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Fearsome Critters of American Folklore

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The terrible Hodag, captured on film (allegedly) by Eugene Shepard, 1893.

The Fearsome Critters are a group of mythical beings from the stories told by European colonists in North America, mainly in New England (naturally), and to a lesser degree in forested Midwest states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite that, there are stories of Fearsome Critters spread all across the country, including several notable "species" specific to the southwest. Fearsome Critters are notable for being described primarily by their behavior, not by their appearance, and for often having names that reflect that (Hide-Behind, Come-at-a-Body, et cetera), meaning that what they actually look like fluctuates wildly from tale to tale in the style of Paul Bunyan—whose loyal friend and partner, Babe the Big Blue Ox, might well be a Critter himself.


Genuine belief in the Fearsome Critters was never widespread; even in most of modern America they're relatively obscure, and almost completely unheard-of in other parts of the world. They originated, variously, as exaggerated accounts of native fauna unfamiliar to the European travelers who described them and as a humorous means of describing the strange goings-on in the woods by lumberjacks, carnies, and other outdoorsy types. Fearsome critters are not cryptids, nor are they associated with Native American faiths; the sasquatch and the wendigo are not Fearsome Critters.

Some of the notable Critters are:

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     The Guyascutus

Known by a myriad of other names, including the Guyanoosa and Sidehill Gouger, the Guyascutus is a terrible predator variously described as being like an alligator covered in protective plates, like an armadillo's, or like a deer with the ears of a rabbit and a mouth full of fierce teeth. Its most notable feature, however, is that the legs on one side of its body are much shorter than the ones on the other, so it can move about easily on the steep mountain slopes where it makes its home; therefore, to escape a Guyascutus, one need only run onto even ground. The creature, with its mismatched legs, will be unable to follow.

The most famous legend of the Guyascutus involves an old carnival grift. A traveling carnival show rolls into town, claiming to have wild animals from all around the world on display—including, incredibly, a live Guyascutus. The people paid their fees and flocked to see the alleged beastie, at which point the leader of the plan would run before the crowds, looking desperate and beat-up, claiming that the creature had escaped. The people, terrified, would immediately run to their homes, leaving the carnival troupe to ride away with their "earnings".

     The Squonk

Perhaps the most famous of the bunch (and the subject of more than one popular song), the Squonk is a miserable animal, "The most melancholy of creatures", that allegedly inhabits the coniferous forests of northern Pennsylvania. Because its skin is covered in warts, blemishes, blisters and abrasions, the Squonk is disgusting to look at — and it knows this, which is why it hides underground during the day, hoping not to offend any other creature with its hideous appearance. At night, the Squonks all come out into the open and openly weep; the strange sounds lumberjacks and other frontiersmen heard in the forest at night were attributed to their crying.

The Squonk also has a legend surrounding it. This one tells of a man named J.P. Wentling, who wanted to capture a live Squonk and prove its existence to the world. One night he succeeded, trapping the creature in a bag; but when he took it home and opened the bag to show his friends and family, he found nothing but water inside. The Squonk, more miserable than ever, had dissolved into a pool of its own tears.

     The Jackalope

The most famous southwestern Critter, popular in Texas, New Mexico, and southern California. The Jackalope is a wild hare or jackrabbit with the antlers of a deer, reportedly very difficult to catch or even to spot (though U.S. President Ronald Reagan did claim to have caught one once — purely as a joke, we expect). Jackalopes are highly elusive and will run at the very sight of a human, but at night, they all gather in the desert and sing harmoniously with their strange, enchanting voices. Of course, that's only one interpretation; it's more uncommonly described as a vicious killer rabbit. To this day, the "stuffed Jackalope" is a fairly common sight in southwestern bars and taverns. Nowadays, Jackalopes team up with Platypi to sell children's lunch products.

Sadly, any reported Jackalope sighting is much more likely to be a regular rabbit afflicted with the shope papilloma virus.

     The Hodag 
Still quite popular in Wisconsin, where it makes its home (and particularly in the city of Rhinelander), the Hodag is a fierce beastie with "the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end". Several hoaxes regarding the animal, from the way it terrorized the lumber community to its eventual capture (using chloroform and dynamite, no less!) were perpetrated in the late 19th century by the prankster Eugene Shepard. Today, the creature is more or less a fondly-regarded local curiosity; it's even become the mascot of Rhinelander High School. The Hodag has officially been recognized by J. K. Rowling as a Fantastic Beast.

