What's the creepiest thing you've encountered on your travels? If you're very, very lucky, it might have been a cryptid. By definition, cryptids are "animals whose existence is questionable or disputed." In plain terms, they're mysterious monsters with a wacky or spooky assortment of fins, feathers, and/or fur.
Most cultures have their own cryptids. If you've visited Iceland, for example, locals might have warned you about mischievous elves prowling the mountains. There's no scientific evidence of these elves existing, but you'd never tell that to an Icelander. For them, seeing and believing are very different things. And as far as cryptids go, elves are just the tip of the (literal) iceberg.
People who are passionate about finding and studying cryptids are called cryptozoologists. They believe that these elusive creatures are absolutely real, and they work hard to find proof of their existence. Some of their findings are actually quite compelling. Whether cryptid reports are based on true history or mythical legend, we can't blame cryptozoologists for their curiosity! If these fantastical beasts were real, they would completely blow our minds.
As you might expect, places with reported cryptid sightings don't JUST attract these professionals. Full tourist attractions have been built to cater to everyday travelers, too. If you've got an adventurous spirit, an open mind, and an active imagination of your own, be aware (and beware!) of the cryptid creatures listed below.
Here are 22 of the world's most famous cryptids and where to find them - in order from least to most scary.
These days, pretty much everyone agrees that unicorns aren't real, but that doesn't stop them from being the national animal of Scotland. Look closely on any Scottish national coat of arms and you'll see the gleaming horn and silver mane of this unmistakable creature.
Visitors come from far and wide to bask in the mythology of the unicorn. Some great Scottish estates and hunting lodges feature unicorn horns in their decor, which most believe to be narwhal horns brought over from ocean voyages centuries ago. Keep an eye out for streaks of pure white galloping through the highlands, just in case.
Greece has its fair share of mythology and mysticism. It's the birthplace of gods like Titan and Tritan, whose stories say they were being guarded by dragons and spartan (warriors born out of dragon teeth). One enduring creature of Greek legend is the Filiko Teras.
Off the coast of Cyprus, fishermen and travelers alike believe they have spotted this water creature tangling itself in nets or overturning small boats. If you yourself are planning a trip to Cyprus, don't fear. Filiko Teras has never been blamed for any human injuries or incidents, earning a name that literally translates to "Friendly Monster."
Who doesn't love sloths? They're sweet, slow-moving, and adorably sleepy most of the time. The idea of a GIANT SLOTH is significantly less lovable. According to citizens of Madagascar, these prehistoric looking beasts still roam the island today.
Giant sloths are said to move kind of like brown bears but tower over them at the size and weight of elephants. They were proven to have existed in the past, but most scientists believe them to now be extinct. Others are determined to prove that the sightings of large, unidentified creatures in dense jungles are really a family of giant sloths that have secretly survived. You'd need to visit the southeast coast of Africa to see for yourself.
Normal-sized otters may look cute and cuddly, but don't be fooled! These hand-holding mammals are actually sharp-toothed, carnivorous predators. They can hunt in water or on land. That makes the idea of a malicious and mystical otter-like creature truly unsettling.
Many New Zealanders believe that unique otter-esque cryptids called Waitoreke have inhabited their shores for centuries. Native Maori people say their ancestors kept Waitoreke as pets, and an unusual animal pelt from the 1800s supports their claim. Don't worry too much about encountering these creatures while visiting New Zealand though. They're only about 2 feet long and are thought to prefer eating lizards to bothering travelers.
The Beast of Bodmin Moor is a "phantom wildcat" that some Brits believe prowls the misty moorlands of Cornwall. It's been sighted over 200 times between 1983 and 2016, so is more likely to still be alive (if it ever was) than the older cryptids you've read about so far. Travelers beware!
Visitors to Cornwall are often warned of the Beast's jaguar-like fangs and it's piercing bright yellow eyes. This beast has actually been credited for a number of attacks on Cornish wildlife, like the decapitation of a deer found near where it was once spotted. If you glimpse a big black beast on the Cornish moors, keep your distance and report a Bodmin sighting to the local police.
Selijordsormen, or Selma for short, is Norway's most beloved cryptic creature. She's rumored to live in Lake Seljordsvatnet. Another water serpent of sorts, Selma is said to be about 20 meters long with fin-like feet at the front of her body. Reports of this cryptid being seen reach all the way back to the 1700s and locals still encourage travelers to look out for her today.
Does Selma remind you of the aforementioned Ogopogo? What about the world famous Loch Ness Monster (more on her later)? We think that so many different accounts of similarly shaped prehistoric-looking beasts might mean that cryptozoologists are actually onto something. It's all pretty fishy.
