(NEXSTAR) — Do you believe chupacabras exist? You’re not alone, at least not in Texas.
A “chupacabra” — sometimes referred to as “the chupacabra” — is one of the American Southwest’s most famous cryptids. Cryptids, according to Merriam-Webster, are “animals that have been claimed to exist but never proven to exist,” like the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch, for instance.
The folkloric creature, whose name means “goat sucker” in Spanish, is believed by some to roam areas of Puerto Rico, Mexico and the U.S., especially southwest Texas. Chupacabras were first reported as recently as 1995 but they’ve persisted as a feared livestock predator for decades.
A few of the most recent alleged sightings, which frequently take place in the summer months, include:
- a 2014 report by a Ratfliffe, Texas, family who claimed they captured the chupacabra in a cage. The animal was cared for while its species was determined (more on that below)
- a 2016 Chupacabra sighting in Hockley County, located in West Texas
- Surveillance footage of a bipedal wolf-like creature seen outside the Amarillo Zoo back in summer 2022. While the zoo described the figure — which very well may have been a person in a costume — as an “unidentified Amarillo object (UAO),” many online pointed out similarities to some traditional chupacabra depictions
In 2017, Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension published extensive research on the subject, as well as its most likely explanation for sightings of the creature.
“There is actual science to explain the creature,” wrote the authors of “¡El Chupacabra! The Science Behind a Latin American Mystery, pointing to a disease and its frequent (non-cryptid) hosts.
As explained by TAMU, reports of the grey-skinned, patchy-furred, dog-like beast line up with the appearance of a coyote with mange. Mange is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites burrowing into the skin, causing hair loss, irritation and poor health. Additionally, TAMU researchers write that mange can cause diminished physical strength, leading the coyote to go after “easier” prey — like tied up livestock.
In the case of the 2014 “capture” of a chupacabra, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department shattered the illusion after confirming that the creature was actually a raccoon with mange, as reported by NBC News. The animal was euthanized at the recommendation by the game warden.
Back in 2016, Dr. Robert D. Bradley, PhD, told Everything Lubbock that game wardens in West Texas get several calls each year reporting “chupacabra” sightings. Bradley, Director and Curator of Mammals at Texas Tech’s Natural Science Laboratory, said these occurrences are even more common in these areas because coyotes are so prevalent in that part of the state.
“You can tell just by looking at the teeth from the lower jaw, and what’s left of the teeth, that it’s a coyote,” Dr. Bradley told Everything Lubbock. “We did an analysis to double check, and sure enough, the sequence verified it to be a coyote and it turned out to have sarcoptic mange. That’s what all the creatures that are so-called chupacabras [have] — they’re usually coyotes or raccoons and they have mange.”
Anyone who has experienced or knows of any recent livestock losses, or spots a mangy animal, should contact a local parks and wildlife department game warden or wildlife biologist. If any pets or livestock may have come in contact with a mangy animal, TAMU recommends bathing them (potentially with acaricide, a pesticide) or consulting a vet.
Anyone who comes into contact with an animal with mange should also consider bathing. While mange isn’t as common in people, it can spread to humans.
Cryptids across the U.S.
Origins of these and many other cryptids date back centuries. According to Lake Champlain Region‘s official website, the first report of “Champ,” a serpentine swimming creature, goes back before the 18th Century, when indigenous people of the Adirondacks told tales about a creature in the lake. Hundreds of “sightings” of “America’s Loch Ness Monster” have followed over the years and the still-not-proven-to-exist creature has become so beloved by locals, it’s even been protected by law by the states of New York and Vermont — in the event that it does exist.
Despite their reputation, however, cryptids aren’t intrinsically supernatural or paranormal. It’s also important to remember that a cryptid isn’t just any creature that is believed to have existed, but rather a creature whose existence — period — is still up for debate.
And some cryptids have been proven to have existed — or even still exist!
As Indiana University Bloomington explains, at least seven confirmed species used to be considered cryptids.
Among these are the now-well-known Komodo dragon, gorillas, giant squid and kangaroo. Lesser known among these are creatures like okapi, an African giraffe relative once called an “African Unicorn” because of how much doubt Europeans had it existed. But a 1901 find of okapi remains were verified as real, and they animals can still be found today, though they are listed as endangered.
This isn’t to be confused with the rare category of animals called Lazarus species. These creatures were once thought to be extinct but which were ultimately discovered to still be living. As explained by The Conversation, one of the most famous Lazarus species is the coelacanth, a fish that was re-discovered near South Africa in 1938 after being believed extinct about 65 million years earlier.