Just What is a Cryptid and What isn’t?

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on February 5th, 2015

This discussion comes up from time to time here on Cryptomundo, most recently in regards to posts about the Slenderman here:

Slenderman Controversy Continues
Slender Man Seen On Cannock Chase

Cryptomundians have strong opinions regarding this.

Cryptomundian Fhqwhgads wrote this detailed summary on what he thought qualifies as a cryptid:

@springheeledjack: To quote something I have written elsewhere: each of the following have been called cryptids by some people.
1. An animal known to currently exist, but not in the location where it was seen. The sightings of big cats in Britain fall into this category.
2. An animal which is known to have existed and is believed to have gone extinct during human history, but for which there are unconfirmed sightings after its presumed extinction. Alleged sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and of the Tasmanian Wolf fall into this category.
3. An animal which is known to have existed and is believed to have gone extinct before the dawn of human history, but for which there are unconfirmed sightings. Alleged sightings of dinosaurs and pterosaurs fit this category.
4. An animal which is not known to have ever existed, but which is biologically possible and for which there are unconfirmed sightings. Alleged sightings of Bigfoot go here, since Bigfoot seems to be either an ape that has independently evolved a preference for bipedalism or a relative that diverged from us at or about the time of the Australopithecines.
5. A creature which appears to be biologically and/or physically impossible. Mermaids, which make no sense biologically, and werewolves, which appear to violate the laws of physics, go here.

Category 1 is really pretty boring. There is a long, sad history of people bringing exotic pets or specimens into an area outside that animal’s normal range and releasing it, usually with disastrous consequences for the pet, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the local environment.

Category 5, on the other hand, belongs in the category of the paranormal, if not in the category of pure fiction. As with Category 1, many self-professed cryptozoologists do not consider these to be truly a part of cryptozoology.

Category 2, on the other hand, is dubious. Even the most skeptical are not surprised that sometimes announcements of extinction are premature, though some survivals would be more surprising than others. It seems much more likely, for example, that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is still in existence than that the Dodo still survives.

That leaves Category 3 and 4 as the solid core of what is meant by cryptozoology, with Category 2 on the edge and Categories 1 and 5 outside the boundaries.

~ Fhqwhgads

I would urge all to weigh in on this topic here on Cryptomundo.

See also:

Spring Heel Jack: A Cryptid?
What Defines A Cryptid?
Cryptid vs Cryptoid
Where Are The Cryptids?
Cryptozoology, Cryptid and Hominology
What’s On Your Lesser-Known Cryptids List?
Loren’s Top 50 Cryptids

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

12 Responses to “Just What is a Cryptid and What isn’t?”

  1. springheeledjack responds:

    First, thanks Craig for giving this its own thread! As I’ve said, I think the topic is worthwhile to discuss in-house.

    Second, thanks Fhqwhgads for that. somehow I missed your post, but I would agree with you. I buy in on the categories and most notably, how all categories, save #5, start with “an animal.”

    That’s what I’ve always thought of concerning cryptids and cryptozoology. We are talking about an animal in some form or other. With things like mermaids and shapeshifters, I sit on the fence. If a mermaid represents some sort of creature that resembles a human, but is perhaps really some weird fish or sea critter, then i’d say it applies. Half women half fish pushes the physics envelope to be sure (though there was an old Russian Sci-Fi novel on the subject that was pretty interesting on that subject). Same with werewolves.

    As I’d said earlier, with things like Slenderman, I’d almost throw that into a supernatural arena or treat it as an “entity” which I’d throw aliens into as well.

    The title of animal would incorporate bigfoot despite any intelligence factors the same as humanity. And as I was discussing with Wee Falorie Man, things like Leprechauns and trolls would go into that #5 category, unless something came to light suggesting the existence of a creature that fit the animal criterion for those things.

    That’s how I feel anyway. While Slenderman is an interesting phenomenon that I also find worthwhile in discussing, I do not count it as a cryptid or something for investigation in cryptozoology.

  2. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Excellent post, Craig et al. My only difference of opinion, sort of, is that I don’t include anything with a supposedly supernatural origin. Do I think mermaids are cryptids? No. Do I think that if some unknown animal was being misidentified as a mermaid it would be a cryptid? Yes. I hope that makes sense. Thanks again, y’all, for a thoughtful, worthwhile, and civil discussion.

  3. Wee Falorie Man responds:

    In my opinion, mermaids do not belong in Category 5. There is nothing paranormal nor biologically impossible about mermaids. Dolphins and porpoises are marine mammals that once lived on land before adapting to life in the ocean. I’ve read several accounts where the tail of a mermaid/merman is described as resembling the tail of a dolphin or porpoise – I think that there exists the possibility that a branch of primates could have diverged from a common ancestor of ours and gradually adapted to an aquatic environment. I know that it seems unlikely, but it is not paranormal and certainly within the realm of biological possibility.

