Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History StrangeArk blog

Search for Enigmatic Animals


Before you undertake the study of mystery animals, you must first understand what sets them apart from the rest of the natural world. An animal that appears strange or acts in a peculiar manner may be perfectly normal. In order to know whether or not it is ordinary, you need to have a good overview of the animal kingdom. Start with the science of animals, zoology.

Zoologists study everything from polar bears to rattlesnakes, mayflies to starfish. They record and report on territory and population sizes, prey and predator relationships, courtship and social behaviors, and every other possible association between an animal and its environment.

Each species of animal has a specific Latin name that sets it apart from all other species. Every scientist knows that Panthera leo refers only to the lion. Panthera leo will never refer to the tiger or leopard. This system of binomial nomenclature allows scientists to keep track of the millions of different species.

Discoveries of new invertebrates and other small animals are common. Scientists have a hard time keeping up with all of these new finds. It is only on rare occasions that someone discovers a larger animal. When this happens, the scientific community ripples with excitement.

While an animal may be new to science, the natives of the area which the animal inhabits are usually familiar with it, even if they see it infrequently. This has led many people to search out obscure animal legends in hopes of finding a new species. These animals are cryptids, or "hidden animals." Cryptozoology is the methodology used to search for these creatures. A cryptozoologist will seek clues to a mystery animal's description, behavior, and habitat. The cryptozoologist may actively search for it or give the information to someone who can.

Generally, a cryptid may be any animal that is rumored to exist, but hasn't been "officially" proven to be a real creature. Cryptids may include:

  • Animals that don't match the descriptions of known extant or extinct species. (e.g. Sea serpents)
  • Animal populations found in unexpected locations. (e.g. Kangaroos in North America)
  • Populations of animals with unexpected phenotypes (physical appearances) - extreme sizes, unexpected coloration or patterns, etc. (e.g. Pygmy elephants)
  • Animals that are supposedly extinct. (e.g. Living dinosaurs)

J. Richard Greenwell, secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology, provides a complete organization of the science in "A Classificatory System for Cryptozoology" (Cryptozoology, Vol. 4 (1985): 1-14).

While most people have heard of such cryptids as bigfoot and sea serpents, there is a wide spectrum of enigmatic animals that attract the attention of cryptozoologists. Such creatures as giant bats, spotted lions, crowing serpents, and living pterosaurs are just a few of hundreds of reported cryptids. For a good survey of what interests cryptozoologists, see Bernard Heuvelmans' "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals with which Cryptozoology is Concerned," in Cryptozoology Vol. 5 (1986): 1-26.

The term Forteana refers to the anomalous. The word is a tribute to Charles Fort (1874-1932), who spent his life collecting facts that seemed to contradict what was "known" about science. Zoological Forteana is concerned with those animals that are merely strange or anomalous, and not extreme or permanent enough to be considered cryptozoological. For example, if you find a wombat in a Virginia forest, that would be Forteana. If you found reports of a population of wombats in Virginia with a long history of sightings from that area, that would be cryptozoological.

Most scientists disavow bigfoot and most of the other mystery animals. After all, how can such large beasts live secretly in the shadow of modern man? They may be correct, but rarely do they consider all the facts. People all over the world see these creatures. Law enforcement officers, military personnel, business owners, and even scientists have seen them. It is true that few actual specimens are captured, but two common characteristics of these animals are that they are warier than most animals, or live in inaccessible areas.

What if someone has seen a cryptid in your area? Would you dismiss it as a tall tale? Would you try to investigate it? There are many ways to examine these reports. Use this booklet as a guide. It will point out people to contact, places to visit, and give some ideas for your field work. Don't take the techniques in this booklet as the only way to investigate cryptids. Consider them a resource to build upon. As you become more familiar with your local sightings, you will find new methods that may suit you better. Don't keep them to yourself, though. Share your research techniques with others. This will benefit all researchers, and they will be more willing to reciprocate.


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