Infamous Monsters From Around the World
Our world — and the cultures in it — are full of monster legends, reports of strange occurrences and weird tales. Many of them trace back to the folklore of different lands from centuries ago, while others are pop culture icons from the minds of authors and directors. But which are the strangest? Which are the scariest? Who’s seen them, and where?
If you love a good yarn and want to learn more about these creatures that have been seen, imagined or even recorded, you’ll enjoy this list of 30 of the most legendary monsters ever heard of.
The Loch Ness Monster
One of the most famous monsters in the world is the Scottish water monster purportedly seen by many, many folks over the years in the Highlands at Loch Ness. The first documented sighting was in the 1870s, though a description of it wasn’t released until 1934 — after other sightings were published.
The best-known sighting was published in 1933, when the "whale-like fish" or "beast" was spotted by Aldie Mackay and her husband, John. They were sure they saw a whale body rolling in the water of the lake and reported it. The word "monster" was added for sensation.
"Man-wolf," "lycanthrope" or "loup-garou" are all names for the infamous werewolf, depending on where you hail from and what you believe. These monstrous man-turned-wolf beings are shapeshifters that have come from legends of yore and pop culture alike from Europe and the Americas throughout the centuries.
The werewolf exists in many variants and developed parallel with witches. Folks were executed for being werewolves, much in the same way the witch trials gave an excuse for burning, hanging or drowning society’s unwanted women that were deemed witches. But many of the trials were for wolf-charming, not just shapeshifting.
The Jersey Devil
Another North American legend is the Jersey Devil or the Leeds Devil, said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. It’s a nasty flying beast with a goat- or horse-like head and the body of a kangaroo or wyvern-like creature and wings. It reportedly has cloven hooves, horns, small arms and a forked tail.
Supposedly, the creature was born as the thirteenth child to Mother Leeds in the Pine Barrens region. She didn’t wish for another child and cursed the baby during her pregnancy. Though it was born human, it became the beast soon thereafter.
This is one you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re familiar with Congo Basin mythology. The Mokele-mbembe is a water-dwelling entity, but we’re not sure if it’s a living creature or a spirit of some sort. It supposedly looks a bit like a dinosaur according to African lore, and there have been many expeditions to search for it.
The creature is most closely tied to the efforts of Young Earth Creationists to find evidence that invalidates evolution as a theory. Skeptics of the beast claim that only creationist teachers and ministers are the ones looking for it, not wildlife biologists.
Perhaps the most famous creature of the deep — read: sea monster — is the Kraken, a giant cephalopod-like beast that takes up residence in the sagas of old Norway and Sweden, terrorizing sailors anywhere it may find them. The fact that giant squids exist and have been proven to be real doesn’t hurt the legend.
This giant sea monster was the central focus of many sailors’ superstitions and the mythos of the sea. Sailors passing through the North Atlantic feared the beast, thanks to the close proximity to the origins of the monster and the ongoing sightings.
A fairy creature from Celtic mythology, the Cat Sith is said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. The spectral feline is said to haunt the Scottish Highlands, though it appears in some Irish folklore as well.
Some say that the Cat Sith is not a fairy but a witch that can transform into a cat nine times. The Cat Sith is likely to have been inspired by the Scottish wildcat or the Kellas cats, which are a domestic hybrid of Scottish wildcats and domestic cats that can only be found in Scotland.
Another Celtic legend is the Kelpie, a shape-shifting water spirit that inhabits the lakes, ponds and other bodies of water in Scotland. The Kelpie is usually described as looking like a horse that’s capable of taking on human form, though it appears with hooves — which implies it’s possibly the devil.
Kelpies are usually said to take on the form of attractive strangers, luring men and women to their deaths. Legends propose that the Kelpies used these human sacrifices to appease the gods of water. Practically, the stories served to warn children not to play near water alone.
Chessie, the Chesapeake Bay Sea Monster
Much like Nessie from Scotland, Chessie is a serpent-like sea monster that’s reportedly been spotted many times over the years. Chessie is believed to be between 25 and 40 feet long and has flippers on its snake-like body. It uses a sine curve motion to swim through the waters.
Helicopter pilots made the earliest report of the monster in 1936. There was a rash of sightings of Chessie during the 1970s and 1980s, and occasionally, folks still claim they’ve seen this monster of the deep in the bay as they drive along the bridges or relax on the beach.
Banshees are fairy women or women of the fairy mounds, according to old Irish mythology. These female spirits are those who herald the deaths of family members, wailing and shrieking horribly to foretell impending death. Traditionally, the banshee is a warning creature rather than a monster, but death and fear accompany its presence.
The appearance of the banshee varies from story to story. In some, she has the red eyes of someone who’s been weeping. At times she’s described as very short, and other times she’s unnaturally tall. She may appear old or as a young virgin who’s passed on.
