The mystery of the legendary chupacabra, a beast said to drain the blood of domestic animals at night, has been solved according to a scientist at the University of Michigan.
Biologist Barry OConnor says that most chupacabra sightings are probably linked to coyotes with mange, a disease caused by mites burrowing under the skin of coyotes.
Mange leaves coyotes with extreme hair loss similar to that described by people who claim to have seen chupacabra. Analysis of alleged chupacabra carcasses by scientists has usually turned up evidence of mange, which is caused by the same species of mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that triggers the itchy rash known as scabies in people.
Scientists believe legendary chupacabras monsters are actually coyotes with severe cases of mange, like the animal pictured here. Image courtesy of the University of Michigan
Domestic dogs have been associated long enough with humans to evolve the ability to fight off mange, but wild dogs—foxes, wolves and coyotes—have not.
“Whenever you have a new host-parasite association, it’s pretty nasty,” said OConnor in a statement. “It does a lot of damage, and mortality can be relatively high because that host species has not had any evolutionary history with the parasite, so it has not been able to evolve any defenses like we have.”
Severe cases of mange can leave wild dogs susceptible to bacterial skin infections, producing a foul odor in addition to hair loss and thickening of the animal’s skin. The end result: “an ugly, naked, leathery, smelly monstrosity”—an animal characterized by “chupacabra syndrome.”
Frozen head of a so-called Chupacabra in Cuero, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The weakened condition of mange-infested animals may lead them to hunt easier prey: domestic animals.
“Because these animals are greatly weakened, they’re going to have a hard time hunting,” OConnor said. “So they may be forced into attacking livestock because it’s easier than running down a rabbit or a deer.”
Mange can also affect non-canine species. In Australia, there are cases of wombat cubracabra, while in other areas serious mite infections can cause weakened-squirrels to fall out of trees, according to OConnor, suggesting the chupacabra can be found in trees and Down Under.
The myth of the chupacabra dates back to 1987 when Puerto Rican newspapers El Vocero and El Nuevo Dia reported on mysterious deaths of animals which were said to have been drained of blood. Its name, coined by Puerto Rican comedian Silverio Pérez, translates to “goat sucker.” The creature is sometimes blamed for the disappearance and loss of goats, chickens and other farm animals. It is described as “dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor.”
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