On Saturday evening a woman in Whiteface, TX approached the Cochran County Game Warden, saying she believed she’d seen a chupacabra– thy mythical blood-sucking creature reportedly seen across the Americas. The warden went to the place where she reported seeing it, on FM 597 in Hockley County just outside of Cochran County, and found a dead coyote with mange.
Texas Parks and Wildlife District PIO Aaron Sims said that Game Wardens get several calls a year on the South Plains of reported chupacabras running across people’s properties at night. In Sims’ experience, these “chupacabras” always end up being coyotes with mange, he doesn’t believe the mythical chupacabras actually exist.
Neither does Robert D. Bradley, Ph.D., the Director and Curator of Mammals at the Natural Science Research Laboratory at Texas Tech. Bradley is a biologist who studies the relationships between species of mammals. He has been asked about Chupacabras before, once in 2009 by National Geographic to analyze a possible Chupacabra specimen found in La Grange, Texas.
“You can tell just by looking at the teeth from the lower jaw and what’s left of the teeth that it’s a coyote. We went a head and did a an analysis to double check, and sure enough the sequence verified it to be a coyote and it turned out to have sarcoptic mange. That’s what all the creatures that are so called chupacabras [have] they’re usually coyotes or raccoons and they have mange, and the mite that eats the hair off of them to make them be completely naked,”
Most of the mammals who get mange end up dying from starvation or dehydration, Bradley said. He believes humans commonly encounter these mammals as they are dying of starvation because they will approach human homes and farms in search of food.
Bradley added that the reason “chupacabra” sightings are so frequent in places like West Texas is likely because coyotes are very prevalent in those areas.
Bradley’s lab referred to the the “chupacabra” they examined in 2009 as “Chupy,” his remains are still in their research laboratory. Bradley said it’s no surprise that the specimen was not an actual chupacabra, he noted that every tested “chupacabra” has turned out to be some other mammal.
He explained that these mammals will become dehydrated without their fur. Their skin shrinks and darkens, and their snouts and teeth become more pronounced.
“Their skin is very tight when they become dehydrated, their teeth and their claws are very prominent so they do look like a monster. A hairless coyote or a hairless raccoon looks nothing like the real thing, so it adds to the legend,” Bradley said.
It’s a legend that has been around for several decades, Bradley explained.
“It actually started in 1995 in Puerto Rico, they actually found a bunch or dead sheep and goats, and in doing some interview work on it, a lady described a creature,” he said. He added that chupacabras are especially interesting because they are a fairly recent legend as opposed to werewolves and vampires which have been talked about for centuries.
Bradley explained that reported sightings of chupacabras spread to Mexico as well as other parts of the central Americas and Texas during the 1990’s. No matter the scientific improbability of an actual chupacabra existing, Bradley admits there’s something compelling about the myth.
“It’s like aliens, we need to have this curiosity, that wouldn’t it be cool if there were aliens? And these are our aliens here in our yard, in West Texas. So believing in them and joking about them fits into, I think, human culture,” Bradley said.
If you’d like to learn more, the Museum of Texas Tech University will be hosting an exhibit about a number of blood-sucking creatures starting in mid-October, curators will include plenty of information for those curious about the chupacabra.