Cryptic Cryptids

Although my groups focus is the study of supernatural reports, as a paranormal investigator I find that I still field my fair share of calls and emails about other paranormal related topics ranging from UFO’s to the Chupacabra. And, while admittedly we haven’t done much investigating outside the realm of ghost and spirit reports, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t take an interest in cases of cryptid sightings. While clearly, I am not trained in the biology, zoology, or any other species identification training (whatever that may be called), as someone who is educated in general sciences; these are the kinds of cases that seem quite plausible to me.

Just to reiterate, I am in no way any kind of expert. My main fields of study were physics and electrical engineering. While I know a lot of great fun facts about other sciences, I’m going to get it wrong. So, take what I have to say with a grain of salt. In my mind, I find I am more prone to believe a person who has just told me they spotted bigfoot in the woods than I am someone who believes they saw a ghost in their house. I’m sure by saying that I may have just lost some people. But, allow me to explain.

When someone tells me that they have seen a ghost, I believe that they saw something. After working the amount of cases, and talking to the people I have, I don’t tend to immediately think people are liars by nature. Sure, they are out there, but I have been fortunate enough to avoid attention seekers for the most part. But, even if I believe in ghosts, it seems that the occurrence should still be rare. If it wasn’t, I don’t think that there would be any controversy surrounding whether they existed or not. However, if you saw the number of phone calls that I get in a month, and believed everyone, you would think otherwise. So, if these people aren’t liars and seeing something supernatural is rare, what is happening? Simply this, and exactly where my first thoughts on these calls go to… misidentification.

People who rely totally on their sense for their information about the world around them would be surprised to find that there is a great margin of error in that information. We learn from an early age to compensate for many of our senses short comings without even realizing it. Our sense in combination with our brain find ever growing creative ways to fill in the gaps in the places it doesn’t understand the data it receives. We hear voices and words where none exist, we see meaning in shadows that are nothing more than random, and sometimes our brain tells us there is something there with us when we are alone to make reason out of events that have none. Most (emphasis on most) people who report ghostly experiences are simply mistaken about events due to the faultiness of our senses. Of all the cases I have worked I’ve experienced the same things that my clients have experienced time and again. And, while it was truly a strange experience, to this day I still don’t know for sure if I have seen anything real.

So why does a cryptid sighting sound more plausible to me? Wouldn’t it be prone to the same sets of problems that a ghostly sighting would incur? The short answer is yes, maybe even more so. But, what sets it apart in my mind is that over the course of even just the past hundred years, unlike supernatural encounters, there is a percentage of cryptid sightings that have been scientifically validated as true and gone on to be classified as a new species of animal.

If we play a game of numbers and statistics, there is no sighting of a ghost or demon that has ever led to the confirmation that either exist. However, after 250 years of professionals documenting thousands of new plants and animals every year, the rate at which new species are discovered remains relatively stable, at an average rate of Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 new species are identified each year, with about half of those being insects. And while, that number is somewhat misleading: it also includes the correction of taxonomic mistakes, movements from one family to another, and decisions that will end up being overruled in years to come; there is a percentage of that number that is dedicated to animals that were previously identified as cryptozoological sightings that are then confirmed as a legitimate species of animal that exists.

A good example of this is the legendary North American “Panther” that has been the subject of numerous documented sightings since the 1940’s. Since then the sightings of the large black cats across the US were dismissed as nothing more than urban legend with no more credibility than bigfoot. The most famous case was that of The Beast of Bladenboro. Described as a huge catlike monster. Beginning in late 1953, Bladenboro, North Carolina was the scene of unexplained attacks. A farmer saw a beast resembling a cat carry his dog off. Several dog carcasses were later found drained of blood. Hunters came from all over the country to hunt the “vampire beast”. A bobcat was then shot and displayed, and the world was assured that the beast had been found. However, many reports for years after suggest beast(s) remain active. Now days, Bladenboro hosts an annual festival centered around the legend.

In spite of thousands of reported sightings over a one-hundred-year period of time, scientists scoffed at the idea that a large black cat existed in North America. Lack of photographic evidence, DNA, and remains led professionals the believe that the reports were simply all cases of misidentification of black house cats. And, rightly so. With a lack of proof, it would be impossible to conclude anything else. Professionals who gave any credibility to the claims suggested that it was possible that the sightings could be due to a cougar showing signs of Melanism, even though it had never been documented as part of that species genetic makeup. Michelle LaRue, an ecologist and public speaker at the University of Minnesota, wrote in 2015 –

“…I am frequently sent photos of misidentified felines and also often hear stories about black panther sightings… Specifically, we want to see photos, tracks, DNA evidence, or video of the animals under consideration; we simply can’t accept sighting data because it’s often unreliable. And this isn’t to say people aren’t seeing a cougar when it’s reported to me – based on research I’ve done, we know they are recolonizing the midwestern part of the U.S. – it’s just that we can’t verify anything based on a story alone.

However, black panther sightings are a little different than sightings of a regular old cougar – reporting something like a black panther is more akin to reporting Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster – outside of the rare instance of an escaped pet or a zoo animal, I’m quite skeptical. If black panthers existed in the wild in the United States, we should at the very least be seeing them killed on roads. For example, only one male (frequently photographed) cougar inhabited a small area outside of LA until it was just recently killed by a car. But we don’t see black panthers as road kill at all, ever. For that reason alone, I maintain skepticism when I hear black panther stories.

There is no compelling evidence that a single wild “black panther” has ever existed in United States. The largest cat in the United States, and in fact the fourth largest cat in the world, is the mountain lion (Puma concolor) – also known as cougar, catamount, painter, and in Florida, panther. Adult cougars are about 120-150 pounds, have tawny or brown coats, and with the exception of the endangered Florida panther population and a few solitary and long-distance travelers, live in the western part of the country. Cougars have been hunted for centuries and are one of the best-studied animals on the planet, yet there has never been a cougar documented displaying melanism. Melanism is a genetic variation that results in excess pigmentation turning the coat entirely black, and this variation just isn’t part of a cougar’s genetic make-up. So, you see, there has never been such thing as a black mountain lion.”

Even with this resoundingly logical thinking, in 2017 scientists we shocked to discover that a sub population of the endangered Florida panther was found to be thriving in the Midwest. It’s not clear how or when the species migrated to the area, but they had populated, mutated, and were large black cats. It was also no coincidence that this population of previously undocumented cats were living in the most concentrated region of documented black cat sightings. And, while this would still be considered a case of misidentification; it’s still a question of semantics. How many people who thought they have seen bigfoot may have stumbled across a large ape in an area where it shouldn’t be? It doesn’t make the experience any less real, if not just misunderstood.

So, while in my investigations I have not yet run across any form of cryptid, it still sits in my mind as one of the most believable paranormal encounters a person can have. I find it far more likely that I might discover the Chupacabra, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness Monster than I would the spirit of a person after they have died. Yet, to that extent, I have seen, heard, and captured some things in that field that have left me scratching my head and questioning my own sanity on the topic. So, what does that say about some misidentified housecats?

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