The human imagination is endless, taking an animal and reshaping it from fear or fascination. We want to believe these mythical creatures exist because they scare us, fascinate us, or cause us to wonder what else is out there. Sometimes they’re made up out of thin air, but more often than not, they’re inspired by real animals. Curious about what these real mythical animals are? Here are the 25 Bizarre Mythical Creatures Inspired By Real Animals.
From ancient stories to Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid, mermaids are some of the most popular mythological creatures in human history. The myth spread as sailors came home to their families and told them stories. Even Christopher Columbus wrote about them but said they were ugly and had manly features. In all reality, the real mermaids are manatees. Manly features, indeed.
Dragons have become increasingly popular in modern fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but dragon mythology has been around for thousands of years over a variety of cultures. Of course, the likeliest influence for dragons are alligators, crocodiles, and the Komodo Dragon.
Fans of Harry Potter will instantly recognize the griffin as the symbol for Gryffindor House, but this mythological creature has been around for thousands of years, originating with the Scythians in Asia. Now, after archaeological digs, we’ve discovered dinosaur bones in the Gobi desert near Scythia that matches their description. It’s likely ancient miners saw these bones and made up stories about them.
A mythological creature the ancient Greeks loved to tell stories about around the campfire was the cyclops. Noted particularly in Homer’s The Odyssey, the cyclops was a giant with one eye in the middle of its head. Today, we know that these were likely Deinotherium giganteum, a prehistoric elephant on the island of Crete. Their fossilized skulls look like they only had one eye.
Chupacabras are certainly not nearly as ancient as mermaids or dragons, coming on the scene in the mid-1990’s when the first sighting appeared in Puerto Rico. Since then, there have been sightings all over Mexico, the U.S. Southwest, and even China. However, scientists discovered these creatures to be coyotes with mange, a parasite that sheds their hair and makes their skin shriveled.
For centuries, the people of Nepal and Tibet have claimed a humanoid beast called the Yeti roamed the Himalayan mountains. Scientists frequently disclaimed it, saying there was no proof. Now, after conducting DNA tests of hairs found in the area, scientists have concluded that the beast was probably a species of brown bear.
West Virginian folklore points to the Mothman, a giant humanoid creature with red eyes, massive wings, and a horrible screech that lives in a munitions factory. The first sighting was in 1947 and since then the myth has blown up all over the headlines. Dr. Robert L. Smith of West Virginia University explained the Mothman is likely a sandhill crane, saying the description matches up exactly.
A sea monster the size of a frigate with dozens of tentacles is another age-old sailor myth spanning all over the world including Greece and Norway. No one really believed a squid of that size existed until Tsunemi Kubodera of Tokyo, Japan, went deep into the Pacific Ocean with a submarine to see if they existed. Sure enough, they were able to take the first picture of a giant squid in its environment. Proving these creatures were, indeed, based upon giant squids.
Hairy Men of Sierra Leone
In 470 BC, Hanno the Navigator sailed down the African coast and discovered what he described a vicious tribe of “very hairy men.” Since then, the tribe faded into myth and no one knew exactly what tribe he had found. It wasn’t until the 19th century that we discovered these creatures to be gorillas.
The Loch Ness Monster
The Loch Ness Monster is famous all over the world, making it a bit of a celebrity in Scotland. Not enough proof has been presented to conclusively cement its existence in modern times. However, scientists and paleontologists believe it could be based on a real sea monster in Loch Ness that lived millions of years ago, the ichthyosaur.
Symbolizing resurrection and rebirth, the Phoenix is a greek mythological bird that would burst into flames. While there’s no record of a bird like this, Dr. Maurice Burton claimed that certain birds do like to play with fire. The ancient historian Herodotus described the Phoenix as the size of an eagle. Perhaps they saw an eagle playing with fire?
Today, unicorns are used as cute, stuffed animals that you might give your daughter as a gift. They’ve also been in modern fantasy stories like The Chronicles of Narnia but go back much further than that – all the way to ancient Greece. Even the Bible mentions them. Historians believe the myths are inspired by several animals, including an extinct Siberian Rhinoceros called Elasmotherium, a narwhal, or a one-horned goat.