Lesser-known (but no less Fearsome) Critters:

  • The Agropelter, a little-seen forest creature that hides among the trees and throws sticks and stones at anyone intending to cut down its home.
  • The Averasboro Gallinipper, a hawk-sized mosquito from North Carolina able to drain a man of his blood in one bite.
  • The Axehandle Hound, a scraggly white dachshund-like dog with an axe-shaped head that feeds on axe handles left unattended in the woods at night.
  • The Ball-Tailed Cat, a large puma-like feline with a long tail that ends in a club similar to an ankylosaur, which it uses to stun prey. Also known as the Digmaul or the Slivercatnote .
  • The Bildad, a strange cross of beaver and waterfowl; it's so quick, it can dive into the water and catch a fish before it even makes a splash.
  • The Boont, a bear with deer's antlers, similar to a Jackalope in how easily a specimen can be made by creative taxidermy. The Boont is notable as the symbol of Booneville, California, a small town in the mountains which, sometime in the late 19th century, began using a new and distinct language. The Boont is also the symbol of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, a beer manufacturer located in Booneville.
  • The Cactus Cat, which is pretty much exactly what you're imagining. It loves to get intoxicated on fermented cactus juice, becoming rowdy, noisy, and aggressive.
  • The Central American Whintosser, an aggressive carnivore with a long tent-shaped body covered in legs that allow it to walk sideways and upside down.
  • The Coachwhip Snake, which constricts its prey and lashes it with its whiplike tail. Shares its name with an actual species of nonvenomous North American snake.
  • The Come-at-a-Body resembles a small lion, named because it loves to jump out of the bush and charge at people while making a terrible roar. However, it always stops when just in front of its victim and leaves them behind unharmed.
  • The Cuero, an octopus-like creature covered in fur like an otter, with a hooked claw at the end of each tentacle. Said to live in the shallows of streams and rivers, it's an ambush predator that snares prey with a taste for donkey flesh.
  • The Dungavenhooter resembles an alligator, except that it has no mouth, a club-like tail, and massive nostrils. It attacks drunken loggers, pounding them into a gas with its tail before inhaling the gas for consumption.
  • The Funeral Mountain Terrashot, which resembles an open casket on four legs. They migrate across Nevada in single file, but many die and leave coffin-shaped holes in the ground.
  • The Fur-Bearing Trout, a fish that grows a downy white coat to survive cold winters in the Great Lakes. A popular choice for taxidermist humour.
  • The Giddy Fish, a small and unremarkable-looking fish that is as stretchy and bouncy as rubber.
  • The Gillygaloo, a bird that inhabits the Pyramid Forty built by Paul Bunyan; it lays cube-shaped eggs, which are hard-boiled by outdoorsmen and used as gaming dice.
  • The Glawackus, a mixture of every (real) dangerous predator that stalks the northeastern American wilderness.
  • The Goofang is a fish that only swims backwards in order to keep the flow of water out of its sensitive eyes.
  • The Goofus Bird, a bird that flies backwards because it likes to see where it's been, not where it's going; maintaining the "backwards" theme, the Goofus Bird builds upside-down, igloo-shaped nests on tree branches, with the eggs resting on the ceiling. Nobody ever figured out how it managed to do it.
  • The Gumberoo, a bear-like creature native to the Pacific Northwest with hairless, rubbery skin that deflects all bullets. Forest fires cause them to explode, for some reason, leaving behind only a smell akin to burning tires.
  • The Hide-Behind is generally impossible to physically describe, as it's always hiding behind something: a tree, a rock, your chair as you read this entry...
  • The Hoop Snake, a shy creature that bites its own tail and rolls away like a wheel at the sight of danger. Also sighted in Australia.
  • The Hugag, a vaguely moose-like animal without knees. It sleeps by leaning on its side over a tree. This critter bears interesting similarities to legends told about elk living in the forests of Central Europe to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who reported that the creatures likewise had no knees and slept leaning against trees.
  • The Joint Snake, a snake that can split into many different segments that each go their own way when it's threatened; it does not, as far as we know, enjoy marijuana.
  • The Lucive, or Loup-Cervier, which looks like an adorable fawn but is in fact a bloodthirsty predator with the terrible jaws of a wolf.
  • The Lufferlang, a Giant Spider with a horse's head. Extremely swift and ferocious, it can only be repelled with a mirror, as the only thing that terrifies it is its own hideousness.
  • The Pinnacle Grouse has only one wing, so it can only fly in a circle, usually around the circumference of a hill or a mountain. Its feathers change colour with the seasons.
  • The Roperite, a flightless bird with a lasso-like appendage at the end of its beak which it uses to catch prey. Found in the Sierra Nevada.
  • The Rumtifusel, a forest creature that looks like a misplaced fur coat...until it devours those who try it on.
  • The Shagamaw, which resembles a bear with the hind legs of a moose. It eats the unguarded clothes of lumberjacks and alternates the usage of its mismatched feet to confuse hunters.
  • The Slide Rock Bolter is a huge whale-like monster from Colorado that lies in wait at the top of mountain slopes, latching on with its clawed tail. When prey walks underneath, it slides down, tearing through all obstacles and swallowing its victim.
  • The Snallygaster, a one-eyed, blood-drinking dragon-like creature from Maryland with a beak as tough as steel and tentacles for a tongue. Its mortal enemy is the Dwayyo, a bipedal wolf-like beast.
  • The Snallygaster should not be confused with the Snoligoster, which resembles a hairy, legless crocodile with a propeller on its tail and a big spike on its back that it uses to to carry kills until it gets hungry.
  • The Snow Snake, a vicious white reptile that hides in the snow with only its pink eyes sticking out, stalking (often human) prey. It is often cited as the cause of ski or snowboard accidents, as it kills by tripping its prey.
  • The Snow Wasset is a large weasel-like animal that swims through deep snowdrifts like a shark and hibernates in summer.
  • The Splinter Cat, a cat with a hard skull it uses to slam against tree trunks and knock its food from the branches above. Native to the Pacific Northwest.
  • The Squasholiger, a very large kind of squash that grows legs upon reaching a certain age and promptly walks away from the place it was planted.
  • The Teakettler, a shy corgi-like animal named for its incessant whistling and the steam that issues from its mouth.
  • The Tripodero, a tube-snouted creature with telescoping legs that spits pellets of mud at small prey like a sniper.
  • The Upland Trout is a fish with wings that dislikes water, so it builds its nest in trees. Can often be seen in taxidermy.
  • The Wamp, a bag-shaped, raccoon-sized animal with a saltshaker at the end of its tail.
  • The Wampus Cat, which resembles a cougar, but is in fact a Cherokee woman cursed with a feline form. Its yowl is said to be an omen of death, and it has been blamed for many disappearances and attacks in Tennessee and neighboring states. Also the mascot of a number of institutions in its home range.
  • The Wapaloosie, an arboreal creature from the Pacific Northwest resembling a mouse with a caterpillar-like body. Its fur is extremely soft, but anything made from it becomes animate, with a penchant for climbing things.
  • The Whirling Whimpus, a gorilla-like monster that spins itself around like Taz from Looney Tunes to pursue prey, which turns into syrup when hit at it's high speeds.
  • The Wunk is a retiring critter that hides by digging a hole, jumping in, and then pulling the hole in after it.

