Have we discovered every single animal on our planet? What about the legends and myths of strange creatures in locations around the world? Today I want to talk about the unusual world of “cryptids.” I’ll discuss some animals that were once considered to be myths or impossible, but were eventually proven to be real, and suggest a few animals that may exist today!

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  • Creature (n) – used to refer to a life form that is unusual or imaginary.
    • The duck-billed platypus is a truly bizarre creature.
  • Mythical (adj) – existing only in stories.
    •  He wants to discover the mythical island of Atlantis.
  • Outlandish (adj) – strange and unusual and difficult to accept or like.
    • She has an outlandish hairstyle.
  • Legend (n) – a very old story or set of stories from ancient times, or the stories, not always true, that people tell about a famous event or person.
    • She is writing a book about Irish legends.
  • Extinct (adj) – not now existing.
    • There is concern that the giant panda will soon become extinct.
  • Shed light on something (idiom) – Something or someone that sheds light on a situation provides an explanation for it or information that makes it easier to understand.
    • As an economist, he was able to shed some light on the problem.
  • Elusive (adj) – difficult to describe, find, achieve, or remember.
    • The answers to these questions remain as elusive as ever.
  • Conclusive (adj) – proving that something is true or ending any doubt.
    • They had conclusive evidence of her guilt.

Cryptids and Cryptozoology

From giant sea monsters in the lakes of Scotland to ape-like creatures in North America to living dinosaurs in the jungles of Africa, there are thousands of stories out there about mythical creatures and legends.

Some of the most popular stories include the Yeti in the Himalayas and Bigfoot in the North America, both described as mixtures between humans and apes. Despite hundreds of expeditions and surveys to formally discover these creatures, there has never been a single credible piece of evidence that they exist.

When we think of these kinds of “animals”, most of us will probably consider them to be ridiculous, outlandish, and impossible. We may associate them with crazy conspiracy theorists searching for legends, or cheaply produced TV shows.

Narwhal png sticker, sea life
Narwhals are strange…

However, there are animals that we know exist today, but where once considered to be myths and legends. The okapi and gorillas from the jungles of the Congo, for example, were considered ridiculous until they were captured and documented.

There are so many animals alive today that if you didn’t know they existed, you wouldn’t believe in them. A whale with a giant tusk coming out of its head? The narwhal. An animal with a heart the size of a car? The blue whale.  

Today I want to talk about “cryptids” (I’ll define this word in a second), talk about a few animals that were once considered myths but are real, and then mention a few of the most realistic current “cryptids”!

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What is a “Cryptid”?

A cryptid is a creature or animal whose existence is rumoured, disputed, or unproven. They are usually surrounded by mystery and rumours. These creatures have captured the imagination of curious individuals across cultures and throughout history. From legendary sea monsters to elusive creatures hiding in forests, cryptids have found their place in folklore and popular culture.

Cryptozoology, on the other hand, is the study of hidden or unknown animals. It combines elements of zoology, biology, and folklore to investigate and search for evidence of these creatures. Cryptozoologists analyse eyewitness accounts, folklore, and even physical traces left behind by these cryptids to shed light on their existence or to determine if they are products of imagination.

It is important to note that cryptids differ from mythical creatures such as dragons or unicorns, which are purely the stuff of legends and lack any basis in potential reality. Cryptids are often rooted in reported sightings, cultural beliefs, and local legends, which can provide valuable starting points for scientific investigation.


Types of Cryptids

There are a few different types of cryptid. While what may come to mind first are the unlikely and slightly crazy creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster from Scotland, this is not always the case.

The first category of cryptids consists of animals that once existed but are now commonly thought to be extinct. However, there is a small possibility that they may still roam the Earth today. These cryptids, often referred to as “living fossils,” challenge our understanding of extinction.

The “living fossil” coelacanth!

One remarkable example is the coelacanth, a fish that was thought to have become extinct with the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. In 1938, a living coelacanth was unexpectedly caught off the coast of South Africa, proving that this ancient fish had survived. Since then, additional coelacanth populations have been discovered in the Indian Ocean, shedding light on their elusive nature.

