Episode 27 of Squaring the Strange is up! To begin our creepy Halloween lineup, Pascual and I talk about the world's best-known cryptozoological vampire, el chupacabra! The beast has lost its bite over the years, but we go back to the late 1990s when it terrified many in Puerto Rico and elsewhere... HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!We also talk briefly media coverage of the Vegas shooting, and as usual, a two-minute skeptical fortune cookie! You can listen to it
Hurricane Maria's devastation continues in Puerto Rico... As The New York Times reported, “Daybreak in Puerto Rico on Thursday exposed the crushing devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria — splintered homes, crumbled balconies, uprooted trees and floodwaters coursing through streets. The storm cut a path through the island on Wednesday and 100 percent of the territory remained without power. Officials predicted that it could take months to restore electricity as rescue brigades ventured out to assess the toll of death and injury. Maria had entered Puerto Rico’s southeast side on Wednesday with category 4 winds of 155 miles per hour, then lost strength, regained power Thursday and continued its furious roll northward, bringing pounding rains and heavy winds to the Dominican Republic.” Hurricanes are well known in the region, but lesser known is how another devastating storm twenty-eight years ago, Hurricane Hugo, helped spawn the world’s most famous cryptozoological vampire: the chupacabra. In 1989 Hugo killed a dozen people in Puerto Rico and devastated the island’s crops; banana and coffee exports were nearly entirely destroyed. Estimates of the damage reached $1 billion, as tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans were left homeless by the wind and flooding. The hurricane left a lasting legacy on the island, and was still very much in the Puerto Rican consciousness six years later when the chupacabra first emerged. In Puerto Rico I interviewed the original chupacabra eyewitness, Madelyne Tolentino, and asked her where she believed the monster came from. Tolentino responded, “Look, a journalist told me that El Yunque [jungle wildlife refuge in Puerto Rico, said to be the chupacabra’s origin] was allegedly closed down because of the damage caused by Hurricane Hugo. He told me that the truth was that some experiment had escaped—not monkeys or anything like that. They never found those creatures. The journalist... knows a lot about it, because he’s been researching this for a while.” This explanation, shared by the tabloid media, is widely accepted among Puerto Ricans, that the US government created the chupacabra in a secret laboratory, in a clandestine genetics experiment gone horribly wrong, a sort of Frankenstein-like conspiracy theory. As I discuss in my book Tracking the Chupacabra, there are clear and significant parallels between the chupacabra’s origin and that of the monster Sil in the 1995 film Species. Species—whose first scene is set in rural Puerto Rico—begins with a genetics experiment, led by scientist Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley). He has injected alien DNA sequence into human eggs; most died, but one was allowed to grow into a seemingly normal human child called Sil. But Fitch aborts the experiment when Sil begins aging at a fantastic rate, and during REM sleep, alien spikes emerge from the girl’s spine. He reluctantly decides to kill Sil, fearing that the experiment may soon grow out of control—and it does. Sil escapes the building and out into the wilderness to prey. The most popular theory about where the chupacabra might have been able to live undetected for all those years (except for rare appearances sucking goats and chickens) is in the El Yunque rainforest on the eastern end of the island. Given the thick vegetation this theory might seem plausible, except that El Yunque, though a sizeable park at 28,000 acres, is also the most popular tourist spot in Puerto Rico, attracting over one million visitors each year. That’s an average of nearly three thousand tourists walking and hiking in El Yunque every day, and more than eighty thousand each month. Yet apparently not a single tourist reported seeing, photographing, or being attacked by a chupacabra (nor, to my knowledge, finding the alleged chupacabra victim carcasses that would presumably litter the rainforest floor). It beggars belief to think that one or more chupacabras managed to live for years in such a heavily traveled area without ever being discovered or leaving traces of their existence. (The top-secret genetics lab where the chupacabra was said to have been created has never been found either.) Legends (and particularly urban legends) incorporate regionally specific and accurate place names as they evolve. For example a generic story about a woman’s tragic suicide, or the spot of a gang initiation attack, will change from place to place. The details in each local version will include specific actual locations and even reference real historical figures. This process lends credibility to the stories and legends, making them more salient and likely to be shared. Hurricane Hugo was only one of several factors that helped spawn the chupacabra legend, but the storm played a key role in the creature’s pseudohistorical folklore, the public’s understanding of where the creature came from, and why it suddenly appeared in Puerto Rico. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
