Texas 'Chupacabra' Turns Out to Be Imposter: Page 2

Wildlife experts often see wild animals suffering from various stages of sarcoptic mange — a skin disease that causes animals' hair to fall out — but most people do not. Healthy raccoons are instantly recognizable by their signature dark "bandit mask" coloring around their eyes. But when their facial hair falls out due to disease, it becomes much more difficult to identify the animal. [Rumor or Reality: The Creatures of Cryptozoology]

Then, you need to look at other features, including size, behavior and anatomy.

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These features suggest that the Ratcliffe chupacabra is, indeed, a raccoon. And though most "chupacabras" found in Texas have been identified as canids (the zoological family that includes dogs, coyotes and foxes), this is not the first raccoon misidentified as a chupacabra. In an article in the March/April 2014 issue of "Skeptical Inquirer," another "chupacabra" found and photographed in the 1950s in Texas was identified by Darren Naish, a vertebrate paleontologist and science writer from the University of Southampton, as a mangy raccoon.

Another clue about the animal's origins can be found in where it was discovered: in a tree. This is a typical place to find a raccoon, but unlikely for a dog or coyote. Furthermore, in a video of the animal, the Ratcliffe chupacabra picks up food with its paws to eat. This behavior is also typical of raccoons. The mysterious critter is currently being fed a diet of corn and cat food, but if the creature truly is a chupacabra, that theory can be easily tested: Put it in a pen with a goat or chicken, and see if it attacks them and sucks out its blood.

The reason that the Ratcliffe chupacabra has been called a chupacabra is not that the mysterious animal's characteristics match those of the legendary vampire — because they don't — but instead because those who found it didn't know what else to call it, according to the book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" (University of New Mexico Press, 2011).

The original chupacabra, whose image came from the 1995 science-fiction film "Species," was of a bipedal, spiky-backed monster with glowing red eyes. That chupacabra has faded into folklore and myth, but over the past decade, any strange animal whose identity is not immediately obvious is often dubbed a "chupacabra." The word has become a sort of catch-all term for weird animals, living or dead. It's not surprising that the chupacabra continues to be found, whether it exists or not.

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