See also: Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My and The Jersey Devil. Contrast Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious.

Examples in fiction:

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  • Brotherhood of the Wolf has the lead character show the Fur-Bearing Trout to French aristocrats until one catches onto the forgery. It allows him to talk about his theory on the nature of the Wolf.

  • A 1996 short story by Nancy Springer titled "Byrd Song" centers around an outcast girl who meets a Squonk, and was published in Bruce Coville's Book of Magic.
  • Several critters appear in the McBroom series by Sid Fleischman, notably McBroom's Zoo. They include the Desert Goo-fang, the Compass Cat, and the Great 17-Toed Hairy Prairie Hidebehind.
  • Several of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories; particularly "The Desrick on Yandro", which features several varieties of Critter. John himself is the only man ever to have seen the Behinder and lived (it was concentrating on being behind someone else at the time); he declines to describe it, saying only that he'd have been happier not to have had to look at it.
  • Alvin Schwartz's children's book Kickle Snifters and Other Fearsome Critters is a bestiary of these beings.
  • The eponymous subject of the James Whitcomb Riley poem "The Raggedy Man" is an expert in this field of study.
  • The children's book The Terrible Hodag by Caroline Arnold.
  • A significant number of these creatures live on another planet in Timberjak.
  • "Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon features jackalopes, depicting them as a desert version of Selkies and Wereseals.
  • Many of these have been mentioned as real creatures in the InCryptid series (plus an additional one of the author's own creation, screaming yams), jackalopes are noted as being delicious and requiring annual hunts to trim their husks (i.e. herds) of aging males who might otherwise slow their migration.
  • Alan Dean Foster wrote a short story collection about Mad Amos Malone, a mountain man in the Wild West. One of his adventures involved taking a British Great White Hunter to bag a jackalope, only for him to lose it when they discover the jackalope's natural predator.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: In The Titan's Curse, Artemis offhandedly mentions turning a boy into a jackalope for having stumbled upon her Hunt (and considering what happened in the original myths to people that did this, that's getting off light). Given how she later says she likes making jackalopes, this was likely a repeat event.
  • The Hodag is mentioned in passing on Ted's Caving Page.
  • The 2017 edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them includes the Hidebehind, the Snallygaster, the Wampus Cat, and the Hodag as new additions.
  • Many are described by Jorge Luis Borges in The Book of Imaginary Beings under "Fauna of the United States", namely the Hidebehind, the Axehandle Hound, the Roperite, the Goofang and Goofus Bird, the Gillygaloo, the Teakettler, the Upland Trout, and the Pinnacle Grouse. The Squonk also appears but is given its own entry.

