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Creature Categories:

Learn the relationship these creatures have to real-life animals.

  • Bits and Pieces – Mythical creatures with the body parts of real animals
  • Mistaken Identities – Real animals once mistaken as fantastic creatures.
  • Stories and Legends – Purely imaginary creatures.

(photo: stone relief of a chimera located in Venice, Italy)

Ready to learn more? Explore our directory to discover the amazing stories behind each creature!

Akhekh

Region: Egypt

Category: Bits and Pieces

Similar to mythological beasts like the Chimera, the Akhekh is comprised of “bits and pieces” of multiple species. With the protruding horns of an Oryx, the wings & beak of a bird, and the tail of a serpent, the Akhekh is a sight to behold.

Did You Know:

  • The Akhekh is associated with Set, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos and darkness.
  • Akhekh can be seen as a companion to Set or an incarnation of the god himself.
  • Set’s Greek counterpart is Typhon – the father of Chimera and Cerberus, who were also composites of different animal species.
  • Akhekh symbolized the Pharoah’s might in wartime. Ramesses II was compared to Akhekh during his military campaigns.
  • A small scene depicting Akhekh pulling a chariot over crocodiles is carved into the Metternich Stela – an ancient Egyptian artifact used in ritualistic healing.
Ammit

Region: Egypt

Category: Bits and Pieces

Ammit is an amalgamation of three different species familiar to ancient Egyptians – the head of a crocodile, the front half of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.

Did You Know:

  • In ancient Egypt, Ammit was feared as a demon rather than worshipped as a deity.
  • Despite her fearsome appearance, Ammit has been portrayed in everything from fantasy books to children’s cartoons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • “Ammit” translates to “devourer of the dead”.
  • During the Judgement of the Dead, the god Osiris would weigh the hearts of the dead. Any impure hearts would be eaten by Ammit, thus preventing the individual’s soul from continuing to the afterlife.
  • In ancient Egyptian artwork, Ammit is often depicted sitting eagerly next to weighing scales, along with Thoth, the god of hieroglyphics and Anubis, the guardian of the scales.
  • Ammit is described in the Book of the Dead, a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary texts.
  • Ancient Egyptians believed that being buried with a copy of The Book of the Dead would help an individual pass Osiris’ judgement, sparing their hearts from Ammit.
Cerberus

Region: Greece

Category: Bits and Pieces

Cerberus is a large, three-headed hound with a serpentine tail.

Did You Know:

  • Cerberus served as the guard dog of the Underworld, preventing souls from returning to the land of the living.
  • Cerberus’ master is Hades, Greek god of the Underworld.
  • The original depictions of Cerberus from Hesiod’s Theogony state that he has fifty heads, while later authors envisioned Cerberus with hundreds of heads – those of dogs, snakes, or all manner of beasts.
  • The name Cerberus is derived from the Greek word creoboros which translates to “flesh-devouring”.
  • Cerberus is technically a sibling to Chimera as they both are offspring of the monstrous Typhon and Echidna.
  • One of Cerberus’ most often told myths recounts his capture and removal from the Underworld by the hero Heracles/Hercules.
  • Cerberus is the subject of many ancient Greek works of art, including the 6th century BC Throne of Amyclae – a monument to the Greek god Apollo.
Chimera

Region: Greece/Turkey

Category: Bits and Pieces

Chimera is commonly depicted with the body of a lion, the head of a goat grafted onto its back and a long, serpentine tail ending with the head of a snake. Chimera is sometimes portrayed with the head of a dragon in place of the snake.

Did You Know:

  • Chimera was first described in the ancient Greek epic poem Iliad, authored by Homer in the 8th century BC.
  • Chimera is typically considered a female, despite sporting the distinctive mane of a male lion.
  • With her fearsome appearance and ability to breathe fire, Chimera was said to be the bane of many great warriors.
  • After laying waste to the lands of Caria and Lycia, Chimera was felled by the hero Bellerophon riding atop Pegasus.
  • Visual depictions of Chimera first appeared on ancient Greek vases and pottery.
  • Greek scholars such as Pliny the Elder rationalized that the eternally burning volcanic vents of present-day Turkey were the source of the Chimera myth. These fiery vents were often used for navigation by sailors.
  • The word “chimera” has taken on a modern meaning and is used to describe anything that consists of unrelated parts.
  • “Chimera” is also a biological term used to describe any organism containing two different sets of DNA.
Cthulhu

Region: Local Legends

Category: Stories and Legends

Cthulhu is often depicted as massive, humanoid entity sporting a head like an octopus. An unknowable mass of tentacles is Cthulhu’s most iconic feature, along with a pair of rudimentary wings growing on its back.