  4. Raiderpithicusblaci responds:

    Give me a flesh and blood Bigfoot, a living dinosaur, a Thunderbird or a Mongolian death worm any day; ghosts and goblins need not apply (slender or otherwise). Apparitions indeed.

  5. cryptokellie responds:

    First, I’m still trying to process that there is nothing biologically impossible about mermaids. Some people are being influenced by the “Mermaid – Body Found” pseudo-documentary canard. While evolutionary possible, by the time you achieve a primate based, fully aquatic “mermaid”, you will have lost everything that makes “mer-people” such an appealing and sexy idea. You would end up with a basal primate/manatee like animal which would be streamlined and beefed out with blubber. Of the some 129 species of marine mammals alive today, there are no svelte fully aquatic mammals with thin necks and long functioning arms with hands and fingers. There are many good evolutionary reasons for this but I’ll not bore everyone and let it go at that.
    For me, cryptids fall into three categories;
    1. Possible beings for which there is some factual evidence…these include; Bigfoot, Yeti, Orang Pendek, selected Sea and Lake Monsters, etc.
    2. Improbable beings for which there is no factual evidence…these include; Mothman, Flying Humanoids, Chupacabras, Mermaids, Reptoids, etc.
    3. Folklore beings based entirely on legends and stories…these include; Goatmen, Dogmen, Sheepsquatch, Dragons, Hell hounds, Leprechauns, Sexy Mermaids, Jersey Devil, etc.
    Admittedly, the line between the second and third groups can be blurred at times.
    I don’t really consider animals that supposedly went extinct and then were rediscovered as cryptids proper because they did actually exist at one point and solid factual evidence is available for proof.

  6. springheeledjack responds:


    Mermaids are the rub aren’t they? That’s one of those odd things people see that just defies what we believe about what’s capable in science. I’ve always been intrigued by the mermaid, but that’s one of those unknowns I just can’t wrap my head around and come up with a plausible.

    WFM, I’m not sure I’d throw them into the supernatural category either. If the mermaid exists, it is something flesh and blood–whatever form it takes. The whale and dolphins going on land and then back to the sea at least opens the door for possibilities. Could a human strain have done the same? My response is–it’s not impossible. For me, I’m just not sure that they wouldn’t take on more fish like characteristics over time, and give up limbs in favor of appendages more suitable for navigating the currents and water.

    K-C, yeah there is no fossil evidence or evolutionary evidence thus far to suggest a half human half fish. And I guess when I think of mermaids, I look at them as a chimera, people attempting to explain something odd in ways that they can rationalize.

    And yes, that “Mermaid, the body found” was the biggest load of . . . you know where I’m going . . . that ever hit the TV channels. The first ticked me off because they tried to make it look legit without disclosing it was just made up and I refused to watch the second, and the follow up they did on the Megalodon. Shame on Discovery.

    Having said that, my idea is that there could be something that is human-enough like that it could be mistaken for human–and no I do not give credence to the sea cow theory. I’ve seen them and I don’t care how long I’d been at sea, no dugong, manatee or sea cow would look that “purty” . . . even with kelp hanging off it’s head. Seriously.

    I also don’t believe that sailors are so unreliable (or drunk on a regular basis) to say that they just start hallucinating at sea or there would have been at least ten times the shipwrecks that there are.

    On the other hand, the percentage of known critters in the oceans is pretty small even given our “vast” recent knowledge and technology. New critters are being seen and caught every single day. So, is there a possibility that there’s something like a mermaid out there? You bet the possibility is there. Do I think it’s a hot, lithe honey combing her hair on the rocks to lure guys into the drink to either drown or woo? No.

    I don’t know what people have seen and I don’t know what they are seeing, but I’m willing to be open minded.

  7. Fhqwhgads responds:

    @cryptokellie — The main problem with your classification is the phrase “no factual evidence”. I *think* you mean “physical evidence”. If you’re just talking about witness reports, I can’t see any reason to assume “I saw a giant ape walking on two legs!” is factual but “I saw a wolf walking on two legs!” is not. As for the question of legends, there are plenty of legends of hairy wild men both in Europe and the Americas. Bigfoot believers would say that the animal inspired the legends, but then believers in the Jersey Devil would make the same claim for their “monster”.

  8. Wee Falorie Man responds:

    Well, I think that there is a possibility that mermaids once existed or could still exist, but I don’t base this on the t.v. show that CryptoKellie is referring to. I’ve run across several accounts from apparently honest, intelligent, non-delusional people who have seen something that they believe to be a merrow (I prefer the term merrow rather than “mermaid/merman”). Of course, people can be mistaken, or dreaming, or whatever, but there are some sightings that are not easily dismissed. This leads me to at least entertain the possibility that merrows could exist.

