Modern Myths

Part of the Mythic Creatures exhibition.

Are Mythic Creatures All Relics of the Past?

Of course not. Around the world today, people tell stories about creatures like Scotland's Loch Ness Monster or the Himalayan yeti. The terrifying chupacabra is a modern myth very much alive in the Americas. Thanks largely to television and the Internet, stories about the chupacabra and other modern mythic creatures spread quickly between communities, countries and even continents. And as mythic creatures take root in new settings, they often change to suit their new audiences. In some places, the chupacabra is a mysterious predator lurking in the forest; in others, it is a sensational, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, media creation.

Chupacabra means "goat sucker" in Spanish and acts much like a vampire, killing animals by sucking their blood.
© D. Finnin/AMNH


People tell of the chupacabra's glowing red eyes and glistening fangs, and of how the beast lurks in the forest, preying on goats and cattle, terrifying local residents. Chupacabra means "goat sucker" in Spanish, and according to reports, the creature acts much like a vampire, killing animals by sucking their blood. Though similar stories date back several decades, the first major wave of alleged chupacabra sightings came from farmers in Puerto Rico in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today people across much of Latin America and the southwestern United States tell tales of the chupacabra. The fanged creature can also be spotted on T-shirts, coffee mugs and other souvenir items.

At A Glance: Chupacabra

Chupacabras are fierce, but not terribly big. Most witnesses say they are no larger than an average-sized dog.

  • Chupacabra_Toy_med.jpg
    The fanged chupacabra can also be spotted on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other souvenir items and toys.
    © D. Finnin/AMNH
    Descriptions vary widely, but most chupacabras have red eyes and large fangs.
  • Some witnesses say that the chupacabra walks on two legs, but others say it walks on four.
  • Some chupacabra depictions show the animal with lizardlike skin, while others show it with fur.
  • Chupacabras have pronounced backbones, which are sometimes covered with sharp spines.
  • A two-legged chupacabra supposedly hops like a kangaroo.

Animal Evidence?

Chupacabras are said to attack farm animals and drain their blood. Some witnesses even report finding animal bodies that look like they were cut open with a knife. As it turns out, however, these events aren't necessarily so strange. Disease and infection can kill seemingly healthy animals, and some insects drink blood from fresh corpses. When animals die, gases in their bodies can expand, splitting them open with seemingly surgical precision.


Portrait of gray alien
© Envision Stock Photography/MAK

Out of This World

In many depictions, chupacabras look like aliens. Some people claim that they are the escaped pets of alien visitors, escaped genetic experiments, naturally occurring giant vampire bats or a kind of animal that somehow has escaped capture and detection.

Blood Suckers

Chupacabras are popular symbols in many parts of the Americas. This man dressed up as a chupacabra and burned paper houses during a 1996 demonstration in Mexico City to protest the Mexican government's home financing policies.

Carved Figurine

A colorful chupacabra carving is an alebrije—a brightly-painted sculpture of a fantastical creature. Artists in Oaxaca, Mexico have been making such sculptures of imagined animals for decades. This artist applied the traditional alebrije style to a mythic creature from popular culture.

Action Figure

Mythic creatures can be found hanging on the walls of art galleries, stacked on the shelves of libraries, carved into the sides of temples, and, more recently, displayed in the aisles of toy stores.