Did You Know:

  • Cthulhu is the original creation of Providence author H.P. Lovecraft, first mentioned in his 1928 short story Call of Cthulhu.
  • Widely known as the face of “cosmic horror,” Cthulhu is fearsome due to being supremely powerful, beyond human comprehension, and entirely indifferent to humanity.
  • Cthulhu possesses remarkable telepathic abilities, allegedly powerful enough to be the root cause of anxiety around the world.
  • Cthulhu lies dormant within the fictional underwater city of R’lyeh where it is revered and worshipped.
  • In the time after H.P. Lovecraft’s death, the “Cthulhu Mythos” was gradually developed by authors hoping to expand on the being’s original lore.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos has endured for nearly 100 years and served as inspiration in many areas of entertainment, including games, music, and movies.
Baku

Region: Asia

Category: Bits and Pieces  

Like many mythological beasts, the Baku’s appearance has changed throughout history. The earliest depictions of the Baku incorporate the body of a bear, the trunk and tusks of an elephant, the tail of a cow, the ears of a rhinoceros, and a tiger’s paws. Later interpretations of the Baku simplify its design to include the head of an elephant with the addition of horns and tiger claws.

Did You Know:

  • The Baku is a mythical guardian of dreams and devourer of nightmares.
  • Children waking up from nightmares could summon Baku by chanting “Baku-san, come eat my dream.” Baku could then enter the child’s room and consume their nightmares, letting the child resume their peaceful sleep.
  • Legend cautions against relying on Baku too frequently – if the beast remains hungry after eating a nightmare, it might choose to eat the summoner’s wishes and dreams!
  • Japanese children in the 1910s were known to keep Baku talismans at their bedside as dreamcatchers.
Dirawong

Region: Oceania

Category: Stories and Legends

A creator-being of the Bunjalung Nation of Australia that resembles the goanna (an Australian monitor lizard) that taught humans important rituals and how to survive.

Did You Know:

  • The Dirawong was said to be protective of its people and taught them how to use medicines, where to find food, as well as important laws and rituals, like those used to summon rain. 
  • The Goanna Headland, also known as the Dirawong Reserve, at Evans Head, New South Wales is believed to be the physical body of the Dirawong.  
  • The Dirawong is said to have battled the great rainbow serpent leading to the creation of parts of the Richmond River, Snake Island, and Pelican Island.
  • After the battle, the Rainbow Snake escaped to sea and became the island of New Zealand. The Dirawong followed him and laid down facing the sea to guard against the serpent.
  • The Dirawong resembles an extinct species of goanna called Megalania Prisca. This species went extinct about 40,000 years ago and was about 11-16 feet long.
European Dragon

Region: Europe

Category: Mistaken Identities

A large, greedy, evil serpent-like creature often depicted with four legs, two wings, a large

powerful tail, and the ability to breathe fire.

Did You Know:

  • The discovery of dinosaur and large snake fossils are believed to be some of the early inspirations for dragon legends.
  • It has been described as a huge serpent who would constrict their prey.
  • These dragons were said to be greedy creatures who would often steal and hoard gold in their lairs. In addition to gold, they were also known for stealing and consuming livestock and humans, particularly young girls.
  • European dragons, unlike Asian dragons, were depicted as evil creatures who represented wrath and greed. One Viking legend tells of a dwarf who became so greedy that he turned into a dragon to protect his hoard.
  • European dragons had many religious connotations, often representing Satan and sin in the medieval church.
  • Dragon’s blood was said to have magical powers, including bestowing the ability to understand the language of birds or extending one’s life.
Glawackus

Region: New England

Category: misidentification

A creature reported by a hunting party in Glastonbury in 1939. They described a creature with a fearsome screech that resembled a bear, cat and lion combined.  