Whether you’re a fan of Buffy, Underworld or Dracula, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have heard of these nasties. Vampires are those undead creatures that come from European folklore and feed on the vital essence — usually blood — of the living people around them.
In the old days, vampires were depicted as bloated, ruddy and dark, but in more recent years — thank you, Angel, Twilight and Interview with the Vampire — we see them more as gaunt, pale, sometimes-sexy beings that still cause mischief and mayhem whenever they feed on their neighbors.
This lizard-like monster hails from Japan and the cinematic dreams of Japanese filmmakers. His first appearance was in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla, and from there the creature became a worldwide pop culture icon. Godzilla has been in over 30 films, video games, novels and comic books.
The "King of the Monsters" has been pictured as an enormous, destructive, prehistoric lizard monster awakened and infused by the power of nuclear radiation. This reference to nuclear weapons was a nod to the WWII bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Apparitions, phantoms, haunts, poltergeists, shades, specters, wraiths — these words all refer to the scary spirits known the world over: ghosts. Ghosts are, of course, exceptionally well-known and often seen by believers and non-believers alike. These spirits of the dead vary greatly by location and range from lifelike to monstrous in form.
And while science concedes that ghosts likely do not exist, there’s no actual way to prove or disprove their existence. Every culture has ghosts in its legends, despite the lack of physical evidence.
Hailing from the Land Down Under, the Bunyip comes from Aboriginal mythology and is said to lurk in swamps, creeks, watering holes, riverbeds and billabongs. The word translates to "evil spirit" or "devil," and the creature is known across the land as taking the form of a black, seal-like animal with a terrifying cry.
The large beast was first reported in the early 1800s, with sightings repeated over and over again and having varying descriptions from both the natives of the land and the European settlers as they spread across the country.
These silky-voiced singers of Greek mythology are a dangerous lot who lure sailors into the deep with their enchanting songs. They’re said to have wrecked hundreds — maybe thousands — of ships on the rocky coasts of their island, thought to be one of the rocky outcrops among the chain of islands called "Sirenum Scopuli" by Roman poets.
The creatures have been depicted in a variety of forms, such as beautiful women with alluring voices or combinations of women’s heads with birds’ feathers and scaly feet, sometimes with wings. Sirens have made their appearances in many legends of the sea, almost always as evil creatures — and one also makes an appearance in the Starbucks logo.
This cosmic monster has been the basis of many a monster that followed, thanks to H.P. Lovecraft’s storytelling genius. Many multi-tentacled legends you’ve seen come from this foundational beast that’s considered "The Great One" in the pantheon of weird horror fiction.
The monster is depicted as a gigantic entity that’s worshiped by cultists. It’s an octopus-like, dragon-like caricature of the human form that’s been included in many legends and stories. Cthulhu is a mainstay in pop culture, too, having appeared on shows like South Park.
Eyewitness sightings of this nasty monster originate everywhere, from Maine to Chile and from Russia to the Philippines. The name "chupacabra" literally means "goat-sucker" for the habit this creature has of attacking livestock and drinking the animals’ blood.
The first sighting of the Chupacabra was reported in Puerto Rico, with others following in regions around the world. Descriptions of the monster say that it’s a large, scaly animal about the size of a bear, with a row of spines reaching from its neck to the base of its tail.
The Thunderbird comes from a Native American legend. These large, bird-like creatures have reportedly been sighted for hundreds of years. One description says it looks like a "winged monster" resembling a huge alligator up to 90 feet in length with massive, sharp teeth to match.
There was a series of sightings in the 1940s in Illinois. Many people wrote these sightings off as airplanes flying — until the wings flapped. St. Louis also had many sightings around the same time. Some recent sightings happened in 2007 when residents claimed to see the monster around San Antonio, Texas.
The demon cat story dates back a few hundred years to when cats were brought into the United States Capitol Building to kill off rats and mice. The demon cat is one that never left, even after its death.
Supposedly, the demon cat still haunts the basement crypt at the Capitol Building, which was the original burial chamber for President George Washington. Legend says the cat is seen before presidential elections and tragedies; it was spotted on the nights before the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy.
This three-headed, dragon-like beast is said to inhabit Central Maryland and the Washington, D.C., metro area. The area was settled by Germans in the 1730s, and the earliest accounts of the Snellygaster or Schneller Geist date back to the early days. In fact, the name means "quick ghost."
The beast is described as half-bird with a metallic beak and half-reptile, though occasionally some people report seeing octopus-like tentacles on it. The monster is known to swoop down silently to pick up and carry off its victims, whose blood it then sucks dry.
From Greek mythology comes this half-bull, half-man beast. The creature bears the head, horns and tail of a bull and the sculpted, muscular body of a human man. The beast is said to have lived at the center of the labyrinth designed by Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete.