The second category of cryptids encompasses animals that have not been proven to exist, but some people believe that they might. These often tend to be the more unusual and outlandish potential animals, and they often capture the public’s imagination and are subjects of folklore, eyewitness accounts, and blurry photographs.

One famous example is the Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman. According to Himalayan folklore, this large, ape-like creature roams the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas. Over the years, numerous expeditions and investigations have been conducted, with alleged sightings and footprints serving as clues.

And a third type of “cryptid” is an animal that we know already exists but are rumoured to exist in different locations. For instance, there have long been stories and rumours of “big cats” like Leopards living wild in the UK. The suggestion is that a few of the animals escaped from a private collection years ago and went on to live in the wild.

From Cryptid to Reality

Now, you may be thinking right now that these “cryptids” are all ridiculous. And for the more outlandish examples (like the Loch Ness Monster), I would certainly agree with you! But there are examples of animals that were once considered myths, impossibilities, or ridiculous… that were then proven to be real!

One such extraordinary example is the giant squid. For centuries, tales of giant sea monsters attacking ships circulated among sailors, but concrete evidence remained elusive. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that tangible proof emerged. In 1873, parts of a giant squid were recovered from the inside of a dead sperm whale, confirming the existence of these deep-sea squid.

However, it wasn’t until 2004 that the first images of a living giant squid in its natural habitat were captured, a remarkable achievement made possible through technological advancements.

Another remarkable case involves the okapi, a creature often described as a cross between a giraffe and a zebra. Local legends and folklore from the Democratic Republic of Congo had long spoken of a strange forest-dwelling animal with such characteristics.


Some European explorers believed it was a type of wild horse living in the jungles of the Congo – but this was considered ridiculous. The scientific community back in Europe suggested that there was no possibility such an animal existed.

Zebra giraffe png sticker, vintage
The okapi

In 1901, British explorer Sir Harry Johnston managed to obtain a skin and a skull of an okapi, leading to its formal scientific recognition. Although it resembled a horse in some ways, its teeth and horns seemed more like a giraffe – and in fact the okapi is only “other” living relative of the giraffe family.

No one thought this creature existed… but it did. It was shy, and living deep in the jungles of Africa, but it exists.

As technologies advance and our understanding of the natural world expands, we can turn certain myths and legends into verifiable realities. A lot of animals that you know and love today were once considered to be myths.

Respected scientists in the west laughed at the idea of gigantic lizards with venomous bites – until 1910 when a Komodo dragon from Komodo island in Indonesia was caught and killed by an explorer. Eventually alive Komodo dragons were brought to the USA and inspired the famous story of King Kong.

The platypus is one of the strangest animals in the world – it looks like a mix between a duck, otter, and beaver, has venomous spikes on its legs, lays eggs, and sweats (kind of) milk from its legs. So, when European scientists were told of this creature from Australia, they naturally believed it to be fake.

And even gorillas in Africa were considered to be myths until the 19th century.

So, this leaves open the possibility that there may be creatures, animals, and cryptids out there that could exist.

Cryptids Today

Perhaps the most famous “possible” cryptid is the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. The thylacine was once widespread in Australia and Tasmania but was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. However, since its supposed extinction, there have been persistent reports of thylacine sightings. Witnesses claim to have seen the striped marsupial predator in various regions, including Tasmania and mainland Australia. Some even provide photographs and videos that, while blurry and inconclusive, continue to fuel hopes of its survival.

Efforts to determine the thylacine’s existence have intensified in recent years. Camera traps have been set up in potential thylacine habitats, and researchers meticulously analyse any potential evidence, including pawprints, droppings, and vocalizations resembling the thylacine’s distinctive cry. Additionally, advancements in DNA analysis techniques allow for the examination of samples that may shed light on the thylacine’s presence.

Another intriguing cryptid with a realistic possibility of existence is the ivory-billed woodpecker. Once widespread in the southeastern United States, the ivory-billed woodpecker was believed to have become extinct due to extensive habitat destruction. However, occasional reports of sightings and audio recordings suggesting the presence of this bird have kept the hope of its survival alive.