Here he is! Possibly the most famous cryptid of all, the Yeti (also known as Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman) has been capturing the imaginations of travelers and storytellers for decades. It all started in 1921 when giant footprints were found on a British expedition up Mount Everest.
These days, cryptozoologists are working hard to investigate the evidence that a giant, ape-like snow creature exists in the Himalayas. A recent study involved testing the DNA of hairs thought to belong to a Yeti, and discovered that they actually belonged to an ancient black bear. Scientists aren't discouraged, however!
"The search does not need to stop here," says Oxford Professor Bryan Sykes. "It just needs to get smarter."
The rainforests of Java are famous for their unparalleled coffee beans. Travelers to Indonesia often stop by to explore these tropical evergreen trees and learn more about where their morning coffee comes from. Unknown to many of them, some people believe these rainforests are also home to the monstrous Ahool.
Ahool is a giant bat-like creature with a massive ten-foot wingspan. They're rumored to have long powerful legs and sharp claws that help them grab the prey they swoop down upon. Cryptozoologists believe this may be evidence of an undiscovered (and dangerous) species. Steer clear the next time you visit Indonesia.
You've made it to number one! This cryptid is what nightmares are made of, yet still, some travelers seek it out. The Mongolian Death Worm, a.k.a. Tolgoi-khorkhoi is a giant subterranean worm local named after a long intestine. It's said to live beneath the sands of the Gobi Desert, crawling like the underground alien that sprouts up to attack the heroes of an early Star Wars film.
There have been several centuries' worth of Death Worm sightings in the Gobi. Native Mongolians have dozens of stories about seeing the worm surface during the summer months. They say the Death Worm can spit venom and acid from its mouth, and a body-covering slime that can kill everyone it touches. Yikes.
The Yowie is Australia's version of the Yeti. It's a creature of legend with brown fur and giant feet. It was first reported by European settlers in the 1700s, who said it was "twice the height of an ordinary man."
Some photographic evidence for the existence of the Yowie is truly creepy. In 1932, a picture of two men in front of some woods in Queensland shows an outline of a hulking, hairy giant in the shadows of the trees. That's why the Yowie edges out the Yeti for a higher spot on our list. It's also been seen in less remote locations, so there's a slight chance you'll actually run into it in Australia.
The Mokele-Mbembe is a monster that some people believe to dwell in the swamps of the Congo. Locals believe that it's to blame when their rivers or streams get blocked up, believing that this monster has wedged itself into the body of water's bottleneck. Reports of this creature being seen reach as far back as the 18th century, and still occur today.
In 1981, a team of cryptozoologists visited Lake Tele in the Congo Basin area to investigate things like footprints and droppings that the locals attributed to the Mokele-Mbembe. Their findings pointed to a large scaly water creature shaped kind of like a brontosaurus. This fits the name of the cryptid, which translates to large river-dweller.
The idea of a blue tiger is just breathtakingly beautiful. If this blue tiger is real, however, it could take your breath away in a much more literal sense. It's been reported in China for over a century now and is more like a genetically mutated tiger than a whole new cryptic creature.
It's thought to be similar to regular tigers in every respect EXCEPT for color, which still makes it an extremely dangerous creature. Scientists dispute its existence but many people believe that blue tigers are just a fact of life in China. There was even a tiger with a blue-ish hue born to two Maltese parents at a zoo in 1964, but it died shortly after birth.
We all know Nessie. Scotland's Loch Ness Monster is one of the world's most famous legendary creatures. She's said to live at the bottom of Loch Ness (Ness Lake) by the major Scottish city of Inverness. The area is home to castle ruins and spectacular mountains, so why wouldn't it be home to an ancient sea monster, too?
Scientists dispute her existence, but thousands of travelers visit Loch Ness each year to see for themselves. And they keep their eyes out, in fact, last year was one of the most Loch Ness Monster-full years the country has ever had, with eight reported sightings. Stop by Loch Ness for some cute Nessie giftshop merch and your chance to sneak a peek.
In the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey, the Jersey Devil has been sighted as early as 1735 and as recently as 2009. Imaginative New Jerseyites say this creature - which is shaped like a horned goat with bat wings and a forked tongue - was originally the thirteenth child born to a local mother.
Legend has it that the mother didn't want the child and cursed it, so it became a devil creature and flew away from the family's chimney to wreak havoc on the local countryside. If you ever notice cloven footprints in the snow in the middle of New Jersey, and there are no farms in sight, you might be near to the Jersey Devil. Spooky!
