Nor Related to any Known
Species:  According to Eberhart, Sasquatch belongs in this category.  Although there are many who may disagree with his assertion, Eberhart states “despite the fact that some researchers think that bigfoot is a surviving Gigantopithecus, we know this huge Pleistocene ape only from a few jaw fragments and isolated teeth and have no idea what it looked like in like [1]

Since there are no fossils that correspond with a North American Bigfoot that have been discovered, it stands to reason that there would not be any fossil record of this unknown hominid.  The absence of fossil evidence for an indigenous North American relic homonid species may be thought of as a silver bullet for those who would desire to poo poo the mere thought of Bigfoot’s potential existence, but in my opinion (as a cryptozoology enthusiast and NOT an expert) I hold the lack of fossil evidence as a minor setback in the field.  Being that Sasquatch sightings occur for the most part in forests where there is a high turnover of animal remains due to all manner of natural biological and physical properties (scavengers, high moisture facilitating more microbial decay, high soil acidity promoting faster rates of bone de-calcification and decay, etc), their alleged natural habitat is an extremely unfavorable environment for the preservation of a corpse let alone fossilization of any skeletal remains.  Our closest living primate relative, the chimpanzee, lives in an environment (tropical rainforests) where fossilization of skeletal remains is highly unfavorable.  In fact, the very first fossil evidence of the chimpanzee was discovered in 2005, and the fossil evidence consisted of a handful of teeth.   

On the other hand, Sasquatch as described by thousands of people has definite primate qualities. It may be a distant relative of humans or something else completely, no one knows for sure. As it stands, this may indeed be the best category for Bigfoot with as much as we currently know. I would say that when definitive proof of a Sasquatch is discovered that the category may change, but remember, when a cryptid animal is finally accepted by science it magically ceases to become a cryptid anymore and the categories become irrelevant.  Plus the first person to write a journal article about their autopsy of a Bigfoot body will actually get their National Science Foundation phone calls returned for research funding inquiries.

8. Mythical Animals with a Zoological Basis:  Mermaids were described by lonely sailors as aquatic creatures with fish-like tails and human characteristics from the waist-up. Christopher Columbus himself wrote about observing “mermaids” swimming about the prow of his ship in 1493. “On the previous day [8 Jan 1493], when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [Haiti], he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits [14]” Many have attributed mermaid sightings to the existence of the now endangered manatee, and that sailor’s descriptions of the lovely female top-halves of the creatures may have been due to other factors. This category would also be appropriate for some other mythical creatures like the unicorns and dragons among others.

9. Seemingly Paranormal or Supernatural Entities with some Animal-Like Characteristics: Here is where the wild and weird things are. The Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia [15] would fit in this category. Creatures in this category have been described as resembling known or unknown animals but also having some unnatural or paranormal characteristics. Also included in this category would be Imps [16], Duendes or Gnomes [17], the Black Shuck [18] or Phantom Dogs [19], the Jersey Devil [20] to name a few.

10. Known Hoaxes or Probable Misidentifications: Hoaxing is in my opinion the biggest hurdle that cryptozoology has to jump.  There isn’t just one hurdle when it comes to hoaxing. It is a constant shadow that looms over the discipline as a whole and anyone with an interest in cryptozoology must remain vigilant and at least somewhat skeptical of new “evidence” as it is presented. The “Bigfoot in the freezer” hoax (in 2008 and coincidentally perpetrated by the same individual in 2014 [21]) are two notable recent cases where the hoaxer cast a terrible light on the field of cryptozoology as a whole.


Additional thoughts…

In the above categories, there is an absence of creatures such as angels or demons, ghosts and also extraterrestrials. Although it is ultimately up to you, the researcher or enthusiast, to determine what you would categorize the aforementioned entities as, Eberhart stated that their omission in his categories was mainly due to that they did not (apparently) operate on DNA. However, aliens he added, may be included in his categorization of cryptids if they had come to the Earth long ago and taken up residence. 

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Also, as much as I admire Eberhart’s work, I have never taken away the feeling that this was meant to be the benchmark for all cryptozoologists, researchers or enthusiasts to follow.  But it does give us a good starting point. Other websites have classified cryptids into other categories such as bipedal, humanoid, lake monster etc and it seems to work for them as well for their purposes. Although saying “looks like a Category 5 cryptid” sounds a bit like describing a hurricane instead of an animal.

Must a cryptid be relegated to only one category?  Perhaps not. If it shares qualities of more than one category, it could be placed in more than one itself.  Seeing as this is not definite nor scientific determination, it is purely speculative in nature. However it does serve to bring more order to reports (in my mind at least). Again, this categorization of cryptids may not be favored by everyone, but it does set an order to cryptid reports so that they can be organized. In closing, I found Eberhart’s categories insightful and logical, and useful in trying to organize what is sometimes chaotic and unpredictable subject matter.

Endnotes

  1. Some deep-sea submersible missions have cataloged new species from film and photographs alone and continue to do so to this day.
  2.  https://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/19/jse_19_1_eberhart.pdf
  3.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2018/05/31/black-panther-sighting-near-fort-garland-colorado/
  4.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_big_cats
  5.  https://www.wsav.com/news/local-news/south-carolina-news/video-kangaroo-spotted-on-south-carolina-highway/1180666219
  6.  https://www.tampabay.com/Florida-wants-to-remove-herpes-excreting-wild-monkeys
  7.  https://www.nbc26.com/news/national/florida-man-says-monkeys-swarming-property
  8.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2018/03/11/turtles-of-extraordinary-magnitude-giant-turtle-sightings-from-hawaii-ohio-and-kentucky-rivers/
  9.  https://www.newsweek.com/tasmanian-tiger-footage-released-skepticism-660013
  10.  https://www.ranker.com/list/american-animals-that-have-gone-extinct/rachel-souerbry
  11.  Smith, J. L. B. (1956). Old Fourlegs: the Story of the Coelacanth. Longmans Green.
  12. Heuvelmans, B. (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals [excerpt of 1918 mammoth story]
  13. https://pinebarrensinstitute.com/cryptids/2018/8/18/cryptid-profile-beebes-white-banded-manta
  14.  Hills, K. (1991) The Voyages of Columbus
  15.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2017/11/17/over-50-years-of-mothman/
  16.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2017/06/28/ncs-case-file-12/
  17.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2017/06/28/ncs-case-file-10/
  18.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Shuck
  19.  https://nationalcryptidsociety.org/2017/06/26/ncs-case-file-7/
  20.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil
  21.  http://hoaxes.org/archive/display/category/bigfoot 

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