“Chupacabra” Sighting: Truth Behind the Mythical Beasts

A mythical monster has reared its head again: the chupacabra. A family in Picayune, Mississippi, has captured video of a “chupacabra” recently near their home and posted it online, according to the news station WLOX.

The family soon discovered others had noticed the mysterious animal, including Amanda Denton, who told Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger: “We’ve been running back and forth to our cars because we didn’t want the chupacabra to get us.”

In reality, this odd beast poses no threat to humans—it’s actually a coyote with mange. (See “Chupacabra Science: How Evolution Made a Mythical Monster.”)

Stories of animals that suck the blood of livestock have exploded in Mexico, the U.S. Southwest, and even China since the mid-1990s, when the chupacabra, or chupacabras, was first reported in Puerto Rico (map).

In almost all these cases, the monsters have turned out to be coyotes suffering from very severe cases of mange, a painful, potentially fatal skin disease that can cause the animals’ hair to fall out and skin to shrivel, among other symptoms, National Geographic News reported in 2010. (Related: “‘Balding’ Bears: Mangy Mystery in Florida.”)

For some scientists, this explanation for supposed chupacabras is sufficient. “I don’t think we need to look any further or to think that there’s yet some other explanation for these observations,” Barry OConnor, a University of Michigan entomologist who has studied Sarcoptes scabiei, the parasite that causes mange, said in 2010.

Likewise, wildlife-disease specialist Kevin Keel has seen images of an alleged chupacabra corpse and clearly recognized it as a coyote, but said he could imagine how others might not.

“It still looks like a coyote, just a really sorry excuse for a coyote,” said Keel, of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia.

“I wouldn’t think it’s a chupacabras if I saw it in the woods, but then I’ve been looking at coyotes and foxes with mange for a while. A layperson, however, might be confused as to its identity.”

As for the Mississippi coyote, it’s probably more visible to people because it’s been rummaging for garbage and pet food.

Master Sergeant David Burnette told the Clarion-Ledger that the coyote is “probably sick, weak, and not able to hunt on its own, so it’s going to the nearest food source it can find.”

Tell us: Have you seen a chupacabra? 

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Ker Than contributed to this report.

Wildlife

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.