Did You Know: 

  • After reports of the creature became more widespread, Glawackus hunts became a local sensation. The creature was never found.
  • The creature disappeared after the hunts for about a decade but was thought to reappear in the 1950s when multiple animals were attacked by an unidentified creature. It apparently vanished again soon after.  
  • The leader of the hunting party theorized that the creature could have been a mountain lion or large bobcat.
  • Many depictions of the Glawackus seem to resemble a fisher – a large species of weasel native to new England.
  • Local spelunkers staged an encounter with the Glawackus on spelunking tours using a fake creature made from women’s hand warmers.
  • The name Glawackus combines the name of the town of the sighting (Glastonbury) and the word “wacky”!

     

Griffin

Region: Mediterranean Basin

Category: Mistaken identities

Griffins were mythical creatures with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion

who hoarded gold and treasure or acted as guards for ancient kings.

Did You Know:

  • Many cultures had different descriptions for the griffins. Greeks described them as “the sharp-beaked hounds of Zeus that do not bark”. The griffin of India was described as the size of a wolf, with the legs and claws of a lion, and colorful plumage: black feathers across most of their body, red breast feathers, blue neck feathers, and white wings.
  • According to most Greek accounts, griffins lived at the remote northern or northwestern edge of the world and were often found near gold deposits.
  • Griffins are known to be fierce creatures that defended large deposits of gold. They often battled with one-eyed Arimaspians who sought to steal it.
  • The first depictions of griffins were made in pottery and art long before they were written about in poetry and other literature.
Hippocampus

Region: Greece

Category: Bits & Pieces

The hippocampus is a creature from Greek mythology whose front half is horse-like and

whose rear half has the serpentine tail of a fish.

Did You Know:

  • Ancient people believed that hippocampi were the adult form of the animals we know today as sea horses.
  • They were depicted as having drawn Poseidon’s chariot, in addition to being ridden by other sea gods and nymphs.
  • Hippocampi were common images in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art.
  • The human brain has an area called the hippocampus, which is shaped somewhat like a seahorse. This part of the brain is responsible for controlling emotions, memory, and the nervous system.
  • A small moon of Neptune is named after the hippocampus.
Kappa

Region: Asia                    

Category: Stories and Legends

A Japanese yōkai (supernatural being) that resembles a green humanoid with a turtle shell that has been described as either mischievous or dangerous.

Did You Know:

  • Kappas live in rivers and ponds, where they catch hold of the feet of swimmers, dragging them into the water.
  • Some of the oldest references say that otters become kappa as they age. In the 19th century, however, the creature’s description resembled a turtle more than a mammal.
  • The similarity of the kappa to other animals has changed many times over the years. It has also gone from being a frightening creature to a more mischievous one.
  • The kappa often represented the dangers of rivers, ponds, and the sea.  
  • “No Swimming” signs beside rivers and ponds often include illustrations of kappa.
  • In folklore, Kappas were said to enjoy sumo wrestling.
Kasa-obake

Region: Asia

Category: Stories & Legends

Kasa-obake is an old, broken, or neglected umbrella that has become a spirit.

Did You Know:

  • The Kasa-obake is an umbrella-shaped creature with one eye, one leg, and a long tongue.
  • Their character is like that of a typical ghost – enjoying scaring people and being generally mischievous.
  • The kasa-obake appear in stories and art.
  • The name is derived from kasa meaning parasol or umbrella and obake meaning shapeshifting or spirit.
  • Kasa-obake are part of a group of Japanese folklore called tsukumogami – tools that have acquired a spirit.
Kitsune

Region: Asia

Category: Stories & Legends

In traditional Japanese folklore, the kitsune is powerful, foxlike creature, typically seen to be a trickster.

