kappa

In Japan, a frightening water creature called the kappa was long known for pulling children underwater and drowning them. Tales of this small but mighty creature were often used to teach Japanese children to be careful when swimming in rivers and ponds. As Japanese society has changed over the centuries, so has the kappa. Today, Japanese children are more familiar with the cute, friendly kappa that appears in toys, movies, and books.

Physical features: size of a child but very strong; green scaly skin; shell like a turtle; face like a monkey, but with a beak; webbed hands and feet
Place of origin: Japan
Historical legend: Kappas lured children to the water, where kappas would drown and eat them.
Cool fact: Many modern phrases in Japan refer to kappas. "Kappa no Kawa Nagare" is Japanese for "even a kappa can drown," meaning that even an expert can make mistakes!

Image credits: main image, AMNH/Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.