And though this is the proper name of a singular figure, the title has been used to describe various bull-headed creatures of other legends throughout history. The beast serves various purposes, but always has the same physical form.
The word "sphinx" comes from the Greek word meaning "to squeeze." Apparently, this name was given to these monsters because of their preferred form of killing their prey: strangling the prey, biting its throat and holding down the prey until it died.
The sphinx is described in a variety of ways, including as having the face of a woman, the body and tail of a lion and the wings of a bird. Others describe her as a winged monster with eyes tainted with corruption and wings clotted with gore.
Most famously associated with the legend of Hercules, the Greek demi-god of Disney movies and oral traditions, the hydra is a nasty monster from Lake Lerna, a supposed entrance to the Underworld. Hercules destroyed this canonical beast as the second of his Twelve Labors.
The hydra had toxic blood and poisonous breath so deadly that the mere scent could kill a man. The fact that it possessed many heads — the exact number varies by source — only increases the horror of a beast that could regrow and double those heads when they were chopped off.
Now, for monsters that are out of this world, check out the Daleks. These baddies come from the television show Doctor Who. The monsters first appeared in 1963 and were inspired by Nazis but have remained a part of the series ever since, with many new incarnations along the way.
While these bad guys don’t come from an urban legend, their behavior is pretty monstrous. Over time, these creations came to view themselves as the superior race and sought to "exterminate" all who were not like them throughout time and space.
Medusa was a monster, specifically a Gorgon, described as a winged human female with a head full of venomous snakes instead of hair. If anyone were to gaze upon her, they would be turned to stone. All feared this monstrous woman-beast until the time of her beheading by the hero Perseus.
Once the monster was beheaded, Perseus kept her head, which retained its ability to turn people into stone, and used it as a weapon before giving it to Athena. The goddess is then said to have put the head on her shield to avert evil.
Ah, yes, the dragon. The beast of legends, the king of folklore and the question mark of a good-versus-evil hero tale. Are they innately vile and wretched monsters as depicted in so many legends, or merely protecting themselves as any animal would do?
Dragons appear throughout legend across the world, ranging from Biblical accounts — the Leviathan — to Chinese monsters that represent power and control over the elements. Of course, the European dragon of medieval legends is perhaps the most colorfully depicted with a penchant for hoarding treasure and breathing fire.
Another famous monster that’s become a pop culture icon is the creature fashioned of human parts made by Dr. Frankenstein in his eerie laboratory. The character of Frankenstein was originally compared to Prometheus, who created man out of clay and gave him life with fire.
Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic story has been told and retold hundreds of times in new forms, in everything from the classic television show The Munsters to many films, including the famous Boris Karloff depiction in 1931. The man-made monster was intentionally unnamed.
In North America, we call him Bigfoot or Sasquatch. In the Himalayas, he’s got a close cousin known as the Yeti. The hairy, bipedal, ape-like/man-like creature lives in the wilderness and leaves big footprints that have spurred even bigger legends.
Historically, his existence has been denied by mainstream scientists, but there have been many reported sightings over the past several decades. Some describe him as an ape-man that stands between 6 and 9 feet tall. He’s covered in hair that’s black, brown or dark red, and he leaves behind footprints that are up to 2 feet in length.
Steller's Sea Ape
This marine-mammal monster was supposedly observed by Georg Steller, a German zoologist, in August of 1741. Steller described the creature as being about 5 feet long with a dog-like head, drooping whiskers and an elongated but fat body with thick fur, no limbs and two shark-like fins.
He called it a sea ape not because of its looks but because of the playful, inquisitive nature it had, which reminded him of a monkey. There have been other sightings, including some in 1965 near Alaska. Many people think it’s simply a misidentified fur seal.
A more recent legendary monster is the Mothman of West Virginia. The creature was supposedly seen multiple times by various people between November 12, 1966, and December 15, 1967. The first newspaper article about the appearance was titled, "Couples See Man-Sized Bird… Creature… Something."
Beginning in the 1970s, authors and directors popularized this legend via books and other media, including The Mothman Prophecies, linking supernatural events to the sightings. There’s also a reported connection to the collapse of Silver Bridge in the area. Today, there’s an annual festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, dedicated to the legend.
These fictional monsters are familiar to just about anyone who’s ever read a book, watched a film or taken a stroll on Halloween. These reanimated corpses are most commonly found in horror and fantasy stories but come from the magical roots of Haitian folklore.
Modern depictions don’t always involve magic for these walking dead. Their condition often results from radiation, pathogens, parasites, mental disorders or scientific accidents in the sci-fi world. The word "zombie" has roots in West African languages and refers to a corpse that’s been revived by witchcraft or spells.