Did You Know:

  • Kitsune are a type of yōkai – Japanese ghouls or demons.
  • The kitsune possesses paranormal abilities, including metamorphosis.
  • It is said that kitsune live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and their abilities tend to become more powerful as they age.
  • In Japanese mythology, it is believed that there are 13 different types of kitsune, each corresponding to a different element: celestial, wind, spirit, darkness, fire, earth, river, ocean, forest, mountain, thunder, sound, and time.
  • Kitsune can either be considered good or mischievous. This was based on the behaviors of nearby real-life foxes. The good ones, Zenko, were considered sacred and godlike since they protected the rice crops by eating pests such as rats and mice. However, Nogitsune were considered pests since they would often steal food and kill livestock.
  • The kitsune still have an influence in pop culture, including Ninetales from Pokémon and Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog.
Kraken

Region: Europe

Category: Mistaken Identities

This beast is often described as a gigantic cephalopod-like creature. It resembles an

enormous octopus or giant squid with many strong tentacles.

Did You Know:

  • It is said that a kraken could take hold of a ship and drag it to the bottom of the sea in less than a minute.
  • In some Scandinavian stories, the kraken itself drags ships and their crews to the bottom of the sea. Other Norse sagas and folk tales say that the ship’s destruction is the result of whirlpools created by the kraken.
  • If fish began surging to the surface and leaping out of the water, sailors believed that a Kraken was likely on the way. Gurgling bubbles or an abundance of jellyfish would sometimes also be considered signs of a nearby kraken.
  • The legend of the kraken may have originated from sightings of real creatures like giant squids or other extremely large cephalopods.
  • In the oldest Nordic accounts of the kraken, Örvar-Oddr and his son met two of the beasts while crossing deep waters off of the coast of Norway. While peering across the waves, they saw these beasts clearly and were terrified by their size and fearsome appearance.
  • The word “kraken” comes from the Norwegian word krake, which is closely related to the German word for octopus.
Loch Ness Monster

Region: Scottish Highlands

Category: Mistaken Identities

Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, sightings of a “monster” in the Loch Ness increased dramatically. A 1934 photograph sparked world-wide interest.

Did You Know:

  • Some reports claim it has a whale-like body, while others believe it has the body of a salamander. Many compare Nessie to a plesiosaur, a marine dinosaur.
  • The monster has been given the nickname “Nessie”.
  • Sightings of Nessie vary in description. She’s been reported to be anywhere from five to twenty feet long.
  • The Loch Ness Monster’s earliest sighting was in the 6th century in the adjacent River Ness, by St. Columba. The Irish abbot had sent one of his followers to swim across the river and then warded the creature as it rose up from the river, but Columba was able to ward it off.
  • Sightings and photographs increased  throughout the 20th century, the most famous photo being the “Surgeon’s Photograph” from 1934.
Ninki Nanka

Region: West Africa

Category: Bits & Pieces

A giant, feared swamp monster said to come out of the mangroves at night. The Ninki Nanka is described throughout West Africa – most often from Senegal to Sierra Leone.  

Did You Know:

  • Early accounts of the Ninki Nanka describe it as having the face of a horse, the neck of a giraffe, and the body of a crocodile.
  • In some legends, it can appear as a python on land or as a rainbow in the sky.
  • Some say Ninki Nanka hides in muddy mangroves and only comes out on moonlit nights.
  • To some cultures, Ninki Nanka is very important and integral to the water cycle.
  • To the Limba people of Sierra Leone, Ninki Nanka is responsible for causing thunder and lightning.
Phoenix

Region: Greece

Category: Stories & Legends

A beautiful and majestic bird with brightly colored feathers and a long tail, reborn from its own ashes.

Did You Know:

  • They are said to live over 500 years. Near the end of their lives, a phoenix will build a nest then ignite into flames from which a new young phoenix will emerge.
  • Phoenixes are most well-known as a symbol of immortality and representing a cycle for long life, death, and rebirth.
  • Many cultures have a Phoenix-like creature as part of their mythology, including Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Arabian, Persian, Chinese, Turkish, Indian, and Phoenician.
  • Although the Greek name Phoenix is most widely known, the Egyptian Bennu is very similar.
Rainbow Serpent

Region: Australia

Category:  Stories and Legends

Having many names, the Rainbow Serpent is a key part of the creation myth in Aboriginal culture. It is associated with water, weather, food, and fertility, and is said to have shaped the Earth by its travels.