     Live Action Television 

  • The song "Squonk" by Genesis is entirely about the title creature and the famous legend that surrounds it: a man manages to capture the elusive being, trapping it in a bag; however, when he tries to show off his find to others, he finds that his bag is full of water. The Squonk, morose, has dissolved into its own tears.
  • A line from Steely Dan's song "Any Major Dude Will Tell You": "Have you ever seen a Squonk's tears? / Well, look at mine"
  • Rapper MC Frontalot mentions the creature in the song 'Scare Goat', with the lines "Got a Mongolian Death Worm at my house, right next to Squonk and the Aqueous Mouse..."
  • A Canadian industrial music band has named itself for the animal, using the spelling Jakalope.
  • Composer Don Bodin recorded a song called "Ghost of the Jackalope" on his fourth studio album, "The Radioactive Werewolf."

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Bloom County has a basselope — a cross between a basset hound and an antelope. The original version crossbred with a rabbit to make jackabasselopes, while in the 2016 revival, his antlers are actually inflated with helium.. or something.. and allow him to fly.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering features a card called "Jackalope Herd".
    There is little more demeaning than having your butt whupped by a bunch of bunnies.
  • Pathfinder has quite a few other cryptids and American folkloric beasts in it:
    • Hodags are fierce, hulking reptilian quadrupeds found in isolated wildernesses. They are tenacious and fearsome predators, and have gained a reputation for being actively cruel and malicious among the loggers and pioneers that deal with them most often.
    • Digmauls are stout, puma-like cats with tails ending in spiked clubs, and hunt by ambushing prey from high branches and beating it to death with their tail clubs. Silvercats are a variety of rare, bluish-grey digmauls with smooth, rather than spiked, tails.
    • There's even an Expy of the Jersey Devil in the form of the equine, rather than cervine or caprine, Sandpoint Devil.
  • Deadlands has Fearsome Critters among its "abominations", such as jackalopes (corpse-eaters who manipulate luck to cause fatal accidents) and catamounts (evil, supernatural versions of the mountain lion).
  • d20 Modern includes various American monsters, such as the Montauk Demon (a trans-dimensional evil Energy Being race that was attracted to Earth by the Philadelphia Experiment).
  • Shadowrun features numerous American folkloric creatures in its Paranormal Animals monster books, usually as Awakened animals — that is, normal wildlife transformed into magical creatures by the return of magic to the world. Examples include the agropelter (small humanoids descended from Awakened rhesus monkeys known for making nuisances of themselves), the hoop snake and the Devil Jack Diamond fish (Awakened pike three meters long).
  • GURPS Fantasy Bestiary includes several types of fearsome critters.
    • Cactus cats are very speedy felines with sharp projections of bone growing from their paws. Their favorite method of attack is to run quickly by their targets, slashing them with their blades as they go. They are also known to enjoy eating psychoactive cacti, hence their name.
    • Hodags are fierce, swamp-dwelling beasts about as big as a moose, with a ridge of spines down their backs. They have no knee joints, and thus sleep by leaning against trees. People hunt them by partially sawing through the trees they sleep against, so that these break when the animal leans against them and tip the hodag to the ground. They are also known to walk backwards, making them difficult to track.
    • Hoop snakes are highly venomous and can outrun any creature alive while rolling with their tails in their mouths, but must straighten out to pass through rough terrain or over obstacles — as they're much slower when doing this, people pursued by hoop snakes are advised to head for broken terrain.
    • Sliver cats, or ball-tailed cats, are puma-like felines with long tails tipped with bony maces. They wait in trees for passing prey, which they brain with their tails. If a group passes by its hiding spot, a sliver cat will strike the hindmost member and hope the rest won't notice.

