In the last part of Environmental Graffiti’s Cryptozoology Series, Karl Fabricius looks at some of the less convincing cryptid hoaxes.
Photo: Frances Griffiths
Are alleged species like De Loys' Ape, the Hodag and Mer-People bona fide beasties on earth or do they only roam in the minds of fraudsters and their credulous believers? Despite what many might see as a weight of evidence against their existence, the jury is still out. Pity the same can’t be said for this bunch. Hoaxes to hang your gullible hats on one and all, most of these bizarre and unlikely cryptids incite sniggers sooner than any serious scientific enquiry. Here’s our sideshow of 7 of the lamest.
Photo: Photographer unknown
Sporting the forequarters and hind legs of a hare, and the back, wings and tail of a wood grouse, this imaginary Swedish creature was born of the imagination of one Håkan Dahlmark. At the beginning of the 20th century, Dahlmark told the tall tale of having hunted and shot this peculiar hybrid game animal – when was it? – way back in 18-74.
Hare today: The famous Swedish taxidermy hoax
Photo: Ambra Galassi
On his birthday in 1907, Dahlmark’s housekeeper had her nephew paint a picture of the imagined creature, which the master duly donated to the resident historical society. The society’s director Carl Hammarberg was inspired to make a ‘real’ Skvader and asked local taxidermist Rudolf Granberg to help. Instead of telling Hammarberg to get stuffed, Granberg did his bidding and created a specimen – still on display today at the museum in Sundsvall.
2. Lake George Monster
Copy of displayed photograph originally taken by Walter Grishkot via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Supposedly sighted at Hague Bay, this giant serpent burst onto the cryptid scene in 1904. Artist Harry Waltrose invented it in a game of tit-for-tat with Colonel William Mann, who had previously played a prank on him involving an oversized fake trout. Using one end of a huge cedar log, Waltrous fashioned “my idea of a sea monster or hippogriff,” manipulating it from the shore using a pulley and rope. From the reported frightened reactions of the Colonel and his friends, the hoax worked. Waltrose later made his monster resurface elsewhere in the lake for more publicity.
What lies beneath: Lake George - tranquil for the time being
Other hoaxes have echoed the Lake George Monster, most notably Kingstie, “a strange creature with the head of a dragon and eyes of fire” seen in Lake Ontario and made using a barrel filled with empty bottles for buoyancy. Refreshing change from all the fuss about Nessie we say.
The Jackalope is a folklore legend in the good ol' US of A – an imaginary crossbreed of jackrabbit and antelope usually portrayed as a rabbit with antlers. Far-fetched claims about this creature abound, including the myth that the female can be milked as its sleeps and that it can imitate the human voice to evade pursuers. Douglas, Wyoming has been named “Home of the Jackalope” on the basis that Douglas Herrick came up with the idea while on a hunting trip in the 1930s. There's even an official Jackalope hunting season there, occurring annually on June 31 from just midnight to 2am.
Jackalope? Nope, rabbit infected with Shope papilloma virus
Yet it could also be that tales of the Jackalope were inspired by sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papilloma virus, which causes the growth of horn-like tumours on the bunny's head. Aww, dat's wough on da wabbit.
Photo: Curious Expeditions
Fortean types must have a fixation on bunny rabbits. Another fictional hybrid critter of the European imagination, the Wolpertinger is said to have an outward appearance made up of various animal parts – typically wings, antlers and fangs – all attached to the body of a small mammal.
Why you shouldn't have: Wolpertinger figurine
Photo: Gerhard Elsner
Usually described as a horned rabbit or else a squirrel, apparently local people never believed in the animal’s existence. Even so, they certainly appear to have had faith in the Wolpertinger’s money spinning potential as stuffed ‘specimens’ stitched together using parts of actual stuffed animals are often displayed in inns or sold to tourists as souvenirs. Taxidermical fun appears to know no bounds.
5. Hoop Snake
The Hoop Snake is co-called because of its presumed ability to grip its tail in its jaws, forming itself into a bicycle tyre shape that enables it to roll after its prey. By some accounts, at the last second this deadly critter then whips its stinging tail from its mouth, straightening out to strike the would-be victim tail-first like a javelin.
Hook, line and sinker: Could a threetoed slink be the fearsome hoop snake?
Photo via Australian Traveller
Sightings persist of this legendary creature of the US and Australia, but its existence has never been accepted by the scientific community. One explanation for the myth lies in the behaviour of the mud snake, which sometimes rests in a coil shaped loosely like a hoop. The mud snake is harmless and does not even bite when handled – though it may press its pointed tail tip against the handler in an attempt to force its way free. Ah-hah.
6. Fur-bearing Trout
A Fur-bearing trout? Whoever thought of this must have been having a right laugh – and legend has it a chuckling 17th century Scottish settler to Canada was the culprit. When, on writing home of "furried animals and fish", the Scotsman was asked to provide a specimen, he duly obliged. The basic idea behind this creature is that in freezing water, fish need a thick coat to keep warm – though another tale puts it down to hair tonic being spilled into the Arkansas River in the 1870s.
Heck of a catch: Trophy Fur-bearing Trout
The real reason furry fish might appear on our shores is rather more gross. Infection by cotton mould causes tufts of fur-like growth to appear on the body – sometimes continuing to cover the fish even after its death. Even so, the stuffed and mounted specimens frequently displayed as curiosities are totally fake. Fishy to say the least.
Photo: Elsie Wright
Having appeared throughout Western cultures since the middle ages, the legend of fairies is too big a fish to fry in this post, so we’ll focus on arguably the most famous of fairy hoaxes, the Cottingley Fairies. This series of photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins living in the north of England, depicts the two girls with the supposed mythological creatures. Taken in 1917, the photos divided their ever-growing audience, including first Wright’s parents.
Eternal sunshine: The Cottingley Fairies
Photo: Frances Griffiths
Many at once suspected they were fakes, but others, including Arthur Conan Doyle – who must now be blushing in his grave – saw them as authentic evidence of the existence of these spirits. It took until 1981 before Wright and Griffiths finally admitted the photos were actually contrived using cardboard cut-outs of the tiny winged wonders. Hard in a way to call this hoax lame as Wright was an accomplished artist and photo technician. Well she fooled half the world didn't she?