The Chupacabra, a modern-day legend

If you think legends and myths are stories from the past, you are mistaken. The Chupacabra is excellent proof of a modern-day legend. It's a legend from Latin America and the southern US states that came to life after animals like sheep, goats, and even dogs were found bloodless and with very few wounds. The explanation of these events became the Chupacabra.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

Table of Contents (Click to collapse)

The history of the Chupacabra

There have been many Chupacabra sightings. The fact there are many clear pictures of them, always suggested they actually do exist.
Image by: Unknown

Puerto Rico, 1995. A farmer left his house to feed his goats, Lively as always, he expected his goats to greet him like they did every morning. And they did, but something was off. Some of the animals weren’t adding to the cacophony of bleating goats, a part of the herd was missing. The farmer entered the enclosure of the herd in an effort to find the missing goats. After all, it was unlikely that only part of the herd managed to escape.
It didn’t take him long to find out why some of the goats didn’t greet him: They were killed. He found part of his herd mutilated, covered in puncture wounds. But no blood was found, which was deemed unusual.

Shortly after, many more reports of similarly mutilated animals came in. Dogs, goats, chickens, and more pets and farm animals. All the reports displayed the signature puncture wounds and lack of blood present. When a lady called Madelyne Tolentino reported a bipedal creature, as tall as a human being, large eyes, fangs and claws and spikes down its back, roaming through her yard at night, and media picking up on this notion and the many killed farm animals, things spiraled out of control.

Sightings of the Chupacabra throughout the world

When strange things happen, media will come into play. This was no different with the large volume of killed animals and reports going around of a bipedal, vicious-looking creature roaming the area at night. Soon after the media and social media picked up on the stories, sightings popped up everywhere and it quickly obtained the name ‘Chupacabra’ which literally means ‘Goat sucker‘. Soon Latin America, and later the southern US states were plagued by the Chupacabra and the stories only became wilder.

UFO enthusiasts and the Chupacabra

If you think a modern mystery can’t go wild: You are wrong! When the supposed Chupacabra was first seen, it was bipedal, had huge fangs and claws, large eyes, and spines on its back. This led UFO enthusiasts to think the Chupacabra was a mutant released by aliens and proved to be able to reproduce, which then got out of hand. They claim to have seen UFO’s flying around every time shortly before animals got killed. The fact Puerto Rico is close to the Bermuda Triangle, adds to this belief.

Horrific descriptions of a modern-day legend

The alien version of the Chupacabra.
Image by: LeCire

As if spikes on the back and large fangs and claws weren’t enough, some people claimed to have seen a naked demonic creature with red eyes. Others claim the Chupacabra has a beak, or is reptillian, has elephant skin, an elongated head, or a very flat one. In yet other cases, the Chupacabra is portrayed as an alien/dog/frog thing. I’m sorry, I’m not sure how else to describe it (see image). Anyhow, in the early years of the Chupacabra, the imagination of people went wild, and the Chupacabra therefore could literally be anything. Anything nightmarish to be precise.

However, in the early 2000’s, the way the Chupacabra looked began to change. More often than not, it was said to look like a hairless dog. It shared some descriptions with earlier sightings, like large claws and fangs, sometimes spikes on the back, and often hairless. But a lot less alien like than the reports before that time.

Scientific proof

For something to be proven to exist, scientific proof has to be present. However, with nearly all sightings of unknown creatures, there is none. So, the first thing to do for scientists is to try and capture the infamous creature. But whatever this creature was: It was very elusive. Remarkably enough, it was a lady called Phillis Canion that managed to get her hands on an alleged Chupacabra. She quickly became famous on the internet, after which scientists found her soon after.

It is EXTREMELY rare to actually find a specimen of a mythical creature. They are mythical for a reason, and most of the time they are just that. So it was normal to be skeptical about this specimen, after all, many creatures are not what people claim them to be, or even are forged. A good example of that is the Nazi Yeti, which, after DNA testing, proved to be a mix between a bear and a dog. And there are way more examples like that. So, whatever this lady had, it was very interesting.

Catching the Chupacabra

Phillis’s Chupacabra got killed after a it was hit by a car. Obsessed with the creature, she brought it to a taxidermist to preserve it.

