Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Water Cryptids I - Lake, River, & Swamp Cryptid Guide

There's probably enough proposed water Cryptids, reports, studies, and theories to write several books. And maybe I will write a book at some point, but for the purposes of making a online guide similar to my Unicorn and Zombie guides, I've decided to break them down into the following 3 categories; Lake/River/Swamp, Sea/Ocean/Bay, and Miscellaneous.

Probably the most familiar water Cryptids in modern times, are those living in rivers and lakes. Pretty much everyone has heard of the Loch Ness Monster, and many know of the monsters of Lake Champlain and Okanagan Lake, but there are so many more then that. I shared previously a link to the Global Lake Monster Database, which gathers reports of reptilian lake monsters alone (it's down below in the resources for this post as well, if you haven't checked it out), and that's only a fraction of lake and river Cryptid reports.

So now, let's examine the types of river and lake Cryptids that people have been reporting all over the world. We'll go ahead and start with the reptilian monsters.

Possible Fossil Remnants & Dragons:

Several lake monsters resemble creatures otherwise thought to be extinct. Probably the most famous example of these sorts of monsters is Nessie of Loch Ness in Scotland, whom many now believe to be a Plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile with a long neck. The general theory is that such creatures became trapped in lakes as the sea level dropped, but managed to survive on the lake fish. But this image of Nessie however didn’t develop until 1933, well after Plesiosaur fossils were identified. Previously, Nessie was commonly viewed as a Kelpie, Demon, or even a Giant Newt.

Champ, the Monster of Lake Champlain is also believed by some to be a Plesiosaur. The most common reports of these creatures feature it's head and neck rising out of the water, sometimes accompanied by humps believed to be their back and tail.

The Lake Murray Beast (South Carolina), which pushes boats and appears as a shadow on the surface of the lake, is believed by many to be a Ichthyosaur, another extinct marine reptile. Unlike the proposed Pleisiosaurs, this monster's most commonly seen feature is it's back, as it has a very fish-like shape. Of course, being fish-like, a modern fish, the Sturgeon, has also been used to explain the monster sightings.

Giant Serpents
Some monsters, like the Flathead Lake Monster resemble the giant serpents that used to inhabit the earth, such as Titanoboa. Witnesses clearly describe the creature as a serpentine line or tube like arches breeching the water.

Other are hard to identify, such as the Bear Lake Beast, which is said to come ashore at night. It shares this distinction with several dinosaur-like lake and river monsters, such as the Congo’s Mokèlé-mbèmbé. Almost all known descriptions of Mokèlé-mbèmbé highly resemble a Sauropod Dinosaur. These descriptions may have evolved from a now dismissed theory, that sauropods needed to spend a great deal of time in the water to support their girth.

Though some details often resemble know dinosaur species, many lake monsters have been proposed to be dragons by witnesses, and often have key anatomical differences from dinosaurs, such and hair and mismatched body parts. The monster of Lake Pohenegamook for example is said to be an iguana-like dragon, with a cow like head.

Mamlambo, the brain-sucking monster of the Mzintlava River in South Africa could also fall into this category. It's said to be snake or fish like with a horse-like head, and have the power to summon storms.

Native American legends tell of Water Dragons. In some tales they fought with beasts of land and air, in others they terrorized humans. One such tale tells of Amhuluk (of Forked Mountain Lake in Oregon), who had horns, four legs, and a serpent like body, and has been said to impale children with his horns and drown whoever it could (there have been no sightings of Amhuluk since 1890).

In the legends of China, Japan, and Korea, Dragons are often linked with with water, and said to live in the river and seas. Similarly the Chinese version of the unicorn, the Ch’I Lin is believed to reside in rivers, only to emerge when the greatest emperor takes the throne. In Australia, the chimeric Rainbow Serpent(s) is said to live at the base of waterfalls.

Merpeople & other Humanoids:

While more often only legendary in modern times, mermaid-like creatures make up a significant portion of water cryptids.

The Greek Naiads (a type of Nymph), are said to protect the bodies of water they inhabit, being the freshwater guardians, and therefore protecting rivers, lakes, and springs.

