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Show-Me Freaks of Nature

Oct 30, 2012

This Halloween, we're digging into our field guide for the facts about Missouri’s wild things, both real and imagined.

The bare truth about chupacabras

Every year we receive reports of the mysterious chupacabra, along with photos of emaciated, nearly hairless creatures. These miserable beasts look like visitors from another realm, but they're not chupacabras.

According to south-of-the-border lore, the chupacabra is a seldom-seen, goat-sucking animal about the size of a small bear, with a row of spines bristling from neck to tail. Eyewitness claims have been reported from Mexico to Maine, but no wildlife biologist has ever confirmed the existence of one.

Biologists do agree, however, that the "sighting" photos we receive show ordinary coyotes suffering from severe cases of mange, a common disease that can afflict all kinds of canines (including your dog). The sarcoptic mite, a blood-sucking relative of ticks and chiggers, is the true monster in this horror story. The mites' burrowing and feeding on the coyote’s skin can cause it to scratch itself hairless.

Rest easy, though. The sarcoptic mange mite can’t survive on humans, and, while it’s highly contagious among dogs, it’s easily treated and controlled.

Show-Me the Momo

Another mysterious animal reported to appear in Missouri is Momo, which is short for “Missouri monster.” Also known as swamp ape, this creature is described as having a large, pumpkin-shaped head, furry body, and hair covering the eyes. It is also alleged to eat dead dogs (maybe chupacabras, too?) and emit a foul odor. The first report came from Louisiana, Mo., in 1971. Since then, several Momo sightings have been reported along the Mississippi River. Some people think Momo is a large black bear. Again, no Missouri wildlife biologist has confirmed Momo’s existence, and Internet sources report that Momo tracks were confirmed a hoax.

Where to look for cryptids

Both the chupacabra and Momo are species of cryptids, creatures whose existence has been suggested but not proven. If you’d like to search for more evidence of chupacabras or Momo (or just do a little fishing, hunting or nature viewing), check out our online Conservation Areas Atlas. Browse more than 1,000 areas, including stream accesses, natural areas and wildlife management areas. You'll find lots of places to view Missouri cryptids—or to camp, hunt, fish, float, hike, ride your horse, bird, gather mushrooms, photograph wildlife, picnic and discover nature with your family. Each entry includes recreation info, regulations, map and brochure.

When to look for cryptids

Our Natural Events Calendar is full of info about the best times and places to see Missouri’s native and migratory wildlife. Daily notes keep you posted on what's blooming or nesting. But don’t wait to get the 2013 calendar, which is disappearing faster than Momo’s footprints!

Want the facts? Check our online field guide

Identify and learn more about the Missouri wildlife you see (or think you see) in your neighborhood, park or conservation area. Browse our online field guide. An advanced search option lets you narrow your search by species group, key identifiers, color, size, habitats and status. Ever growing, the field guide includes nearly 1,000 entries on Missouri’s most commonly sighted species, including some, such as the chupacabra and swamp ape, that live only in people’s imaginations.

No kidding, lots of great outdoor events near you

Whether you’re looking for a little Halloween fun or serious hunter education, you’ll find lots of outdoor activities on our online events calendar. Programs on a variety of nature and outdoor topics are scheduled at MDC nature and outdoor education centers around the state.

Strange but true

Although the chupacabra and Momo are myths, Missouri is home to some bona fide freaks of nature that make a supernatural goat-sucking bristle-bear and a stinky, dog-eating swamp ape seem, well, boring.

Alien invaders

Consider “rock snot,” aka didymo. This aquatic alien is a real alga that looks like big green booger. Its superpower? The ability to hitch rides on anglers’ gear and infest new trout waters, where it settles on stream bottoms and smothers trout eggs. Didymo hasn’t reached Missouri yet, and you can help keep it that way.

An alien invader that has appeared in Missouri is the emerald ash borer, a deceptively pretty green beetle that decimates ash trees. Learn how to identify and report it and other wildlife-killing, profit-sucking aliens at our Invasive Species page.

Nature’s zombies

This Halloween, you might see make-believe zombies lumbering around pulling tricks and seeking treats. These costumed creatures won’t eat your flesh or hijack your brain—that only happens in scary, made-up movies. For some animals, though, zombies are all too real. Learn more about nature’s zombies, like braconid wasps and horsehair worms, at our Xplor website.

More Missouri freaks of nature

Real wildlife sightings

Black bears—We find sightings of black bears way more exciting than reports of mythical beasts. Missouri is home to a growing population of these shy, powerful mammals. MDC is tracking the movements of individual bears. You can, too, by visiting Missouri’s Black Bear Project.

Mountain lions—Talk about exciting sightings! We have no evidence of a breeding population of these big cats in Missouri, but a handful of people have been lucky enough to see real, live mountain lions in our state. From what we know, the cougars are young males just passing through as they search for mates and territory. Mostly, they turn up on trail cameras. Our Mountain Lion Response Team looks into such reports. Many of these same images end up being from published sightings in other states. Some folks just can’t resist a hoax.

Happy Halloween!


bony, distressed-looking dog or coyote with no hair
Chupacabra or Mangy Coyote?


hairy, ape-like creature walking in green forest
Show-Me Momo


Photo of large didymo clump
Boulder Booger
This invasive species of algae, commonly known as "rock snot," forms large mats on the bottoms of lakes, river and streams.


small catfish with lamprey attached to its side and back
Lamprey Attached to Slender Madtom


Whereas extinct animals left physical proof of their existence (skeletons, fossils, etc.), cryptids are "hidden" or "unknown" and rarely leave more than strange sounds, blurry images on photos and questionable footprints. We don't have records of striped Tasmanian devil (or tiger) sightings in Missouri, but our native marsupial, the opossum, is common statewide, especially (sadly) as roadkill. The Alton piasa bird is a true cryptid. Wikipedia has a record about it, as well as efforts to keep its colorful image alive.

Can a cryptid be anything like an extinction, an extinct animal, or other animal lost to antiquity?? The striped Tasmanian devil is said to be extinct, except an old Missourian familiar with Australia and Tasmania said he has seen the devil. Now whether this was a cryptid an extinct animal or otherwise remains to be seen and whether they were ever introduced into Missouri--as it would have to have been around 1920's-30's when the last devils were said to have been photographed in a Tasmanian zoo. These were marsupials, and we know Missouri has marsupial representatives don't we??

Really enjoyed learning about Show-Me Freaks of Nature. My brother wanted to know about the Piasa Bird he spotted flying around Alton.

The Wildlife Code of Missouri doesn't mention cryptids, but if you see one (chupacabra, swamp ape, unicorn, etc.), please shoot it with a camera and send us the photo. Unless, of course, it's threatening your life, then you'd be clear to use lethal force ;)

Are cryptids protected as endangered species under Missouri gaming laws?

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