    Spring-Heeled Jack – Changes like the ones that you are describing would take a lot of time, I think. Maybe the front limbs haven’t evolved to that stage yet because they may still serve an important purpose in their original form. Or maybe they didn’t evolve that way for reasons that haven’t been taken into account. There are no known aquatic primates, so it seems hard to say with absolute certainty exactly how they would evolve. Of course, I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert on primate evolution who can account for every detail of a merrow’s evolutionary path – but I see nothing wrong with a little speculation. 🙂

    I utterly agree with you that a dugong, manatee or sea cow with kelp on its head wouldn’t be mistaken for a mermaid – not even by the drunkest of sailors – ha, ha 🙂

    I know that it seems unlikely that merrows could exist but like you, I tend to be reasonably open-minded and don’t utterly discount the possibility.

  9. cryptokellie responds:

    I refer to factual evidence meaning; hard physical evidence, well documented photographs and cinema/video evidence. Eyewitness testimony can only be considered factual when corroborated by the same. Eyewitness reports without accompanying evidence are just that…eyewitness reports and little more. As for the Jersey Devil, I lived in New Jersey for more than twenty-five years and have been to the Pine Barrens many times. There is no real Jersey Devil, only the legend, much like the legends that George Washington had wooden dentures and that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb surviving in traditional lore but not true. That legends of hairy wild men and others are shared by many cultures around the world is perhaps a testimony to all human beings having the same basal fears and emotions than whether a factual ogre exists…although unlike humanoid mermaids, they might.
    A last note on mermaids or perhaps better said mer-beings. Could an evolved marine primate exist? Yes it could but as I have stated before, by the time evolution had adapted the creature to a wholly committed marine existence, it would have long since stopped having a human-like appearance. Long hair, forward facing facial features, long fore arms with functional hands and a humanequse body form would have no function in a wholly marine mammal creature, which is why the real ones lack these characteristics whatever basal stock they evolved from.

  10. springheeledjack responds:


    While I do believe there are basic evolutionary paths that animals follow when it comes to adaptation, there are examples of creatures who offshoot in different ways and not the “norm.” So, i agree with you that there is a possibility that something like a mermaid could exist and either it hasn’t fully adapted in ways C-K would’ve expected it to yet, or it has adapted in ways that doesn’t make sense to us(I like the term merrow too because there’s so much baggage attached to the mermaid moniker–you say mermaid and immediately everyone visualizes the watery tart :)).

    That’s the problem with talking about something like a merrow–we’re stuck with only eye witness accounts and there’s no basis to determine what is really going on or not. I’m like you–there have been too many accounts of and reports to completely dismiss it as mis-identification (hard to swallow) or hallucinatory. Personally, I think that theory that things get embedded in the “collective unconscious” and people periodically just hallucinate such things as mermaids and dragons and so on because it’s part of our collective memory is just a bunch of psycho horse apple babble. It’s a cop out because no one has a better explanation. The drunken sailor angle always comes out when no one can come up with anything plausible (let me say for the record that I’ve tried my share of alcohol and in quantity, and never in all my years has one made me hallucinate a cutie swimming in the river with a fish tail).

    However, it does make me think that perhaps the names of cryptids have changed over time: BF’s maybe seen centuries before and people talked about them as trolls or green men, etc. because that was their reference point during those times. Same with dragons. Several accounts of dragons come near water–perhaps people were seeing Nessies and their like and attributed it to dragons–or saw surviving pterosaurs just to go out on a limb (fire breathing? Don’t ask me, I wasn’t there).

    People are seeing something–I just don’t know what it is. Yet. And I’m willing to keep an open mind–I’m not shutting the door on mermaids just because it seems implausible . . . I’m just not going to scour the oceans for them (unless I win a mega lottery and have first satisfied my exploration for other water cryptids and the big guy in the woods first).

    I’m off topic, but for now, I’ll throw the mermaid in with cryptid because I think there is an animal out there that mimics a human look or behavior some how. As to the what’s and why’s, I have to let it lie until some better evidence presents itself…and no, not some crap tabloid show out of Animal Planet.

  11. Wee Falorie Man responds:

    Well said Spring-Heeled Jack – my sentiments, exactly!
    Like you, I acknowledge that the existence of merrows may seem highly unlikely – but things that seem unlikely can sometimes be real, nevertheless. I think merrows are not paranormal and belong in the cryptid category.

  12. Fhqwhgads responds:

    I suppose part of the question regarding merpeople is how far a description can drift from reality and still be considered a description of reality. The unicorn is a good example. It is pretty clear that the unicorn of legend — the one that appears on the royal coat of arms of the UK — originated as a confused rumor of the rhinoceros. Whether the rhino IS a unicorn depends on who is asked.

    When I said “mermaid”, I meant the mermaid of legend, with a body strongly reminiscent of a woman, the ability to remain submerged for long enough to appear to be water-breathing, a fishy tail, and the ability to speak or at least sing. A mermaid with a fishy tail who sings and combs her hair may belong to fiction or (maybe) to the paranormal, but evolution would never produce her.

    If someone wants to say there may be an animal which is to Ariel as the rhino is to the unicorn, I would agree that such an animal would belong to category 4, not category 5.

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