Old Topic, new twist.
One of the more frustrating aspects of cryptozoology is that one rarely finds anything. When we do finally get believable footage or photos, they are quickly debunked or eventually the makers come forward to say that they are in fact a hoax. I realize that in the case of ghost hunting, while one might find observable phenomena, it seems like no one ever finds anything either – but the expectation is different. We expect ghosts to be invisible, so it’s not a surprise when you don’t see one. But when we are talking about living, breathing creatures that are supposedly tangible, it’s very frustrating to never really find one.
That’s why in 2004 there was an incredible amount of hype when people started killing and photographing “chupacabras” in Texas. I don’t recall the exact order in which the stories hit the media, but one of the earliest cases came out of Lufkin, Texas. The photos from that case were shocking, and for me, some of the most convincing. Around that same time, other pictures surfaced, like those of the “Elmendorf Beast,” which didn’t look so beastly. What was so exciting about the Lufkin photos is that they show something that actually seems capable of the acts usually associated with the chupacabra. The crytozoological community thought it had an irrefutable find… but then came the great disappointment: the dead animal’s DNA was a match for a coyote. Case closed… or is it?
In 2010, Barry O’Connor who is a biologist at the University of Michigan definitively concluded that all the “chupacabra” tissue samples he had acquired proved the animals were coyotes infected with the parasite sarcoptes scabiei (mange), confirming what everyone had been saying since 2004. When these facts were revealed, science ceased to be interested because it had an explanation. But what if the scientific community is selling itself short by not looking for the right thing? Here’s an analogy… I go to the doctor with flu like symptoms and I’m also having difficulty seeing. The doctor runs tests on me and concludes that I do in fact have the flu. Case solved… but what about my difficulty seeing? It doesn’t mean that I don’t have the flu… it just means that there’s something else wrong with me. So if there are still unexplained phenomena, why should we assume that because we know they are coyotes with mange the case is closed and all is explained… because it isn’t. We still have to account for all of the phenomena that surrounded the appearance of these creatures, as well as the observable oddities of their own bodies that seem to go beyond a simple case of mange.
In most of the Texas cases, these creatures tended to hang around areas with livestock, especially chickens. Consequently, said livestock started to turn up dead, allegedly exsanguinated. In and of itself, dead chickens and livestock in the presence of their natural predators should not be cause for surprise. Coyotes, foxes and feral dogs are all known to attack, kill and eat farm animals. The only problem is that the chickens and livestock in question weren’t being eaten… at least not the flesh and organs. Whether or not the animals are actually exsanguinated is up for debate. Ranchers have assumed that their animals were drained of blood because they often saw puncture wounds around the neck. It’s important to note, however, that once an animal dies, its blood isn’t flowing anymore and starts to congeal. If you cut the animal open, it isn’t going to bleed everywhere like a fresh kill. There seems to be a lot of assumption on the part of the ranchers that their animals have been drained of blood and as far as I know there have not been any actual scientific tests conducted on the dead livestock to determine if they had in fact been exsanguinated. But what about the puncture wounds?
Let’s consider the predation patterns of coyotes. Most people freak out and jump to conclusions when they hear that the dead livestock have puncture wounds on their necks. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising since the natural way a coyote kills it’s prey is to bite down on the animal’s neck in order to crush its windpipe and/or sever jugular veins. Sometimes there are puncture wounds and the animal bleeds out, but sometimes the vein is severed internally and the bleeding is subdermal. Whether the bleeding is subdermal or external is up to chance, depending on how hard the coyote bites down, where exactly it bites down and how tough the animal’s skin and tissue is. Puncture wounds… explained. Lack of blood at the killing site…. partially explained by cases in which subdermal bleeding occurs. Lack of blood all the time…. still a mystery. Theoretically, some percentage of the animals should be found lying dead in their own dried blood when the coyote succeeds in creating a neck wound large enough to cause external bleeding.
But there’s an even bigger mystery: don’t coyote’s actually eat the animals they kill?
Some research into the behavior of coyotes and feral dogs was helpful here. One website that I found particularly helpful was http://www.sheepscreek.com/rural/predator.html, maintained by Dr. Ronald Florence.
Puncture marks on the neck are consistent with coyote attacks. What isn’t consistent is all the dead bodies lying about that aren’t even partially eaten. Coyotes tend to make surgical strikes in which they target a particular animal who seems favorable for a kill, usually because it has strayed away from the rest of the flock. Once they kill that animal, they remove it from the rest of the flock and take it away to be eaten in a safer, quieter location. Coyotes rely on stealth. They crush the windpipe of their target so that the dying animal can’t alert the rest of the flock that there’s a coyote in their midst. The natural behavior of coyotes just isn’t consistent with a yard full of dead animals.