In response to these reports, extensive surveys and research have been conducted in potential ivory-billed woodpecker habitats, such as the swamps and forests of the southeastern United States. Researchers employ audio recordings, visual surveys, and aerial searches to gather evidence. While conclusive proof has yet to be obtained, the ongoing efforts to search for this cryptid demonstrate the determination to unravel its status and potentially save it from extinction if a population is discovered.

The Fascination with Cryptids and the Unknown

I think an interesting question that comes from this discussion about “cryptids” is “why are we so fascinated with myths, legends, and the unknown?”. There are thousands of TV shows, YouTube videos, podcasts, and books about conspiracy theories and fringe ideas. Why? Why do we care so much?

One of the primary reasons for the interest in cryptids is the thrill of discovery. Humans have a natural desire to seek out the unknown, to push the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding. Cryptids represent the possibility of uncovering new species and expanding our understanding of the natural world. The prospect of stumbling upon a creature that has eluded scientific categorization for centuries is undeniably exciting.

Cryptids also tap into our fascination with mythology and folklore. Throughout history, cultures around the world have shared stories of strange and fantastical creatures, often serving as cautionary tales or representations of the unknown. These tales have been passed down through generations and now lay behind our desire to uncover the truth behind the myths. Cryptids embody the blending of reality and mythology, providing a real link to ancient legends and cultural heritage.

The unknown holds a sense of mystery and awe, stirring our imagination and inspiring wonder. Cryptids represent the possibility that our world still has secrets. The search for these creatures encourages us to question what we think we know. While information is readily available, the existence of cryptids reminds us that some mysteries still elude our grasp.

Furthermore, cryptids have captured the popular imagination through books, films, and documentaries. Countless stories and fictional representations have brought these creatures to life. This media portrayal further amplifies our interest in cryptids, creating fascination and starting conversations and debates about their existence.

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Final Thought

Gorillas, okapi, Komodo dragons, and the platypus are just a few animals that were once considered to be myths or impossibilities… but were proven to be real! What other creatures could exist out there?

I’ve suggested 2 possibilities – the Tasmanian tiger and the ivory billed woodpecker. Both animals were declared extinct, but there are still rumours of their continued existence.

However, if we are thinking of new, incredible, creatures unlike anything we’ve seen before, I think the best place to look is not in the mountains or jungles, but in the oceans. Our oceans are so vast and deep that we don’t really know what is inside.

Perhaps with a little investigation, we could discover some new incredible things!

What do you think? What is a cryptid that you believe in?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

2 thoughts on “243. Animals That May (or May Not) Exist: What is a Cryptid? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. I have a story about a lizard with an unusual appearance called Harpesaurus modiglianii. Google her image, you will find an amazing view. The last time this animal was observed by the Italian naturalist Elio Modigliani (Elio Modigliani) 130 years ago on one of the Indonesian islands. He even brought her later to his homeland, where the faded carcass of it is now kept in the museum of the city of Genoa, Italy. And in 1933, the lizard received its official taxonomic name. And this animal did not fall into the field of view of scientists anymore, it was assumed that it had died out. Until 2018. It was then that the independent biologist Chairunas Adha Putra discovered the corpse of a wonderful nosed lizard near the famous Lake Toba, in the northern part of the island of Sumatra. He sent his find to herpetologist Thasun Amarasinghe in the capital city of Jakarta. Thasun, recognizing the contents of the package, jumped up and down with excitement and asked to find a living specimen. Oddly enough, Putra found what he was looking for in five days. The lizard sat on one of the branches of a local tree, shimmering with all shades of green. The specimen was captured and sent for study. Based on the results of the study, an article was published on the researchgate.net website. It can be found under the heading REDISCOVERY OF MODIGLIANI’S NOSE-HORNED LIZARD. So it goes.

    1. Excellent example! I think I read an article about this animal when it was rediscovered but completely forgot about it over the past few years. A great demonstration that there might still be some unusual animals out there!

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