Examples of some of the types of unknown animals with which cryptozoology is, or was concerned. Upper half, clockwise from upper left; an unrecognised or disputed species (the giant dragonfish), a Lazarus taxon known from historical times (the thylacine), a Lazarus taxon known only from the fossil record (a ground sloth), the possible survival of a fossil animal into historic times (the American elephant), a known species reported from outside of its recognised range (alien big cats), and a non-taxonomic variant or morph of a known species (the giant anaconda). Lower half, clockwise from upper left; the giant squid (Architeuthis), which is generally identified as the reality behind the kraken; the coelacanth (Latimeria), which was known only from fossils older than 66 million years until one was caught in 1938; the takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri), which was believed to have gone extinct in the 19th Century; and the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), an animal originally suspected to have been a hoax.

Cryptozoology is the study and search for animals which have not been formally described (often called cryptids, mystery beasts, or simply unknown animals), carried out by people termed cryptozoologists. It is frequently regarded as a pseudoscience by a large amount of mainstream zoologists and palaeontologists. Many cryptozoologists, on the other hand, regard cryptozoology as simply a subdivision of regular zoology, arguing that the study of unknown animals is still the study of animals, and thus, zoology. However, cryptozoology is also often considered an interdisciplinary pursuit, given that it also often requires knowledge of ethnology, geography, and linguistics.

There is also debate over what exactly falls into the realm of cryptozoology, and supposedly-supernatural "animals," also called zooform phenomena, are sometimes included in cryptozoology, and are frequently referred to as cryptids. Some of the best-known cryptids include hairy humanoids, sea serpents, lake monsters, neodinosaurs, and alien big cats, and important categories of cryptid recognised by cryptozoologists include undescribed but ethnoknown species, alleged Lazarus taxa recognised only from history or the fossil record, occurrences of known species outside of their recognised range, and non-taxonomic variants of known species. Two major specialist subfields of cryptozoology are hominology, the study of hairy humanoids, and dracontology, the study of sea serpents and lake monsters.

The pursuit of unknown animals was called romantic zoology in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and was codified by Bernard Heuvelmans in On the Track of Unknown Animals (1955). Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson both independently coined the term "cryptozoology," which was first used in 1959.[1][2] The International Society of Cryptozoology, which published the journal Cryptozoology, was active from 1982 to 1998, and has been succeeded by the International Cryptozoology Society, while the Centre for Fortean Zoology currently publishes the Journal of Cryptozoology. Researches into unknown animals and discoveries of large animals which occurred before the 1950s, particularly in the face of doubt, are sometimes retroactively described as cryptozoological.


The first known use of the term in print was not by either Heuvelmans or Sanderson, but by Lucien Blancou, a correspondent of Heuvelmans' who had provided him with much information on Central African cryptids. In his book Géographie Cynégétique du Monde (1959) Blancou described Bernard Heuvelmans as the "master of cryptozoology".[3][1] The word "cryptid" was first proposed as a general term for unknown animals in a Summer 1983 letter to the ISC Newsletter by John E. Wall.[3]


Eberhart (2002)

In the introduction to his work Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), George Eberhart provides a look at various definitions of cryptozoology, first writing:

Cryptids are the alleged animals that a cryptozoologist studies. Obviously, someone — either an ethnic group familiar with a specific habitat, a traveler to a remote region, or a surprised homeowner who sees an alien big cat or skunk ape in the backyard — first has to allege that such animals exist.

Although he notes that supernatural and mythical creatures are not always regarded by all cryptozoologists as being cryptids ("true" cryptids sometimes being considered "those animals with a reasonable chance of one day becoming recognized as new species"), he includes them "to show how known animals can pose as cryptids or how people's belief systems and expectations can color their observations of the natural world" - but not as cryptids themselves. In all, he provides the following ten categories for all of the mystery animals featured in Mysterious Creatures:

  1. "Distribution anomalies, or well-known animals found in locales where they have not previously been found or are thought extinct, such as the Eastern puma."
  2. "Undescribed, unusual, or outsize variations of known species, such as the blue tiger, horned hare, or giant anaconda"
  3. "Survivals of recently extinct species, such as the ivory-billed woodpecker in the southern United States, thought extinct since the 1960s."
  4. "Survivals of species known only from the fossil record into modern times, such as the roa-roa of New Zealand, which might be a surviving moa."
  5. "Survivals of species known only from the fossil record into historical times but found to have existed later than currently thought, such as the musxok of Noyon Uul."
  6. "Animals not known from the fossil record but related to known species, such as the Andaman wood owl or Beebe's manta."
  7. "Animals not known from the fossil record or bearing a clear relationship to known species, such as Bigfoot and some sea monsters."
  8. "Mythical animals with a zoological basis, such as the golden ram."
  9. "Seemingly paranormal or supernatural entities with some animal-like characteristics, such as black dogs or cannibal giants."
  10. "Known hoaxes or probable misidentifications that sometimes crop up in the literature, such as the Coleman frog and Bothrodon pridii."

Shuker (2012)

On the announcement of the new Journal of Cryptozoology, cryptozoologist Karl Shuker recorded the journal's definitions of cryptozoology as a guide for contributors. He noted the number of different definitions that had been put forward over the years, and wrote that, for the purposes of the journal, mythological creatures and zooform phenomena are excluded, and "a cryptid is a creature that is known to the local people sharing its domain (ethnoknown) but unrecognised by scientists. Such a creature may be any of the following:"[4]

  1. "A species or subspecies apparently unknown to science, including alleged prehistoric survivors (e.g. mokele-mbembe)."
  2. "A species or subspecies presently unknown to science in the living state, but which is known to have existed in historical times and allegedly still persists today (e.g. thylacine)."
  3. "A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as a natural occurrence in a location outside its scientifically-recognised current geographical distribution (e.g. puma in the eastern USA)."
  4. "A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as an artificial occurrence (i.e. due to human intervention) in a location outside its scientifically-recognised geographical distribution (e.g. alien big cats in Britain)."
  5. "An unrecognised non-taxonomic variant of a known species or subspecies (e.g. Fujian blue tiger; prior to its scientific recognition [...] the king cheetah, was another example from this category)."

Shuker also notes that:

... some cryptozoological researchers prefer to impose a lower size limit for cryptids, arguing that a crucial aspect of a cryptid's definition is that it should be of unexpected form. However, as I have revealed time and again in my various books documenting new and rediscovered animals, some very notable, unexpected cryptids were also very small.

Coleman (2016)

Another cryptozoological journal, the International Cryptozoology Society Journal, began publication in 2016, and the first issue carried an introductory article by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in which he gave his his view of cryptozoology, as well as that of Dmitri Bayanov:[2]

From my discussions with both the late Richard Greenwell (ISC Sec.) and the late Bernard Heuvelmans (ISC Pres), as well as with various directors on the old ISC Board, the general feeling is that an important element in the study of hidden animals as envisioned in current cryptozoology is the input of local, native, explorer, and traveler traditions, sightings, tales, legends and folklore of the as-yet unverified animals. It is for this very reason that most, but not all, of the animals under pursuit are large ones.

Also, it should be noted, a general sense among Russian cryptozoologists, especially as communicated through the books of Dmitri Bayanov, is that "cryptozoology" is the study of the evidence for hidden animals. Therefore, not too simply, cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals (whether large or small), to date not formally recognized by what is often termed Western science or formal zoology but supported in some way by testimony (in its broadest definition) from a human being and evidence of their presence.

Notes and references

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.