It is consistent with the behavior patterns of feral dogs, however. Feral dogs tend to rampage through the flock attacking anything and everything, often leaving behind dead and traumatized animals who then die from shock in their wake – not all of which are eaten. Case closed again… right? Except that feral dogs don’t usually kill by biting down on an animal’s neck. Rather, they usually attack the hind quarters of an animal, inflicting multiple bite wounds… which would also be a lot bloodier. Besides the DNA tests already confirmed that the killed “chupacabras” were coyotes. So we have an animal that has the DNA of a coyote, kills like a coyote in so far as there are frequently puncture wounds on the neck… but after that it’s nothing like a coyote. And if indeed in a case that I am unaware of, the DNA was found to be dog DNA… well then it’s an even bigger mystery because then we would have two species who are altering the natural way they kill and eat.
Besides the bizarre animal killings, let’s also consider the physical characteristics of the “chupacabras” that were killed. The most obvious one is hairlessness and mottled gray skin that many eye witnesses described as having the texture of elephant skin. The easy answer to this is that mange does in fact cause hair loss and a thickening of the skin. In spite of this, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that most of the ranchers interviewed clearly stated that in decades of their collective experience, they had all seen mangy coyotes and the creatures they killed looked nothing like that. One reason this might be the case is because while mange can cause complete hair loss, it often doesn’t.
To the left is a picture of a normal domestic dog infected with sarcoptic mange… funny how it doesn’t look anything like the animals killed in Texas. Below is a second picture of a domestic dog that more closely resembles the creatures from Texas. As you can see, there’s a wide range of hair loss – and it isn’t necessarily progressive. I grew up in a rural area and actually owned a dog with mange that was kept outside. Over the course of several years, it still had lots of its hair when it died. I’m not disputing that the animals killed Texas did in fact have mange… in light of the scientific tests that would be moronic. But what is odd is that all of them – killed and spotted, have always been almost completely hairless. If this was only a simple case of mange… wouldn’t different animals have widely varying levels of hair loss?
The next most noticed characteristic is that all the animals killed seem to have pronounced canines that are longer than usual. It’s important to note that in nature, coyotes are meat eating predators and do as a result have large canines. What we usually don’t see a lot of, however, are the canines extending noticeably past the lips – which they do in all the killed animals. As far as I know, there hasn’t been an official study comparing the canine length in the dead animals to the average canine length in healthy coyotes, so we can draw no concrete conclusions from this. It does seem however, that the animals killed in Texas do have somewhat longer canines, almost like an adaptation in a subspecies. The chupacabras” also seemed to have abnormally long claws.
The people that shot and killed the “chupacabras” also noted that they didn’t seem to bleed much from their wounds. Most of these people are ranchers… and all of these people live in rural Texas where hunting is common and they all happened to own rifles… They probably have a pretty good idea of how much something bleeds when shot. What could explain a lack of bleeding? Certainly not mange. The last characteristic of the “chupacabras” is that they all seem to be emaciated, sometimes with bloated stomachs. It’s been speculated that the coyotes were hunting livestock as easy prey because they were too weak or sick to hunt things like deer and rabbits. This would explain them being emaciated, except for the yards full of dead animals they could have eaten. Once again, it seems like there’s more going on than just a case of mange.
One of the theories that’s been discussed in the cryptozoological community is the possibility that these animals are genetic mutations of coyotes. Why not? It actually happens all the time in nature as part of evolution. It seems though, that if these animals were in fact genetically different from “normal” coyotes, that would have been noticed in the DNA testing. On the other hand, this could be an example of science looking for one thing, and not seeing other details. In some types of DNA testing they only look for enough similarities to constitute a match. That means it’s possible there could be a slight genetic variation that they simply weren’t looking for. However, genetic mutations in nature are usually favorable and I’m failing to see how being hairless and sickly is a favorable evolutionary trait. Genetic mutations also usually occur over the course of several generations, and not suddenly. And what in particular in Texas would cause this type of mutation? It doesn’t seem like the current coyote population has any difficulty hunting nor do the results of the mutation seem to lend any special advantage to the chupacabra variety of coyote. Some people speculate that an unfavorable genetic mutation could have been caused by radiation or government experiments. While that’s in the realm of possibility, it seems unlikely – not because the governmental doesn’t do crazy experiments but because they don’t usually let them escape… and radiation is more likely to kill a coyote than it is to cause a radical genetic mutation.