Phillis was plagued by a creature that repeatedly killed her chickens in the signature Chupacabra way. At some point, she caught it red-handed. The creature ran off, paused, and looked her right in the eyes, which gave Phillis the time to observe it closely. It was clearly something she had never seen before in her entire life, so catching this remarkable creature became an obsession to her and the hunt for the Chupacabra began.

Phillis tried to catch it in a cage with live chickens, as she wanted to keep it alive but didn’t manage to do so. The cunning creature wouldn’t fall for the trap. But after some time passed, it did get hit by a car near Phillis’s house. She collected the creature and brought it to a taxidermist and later on, allowed scientists to take DNA samples from the grey, doglike creature which indeed has very long visible claws and canines.

What science tells us about the Chupacabra

Strangely enough, the specimen of Phillis is the real thing, and it’s even something that didn’t exist before. Is it ‘THE’ Chupacabra? Well, if anything can be considered to be a Chupacabra, then it’s this specimen. It’s something that hasn’t been seen before by science, and therefore would need a name anyway.
So what is it really?
Through time, more specimens like this one have been found and their DNA has been tested. In all cases, the specimens were animals we have known for a long time, like raccoons and coyotes. But this one is different. This creature is a hybrid. A hybrid between a coyote (from mothers side) and a Mexican wolf, a species that had recently been re-introduced in mid-America.

Interesting to note is that around the year 2000, the Chupacabra started to look more dog-like. The Mexican wolf has been introduced in 1998. As re-introduced species need to settle first, or grow up further before they throw their first litter, it’s more than just a coincidence that around 2000 the sightings became more dog-like.

It is very likely that the many deaths of livestock have been caused by canines. They could have been wolves, coyotes, wild dogs or even domestic dogs. It’s not uncommon when one person speaks about a certain problem, for others to follow suit. And suddenly, individual incidents become a big thing and everybody knows about it. But when people don’t know what exactly is causing the problems, stories quickly go wild. It’s very interesting, however, that by the time the Mexican wolf was introduced, the sightings became more unanimous in the description.

Sick animals

This creature is likely a mangy coyote.
Image by: Wilson Hui

You may wonder why testing was needed on coyotes, wolves, and raccoons to determine what they were, and why it was these creatures that are seen so often near livestock. The answer was quite simple: They were sick. All these animals were suffering from a condition called ‘Sarcoptic Mange’. Mange is caused by a parasitic mite that digs under the skin and causes a horrible itch. When untreated, it will cover the whole body. The animal will continuously scratch and bite itself because of this and in the end, will lose nearly all of its hair. If any is left at all, it tends to be on the head and some hair between the shoulder blades.

Phillis’s hybrid had mange too, on top of the unusual look for being a hybrid. Because these animals are so sick, they are incapable of hunting healthy wildlife, and may even have been rejected by their group members. Especially for pack hunters like wolves and coyotes, this proves to be a huge problem. Livestock is the best solution for these poor creatures, at they usually are very docile and penned in, making them easy prey.

Why kill but not eat?

There are quite a few animals out there that kill surplus for one reason or another. This could be to save food for later, but it happens frequently that they just leave the dead animals to rot. Why is that?
It’s hard to tell really, do animals enjoy hunting? When we look at our beloved feline companions, we can conclude: Yes, although this could be contributed to natural instinct too. After all, making a kill is rewarding as it will sustain life. This counts for dogs too, especially when they’re not well-trained or on the loose. They can kill livestock and other animals rapidly, without feeling the need to eat them at all. When they go, they don’t stop, suggesting it’s some sort of primitive drive that makes them continue.

But there are many more reports of animals killing surplus for one reason or another. It can be a hormonal thing, like in young male elephants If they don’t get a solid beating by an adult bull, their hormones will go havoc, killing anything that moves. Including rhinos. But there are even reports of bottlenose dolphins that systematically and intentionally slowly killed porpoises. These porpoises are no threat or competition to bottlenose dolphins in any way, shape, or form. But many have slowly been killed because of a severe beating, punctured lungs, and ruptured livers. All of them are slow deaths.

Desperation of the ‘Chupacabra’

When a sick animal enters a pen with easy to catch livestock, it’s not unlikely that it’s been desperate for a meal for a long time. Also, in the wild, any animal that isn’t caught will make sure it’s far away from the predator, something penned in livestock can’t do. This provides us with two reasons why a sick animal would keep on killing,

  • The animal is so desperate that it will keep on killing to save for later (or because its eyes are bigger than its mouth).
  • The scared livestock will keep triggering the hunting instincts of the animal, and so it will keep on killing until it gets too tired or everything is dead.

