September 23, 2023

Do You Even Chupaca, Brah?

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You settle in for your watch, still a little groggy after being shaken out of a few hours’ sleep. The farmer who agreed to put your party up for the night was adamant that something has been attacking his goats and chickens, but so far no one has seen anything and the livestock have been quiet. You stifle a yawn and slump back against the fence, mentally preparing for a boring few hours. 

You must have nodded off because you’re jolted awake by panicked bleating from the goat pen. You jump to your feet, draw a dagger and hop the fence, expecting to scare off a fox or badger. As you scan the pen, you see a dark shape hunched over a goat, spikes rising from the leathery skin of its back. Its huge eyes focus on you, but instead of running, it stands on its hind legs, blood dripping from oversized fangs, long claws barely visible in the dim light. 

Gentle traveler, you have just met a chupacabra. 

By now, it’s pretty well known and accepted that chupacabra sightings, especially those in Mexico and the Southwestern US, are a case of mistaken identity. The goat sucking monster has been shown to be coyotes and wild dogs with severe cases of mange, afflicted with hairlessness and thick, scaly skin. But let’s go back in time and look at the intensely weird origins of this cryptid, back to the era of Batman Forever and the Macarena and infinite AOL CD-ROMs in the mail. That’s right, we’re throwing it all the way back to 1995. 

The chupacabra has the dubious distinction of being a very modern addition to the cryptid cannon, with the first sightings tracing back to Puerto Rico in 1995. Though reports of the chupacabra have morphed into mangy canines over time, the first witnesses described a much stranger, more alien creature. Leathery reptile-like skin, long spines running down its back, and huge alien-like eyes were common features of those first sightings. Theories about the origins of this creature ran wild–it was an alien pet accidentally left behind, or the product of secret government experiments, or a genetically modified bat. There are no stories of the chupacabra attacking humans, but they earned their name by attacking and exsanguinating goats and small livestock. Descriptions of animal attacks bear some similarity to cattle mutilations reported by ranchers in the US in the 70s and 80s. Animals were said to have been mysteriously drained of blood, with only two puncture holes as the only visible injury. 

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Researcher Benjamin Radford traced chupacabra sightings back to a single original source, a Puerto Rican woman who was influenced by something weirdly specific: the movie Species

This woman, the originator of the alien-esque chupacabra description, had seen the movie Species not long before her first chupacabra sighting, and in initial interviews actually remarked on the similarity between the creature she had seen and the movie alien. Reports of sightings spread, and descriptions became more elaborate and alien until the mid-2000s, when the dog-type chupacabra became more common. 

No matter what type of chupacabra you may encounter, they’re more likely to hurt your animals than to attack you. However, they still behave like wild animals, and chances are high that they’ll strike if they’re backed into a corner. If you bump into one of these monsters, maybe treat it like a mountain lion: don’t run, make yourself big and intimidating, throw things at it, and be ready to fight.

Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.