by , Keeper
Although a native tarheel, I came to the museum from Texas, where I taught Biology courses at a small college. In graduate school I studied the behavior and ecology of marine organisms (mostly crabs, lobsters and sea turtles).
You can find me in the Animal Department Monday-Thursday. Fridays I work for the Department of Innovation and Learning all day.

Big Word of the Month: Cryptozoology

September 3rd, 2008

This month’s Big Word post will allow me to rant about one of my pet peeves while also reporting on some recent discoveries in Biology. The term cryptozoology is rooted in the Greek word “kruptos” which means “hidden”. So cryptozoology literally means the study of hidden life; sounds pretty cool, huh? Unfortunately, folks who call themselves cryptozoologists usually spend there time looking for animals like Big Foots and Loch Ness monsters. Even more unfortuately, major news outlets spend way too much time covering this pseudoscience.

Two stories that recently received a great deal of attention were the Montauk Monster from New York and the Bigfoot body recovered in Georgia. Neither of these stories warranted any coverage at all. The first was quickly identified by local naturalists and the second event was staged by people that had already committed an earlier fraud with a “Bigfoot discovery.” But what most people remember is that national news agencies like CNN and FOX breathlessly reported them. The final stories about the solutions to those so called mysteries were not prominently featured.

What really bugs me about this overblown coverage is that there are really interesting discoveries in science that receive very little attention. At the same time the media was covering the monster stories, biologists reported the discovery of over 100,000 western lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo. This amazing observation doubled the estimated population size for this primate group.

I know it is hard to get the news media excited about the Laotian rock rat but there are plenty of actual discoveries that are much more interesting than chasing boogie men and legends.

I assure you that scientists will be very excited if the Loch Ness monster is captured or if a real Bigfoot wanders into Kent, Washington to order a latte. But in the meantime, try learning about real hidden species that are discovered all the time. Practically every time biologists go to a tropical rain forest they discover dozens of new species. My friend Dr. Martha Nizinski goes diving in submarines and helps discover new species of crustaceans.

I promise you that the real stories are better than the made up ones!

Join the conversation:

  1. Here’s an article on the first large mammal discovered in over 70 years. It’s amazing that we can still discover large land animals after centuries of exploration! http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/phenom-vietnam.html

    Posted by ErinH
  2. I won’t deny, there is an awful lot of fraud and pseudoscience going on in the field of “cryptozoology”.But every now and then they turn up something legit.Or is the coelecanth a hoax, too?Science has a long history of laughing at improbably theories only to eat crow later. Skepticism is healthy, but only in moderation.-Magnus (NC MLS member)

    Posted by viridari
  3. I would point out that the Coelacanth was not found by cryptozoologists. It was identified through normal scientific methods (which includes a period of doubt and close examination). I am happy to be corrected, but I don’t know of a single cryptic or Lazarus species to be discovered by a cryptozoologist (someone working outside of orthodox science). Even if there are a few, the overwhelming amount of nonsense that is accepted by the field makes the entire group suspect.Skepticism of unusual finds is a normal and productive part of mainstream science. Remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.Thanks for being a member and reading our blog.

    Posted by Larry

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