Followers of cryptozoology — – a word literally meaning “the study of hidden animals” — never seem to find what they’re looking for. Even Finding Bigfoot tapped out. And any big, new animals that are identified are typically just close relatives of something already well-known. I guess things like the Loch Ness Monster and the chupacabra are a little too hidden.
Okay, so Nessie and the Yeti probably aren’t real, but wouldn’t it be cool if they were? What about stranger things like Mbielu-Mbielu-Mbielu, a supposed aquatic animal from the Congo with planks on its back? If they were real, what could that teach us about evolution, and how these animals developed?
That’s the question vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish set out to answer in his book Cryptozoologicon: Volume 1, along with artists C. M. Kosemen and John Conway. While exercising a skeptical eye, Naish is still thrilled to indulge in what he calls the “speculative zoology” of just how such mythical creatures could come to exist.
However it’s the vivid, unique illustrations of the more than two dozen would-be beasts that make this edition special. I was lucky enough to get some thoughts from Kosemen and Conway on the Cryptozoologicon, and what cryptozoology means to them.
Russ Dobler: The word “cryptozoology” itself can mean different things to different people. How would you define it?
John Conway: The stock answer is the study of animals not yet described by science, but I think that is a bit inaccurate, because crytpozoologists have little interest in undescribed beetles, et cetera. No, I think a better definition would be “entertaining the notion that legendary beasts are real animals.”
C.M. Kosemen: To me, cryptozoology is an intersection of two fields of human knowledge – actual zoology and evolution in the case of the few true cryptids like the giant squid, the Komodo dragon and so on – and quasi-zoological folklore in the case of the vast majority of other so-called cryptids.
RD: How did you become interested in the subject?
CK: I was interested in it since childhood, ever since seeing a magazine article on the Lake Van Monster in Turkey, which is where I live. When I was between 6 and 15 years old, I went through a phase where I believed in all sorts of cryptids and other weird phenomena.
RD: How did the collaboration with Darren Naish come about?
CK: I’ve known both John and Darren for a number of years; we are close friends. In 2012, we produced a book named All Yesterdays on dinosaurs and a new, realistic way of looking at them. We wanted to take the same “realistic reinterpretation” approach to another zoology-themed topic, and chose cryptozoology as our subject. The Cryptozoologicon was the result.
RD: How did you go about conceptualizing these animals that have no definitive description?
JC: In the book we make the point that the original reports of strange animals are often very different from the legendary cryptid that arises from them. Often there’s no reason to think the various reports are of the same type of thing. Nevertheless, cryptozoology has been a machine for taking these disparate reports and spitting out a single resulting animal. So, in many ways, the work was done for us. Sometimes we run with it and sometimes we subvert this, offering a very different type of animal.
RD: Which cryptids can we expect to find in the Cryptozoologicon?
JC: Cryptozoologicon: Volume I has some old favorites like Bigfoot, some new favorites like chupacabra, as well as lesser-known cryptids like the Row and Ahool.
RD: If there’s one that is likeliest to really exist, which do you think it would be?
JC: Orang Pendek, a bipedal primate said to inhabit Sumatra. However, it’s Bigfoot that I hold out the most hope for! (Not that I think it is real, I just hope.)
A version of this article originally appeared on the pulp, and is reproduced here with permission.
Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Every day this month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
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