Did You Know:

  • There are over two dozen names for the rainbow serpent, depending on the tribe. For example, the Pitapita call it Kanmare, while the Yolngu know it as Yurlunggur.
  • They are said to live underneath watering holes and travel between them. A rainbow is the serpent moving from one waterhole to the next!
  • The rainbow serpent is said to be responsible for shaping the formerly flat Earth, creating rivers, hills and gorges during their travels.
  • The rainbow serpent is associated with water. Their presence brings rain and, if offended, drought. It is therefore associated with food as well.
  • Some cultures associate the rainbow serpent with abundance, able to renew life, because of their ability to shed their skin.
Sphinx

Region: Africa

Category: Bits & Pieces

The Sphinx is most often associated with Egypt, largely due to the iconic “Great Sphinx” at the Pyramids of Giza. It is also spoken of in Ancient Greece and modern-day Asia. While descriptions differ slightly, they tend to depict a human face and a feline body.

Did You Know:

  • Originating in Egypt, the Sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion and is typically male.
  • The Greek Sphinx was female and had wings. Asian Sphinxes also featured wings.
  • The Great Sphinx in Egypt is actually a portrait of King Khafre. Throughout history in Egypt, statues of Sphinxes tended to be portraits.
  • The Egyptian Sphinx was associated with the Sun God, Ra, and seen as a creature of good, often seen guarding royalty.
  • In one Greek myth, a sphinx gives the hero a riddle to solve, which is why the Sphinx is often associated with wisdom. The riddle: “What has one voice but goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” (Answer: Humans!)
Thunderbird

Region: Pacific Northwest

Category: Mistaken Identity

The thunderbird is a large bird resembling an eagle and is often described to have two horns on its head. It was said to have been seen by native tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Many tribes and even individual family lines have their own stories and depictions of the powerful spirit.

Did You Know:

  • The thunderbird was described as a huge bird with a wingspan of up to 70ft. For comparison, the largest North American bird – the California condor – has a wingspan of 10ft.
  • The thunderbird was said to be strong enough to fly off with orcas (“killer whales”) – a favorite prey in many stories.
  • There are many versions of the thunderbird legends, but there are some similar themes, including it being one of the most powerful spirits and having the ability to create storms – either by flapping its wings to make thunder or simply by blinking its eyes.
  • Some stories tell of the “thunderbird’s dogs” which were serpent-like creatures that lived on or under its wings and were used to create lightning when thrown.
  • Some scientists believe the legend of the thunderbird may have been inspired by the fossils of flying reptiles.
Unicorns

Region: Europe

Category: Mistaken Identity

A creature, often resembling a white horse or goat with a single long horn,

who is said to possess the ability to cure poisons and is often drawn to pure maidens for

companionship.

Did You Know:

  • The earliest written description of a unicorn is attributed to Ctesias, a Greek physician and historian while in India in 400BC. It is thought he may have been describing the Indian rhinoceros.
  • Unicorns have also appeared in the legends and myths of India and China.
  • The unicorn’s horns were said to cure ailments and poisons if one were to drink from them. This power could also purify drinking water for other animals.
  • Unicorns were often associated with purity and thus were drawn to young women, the only ones who could tame a unicorn.
  • The unicorn was often described as fierce and impossible to capture, however its fondness towards young maidens could be used to lure and capture them.
  • Goblets made of narwhal horns were said to be made of genuine unicorn horns and became very popular as a way to ward off poisons.
Yeti

Region: Asia

Category: Stories & Legends

Also known as the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti is a powerful ape-like creature that is giant, shaggy and leaves large footprints in its wake.

Did You Know:

  • The Yeti originates from Tibetan folklore. Its name is derived from the Tibetan word yeh-the, meaning “rock bear”.
  • It was considered a guardian spirit of the Himalayan Mountain peaks, since the mountains are sacred in Tibetan culture.
  • Encountering a Yeti is considered a test of one’s courage and resilience and if one survives an encounter, they are blessed with strength and wisdom.
  • The Yeti has often been a symbol for the unexplored and unknown.
  • One of the most famous accounts of the Yeti’s existence was in 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay discovered large footprints as they were scaling Mount Everest.
  • Evidence of the Yeti’s existence has been investigated through different expeditions, including DNA analysis of hair samples and footprint castings. No conclusive evidence has been found.
  • Some versions of the Abominable Snowman are less fearsome than others, including the “Bumble” from the 1964 TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
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