Cryptozoology

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Hiding with Schrödinger's cat
These people call what they do cryptozoology. Zoology, meaning "the study of animals", and crypto, meaning "shit we made up".
Penn Jillette[1]

Cryptozoology is the study of or belief in cryptids, or species of animals for which no extant evidence of their existence have yet been found or proven, but are believed by some to exist; or species widely believed to be extinct, such as the Thylacine. Examples of such animals include Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Chupacabra, etc. and sometimes mythical creatures such as dragons or the perfect boy/girlfriend.

However, some of the more believable former cryptids are not cryptids anymore, such as the okapi, or coelecanth. There are also some believable ones which have not been found yet, such as the high-finned sperm whale. What makes the existence of these kinds of animals plausible is the fact that not every organism living on the planet has been recorded by science. Hence, many remote or poorly explored areas such as the Amazon rain forest or the deep ocean could harbor undiscovered species.

The term was coined by zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans to characterize the study of "hidden animals."[2] However Heuvelmans attributes coinage of the term to the late Scottish explorer and adventurer Ivan T Sanderson. [3] Heuvelmans' 1955 book On the Track of Unknown Animals traces the scholarly origins of the discipline to Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans and his 1892 study, The Great Sea Serpent. [4]

Cryptozoology and science[edit]

Cryptozoology is not a clearly defined academic field which, for example, can be undertaken as a degree course: After all, it is difficult to scientifically examine the biology and behavior of a species that has no known living individuals, or a species that hasn't even been conclusively proven to exist. As such, cryptozoologists vary from highly qualified zoologists with an interest in unproven species, to amateur Bigfoot enthusiasts. Some follow the scientific method, while others clearly do not, and many are overly influenced by belief in cryptids. In these respects, cryptozoology is somewhat akin to ufology and various forms of paranormal research.

The more respectable end of cryptozoology tends to shy away from looking for the big-ticket mysterious animals in favour of examining species or habitats that have been studied in little depth. Zoological research turns up a wealth of new species every year, including mammals[5]. The application of genetic sequencing is a powerful tool in characterising species and has even shown some cryptids to be hiding in plain sight — what was once thought to be a single species turns out to be two, for example[6]. However, those cryptozoological discoveries don't have the same brand recognition as Bigfoot or Nessie and are generally ignored by the more excitable cryptozoologists right up until they find themselves having to defend the field as a whole from skeptics.

In recent years there has been some debate among the scientific community as to whether cryptozoology should be given greater recognition and be made the subject of deeper research, although consensus still tends to regard it as a pseudoscience because many of its practitioners rely on unscientific methods to "prove" their findings. Generally, even cryptozoologists themselves consider it a sub-discipline within zoology or biology, rather than its own distinct field.

One example of a serious scientist investigating cryptozoology is Charles Paxton of the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling at St Andrews University, Scotland. A legitimate academic biologist whose expertise includes surveying fish and penguin populations[7], he has also published peer-reviewed studies on sightings of aquatic monsters.[8][9] His work includes a statistical analysis of sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.[10]

Examples of famous cryptids[edit]

Bigfoot[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Bigfoot

Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is a large hominid-like creature which allegedly inhabits the forests of the northwestern United States and British Columbia. Despite numerous claims of sightings, there have been no remains found or any kind of serious physical evidence. If Bigfoot exists, it's very good at cleaning up after itself, and identifying and avoiding hikers with good cameras.

Yeti[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Yeti

A large hominid similar to Bigfoot is said to inhabit high regions of the Himalayas. Some Nepalese have kept skin or hair samples of the creature; unfortunately, those tested to date have instead belonged to mundane animals such as goat and yak.

Loch Ness Monster[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster, or "Nessie", is probably the best-known cryptid, due in part to the locals using it to promote tourism. The aquatic beast is said to live in Loch Ness, a body of water in the Scottish Highlands. Numerous blurry photos and videos exist, but physical evidence of its existence has yet to be found.

