Image: Matt Reinbold
Often the subject of urban legend, cryptids are animals, plants or other entities whose existence is rumored yet unconfirmed. They come in many forms, from creatures of local folklore like the Mongolian Death Worm, to more modern, supposedly supernatural beings such as the Mothman.
One characteristic many cryptids share is an element of the uncanny, eerie or downright terrifying. They’re something we can frighten our friends with around the campfire – especially when it comes to the ones said to lurk above us, perhaps waiting to swoop down and attack. Here’s a look at ten cryptids that might strike from the air.
10. Ahool – Java, Indonesia
In the deep, dark rainforests of Java, you may just hear a cry of “A-hool!” pierce the night. Named after its distinctive exclamation, and reported to swoop across watery areas to snatch up food, the Ahool sounds pretty terrifying. This cryptid is said to be around the size of a young child when crouching on the forest floor. It’s also believed to have forearms armed with claws and wings that, according to other accounts, span 10 feet – nearly twice the wingspan of flying foxes, the world’s largest recorded bats. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that locals apparently avoid the creature altogether.
The Ahool is thought to be a giant bat, a flying primate or an as-yet-undiscovered species forced out of its deforested habitat. However, it could also just be a Javan wood owl, which makes a noise similar to that attributed to the Ahool. Similarities in appearance, such as the owl’s big, dark eyes, also make this bird a likely candidate.
Image: John Conway
9. Kongamato – Western Zambia, Angola and DRC
If you find yourself in a vessel on a swamp in Western Zambia, Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo, it might be wise to keep an eye on the sky. According to some accounts, the Kongamato, whose name translates as “breaker of boats,” can swoop down from the heavens at any moment. This cryptid is also said to eat rotting human flesh and scavenge people’s graves. The fearsome creature was brought to greater attention by explorer Frank Melland’s 1923 book In Witch-Bound Africa, in which members of the Kaonde tribe describe it as huge, red and lizard-like, with leathery wings and a beak filled with teeth.
In 1956, another witness, an engineer named J.P.F. Brown, reportedly saw two creatures in Fort Rosebery, Zambia that seemed prehistoric, with wingspans of up to three and a half feet, long tails and narrow heads. The very next year, this account was followed by one from a patient at a Fort Rosebery hospital, who claimed that the deep wound he had suffered was the result of an attack from a creature that looked like a pterosaur.
Judging by the physical descriptions given, there do seem to be similarities between the Kongamato and the flying dinosaurs known as pterosaurs. In fact, there are some who believe that the cryptid can be attributed to a surviving pocket of pterosaurs – although skeptics are more inclined to think that witnesses misidentified bats or storks.
Image: Steve Wilson
8. Lightning Bird – South Africa
The Lightning Bird, or Impundulu, is said to use a more unusual form of aerial attack. As its name suggests, the bird is alleged – according to certain African tribes – to produce lightning and thunder. It is also believed to drink the blood of humans. The bird is usually described as black and white and about the size of a person. Occasionally, however, it is reported to transform into a desirable man in order to attract a woman – whom it then feeds on, like a vampire.
The flesh of the Lighting Bird is thought to have magical properties, and witchdoctors claim to be able to use it to trace thieves and make powerful medicines. Unfortunately, belief in these mythical birds has had at least one tragic consequence. In 2005, a South African man killed a two-year-old girl in the belief that she was a Lightning Bird in disguise.
Image: Charles Maurice Detmold
7. Thunderbird/Roc – Various Locations
Several flying cryptids are said to be huge and bird-like in nature, and among these are Old World Rocs and Native American Thunderbirds. A story from 1890 tells of two Arizona cowboys who managed to shoot and kill a massive 92-foot-long bird with a 190-foot wingspan. More recently, in 1977, a mother in Illinois claimed that her 10-year-old boy was taken by a giant bird and dropped from a height of 20 feet. And there have been reports of similar abductions or attempted abductions in other countries around the world.
There are also people who claim to have seen a photograph of the enormous bird killed by the cowboys just mentioned. The photo was allegedly printed in the Tombstone Epitaph; however, it has proven elusive. And while large birds undoubtedly existed in prehistoric times, nowadays it would be very strange for them to remain unspotted by the cameras of birdwatchers scanning the skies across the globe.
Image: Steve Spezz
6. Popobawa – East Africa
Out of all the frightening creatures on this list, the Popobawa is one you definitely wouldn’t want to pay you a visit. A cryptid that apparently emerged about 40 years ago on Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, the Popobawa is said to attack and sodomize its victims. And if that weren’t bad enough, the victims are then forced to report their ordeals to others so that the Popobawa doesn’t visit them again. Supposedly, this beast is particularly fond of targeting skeptics.