Thought I'd share a minor victory: A man who e-mailed me last week saying "My employee and myself spotted a Chupcabra yesterday afternoon in Vacaville, CA, a hairless cat/dog with a stubby tail and narrow body and head. A friend later that day showed me on the internet this Chupacabra and I recognized it as the same critter." I diplomatically suggested that he seemed to be describing a mangy animal, expecting to be ignored in favor of a sexy mystery. This morning he followed up: "I spoke with a local critter guy who told me that what I saw was probably a Bob cat or Lynx with mange. That is why I saw no hair or fur on the critter. It still looked very creepy." Indeed; if these animals were easy to identify, there wouldn't be a mystery... You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
A researcher claimed that the chupacabra can be traced back to legends of the nightjar bird. I respectfully disagreed, which he then responded to, and which I then replied to. If you want to see two educated adults (one of them right and one of them wrong) kick each other's intellectual and metaphorical shins like kids on a playground over folkloric details of a mythical monster's naming and origin, here's your chance! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
Following up on my book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, I have occasionally written about varied speculativepseudohistories of the chupacabra, and indeed the subject is ripe for conjecture. In a blog titled "The Secret Prehistory of the Chupacabra," Jason Colavito writes that "the chupacabra name derives from 2,300 years of European and American traditions about nocturnal creatures that prey on livestock. And it all started with a small, completely harmless little bird." Colavito notes, correctly in my estimation, that "The first chupacabra was not a monster, nor was it a vampire. Originally, the goatsucker was so named not because the creature sucked blood like a vampire but because it sucked milk directly from the teat. The legend originates in a story told about the European nightjar (genus Caprimulgus), a smallish, nocturnal, and insectivorous bird that inexplicably developed a bad reputation, earning it the name ‘goatsucker.' The first author to record this story is Aristotle, in his History of Animals, written around 350 BCE." So far so good; we agree that a small bird named chupacabra--like a great many birds around the world including owls, ravens, doves, etc.--had folkloric associations, in this case that it suckled goat milk. Where we part ways is in seeing clear links between the subject of my book and the bird of lore. I briefly discuss the goatsucker bird in the first chapter of my book (see page 4). The chupacabra monster is very specifically a vampire: it sucks blood from its victims. The "goat sucker" bird that shares its name instead sucks milk from goats, which is a different theme--there are few reports of surviving chupacabra victims, as the monster's actions are typically said to be lethal. Also the word chupacabra (as specifically describing the subject of my book) was, from all indications referred specifically to rumors of goats being killed and drained of blood in rural Puerto Rico, not to the milk-drinking whippoorwill bird. The best evidence is that the word chupacabra was first coined by San Juan-based radio deejay Silverio Pérez in late 1995 live while commenting on then-circulating rumors and tabloid stories about strange attacks on the island. I have been unable to find any pre-1995 references to a blood-sucking chupacabra in Puerto Rico or anywhere else--despite a standing $1,000 reward for any verifiable, published pre-1990s reference to a vampiric chupacabra--and Colavito offers none. Colavito does an admirable job of tracing the linguistic lineage: "The name, in its now-obsolete Spanish form chotacabra, was in common use in Spanish America (including Puerto Rico) from at least the nineteenth century (and probably many centuries earlier), changing to chupacabra in the twentieth century when the older Spanish verb chotar (to suck) became obsolete and gave way to the newer synonym chupar... the nightjar is native to Puerto Rico, and I have been able to find printed references to the bird on the island as ‘chotacabra' dating back to at least 1948....The change from the obsolete form chotacabra to the modern form chupacabra, reflecting changes in colloquial Spanish, masked the connection, leading to recent claims that the word did not exist prior to 1995." Colavito does not account for (or glosses over) the notable absence of chupacabra (as referring to the now-familiar vampiric monster, not the bird) between the time that "chotar" became "chupar" and the eve of this century. You can read the rest HERE. And Colavito's response is HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
For those who missed it and are interested in spending an entertaining and informative--or at least minimally objectionable--75 minutes, may I suggest the most recent episode of The Folklore Podcast, in which we discuss folklore of the chupacabra... You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange!
