A Texas rancher named Phylis Canion believes that a strange, hairless bluish-skinned animal she discovered on her property in 2007 may be the mythical, vampiric beast called "el chupacabra," said to be responsible for draining the blood from goats, chickens, and other livestock.
The claims are getting attention because of a new TV series called "The Unexplained Files."
I investigated Canion's strange carcass in April 2008 for the "MonsterQuest" TV show and for my book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore." In July 2007 Canion began seeing a bluish-gray, hairless animal (actually, three of them) lurking around her ranch, and suspected them of killing over two dozen chickens over several years. Canion said, "Not long after I had seen the first , I came home and there was a chicken dead, but not carried off. It appeared to have all of the blood drained out of it."
VIDEO: Real Life Sea Monsters
Canion said that whatever attacked her animals was no ordinary predator common to the area, such as a wild dog, bobcat, fox, or coyote. Eventually Canion decided to make it her mission to capture the strange-looking animal, either alive or on videotape.
"I set up a video camera and started filming where the chickens were," she said.
Still, after weeks and months, the mysterious creature remained elusive. Then on July 14, 2007, Canion got a call from a neighbor telling her a strange animal had been found lying on the road near her ranch. She photographed the carcass, and the animal was unlike any she had ever seen. It had large ears, large fanged teeth, with grayish-blue elephantine skin.
She had it taxidermied and now displays it proudly in her home. It made national news, and many wondered whether she had finally found the elusive chupacabra. To help decide the matter, scientists offered to do genetic testing on the animal.
DNA Testing the "Chupacabra"
DNA testing of the "blue dog" was done by Michael Forstner, Ph.D., a professor in Department of Biology at Texas State University-San Marcos. Forstner described his genetic analysis of the Cuero animal.
PHOTOS: Six Mysterious and Famous Cryptids
"In this case we had the material...I mean, it's a vertebrate. It's not going to hard to match this, there are markers for mitochondrial DNA that are easy enough to match against almost any vertebrate on the planet, and those are available on GenBank. So we went to work and indeed that's pretty much where we ended up.... The sequencing immediately went to the family Canidae, and our immediate concern was that this was going to turn out to be somebody's pet dog."
Soon, however, it became clear that it was not a dog when a genetic marker positively identified it as coyote: "We got the sequences back, uniquely within coyote there's an area of the D-loop, which is the area of mitochondrial DNA... it gives us data on things that are closely related... Uniquely in coyotes there's a deletion of several bases in one section, and another deletion in another area of an additional seven-base block. Turns out that the sequences that came back had those two unique deletions, and did not match any dogs or wolf. It came back with 97 percent confidence that it was Canis latrans, which is the coyote."
PHOTOS: Sea Monsters Real and Imagined
Canion, expecting that the results would reveal that she had an unknown or unique animal, then commissioned a second DNA test. This one was conducted at a genetics lab at the University of California at Davis; the results were virtually identical to those found by the University of Texas, but with a slightly more specific twist: its mother was a coyote and its father a Mexican wolf. The final answer: Canion's "blue dog" is just what two separate DNA analyses say it is: a hybrid animal.
Wildlife experts were not surprised; it's not unusual for dogs, wolves, coyotes and other animals in the canid family to interbreed; in fact scientists and wildlife experts know what a coyote / wolf hybrid looks like; they have been studied for years. These "coywolves" do not suck blood, nor do they have blue skin, nor any of the chupacabra's unique characteristics.
The Mystery Fades But what about the weird grayish-blue elephantine skin color? The creature was likely afflicted with a skin diseases caused by mites called sarcoptic mange, which causes its hair to fall out. Since most people rarely see coyotes, dogs, wolves and other animals without fur in advanced stages of mange, the sick creatures can look very strange and mysterious.
As for the claims of blood-drained chickens, that too has a scientific explanation. Just because a dead animal isn't bloody doesn't mean that its blood has been drained. Blood will naturally begin to clot and coagulate after the animal dies, creating the appearance of missing blood. The blood of course hasn't gone anywhere. It has just partly dried up, and the water content has evaporated. Unless the animal is professionally necropsied, it will appear that the carcass has been drained of blood.
It's interesting to note that these canine chupacabras look nothing like the original chupacabra, which was first reported in 1995 on the island of Puerto Rico. That blood-sucking monster was a bipedal, spiky-backed alien-looking creature. In fact, the chupacabra's image came from the monster in the science-fiction/horror film "Species." Since then, despite many mistaken sightings of diseased dogs, coyotes, and wolves, no hard evidence of any real chupacabra has emerged.
While it's possible that chupacabras, blue dogs and other strange creatures roam the plains of rural Texas, so far all the scientific tests have revealed are ordinary animals.
Photo: Science Channel/The Unexplained Files