The Popobawa doesn’t have a definite appearance and is reckoned to be able to shape-shift into both animal and human forms. Some say it’s an evil spirit that got out of control after being released in the 1970s by a furious sheikh who wanted to take revenge on his neighbors. It’s also been noted that alleged Pobobawa attacks seem to coincide with Zanzibar elections, a trend that Josh Gates, who hosts paranormal reality show Destination Truth, suggests is linked to the opposition political party there fostering superstitious fear for political gain.
Image: Hywel Williams
5. Rods – Various Locations
Occasionally, photographers have noticed elongated “rods” of light that seem to be moving through the air in their photos. Some UFO experts have been quick to claim that these are in fact signs of alien life – showing either the life forms themselves or their tiny crafts. One of the more prominent proponents of this theory, Jose Escamilla, uses videos to back up his claim that the rods are extra-terrestrial – and a lot of people believe him.
In 2012, an explorer named Matthew Lazenby claimed to have found evidence of rods in a cave in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Lazenby says he intends to return to the cave and attempt to capture one of the creatures. Still, so far there is no real evidence that alien Rods are anything but tricks of the light. Investigations have shown them to be optical illusions, and if they are signs of life, the life in question is most likely plain old earthbound insects.
Image: Philadelphia Papers in 1909
4. Jersey Devil – New Jersey, United States
This flying cryptid sounds like a confusing mixture of animals. You see, the Jersey Devil is described as having a goat’s head, the wings of a bat, small kangaroo-like arms, claws, hooves and a forked tail. Its origins are unclear, but an old Native American legend tells of a band of hunters who tried to track it down in response to it attacking their livestock. Although their search proved fruitless, each of the men is said to have mysteriously disappeared in the months that followed, never to be seen again.
Some see the Jersey Devil as an evil omen. It’s suggested that the creature has been spotted just before every significant US war and that seeing one means that bad luck is on its way. Skeptics, on the other hand, see the Jersey Devil as nothing more than a tale told to frighten children. Even so, a group of people who call themselves “The Devil Hunters” is devoted to scrupulously gathering reports and searching for evidence of the Jersey Devil’s existence.
Image: G H Ford
3. Olitiau – Central Africa
In 1932, Ivan T. Sanderson, a biologist with an interest in the paranormal, was hunting for hammer-headed fruit bats in south Cameroon when, he claimed, he was swooped on by “the granddaddy of all bats,” the Olitiau. Associated with Central Africa, the Olitiau is said to have a black body, red or dark brown wings, and long, serrated teeth. Sanderson’s description also suggests that this is a cryptid that is aggressive and could possibly attack humans.
Hammer-headed bats like those Sanderson was seeking are the proposed real-life explanations for the creature – perhaps unusually large examples of the species. The Olitiau could also be an as-yet-undiscovered type of giant bat. As with the Kongamato, some have speculated that the Olitiau is in fact a type of pterosaur, but Sanderson insisted that what he saw was bat-like, rather than a flying reptile. In any case, it doesn’t sound like a very pleasant beast to encounter.
2. Santelmo – Philippines
Sailors have long viewed St. Elmo’s Fire as a sign of divine intervention. In Filipino mythology, however, the strange natural phenomenon – actually coronal discharge from objects in strong electrical fields – is called Santelmo and takes on a more sinister aspect. Among some Filipinos, the glowing light, which can be rounded in shape, is said to be the soul of a man who drowned – and is to be avoided.
In real life, such effects can be attributed to something similar to St. Elmo’s fire – namely, ball lightning. Unlike regular lightning bolts, which are short-lived, ball lightning can burn brightly for a while and may appear as a hovering spherical form. Exactly how ball lightning is formed is still debated, though, so there’s perhaps some mystery left to the spooky glowing spheres of Santelmo yet.
1. Mothman – West Virginia, United States
These days, when people hear the name “Mothman” they may think of the 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere. Before that, however, the Mothman was known as a strange supernatural being allegedly first seen by several people around the area of Point Pleasant in West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. In his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, which the movie is based on, writer John Keel links the Mothman to the 1967 collapse of the local Silver Bridge, which resulted in the deaths of 46 people.
While believers say the Mothman could be an alien or some kind of supernatural being, the more skeptical point to practical jokes and misidentified birds as the origin of the legend. Mason County Sheriff George Johnson said that he believed the winged being to be nothing more than a heron, while biologist Dr. Robert L. Smith of West Virginia University suggested that it’s likely to be a sandhill crane. Yet whatever the Mothman really was, or is, the town of Point Pleasant now has an annual festival dedicated to the mysterious cryptid – and even displays a 12-foot-tall statue of it, complete with gleaming red eyes and giant wingspan.
Image: Ramon F Velasquez
We hope you’ve enjoyed this compilation of creepy cryptids that attack from above. And remember: just because there might not be enough credible evidence to back up their existence, it doesn’t mean you should necessarily discount these urban legends altogether. So, next time you’re out walking a lonely path late at night, make sure you keep an eye on the sky above you.