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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chupacabra Revealed

Here's a story that's perfect for Halloween.

For those who aren't into cryptozoology, the chupacabra is a creature seen in parts of the Americas that has a legendary status similar to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. The name literally means "goat sucker" based on its behavior of drinking the blood of goats and other farm animals. The Wikipedia entry on chupacabras lists the following description:  
The most common description of chupacabras is a reptile-like being, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back.This form stands approximately 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) high, and stands and hops in a similar fashion to a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature was reported to hop 20 feet (6 m). This variety is said to have a dog or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue, and large fangs. It is said to hiss and screech when alarmed, as well as leave behind a sulfuric stench. When it screeches, some reports assert that the chupacabras' eyes glow an unusual red which gives the witnesses nausea.

Here are some images of what the chupacabra is supposed to look like...

There is no scientific proof for this creature, though biologists and other scientists have tried to prove or disprove its existence.  As shown in a recent Discovery News article, most mainstream scientists believe that sightings of a chupacabra are actually a case of mistaken identity with the actual creature being an extremely mange-ridden coyote or wild dog.  Compare the images above to the pictures and video capture below.
I've always had a passing interest in cryptids, having learned a lot about the Yeti and Sasquatch as a child and having been to Inverness and Loch Ness as a teenager.  Besides my interest in the fantastic and mythological, I also find these creatures intriguing because of my background as a biologist and veterinarian.  In the case of the chupacabra, the thing that fascinates me the most is that the type of mange scientists believe are affecting these canids is scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei).  I've treated many cases of these mites!

This is actually a not-uncommon external parasite of dogs and can affect pet dogs.  In the huge majority of cases the pets see us vets long before they get to the point of complete baldness, as the mite causes intense itching.  It's also a mite that is relatively easy to treat through several methods and is not considered a major health concern. Yet in wild animals the mite can lead to severe skin disorders and even death due to weakness and secondary infection.

Does the chupacabra actually exist?  My instincts say no, though I'm sure there are cryptozoology aficionados who can argue otherwise.  Other cryptids?  I think the jury is still out on some of them.  And frankly, I like the idea of there still being some mysteries left in the world.  It keeps things from being too boring.

Happy Halloween!