Cryptids are mythical or legendary creatures or beings that are rumored to exist, but their existence lacks scientific evidence. These creatures are the subject of folklore, urban legends, and sometimes reported sightings, but their existence remains unverified by mainstream science. Some popular examples include Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and Chupacabra. It seems that people’s beliefs in cryptids often stem from cultural traditions, mystery, and a fascination with the unknown.
There are numerous cryptids with cat-like characteristics. These mysterious feline creatures are large, elusive, and possessing unique features. While these cat-like cryptids have captivated the public’s imagination and sparked curiosity, scientific evidence supporting their existence is generally lacking. Many sightings could be misidentifications or exaggerations.
Examples of Feline Cryptids
- Mngwa: From the folklore of Tanzania, the Mngwa is described as a large, monstrous cat that preys on livestock and occasionally humans. It’s often compared to a giant, bloodthirsty tabby cat.
- Marozi: Also known as the “Spotted Lion”, the Marozi is a cryptid described as a lion with leopard spots. People believe it could be a subspecies of African lion, or a leopard/lion hybrid. Sightings have been reported in parts of Kenya and other East African countries.
- Cactus Cat: From Native American and Mexican folklore, the cactus cat is reportedly found in the southwestern US and northern Mexico. It’s said to be a mythical creature adapted to desert life, with features like sharp spines or quills, allowing it to live among cacti without being harmed. The cactus cat is often depicted as a fearsome protector of the desert, using its spines to ward off predators or intruders.
- Cat Sith: In Scottish folklore, the Cat Sith is a fairy creature resembling a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. It is believed to have the ability to steal the souls of the deceased.
- Wampus Cat: This creature is a part of American folklore, particularly found in the Appalachian region. It’s often described as a fearsome creature with the body of a large cat and various supernatural or mythical traits. In different versions of the legend, the Wampus cat is associated with witchcraft or shapeshifting.
- Bakeneko/Nekomata: These are mythical cat creatures from Japanese folklore. The Bakeneko is a cat that gains supernatural powers after reaching a certain age. The Nekomata is a two-tailed cat that can walk on its hind legs. It is associated with dark magic.
- White Death: Also known as the Alaskan Tiger, White Death is a large feline who supposedly inhabits the swampy area outside of Paxson, Alaska. Native legends have told of this terrifying cat for years. Legends also say that after every human it kills, another stripe appears on its back.
The Ozark Howler
Would you believe that we even have legends of a cat-like cryptid right here in the Ozarks? The Ozark Howler is a cryptid that supposedly inhabits the Ozark Mountain region, which includes Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and a small area of Kansas. It is often described as a large, fearsome creature with various conflicting characteristics, making its appearance a subject of uncertainty and mystery.
- Size: It is about the size of a large bear or elk, with a heavy and muscular build
- Color: Reports differ, with some claiming it is black, while others say it is dark brown, gray, or even red.
- Physical Attributes: Sightings indicate they have glowing red or orange eyes, sharp horns or spikes, and cat-like ears.
- Vocalization: As the name suggests, the Ozark Howler is known for its eerie and haunting howls or screams.
The origins of the Ozark Howler legend are not entirely clear. Stories are influenced by Native American folklore, sightings of known animals, or simply embellished tales passed down through generations. I personally have a few theories on what I believe people may be seeing and/or hearing.
The “howl” could be a few different animals. An elk’s bugle is loud, high-pitched, eerie, and somewhat musical. Bobcats also make some distinct, disconcerting vocalizations consisting of growls and screams. Cougars make a variety of noises, including piercing shrieks that can sound like a woman’s scream or a baby’s cry. This could be pretty unsettling and haunting, especially in the dead of night.
Mountain lions have been sighted numerous times in our area. Yet, wildlife officials say there is not a sufficient breeding population. When a mountain lion is in the shadows, especially at dawn or dusk, their typical tawny color can appear almost black, which would explain people’s reports of the Ozark Howler’s dark fur. Another guess of what people may be seeing are melanistic bobcats. While rare, there are numerous evidential sightings of them. The Ozarks are home to feral hogs and black bears as well, which are both dark, sizeable animals. Black feral cats could also contribute to people’s reported sightings.
Bobcats and feral cats are typically smaller than what people have described regarding the Ozark Howler. So how do we explain what people are seeing? Susan Wardle, a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, explains that processing every individual sensory detail is impossible. Therefore, our brains reconstruct our visual world based on the complicated input our eyes receive. Research shows that vague sensory data forces our brains to rely more on preconceived patterns in order to understand it. Dr. Wardle said, “This means that there is an interesting interaction between perception and cognition – our beliefs and prior experience can influence what we see. Or more accurately, what we think we see.”
Regardless of its origin, the Ozark Howler continues to capture the imagination of those interested in the mysteries of the natural world and the allure of cryptids. Despite its widespread presence in Ozark folklore and stories, there is no scientific evidence supporting the existence of the Ozark Howler. Like many cryptids, it remains a part of local legends and urban myths.