What could it be then? What’s missing from this picture that science isn’t looking for?
An unknown virus, bacterial strain or parasite… I’m proposing this as a possibility, not as absolute truth. And as a possibility, this deserves some serious scientific examination.
That being said, let’s consider an analogy that’s not so serious. The thing that first made me think of this as a possibility is zombies… and certainly a virus plus blood sucking, hairless coyotes conjures up the image of zombie canines. I’m not at all proposing that chupacabras are zombies… but the fictional scenario of zombies does raise some questions about the methods science is using to identify the “churpacabras.” Let’s say you find a weird looking human in your yard who’s aggressive and tries to bite you… you shoot and kill him. DNA testing revels that despite the human’s appearance and behavior… it’s just a human. Case closed… no further explanation needed if we take the same mentality as scientists investigating the chupacabras in Texas. A zombie is still human after all… they just happen to be infected with a virus – depending on what zombie mythos you favor. In this scenario, however, I would think that scientists wouldn’t stop at a DNA test because that identifies what it is but doesn’t explain it’s deviant behavioral patterns. In fact, they probably would never conduct a DNA test at all. I realize that scientist don’t really have much reason to conduct exhaustive tests on dead coyotes because they doesn’t pose an imminent threat in the same way that the walking dead do – hence why science has skipped completely over a plausible explanation in the case of the “chupacabras.” But back to science…
Viruses and bacterial infections can cause behavioral changes in humans and animals. Most of the time this is caused by bacteria that live in or viruses that replicate inside of neurons – which are often brain cells. One example of behavior altered by viral infection is rabies, which can cause animals to become overly aggressive and humans to progress into a total state of dementia. Certain viruses and bacterial infections cause swelling of the brain, known as encephalitis, which can make the brain go completely haywire. The severity of the swelling depends on the infection… and it’s plausible that an unknown infectious agent could cause mild encephalitis that isn’t fatal, but causes ongoing issues with normal brain functioning.
The main behavioral change we are trying to account for is a coyote consuming blood for sustenance rather than eating organs and flesh as they usually do. Something else that comes to mind is pica disorder, which actually occurs in humans. Pica disorder causes you to obsessively desire to eat things that are not food – like metal, lead, wood, sponges, cleaning products and just about any other weird thing that’s ever been featured on “My Strange Addiction.” Originally thought to be caused by mineral deficiencies, the medical field now associates pica disorder as a mental disorder. While this isn’t the case with pica disorder, it’s easy to imagine that the brain being affected by a viral or bacterial infection could produce result akin to a mental disorder. If a commonly accepted medical disorder in humans can compel someone to eat powdered cleaning products or drink bleach on a regular… is it that far fetched that something could cause a coyote to desire to drink blood? It already eats raw meat after all…
If you still aren’t buying that some type of infection could reprogram an animal in such a specific and weird way, then let’s consider the parasite Toxoplasma Ghondi as a case study. This parasite has a unique problem to overcome: it reproduces inside of cat intestines but lives in rats. Once a cat defecates, it’s easy enough to imagine how the newborn parasites find their way into rats… but how do the infected rats then end up in cat bellies so that the parasite can continue it’s reproductive cycle? The parasite could leave this to chance and hope that it’s host gets eaten… but then it would probably be extinct because rats are biologically programmed to avoid cats. Toxoplasma Ghondi creates cysts which take over the fear center of the rat’s brain. Infected rats are still afraid of everything they would normally be afraid of… except for cat urine. The parasite actually rewires the rat’s brain so that instead of being afraid of cat urine, they are actually sexually excited by it, which causes them to seek out and revisit cat markings. Consequently this greatly increases their chances of being eaten.
Without even visiting the realm of conspiracy theorist’s government engineered mutant viruses, we can see that naturally occurring viruses, bacterial infections and parasites are strange enough. If there were an unknown, rare infectious disease out there that only targeted coyotes and was relatively new… we probably wouldn’t have discovered it yet. So let’s assume for a moment that “chupacabras” are the product of some sort of infection or parasite, and let’s piece together the whole puzzle.
For whatever reason, this hypothetical infection or parasite causes a coyote to drink blood rather than consuming raw organs and muscle tissue. This would probably affect it’s hunting patterns. Normally a coyote would kill, then drag prey away to be eaten elsewhere. If a blood sucking coyote did this, it would have a problem, because as soon as the kill occurs, the blood would start to congeal. It makes sense then, that a blood drinker would kill, then begin to consume at the site of the kill rather than dragging the dead animal away.
