Unexplained distribution anomalies – case studies



According to Eberhart’s classification, class one cryptids are distribution anomalies of known species, e.g., known animals (or plants), reported outside their normal range. Although often associated with potentially dangerous animals such as crocodiles and other large predators, such cryptids appeared to be common both in historical and contemporary times. They encompass all taxa. The present article is an overview of several known class 1 cryptids, which are, to this moment, completely unexplained, e.g., no introduction was reported.

Motaba monkey

Back in 1995, a deadly virus originated in the jungle of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). It was known as the Motaba virus [1], a very close relative to Ebola, causing severe and deadly hemorrhagic fever. The virus was later transferred to the USA and caused a significant medical and military crisis in Cedar Creek, California. Apparently, the virus was transferred via an animal vector, a white-faced capuchin monkey (either Cebus imitator (Thomas, 1903) or Cebus capucinus (Linnaeus, 1758)). The capuchin monkey, however, is a New World primate, common in Central and South America, and is not native to Africa and Zaire in particular. Although various speculations –a feral population of escaped pets or lab animals – were discussed, since now there is not a credible explanation of this distribution anomaly.

Old World vultures in Texas

At least three specimens of the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus (Hablitz, 1783), family Accipitridae) were observed in the 1860s in Texas [2]. This species is widely distributed in Europe, Africa, and Asia, but is not native to America and is not related to the New World vultures (family Cathartidae). In Texas, there are two vulture species – the turkey vulture Cathartes aura (Linnaeus, 1758) and the black vulture Coragyps atratus (Bechstein, 1793). Unanswered questions about this case are not only how the griffon vulture appeared in North America, but also why there are no representatives of the native species during the particular sighting. Usually, when carcasses are present, one would expect numerous species of vultures to be attracted and compete for feeding.

A longhorn beetle

The dungeons of the Pankot palace in India, a kingdom of the Kali worshiping Thuggees [3], are also “a kingdom” of numerous arthropods such as leaf insects (family Phylliidae), Scolopendra, cockroaches, etc.  Most notably, a male harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus (Linnaeus, 1758)) was also observed in 1935. It is a South American longhorn beetle, not native to Asia and currently, it is not known how it occurred at this place.

The South American fauna in Indonesia

During the hunt for the blood orchid in Borneo, Indonesia along with the native fauna (e.g., tigers), a number of South American species were also recorded. These include a flock of scarlet macaw (Ara macao (Linnaeus, 1758)), a howler monkey (possibly Alouatta palliata (Gray, 1849)), and most notably, the anaconda (Eunectes murinus (Linnaeus, 1758)). Although the environmental conditions are similar and suited for the survival of this plethora of invaders, their presence is overall unexplained.

Possible theories

Although currently unexplained, two major theories exist to explain these distribution anomalies, and most possibly both are true for particular cases. The first one claims that some of these cryptids are feral populations of previously captive introduced animals. It happens frequently in the contemporary world and some of the most notable examples are the Burmese pythons in Florida and the Columbian hippopotamuses originated from the private zoo of the infamous cocaine lord Pablo Escobar. As clearly seen, these species found ecosystems, similar to their original and adapted well to the new environment, despite the competition from convergently evolved native species.

The second theory claims that a pre-Columbian exchange occurred in historical times. Currently, it is approved that Vikings traveled to North America long before Columbus, but also that Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Phoenicians also traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and contacted Mesoamerican cultures. Thus, they might have taken with them some animals that looked odd to them and transferred them to their homeland.

[1]           Wolfgang Petersen (1995) Outbreak. Warner Bros.

[2]          Gore Verbinski (2013) The Lone Ranger. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

[3]          Steven Spielberg (1984) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Paramount Pictures

[4]           Dwight Little (2004) Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.  Sony Pictures Releasing


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