In Australia the Yawkyawk, fishtailed women with seaweed for hair, descended from the Rainbow Serpent(s), are said to live in waterholes (oddly approaching their homes is said to make human women pregnant). Yawkyawk have been said to occasionally take human form marry human men, but like the Silkies of Northern European folklore (to be discussed in the next installment), they will eventually leave their husbands and return to the water.

Another aquatic species of cryptid said to take human form are the Enchanto of the Amazon River, who spend most of their time as dolphins, but leave the river to seek human mates.

Semi-aquatic Ape Men
Several tales also exist of Bigfoot-like creatures roaming the rivers and swamps of North America, such as the Big Muddy Monster (so named for living in the Big Muddy River), that differs from Bigfoot in a few key respects; it smells worse, has glowing eyes, and prefers to travel via the river.

Sometimes these creatures have webbed hands and feet, as in the case of Flix, the hairy white humanoid rumored to live in Conser Lake in Oregon. He is said to have telepathically told a psychic his name and, that “There are many like me. . .”

Kappa & similar creatures
Well known water demon in Japan are the Kappa, humanoid turtle-like creatures that can only survive on land by storing water in a hollow on top their head. Kappa behavior towards humans generally includes pranks, drowning, and molestation, but a few tales of friendly Kappa exist as well.

In the USA, a creature described with similar tendencies, is the Green Clawed Monster of the Ohio River. It is a hairy amphibious humanoid, with large claws, that grabs swimmers; scratching and bruising them in an attempt to drag them under.

Similar European Cryptids, include the Grindylow, small green humanoids that will drown children, and water hags like Jenny Greenteeth and Peg Powler who also drown children, as well as the elderly.

Salvic mythology tells of the Vodyanoy, a race of frog-men that breaks dams, and (you guessed it) drowns swimmers.

Water Babies and Changelings
In both Native American and European tales, we find references to creatures that appear human, but are monstrous in nature, with links to the water. The European Changelings are the result of fairies or trolls (who may sometimes live in lakes and swamps, and usually do in Changeling stories) exchanging human children for their own offspring (or elders), wood, or toads. These tales were clearly intend to explain unfortunate incidents of infant fatalities, and missing children. As for the Native American's Water Babies, though they looked like human babies or little people, are said to live in the river, and sneak ashore to kill humans in their sleep. Tales of this cryptid appear to serve a similar purpose to the Changelings, explaining how the elderly and ill may die in their sleep.

Spirits: Ghosts, Demons, & Deities:

Another, possibly more concerning category of Lake and River Cryptids is that of Ghosts and Demons. While some of these entities are entirely good, many are said to drag swimmers under the water or abduct children.

In Mexico there exist several variations of the story of La Llorona, a female spirit that drowns or spirits away children. Usually it attributed to the fact that she drowned her own children before killing herself, and is not permitted to enter heaven until she has found them. From an anthropological standpoint, this is very clearly a cautionary tale meant to keep children away from the water at night.

A similar tale exists in Pennsylvania, of a young unwed Amish woman who jumped off a bridge with her infant son. It is said if one places their keys on the hood and walks around their car taunting, “cry baby”, anything from the keys moving to her killing members of the group could happen.

Another lake ghost of note is the Bride of Whiterock Lake, a distressed woman in a wedding dress who appears to people around the lake. She is not known to be harmful, but is believed to be unable to move on due to her murder.

Late painter Tom Thompson is said to be seen canoeing across Canoe Lake, where he died under suspicious circumstances. His body was found bound, with an oar mark on the head. The suspicious tale doesn't end there either, a man claiming to represent his family exhumed the body, and took it away.

Lake Ronkonkoma is said to be home to a particularly nasty ghost, a Native American princess who swore to drown a man every year, before drowning in the lake herself. It is interesting to note, that far more men have drown in the lake then women.

The Great Dismal Swamp is said to be home to a whole host of ghosts; a Native American brave and his fiance, a fisherman and his wife (who went looking for him in her wedding dress), and French pirates.

Irish folklore tells of Banshees, female ghosts, often ones who died of blood loss during childbirth, and become vengeful spirits, sometimes seen washing their clothes in the river. Appearances of Banshees are often said to preceded one's death, or the death of a loved one. It is dreadfully bad luck to hear a banshee’s cries, though stories vary on whether it's the first or third cry that signal's your demise.