The fact that infected coyotes would only consume blood could also explain their sickly, emaciated appearance. Blood alone would provide some sustenance, but overall the animal would be malnourished. Also, if the animal was infected by something, there would possibly be other effects of the infection besides a change of diet – like general sickness. Both of these factors could affect the state of the coyotes blood and circulation – causing it to bleed less from open wounds. We could get really speculative, and assume that whatever is infecting the coyote has a direct effect on it’s circulatory system and blood. A blood deficiency (along with a potential rewiring of the brain in the style of Taxoplasma Ghondi) could potentially cause an infected coyote to seek out blood specifically. If the coyote was also not drinking as much water (because it’s drinking blood), this could also create some dehydration issues that would further affect it’s circulatory system.
What about the longer teeth and claws? If the coyote is sickly in general, in addition to mange causing a hardening of the skin, it’s plausible that its cutaneous tissue, gums and lips could shrink back, creating the impression of longer teeth and claws. The hairlessness would also help to exaggerate things. The presence of hair normally conceals the bases of claws and can potentially hide the fact that the teeth protrude past the lip line slightly.
Two big questions still remain. The “chupacabras” killed in Texas tested positive for mange because parasitic mites were found in skin samples. If we are talking about an infection or parasite of some sort, it seems like an awfully big coincidence that all of the infected animals seem to have mange which is a completely separate condition. The first question is: what explains the mange and is there a correlation between the mange and the hypothetical infection or parasite? The second question is: If this condition is caused by an infection or parasite, why isn’t it more wide spread among coyotes?
The most obvious answer is that whatever the hypothetical infection or parasite is, it’s spread by the mites that cause mange. This means that a coyote would first catch mange, then subsequently catch the hypothetical virus, bacteria or parasite. Since mange isn’t terribly widespread in nature, it would limit the amount of infected coyotes naturally. There’s also different types of mange, mainly demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange. It’s been established that the “chupacabras” had sarcoptic mange and not demodectic. If our hypothetical virus, bacteria or parasite is only spread by sarcoptic mange, that further limits the potential number of infections. It’s also probably safe to assume that not 100% of sarcoptes scabiei actually carry the infectious agent. So if 1 in 100 coyotes in nature have sarcoptic mange, perhaps only 30% of those would get infected… keeping the numbers small. This could also be affected by geographic proximity in relation to the genesis of our hypothetical infection or parasite.
It seems that the missing link in this theory is that we do not actually have scientific proof that the livestock were exsanguinated since no tests were ever conducted. I would argue, however, that whether the livestock were exsanguinated or not, the bizarre killing patterns are not consistent with that of a normal coyote and still require an explanation.
Another question that pops up is why Texas? If this is a type of sickness, then why isn’t it anywhere there are coyotes. The simple answer is that whatever causes this illness evolved or came to being somewhere in Texas and is slowly spreading via it’s mite hosts. New diseases appear all the time. Remember humanity’s surprise when HIV/AIDS appeared from thin air in the early 80′s? Sometimes viruses or bacteria that previously only infected a certain type of animal suddenly evolves and jumps from one species to another. It isn’t far fetched that a new virus, bacteria or parasite could suddenly appear in 2004.
What is of some concern is that sarcoptic mange is actually scabies – which is quite common in human children and even adults. This leaves us with one final question. Is it possible for this hypothetical infection to spread to humans?
This theory of infection isn’t perfect, but as far as I know it’s the first theory that attempts to explain all aspects of the chupacabra phenomenon in Texas. I’m not a medical professional or a veterinarian, nor am I a biologist or zoologist. If someone out there who is sees an obvious hole in this theory, feel free to contribute via comment. Same goes for everyone – let’s further the dialogue on this topic.
Note that this article does not discuss the chupacabra of Peurto Rico or its possible relation to the phenomena in Texas. There’s arguably a strong correlation between the creatures because they share the same style of animal killings and people refer to them both as El Chupacabra. But their physical descriptions are completely different. Researchers like Benjamin Radford have also established strong theories about true origins of the chupacabra hysteria in Peurto Rico. While I don’t discount that something happened in Peurto Rico – as evidenced by all the animal deaths there, the lack of photos, video and actual corpses (all present in the Texas incidents) necessitates a separate discussion of the Peurto Rican chupacabra.