Okay guys, so you’ve all heard the big fancy words describing some aspect of science. Zoology is the study of animals and a big part of what we do here at the museum. Paleontology is the study of fossils and extinct animals that lived long ago and also plays a part in the goings on at the museum. There’s Geology (study of the Earth), Meteorology (study of the atmosphere), and dozens others. I can bore you just by listing them. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t do boring! :) Instead I’m going to talk about a very different type of ‘ology. One which some scientists don’t even think is a true science at all, but others will devote their entire lives to. It’s a discipline which is a little fantastic, but once in a rare while proof will be brought forth and the scientific community will have to reevaluate itself yet again. I’m talking about something called Cryptozoology. Cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals. Which basically means, those whose existence is unknown or unproven. Things like the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, Chupacabra, and many others.
There have always been legends, stories and fables of fantastic creatures from around the world from unicorns in Europe, to dragons in Asia to sea or lake monsters in any body of water. Giant Apes in the Himalayas and North America, relic dinosaurs in Africa, big cats in Australia and Europe and too many other myriad creatures to count. Now Cryptozoology has been called a psuedoscience and not taken seriously by most, but the truth of the matter is that we are still discovering new species all the time. They may not be as fantastic as the Thunderbird of Native American lore, but they are still out there.
The 18 foot Megamouth Shark was only just discovered in 1976, a new type of large Monitor lizard was found just last year on an island in the Philippines and also last year an expedition into an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea uncovered a veritable “Lost World” of somewhere in the vicinity of 40 previously unknown species. These included a fanged frog, a huge woolly rat and a walking stick insect as long as a persons forearm. So new species are out there. One just has to find them. Click here for a site with constant updates on new species being found.
A big point of contention with cryptozoologists and non-believers is that the legends had to originate from somewhere. Even if some of the stories are too fantastic to be true, many of the same cultures have the same exact stories. For example, North America has Bigfoot (Or Skunk Ape in the South like Florida and Louisiana). The Himalayas have the Yeti. Australia has the Yowie. It’s the Alma in Iran and the Yeren in China. If this creature is too fantastic to exist, why does every culture seem to have a legend about a similar animal? Sure, it may not be just like all the reports say because after all the stories you hear and read, people see what they want to. But there is enough evidence out there that some type of large unknown primate like creature is roaming undiscovered in the wilds on the edge of mans peripheral vision.
Now of course some species are pure fantasy and myth, such as Griffins and Centaurs. But there are other species based on either fossil records, evolutionary evidence, and hopefulness that relic species have somehow lasted somewhere in pocket populations. There are also other types of species that are also occasionally found called Lazurus species. These are species that disappear from one or more periods of the fossil record only to reappear again later. But more on those in a later post!
The Coelacanth was a great example of one of those. Having thought to have gone extinct in the late Cretaceous Era they were actually rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. The species had been believed extinct for 65 million years. Who knows what else may one day be discovered still living on our planet?
The notion of Cryptozoology is much too fantastic for most, but for alot of people it gives them a sense of something to wonder about. The thought that there may be unknown mysteries still waiting to be discovered -walking, swimming, and flying around our world is too attractive a notion to let go of. The thought that we’ve encountered every new and amazing species isn’t a truth anyone wants to contend with yet. New species are being discovered all the time, whose to say the next one isn’t something out of our legends? Or our nightmares…