Soon after my recent appearance discussing folklore of the chupacabra (the topic of my book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore), I got the following e-mail from a listener named James: “I thought your appearance on The Folklore Podcast was very interesting and informative. It inspired me to search about chupacabras. One thing I came up with was about ‘Goat suckers’ and chotacabras. Too bad that I only have the 1997 version of the 1985 book The Jealous Potter by Claude Lévi-Strauss, but it sounds like there were a lot of myths/folklore about goat suckers in the folklore. Is there a reason you did not reference this in your book?” I replied, “Thanks for reaching out to me, it’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the Folklore Podcast interview, it was fun! Your question is a good one. I actually do briefly discuss the goatsucker bird in the first chapter of my book Tracking the Chupacabra (see page 4). The chupacabra monster is very specifically a vampire: it sucks blood from its victims. The "goat sucker" bird that shares its name instead sucks milk from goats, which is a very different theme (there are few if any reports of surviving chupacabra victims, as the monster's actions are said to be lethal). Also the word chupacabra (as specifically describing the subject of my book) was, from all indications, coined in 1995 and referred specifically to rumors of goats being killed and drained of blood in rural Puerto Rico, not to the milk-drinking whippoorwill bird. The main reason I didn’t go into much discussion about it is that as Levi-Strauss notes, stories about the bird are very diverse and difficult to classify (involving deities, marital jealousy, etc.). Other than one passing reference to a Tunuka Indian myth, there’s little or no vampiric aspect to it. As far as I know that’s the only reference to such blood sucking in The Jealous Potter, and in the quoted passage the attack is done by ghosts (souls of the dead), not the flesh-and-blood animal said to live on the island. Ghost folklore is interesting but not really relevant to the chupacabra I researched. The coining of the word is, from my research, almost certainly a coincidence (chupacabra is an obvious coinage to describe anything said to prey on goats, regardless of its origin or nature). I suppose I could have added a few more sentences about the goat milk-drinking bird myths but since it wasn’t directly relevant to the chupacabra I was writing about (a supposedly real terrifying blood-sucking monster), I didn't want to take the reader too far off track. I hope that answers your question, and I appreciate The Jealous Potter reference, which I missed!”
A new article on BBC-Earth discusses my five-year investigation into the mysterious vampire beast El Chupacabra; if you're interested in how I solved one of the world's best-known monster mysteries, check it out HERE! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
I recently found my original idea for the cover art for my book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore." I wanted something interesting and evocative, and my publisher UNM Press did a great job on it. Below is my original sketch, and the final cover: You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
A new article on Gizmodo about monsters references my chupacabra research: "Other descriptions peg it as looking like a wild dog with a pronounced spinal ridge. Skeptical investigator Benjamin Radford went in-depth into the legend of the chupacabra, and concluded that many sightings were actually dogs or coyotes with mange, which contributes to their strange appearance..." You can read it HERE! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
There's a YouTube video that's been around since 2014 about my chupacabra research, though I only recently got around to watching it. It's a little slow and amateurish, but a decent and concise summary; you can see it HERE. Of me he says, "I think [Ben Radford's] done a great job and as far as I’m concerned he has solved the chupacabra mystery.” You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
I am quoted in a chapter on werewolves in a new book about horror writing and Stephen King! I haven't seen it yet, but that's what The Google is telling me! I'll have to check it out soon! You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Late last year I recorded about a dozen short (1-2 minute) segments for a NPR station on various skeptical subjects. Here are five of the audio segments now available on YouTube, on the subject of the chupacabra. You can find them HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
My not-entirely-resume-building appearance on the Swedish-language show "Jimmy's Sick World" discussing the chupacabra is now out, for those who are interested... you can find it HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
In reviewing my shelf of ghost hunting books for a book chapter I'm writing I noted that the author of two 2011 books on ghosts and ghost hunting writes that she "is new to the paranormal community, having entered field investigation in 2008." Doing a bit of math and knowing the lead time it takes for a book to be edited and published, I realized that she could not have had more than three years of experience (and probably closer to two) before she felt like she knew enough about ghost hunting to proclaim herself an expert and write two books on the topic. I needed at least five years to become an expert on the chupacabra, which is a far narrower subject. Ghost hunting books are rife with self-proclaimed experts whose experience is watching TV and taking ghost tours... You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
I'll be giving a presentation on my chupacabra investigation to the Albuquerque SciFi Society on October 9 at 7:30 PM; the origin of the chupacabra has interesting origins with H.R. Giger and the film "Species." You can find out more HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Had a great time speaking at this year's Bubonicon as this years guest Science Speaker discussing my chupacabra research (which, if you're familar with it, you know has an interesting link to H.R. Giger and a certain science fiction/horror film). A good turnout, interested and intelligent crowd, and good questions. Always fun!