The German Tatzelwurm might sound small and squirmy by name, but it's actually a mythological DRAGON. It's said to be two to five feet long, with a wide, gaping mouth, broad head, long claws, and a sharp, winding tail. Even a two-foot-long dragon is a dragon, people!
The Tatzelwurm has also been seen in countries around Germany. It's known as stollenwurm in Switzerland, Bergsten in Austria, and basilisco in Italy. This cryptid is well-traveled. Italian sightings have happened as recently as 2009! Be on the lookout for a smallish. long-tailed dragon the next time you're touring major European cities.
On November 9, 1966, a local paper's headline read "Couples See Man-Sized Bird...Creature...Something." It was Mothman, the giant winged cryptid of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
On November 8, 1966, he had been seen flying low over a graveyard in the area. The cemetery workers said that they saw a large flying man with ten-foot wings and glowing red eyes. It sounds too weird to be true, but over the next few days, volunteer fireman and local couples said they saw the exact same thing. You can learn it all at the official Mothman Museum, or at the Mothman Festival if you visit at the right time of year!
Ireland has some of the most reported cryptid sightings in the world. From fairies to banshees to little green leprechauns, Irish culture and history are full of creatures of disputed existence. The creepiest just might be the Dobar-chu.
The Irish term "dobar-chu" means water dog, as this creature resembles a large dog and has usually been reported as being seen in or near lakes and rivers. It can run as fast as a horse and use its jaws to kill people and prey. Although scientists don't recognize Dobar-Chu as being real, some ancient gravestones in Ireland claim Dobar-Chu as a cause of death. Be on the lookout if you visit Ireland's ancient sites!
Emela-Ntouka literally means "elephant-killer." Anything that could hurt a multi-tonne pound, sharp-tusked elephant certainly sounds strange to us. This cryptid is believed to live in the swamps of the Congo basin as a semi-aquatic mammal. That means it can both swim and run (unfortunately).
Legend says this creature is roughly the size of a hippopotamus, with one long, sharp horn on its forehead. Think of it as a very threatening hybrid between a hippo and a unicorn. It's said to have the temperament of a rhinoceros: aggressive, impatient, and confrontational. Beware, travelers to Central Africa! Horned hippos are not your friends.
Rumors about a blood-sucking creature called a chupacabra were so serious in the 1990s that the Puerto Rican tourism board had to get involved in convincing people that the country was safe for travelers to visit. Now some travelers head to the Caribbean with full intentions to see a chupacabra with their own eyes.
These cryptids are said to have leathery greenish-gray skin, sharp spikes down their spines, red eyes, large fangs, and the ability to jump distances of up to 20 feet. Its name translates to "goat-sucker" because chupacabras have been blamed for a lot of livestock deaths in the region. This is basically a creepy vampire animal. No thanks, Puerto Rico.
People living near Japan's Volcano Bay have long believed that a massive cryptid called Akkorokamui lives there, too. British missionary John Batchelor was present for a sighting in the early 1900s. He recorded the encounter in his writings, describing an incident when the creature overturned a boat with three fishermen in it.
"The monster was round in shape, and emitted a dark fluid and noxious odor," he wrote. "The three men fled in dismay, not so much indeed for fear, they say, but on account of the...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."
"Grootslang" means "great snake" to people in South Africa who are familiar with this very unsettling creature. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, with rows of needle-sharp teeth, foot-long fangs, and an enormous scaly body. Legend says that Grootslangs existed before planet earth itself! When the earth was created, the Grootslangs were killed - except for a handful that hid in the caves of the Richtersveld.
When British mining magnate Peter Grayson disappeared in this part of South Africa in 1917, his mysterious disappearance was attributed to a Grootslang. Some scientists think that Grootslang sightings might be more likely to involve pythons, but many South Africans still believe in (and fear) this cryptic beast.
The Ogopogo is a huge water serpent said to be living in British Columbia's Lake Okanagan. Way back in the 1800s the First Nations tribes around the lake named it N'ha-a-tik, which means "sea devil." It even inspired a song in the 1920s:
"I'm looking for the funny little Ogopogo,
His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale.
I'm going to put a little bit of salt on his tail."
It goes without saying that people didn't (and still don't) find the Ogopogo to be scary at all. That's why it's so far from the top of our list. The tourist industry that sprouted around Lake Okanagan has a lot to thank this cryptid for, nonetheless!
References: TheAtlantic.com, VisitScotland.com, StrangeMag.com, Cryptomundo.com, MothmanMuseum.com