Skunk ape[edit]

The skunk ape is a beast that supposedly resembles an orangutan, and is claimed to inhabit the southeastern United States. Its name is based on its appearance and the terrible smell it is claimed to emit. Most sightings occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2000, photographs of the ape were sent anonymously to the Sarasota Sheriff's Department in Florida. In an accompanying letter, a woman claimed to have taken the photos in her backyard. She went on to describe the ape taking apples from a basket in her yard, and said that she thought it was an escaped orangutan.[11] The pictures closely resemble a chimpanzee engaged in a typical chimpanzee behavior known as "pant-hoot", casting a lot of doubt on the claim that the pictures are of the skunk ape.[12]

Examples of non-famous no-longer-cryptids[edit]

Australian snubfin dolphin[edit]

Mistakenly clumped into another, similar species of dolphin, this turned out to have some differences in skull and fin shape, and a third colour on its skin. [13]

Northern Sierra Madre forest monitor[edit]

This species of lizard managed to avoid formal identification until 2010[14], despite being part of the local indigenous population's regular diet.

Saola[edit]

Skulls belonging to the species were seen by scientists in 1992[15], but no living specimen was seen by a scientist until 2013[16]. In 2010, a live animal was captured in Laos, but it died before government conservationists could release it into the wild[17]. The Saola is an interesting case because right up until it posed for the camera in the wild in 2013, the search for it followed the same pattern as the search for many other cryptids: bones, word-of-mouth from the locals, photographs by non-specialists and so forth.

And so on...[edit]

For the most part, the successes of cryptozoology tend to be rather dull. It takes a specialist in the field to get really, really excited by the discovery of a new species of worm. This is probably why the most spectacular (and hence the least probable) cryptids tend to get most of the media coverage.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, episode 4.04, Cryptozoology
  2. Heuvelsmans, Bernard. "What Is Cryptozoology?" Crypto-zoology 1 (Winter 1982): 1-12.
  3. Heuvelmans, Bernard, 1968. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. New York: Hill and Wang.
  4. Heuvelmans, Bernard, 1959. On The Track Of Unknown Animals, New York: Hill and Wang.
  5. http://www.esf.edu/top10/01.htm
  6. http://www.livescience.com/47230-new-cape-wearing-dolphin-species-named.html
  7. Southwell, C., Paxton, C.G.M. & Borchers, D.L. (2008). Detectability of penguins in aerial surveys over the pack-ice off Antarctica. Wildlife Research 35(4), 349-357.
  8. Paxton, CG.M. (2009) The plural of “anecdote” can be “data”: statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified giant marine animals 1758 – 2000. Journal of Zoology 279, 381 –387. 27.
  9. Paxton, C.G.M., Knatterud, E. & Hedley, S.L. (2005) Cetaceans, sex & sea serpents: an analysis of the Egede accounts of a “Most Dreadful Monster” seen off the coast of Greenland in 1734. Archives of Natural History 32, 1-9.
  10. Reviews – Charles Paxton – The vital statistics of the Loch Ness Monster, Edinburgh Skeptics, 2015
  11. http://www.lorencoleman.com/myakka.html
  12. Even bigfootencounters.com smells a rat
  13. Beasley, Isabel; Robertson, Kelly M. & Arnold, Peter W. (2005): Description of a new dolphin, the Australian Snubfin Dolphin Orcaella heinsohni sp. n. (Cetacea, Delphinidae). Marine Mammal Science 21(3): 365-400. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2005.tb01239.x (HTML abstract)
  14. Welton, L. J.; Siler, C. D.; Bennett, D.; Diesmos, A.; Duya, M. R.; Dugay, R.; Rico, E. L. B.; Van Weerd, M.; Brown, R. M. (2010). "A spectacular new Philippine monitor lizard reveals a hidden biogeographic boundary and a novel flagship species for conservation". Biology Letters 6 (5): 654–658. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0119. ISSN 1744-9561. PMC 2936141. PMID 20375042.
  15. Dung, Vu Van; Giao, Pham Mong; Chinh, Nguyen Ngoc; Tuoc, Do; Arctander, Peter; MacKinnon, John (1993). "A new species of living bovid from Vietnam". Nature 363 (6428): 443. doi:10.1038/363443a0.
  16. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/13/saola-sighting-vietnam-rare-mammal
  17. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11328123

[[category:pseudoscience]