I'll be the guest science speaker tonight at Albuquerque's Bubonicon science fiction/fantasy conference, speaking about solving the chupacabra mystery and its connection to sci-fi movies. Check it out HERE!
I'm finishing an interesting article on the pseudohistories of the chupacabra: The Hispanic vampire turns 20 this month and was created in large part by the 1995 film "Species." However those who believe the monster exists have offered a wide variety of completely fictional "true" histories of the chupacabra... Look for it in an upcoming issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine!
I was recently a guest on the ParaTruth Radio show discussing several of my investigations including my chupacabra research... you can find it HERE.
An audio recording of me reading the first chapter from my book "Tracking the Chupacabra" is available for free on my web site HERE. Did they edit out my profanity and overheated Shatner-esque delivery? Find out!
I was a guest on the "After Dark Radio Show" recently, talking about everything from ghost hunting pseudoscience to the 1967 Patterson Bigfoot film to the nature of skepticism. Check it out, you can read it HERE.
I was recently a guest on the Cryptologic Radio show, talking about monsters, Bigfoot, chupacabras, and skepticism. You can listen to it HERE.
A Chilean farmer recently found a pair of partly mummified animals in a wine cellar. Of course the obvious explanation is "chupacabra," though as I explain it's almost certainly not... yes, the little vampire beastie just won't die. You can read the story HERE.
I was recently interviewed by UNM Prof. V.B. Price for New Mexico Mercury magazine, in which I talked about my new book Mysterious New Mexico, skepticism, and investigations. Who got upset by my book? Find out! The five-question interview is available online HERE.
On Thursday January 8 I appeared live on MSNBC to talk about how climate change might affect unknown animals such as Bigfoot and the chupacabra. My research into the subject, done in part as preparation for the interview, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Skeptical Inquirer. You can see the show HERE.
This is kinda cool, a few weeks ago the web site MoviePilot had a feature titled Separating the Myth from the Monsters, and it included a reference to my chupacabra research. You can read it HERE.
Delightful midevalist Eve Siebert wrote an encomium for me. I love it! “Hwæt we æglæcena banan in geardagum wyrhta wundra þrym gefrunon, hu se hærleas ellen fremedon. Oft Hrædferhð heard in heortan feaht ða unsoðan feondas mid his meahte wordum. He sloh buccan sugeran mid his scearpre boce. Þæt wæs god tweonere.” "Yes, we have heard in the days of yore of the glory of the monster-slayer, the worker of wonders, how the hairless one performed deeds of valor. Often Hrædferhð (Nimble Mind), brave in heart, fought the unreal fiends with his mighty words. He slew the suckers of goats with his sharp book. That was a good skeptic."
My research on the chupacabra is cited in the recent book "Encyclopedia of Latino Culture: From Calaveras to Quinceañeras." Kind of cool, I guess. You can see it HERE.
On Saturday Sept. 20 I'll be giving a free talk at the Taylor Ranch Library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 2-3 PM. I'll be discussing my research into (and solving the mystery of) the Hispanic vampire beast El Chupacabra. I'll also be talking about and signing copies of my new book Mysterious New Mexico: Mirackes, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. So stop by and check it 0ut!
I was recently a guest on the Edge of the Unknown radio show, talking about skepticism, investigation, and my new book Mysterious New Mexico! It will be rebroadcast at various times this week, and be archived, you can find it HERE.