Credit: KSAX-TV A strange animal found on a Douglas County, Minnesota, road has people talking monsters.
The Star Tribune offered this description of the animal that Lacey Ilse found alongside a road in Alexandria: "ghostly white and hairless, its neck bloated out of proportion with the rest of its limp body." Ilse said it looked "half human," and told her friends about it.
Soon photos of the little beastie flew around the Internet and became a minor Facebook sensation. The Montreal Gazette claimed a few days ago that "scientists are baffled," though the public has been happy to offer their theories.
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Speculations about what the creature may be include a dog, a badger, a wolf, raccoon, and even a top-secret government experiment. Predictably, some suggested that the monster is instead the chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast. In fact the animal looks nothing like the original chupacabra (which was revealed earlier this year to have come from a science fiction film), nor does it resemble the "chupacabras" found mainly in Texas that have been shown through DNA analysis to be dogs and coyotes. Furthermore, it was not seen (nor even suspected of) sucking blood.
So what is it?
Biologists have several ways of identifying animals. One of the best is through simply comparing the animal's weight, size, and other characteristics to those of known animals. There's an even more specialized field of study called taphonomy that deals specifically with dead and decaying animals. Since many animals are found in early states of decomposition, it's important to understand what happens to creatures after they die. For example, hair falls out, tissue shrinks away from teeth and nails, and so on; all these can contribute to a mysterious or otherworldly appearance.
Then, of course, there's genetic analysis. This is considered by many to be the gold standard, though in some cases those who have found mysterious animals have refused to accept the results of DNA testing.
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A close analysis of photographs and video of the creature give some important clues to its identity. For one thing, its length and size is well within the normal range for a badger. It has five toes, each ending with long nails. Canine (for example, dog, coyote, or fox) nails are not usually that long, and Minnesota wildlife expert Kevin Kotts said that "It's got five long front claws on each of its front feet, which would be characteristic of a badger."
Why would it be "ghostly white and hairless"? Because it's been dead a while and the blood has pooled or coagulated, and most of the hair has fallen out from decay. Why would the back part look so misshapen, as several people noticed? Probably because it had been run over by a car or truck, having been found in the middle of the road.
There's another, less obvious reason to believe that the beast is merely a common animal instead of a new creature or unknown monster: only one of them has been found. For the same reason that there must be thousands, or tens of thousands, of Bigfoot in North America to maintain a sufficiently large breeding population, there should be thousands of these critters around if they are a new species.
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A few weeks ago a Texas boy shot and killed an animal thinking it might be a chupacabra, though it's likely a coyote or dog. In cases like this it's important to realize that just because we see something unusual doesn't mean it actually is anything unknown or unusual. Put another way, if we see a three-legged dog by the side of the road we don't assume that it must be a previously unknown breed of three-legged dogs that science has not discovered. Instead we logically assume that the dog likely lost its leg through an accident or birth defect. Yet when it comes to other known animals with a strange appearance, people often reach for extraordinary explanations instead of logical ones.
And if the monster really is part of a clandestine government project, I'll bet some scientist is in deep trouble for letting their super-secret experiment get hit by a car on a rural road in Minnesota.