     Video Games 
  • The PlayStation 2 game Culdcept features the Squonk as a playable creature card.
  • In Rampage: Total Destruction, there is a monster known as Jack the Jackalope.
  • Jackalopes are enemies in Redneck Rampage Rides Again. A giant version also appears as the final boss.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road described jackalopes as the bastard sons of Piltdown Man.
  • Red Dead Redemption will rarely have a jackalope show up in the wilderness; not capturable, no less difficult to hit than regular rabbits, but with the added bonus of skinning it for extra antlers and an achievement.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Squonk is the name of one of the B-class hunt marks in the Sea of Clouds. It doesn't look anything like its namesake, however, being merely a giant version of one of the Paissa enemies in the area.
  • The "rabbits" in Don't Starve have antlers, implying they are really jackalopes.
  • Fallout 76 has numerous mutated creatures that are based off creatures from Appalachian folklore, such as the Beast of Grafton from Grafton, West Virginia, and the Snallygaster, among half a dozen others.
  • A few of the Sushi Sprites in Sushi Striker: The Way Of Sushido resemble some of these creatures, most notably Pyonten evoking a jackalope and Batten with the dingbat, due to the general pattern they have of taking a common animal and giving it horns.

     Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Mortasheen has the Sqwunk, based on the Squonk, a useless byproduct of monster creation. Incredibly ugly, it weeps openly if its face is seen and dissolved into tears if it sees itself in a mirror.
  • In No Evil jackalopes are the size of horses or cattle, and domesticated as beasts of burden.
  • The Jackalope was one of the cryptid builds discussed in the April Fools' Day episode of TierZoo. In order to unlock the jackalope, a player would need to select a rabbit build and get infected with the shope papilloma virus. While the idea of a rabbit with antlers sounds promising, in reality these antlers are actually tumorous growths. Because the virus significantly reduces the playtime of rabbit players, the jackalope was placed at the bottom of the game's tier list.
  • While really a creation of the Internet rather than bored lumberjacks, the infamous Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus fits the bill as a pseudo-legendary, tongue-in-cheek North American cryptid invented for the purpose of fooling gullible people.

     Western Animation 
  • The Pixar short Boundin features a sheep, despondent after having been sheared of his wool, receiving comfort and wisdom from a passing "Great American Jackalope".
  • Pinky and the Brain "Where the Deer and the Mousealopes Play": Brain and Pinky put on fake antlers and pretend that they are the last "mousealopes" in a scheme to take over Pittsburgh.
  • One episode of Tiny Toon Adventures featured a monstrous Jackalope named One-Eyed Jack.
  • One episode of Earthworm Jim featured the Giant Fur-Bearing Trout, an ancient being of sacred wisdom.
  • Scooby-Doo:
  • Gravity Falls:
    • One of the shorts focuses around the Hide Behind, depicted at the end as a dark, slender, skeletal silhouette that contorts itself in various ways to hide behind things.
    • There's a mounted fur trout for sale in the Mystery Shack's gift shop.
    • A picture of a jackalope appears in the shows opening. Mabel insists on calling them Antle-abbits, claiming that Jackalope "doesn't sound right".
  • On Sheriff Callie's Wild West, Bo maintains a pen filled with jackalopes. They're somewhat feisty and prone to trying to escape, but Sheriff Callie is able to rope them up with her trusty noodle lasso.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Jackalopes often appear as background fauna. They get along well with normal rabbits — at the very least, a jackalope and a rabbit in Fluttershy's menagerie seem to share a den.
    • In Friendship Games, a jackalope is the first creature to enter the human world when Twilight starts to open portals by accident. Spike starts chasing it, and that's what leads him into jumping into the stream of magic that gave him the ability to speak.
    • In the first arc of the IDW comic, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are attacked by vampiric jackalopes with bright pink, blue and yellow coats and sharp fangs, at least one of which has moose rather than deer antlers. As the names suggests, these are very much the aggressive kind of jackalope, and are also the natural enemies of the chupacabra.
  • In The Secret Saturdays, the Cactus Cat makes an appearance in the episode "Cryptid vs. Cryptid".
  • In the Canadian animated movie Bob's Broken Sleigh, a Ball-Tailed Cat, Hidebehind, and Fur-Bearing Trout, all appear as main characters.
  • There's a beer that's named after the Cactus Cat [1]
  • Version 9.04 of the Linux distro Ubuntu was named Jaunty Jackalope.

Alternative Title(s): Fearsome Critters, Jackalope


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