Why is there little to no blood?

So why is there no blood you may think? There could be several reasons for that. But the fact you don’t see blood, doesn’t mean there isn’t any in the body.

  • An effectively placed bite may crush the arteries, stopping them from bleeding.
  • When an animal is dead, it doesn’t bleed that much anymore, or not at all.
  • An artery has to be hit to cause significant bleeding from puncture wounds. Therefore it’s logical that people may have thought it was some sort of bloodsucking animal killing these animals as 1: There were puncture wounds like we see with blood-drinking bats or the infamous vampires. We all know they go for veins and arteries. And 2: There was no blood visible on the body, suggesting it was sucked dry.
  • Penned animals can’t run from their predators, if the hunt goes on long enough, they may get into a shock. Arteries narrow and little bleeding will occur. Even when the animal is torn apart alive.

One way or another, this story only knows losers. The animal that’s living a living hell, the animals that get killed and the farmers that lose their livelihood on the way. Wild animals that are so severely compromised by mange, often get to die a slow and very painful death. They may die from hunger, or from extreme infections under their skin. So if this animal can’t be captured and treated, it’s way more humane to put them out of their misery.

The Chupacabra for creatives

Intepretation of a Chupacabra. The mangy look is there, as is the sickly look you may expect from a ‘Chupacabra’.
Image by: Alvin Padayachee

Like any creature, it’s very interesting to take note of what people make of a vague sighting. Our imagination will take over and, while there may have been a simple explanation, it still may end up becoming an enormous legend. Even to this day and age. Considering that many of these creatures are identified as actual animals, it’s interesting to compare them to the sightings that taken place in the past. In this case, not taking aliens into account, cause they obviously are not that.

Descriptions of the Chupacabra vs possible explanations

DescriptionPossible explanation
Hairless beastsMange could be the cause.
BipedalCould have been a mangy raccoon or maybe even a brown- or spectacled bear.
Spines on the backMangy animals scratch themselves like crazy, but the shoulder-blades and top of the back are hard to reach, possibly leaving hair that looks like it has spines on the back.
Red eyesAnimals like wolves and raccoons are nocturnal. They have a reflective layer at the back of their eyes, aiding them to see very well with little light available. This layer can reflect red when a bright light shines into the eyes.
Very long claws and caninesWe know furry animals to have an X length of canines and claws. But these are covered partially by hair. When the hair is gone, the canines and claws look a lot longer.
Thick dark elephant-like skinThe endless infections, irritation and scratching causes a thickening of the skin, making it look like elephant skin. This same irritation causes the skin to color dark, this is called hyper pigmentation.
Demonic lookingAlthough this is reported in early sightings, it does make sense. Just imagine a red-eyed naked creature with something that looks like spikes on its back, growling at you in the night, after it killed your livestock.
Reptilian lookingThis too is an early report, but considering the horrific state the skin of some of these animals is in, it makes sense that, in a glimpse, it could be taken for scales.
Bird beakAn early sighting too. Yea, I don’t know what to make of this. A plucked chicken running rampant. maybe? I know I feel like running naked on a beach after some proper waxing, overthinking my life choices, like for example: Never to wax again.

Working on a creature design

The observations mentioned above may seem at best ‘interesting’ if not just simply trivial. But they all come together just to become a creature that has been haunting people for decades. And unlike many other creatures, the Chupacabra are existing animals. The different sightings may not be from the same animal species, but what’s thought to be the ‘Chupacabra’ are mutually sick animals. Although this is very sad, we can still take our lessons out of this: Because we didn’t know what a severely mangy animal would look like, or how it would behave, it became something to be scared of, or really curious about. If something that exists for real can cause such a reaction: What else can you do with a well-thought-through creature design?

Conclusion

The story of the Chupacabra may be a sad one in every way, shape, and form, but in any case, is something we creature designers can learn a great deal from. Not only the way these animals look, but also how the human mind treats something unknown, even when it’s a species that lived alongside us for millennia. The clear descriptions of these animals are a great source of inspiration and help us understand nuances, like why an animal seems demonic (red eyes, the hair, and spines, etc.) or what the lack of hair does to our interpretation of ‘large’ (pun not intended). Take all these little snippets of knowledge with you in your design, because remember: The devil is in the details.

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