Derived from old Native American mythology, Thunderbirds are supposed to be massive birds with large wingspans that fly during heavy storms. Scientists and historians believe there’s a possibility these existed in the form of extinct teratorns or Steller’s sea eagle.
Monkey Man of Delhi
A fairly new mythological creature, the Monkey Man of New Delhi terrorized the locals, attacking people. It looked like a monkey-man wearing a metal helmet and metal claws. So many sightings occurred, the police got involved but never caught the creature. While most think this was a product of mass hysteria, it’s kind of obvious that it was probably just a rabid monkey on the loose.
Similar to the Loch Ness Monster, Igopogo is a sea monster from Canada’s Lake Simcoe, except it resembles more of a seal-like animal that’s 12 to 70 feet long and has a dog-like face. The myth goes all the way back to Native American legend. Recently, a sonar signal of a large animal was made in 1983 as well as a videotape in 1991. It’s likely to be a large seal or otter.
Beast of Bray Road
From 1989 to 1991, a strange creature roamed the streets of Bray Road in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, preying on three girls on three separate occasions. All their accounts lined up with the same kind of creature and a news reporter started to investigate. While nothing came of it, many have suggested it could have been a wild dog, wolfdog, or a waheela.
The Kelpie is a Scottish mythological creature that would reside in the lochs and rivers, luring people to ride on its back down to a watery grave. Logically, this creature must have come about when Celts and Druids of the time saw horses that swam in the lochs.
Discovered by Col. Percival Fawcett as he explored the South American jungles, the Maricoxi are like their version of bigfoot. Fawcett described them as giant hairy men that used bows and arrows but could only make grunting sounds. It’s likely the Maricoxi are based upon an unknown human tribe living in the jungle.
The Bunyip is a sea monster from Australian folklore said to inhabit swamps and billabongs, waiting for its prey to walk by before attacking. While descriptions varied, some included a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns. Researchers believe it was inspired by the Diprotodon, an extinct creature that attacked early Australian settlers.
Residing in the river regions of South America, Minhocão is a giant earthworm 82 feet long and 3 feet thick, digging massive underground trenches. Many sightings have appeared since the 19th century, and it’s said to have overturned boats. Scientists believe it is inspired by Titanboa, an extinct prehistoric snake.
The Kappa is from Japanese mythology said to be something of a trickster found in lakes, ponds, and springs. It’s said to be based upon the Japanese Giant Salamander.
Another mythological sea monster living in Japan, the Kaijin is mentioned during the Edo period as being partly a man with chin hair and eyebrows. Some theorize this was inspired by a sealion.
Coming from Brazilian mythology, the Mapinguari are described as having lizard-like skin, one eye, and long claws. In 1937, there was a report of the Mapinguari going on a killing spree, slaughtering 100 cows. Researchers believe it is inspired by prehistoric giant ground sloths.
In England, the tale of Black Shuck goes all the way back to 1577. It’s supposedly a large, black demon dog with red or green eyes like saucers. Recently, excavators believe they’ve found the large bones of a black dog they think might belong to Black Shuck.
Mongolian Death Worm
Sounding like the title of a horror novel or a name for a metal rock band, the Mongolian Death Worm is a mythological creature out of the Gobi desert. It’s said to be able to spit venomous poison at its victims, and if that doesn’t do the trick, it’ll electrocute you. While there hasn’t been any evidence of a Mongolian Death Worm, researchers believe it is based upon a worm lizard.
Photos: 25. Mehgan Heaney-Grier, MehganTheMermaid, CC BY 3.0, 24. Grantscharoff, VarnaDragons, CC BY-SA 3.0, 21. Wilson Hui via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 20. Oast House Archive via geograph.org.uk, CC BY-SA 2.0, 16. Ad Meskens, Loch Ness Monster, CC BY-SA 3.0, 13. Carnby, Thunderbird (artistic rendition), CC BY-SA 4.0, 8. Lian Chang via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 3. Sam Howzit via flickr, CC BY 2.0, 1. The original uploader was Pieter0024 at English Wikipedia, Allghoikhorkhoi, CC BY-SA 1.0