The Louisiana Swamp Woman may be something of the American version of a Banshee, being known to scream and wail, in an attempt to lure people into the swamp so that they’ll drown. 

Hinkypunk engage in similar behavior to the Swamp Woman, luring people into swamplands by means of faint lantern-like lights, in an attempt to cause them to drown. A few tales recount dark figures holding the lanterns, and vocalizations such as kisses, laughs, and whispers.

Tales of similar phenomenon occur all over the world, under many different names, such as Will-o-Wisps, Hitodama, and Brujas. You may enjoy my earlier post on the subject:

Water horses
Tales of water Demons are just as plentiful as Ghosts. The Kelpie, is a shape shifting demon who is said to appear in alluring forms, such as that of a beautiful horse, in order to get people to come with it into the water. When the rider mounts the Kelpie horse, it charges into the water, drowns them, and possibly eats them.

Worse yet, is the Each Uisge, the Kelpie's more violent cousin, which prefers salt water, but is sometimes said to be found in fresh water lakes. It is said to tear multiple victims apart in a single attack, eating everything but their livers.

And Aboriginal tales describe a chimerical monster that eats people who venture too close to the water in which it lives, the Bunyip. Though many descriptions exist, and some believe it can shape shift, one of the most common forms resembles a giant starfish. 

Many of the people living long the Mekong River in Thailand believe their river to be a inhabited by a large snake or dragon, possibly having multiple heads. This may sound demonic by western standards, but the Naga is a god in Hinduism and Buddhism. And in some legends, Naga are able to take human form. While sometimes dangerous, the Naga is also said to be polite, and will clean up after itself.

Giant and Misplaced Animals

A few river Cryptids are much more familiar then Dinosaurs, Demons, and Ape Men, the Japanese Numazu who is supposed to cause earthquakes, for example, is a giant Catfish.

Lake Iliamna Monster
The Lake Iliamna Monster is said to be either a giant sturgeon, or an alligator. Neither of these make much since considering alligators are not native to Alaska, and sturgeon are not known to live in the lake.

As with the infamous urban legends of Alligators living in New York's sewers, several locations have had rumors of Alligators or Crocodiles existing where they shouldn't, both in natural and man-made waterways.

The UFO Link
Many of the River Cryptids listed above have also been associated with UFOs or 'fireballs' over the same location. Whether this points to the Cryptids being alien in origin, or UFOs not being alien in nature, remains to be seen. Of course there are UFO sightings reported over waters where no Cryptids have been reported, so there's a chance the two aren't related at all.

Resources/Further Reading and Watching:

Al Eurfrasio & Jeff Davis Weird Oregon New York: Sterling, 2010.

Bob Rickard & John Michell. The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena. 2nd Edition. London: Rough Guides Ltd, 2007.

“Cold Blooded Horror” River Monsters: Unhooked (TV Series)

Wikipedia, last modified 2014 - 2 - 7

“Global Lake Monster Database”
Cryptology, Living Dinosaurs, and Origins, 2005

“Haunting and Naga”  Destination Truth (TV Series)

“Hauntings and Horrors/Creepy Canada” (TV Series)

“Lake Murray Beast; The Donner Party” Haunted Highways (TV Series)

“Loch Ness Monster”
Wikipedia, last modified, 2015 - 6 - 9

“Mamlambo and Tokeloshe” Destination Truth (TV Series)

Most Terrifying Places in America 6 (TV Special)

My Ghost Story; Caught on Camera (TV Series)

“Ohio Grassman; Green-clawed Beast; Big Mud…” Monsters and Mysteries in America (TV Series)

“Pacific Northwest” Monsters and Mysteries in America (TV Series)

Wikipedia, last modified, 2015 - 6 - 14

“Lake Ronkonkoma (lake)”
Wikipedia, last modified, 2014 - 8 - 15

Rosen, Brenda. The Mythical Creatures Bible. New York: Sterling, 2008.

Strangest Weather on Earth (TV Series)

Virginia Morell. “Sea Monsters” National Geographic. 2005, December

Wikipedia, last modified 2015 - 6 - 23

Wikipedia, last modified, 2014 - 3 - 29