I’m from Texas, and I think just about everyone knows about the chupacabra. Several of my Latino friends have told me they’ve been afraid of the chupacabra their entire childhood, and I certainly knew about it as a kid. It seems pervasive in the south, especially for those states on the border, which is why I was so interested to find out there are no reports of the chupacabra before 1995. I’ve also found no one knows the actual legend behind it.
In Puerto Rico, in 1995, an alien ship lands. It’s unclear the purpose of this ship, but on it is an alien creature, large, bent forward, with spines on its back. The best guess it’s some alien pet that got loose and proceeded to suck the blood from eight sheep, who all had three puncture wounds on their chest. In August, a few months later, Madelyne Tolentino saw the creature, describing the strange lizard, around the same time 150 animals were thought to be drained of blood.
The UFO connection to the chupacabra has always been part of the legend for me, and it seems a pervasive thread in sightings and legends. When the chupacabra appeared in Chile, UFO researchers there claimed the military had found three chupacabra eggs in Chile’s northern desert and were hatching new ones through genetic experimentation with the US government. Apparently they blamed NASA for creating them in the first place and arrived in black helicopters to steal a chupacabra family from the mines in Calama.
Like other UFOs, cattle and livestock mutilation is the staple of the chupacabra. Animals are sliced apart seemingly by a surgical knife with tender tissues removed. The most common skeptical argument given for cow mutilation is simply nature at work. A cow dies in a field. Instead of aliens or big predators, it’s flies and bloating. Blowflies lay their eggs in the tender tissues, which are then eaten by the maggots, and these are favored by scavengers as well. Internal gasses can split a stomach, leaving organs exposed and easily stolen by predators. Often times reports of animals being drained of blood are not entirely accurate.
Since then the chupacabra has made its way to Mexico and the American south. Once it reached the Mexican-American border, the chupacabra made a transformation. No longer was it long, lizard-like, alien. Now it it looked like a dog, with bat-like ears and a body so skinny its ribs showed. It looked very similar to a dog or coyote with mange, and the few animals caught and killed that were claimed to be chupacabras all have this in common. They’re actually feral dogs diseased or covered in parasites.
Because this cryptid is so new, there’s no long history to sort through, or ancient accounts to relate it to. Unlike Bigfoot, where researchers try to fit him into the puzzle pieces of an ecosystem, the chupacabra isn’t like that. It’s almost immediately recognized as a supernatural creature, not a natural thing. There is an interesting aspect to the chupacabra that is fairly common with UFO cases. Since Madelyne Tolentino is the first known sighting, she is the template future sightings would follow. Tracking the Chupacabra relates her sighting to the character of Sil from Species. Her detailed description matches the alien character to an incredible degree. Similar to this account of the chupacabra, arguably the most famous alien abduction case has a similar hypothesis. Barney and Betty Hill were followed by an unidentified object on a dark road late at night. They were chased and then stopped, and then experienced lost time, where they came to 35 miles down the road, still driving. Several strange things followed them the next few weeks, and eventually they went under hypnotic therapy. Their accounts were recorded, but the aliens they described matched the aliens that appeared on The Outer Limits (episode “The Bellero Shield”) only twelve days before Barney Hill sketched and described the aliens. Their account was also similar to a 1953 film Invaders from Mars.
Like many of these stories, we start seeing what we think we’re meant to see. Alone, late at night in your home, you think you see a shadow moves, and you think it’s a ghost. Even if you don’t watch scary movies, it’s likely you’ve heard the narrative of a ghost story or seen common imagery associated with it. Those searching for a yeti see a bear walking on two legs and see a yeti. If you had watched an alien movie two weeks ago, and you hear something rooting around in your garbage, or find a goat seemingly drained of blood, you start to think a chupacabra might be around. It’s why superstitious people see ghosts, and also why skeptics can’t. (Richard Strand would call this apophenia.)
It’s odd how the chupacabra is such a mix of cultural ideas. Interest in aliens and the supernatural was coming to its height during the 1990s, and strange attacks on livestock, distrust of the government, as well as local and cultural beliefs created a monster. In its infancy it was lizard-like, huge, with spines on its backs and glowing eyes, and as we struggled to fit into our experiences, it became dog-like and quick. X-Files started in 1993 and it is a similar growth of our interest in aliens, conspiracy, and horror, which died away as these things became culturally irrelevant (though horror has held strong). I don’t know if children are being told about the chupacabra now. I don’t know if my generation is relating to them the horrors of the bloodsucker. Secretly I hope so. Each region is filled with its own legends and folklore, and the chupacabra seems so perfect for the vast spacious land we inhabit, merging us with our neighbors to the south.
Unlike the Bigfoot article, in which I read a few different books and read a few dozen articles to piece out the information I wanted to share, there isn’t as much critical research on the chupacabra, so I used extensively Tracking the Chupacabra by Benjamin Radford, supplemented from cryptid themed websites. If you are unable to track down a copy, he discusses it at length here. It’s pretty much the only research and expedition I could find for the chupacabra, and so I recommend it. If you are interested in how folklore grows, it’s a good read.