Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cryptids: The Tale of Mothman

One of the more absurd yet persistent modern cryptids, Mothman is described as a large six and a half to seven foot tall, humanoid figure, sometimes headless with eyes in it's chest, brown or grey in color, with large wings, and glowing red eyes.

The tale of Mothman begins in 1966 near Point Pleasant West Virginia where a group of grave diggers first claimed to have seen a dark brown "man-like" creature flying above the trees as they worked. The next day, another man claimed to have seen the creature standing in a field and late the following night, the most well known and most detailed encounter with the creature took place seven miles outside of Point Pleasant at the site of an abandoned WWII TNT factory.

That night, two young couples and their cousin "out for a drive" on a dark country road, claimed to have seen the creature while driving past an abandoned TNT factory. The group claimed they stopped to investigate what they then believed to be two strange red lights by an old generator plant which, Upon closer examination, they found to be the glowing red eyes of a seven foot tall creature with a pair of large wings folded behind it's back. Terrified, the group fled the scene and drove all the way back to the city limits with the creature taking flight and giving chase at speeds exceeding 100mph.

Over the next few weeks a handful of other witness would come forward to describe brief encounters with the creature in fields, or seeing it lurking in the tops of trees, but nothing as spectacular as the account given by the group from the TNT factory. Eventually, the tales of these encounters would make their way to the local papers, where a Batman inspired reporter would first dub the creature described in the encounters as Mothman

This is where the verifiable accounts-by which I mean claimed sightings that can be proven to have been made in 1966 and not years after the fact- come to an end. And even these accounts have been confused and embellished over the years thanks to books and movies on the subject, as well as the general erosion of memory that comes with the passage of time, making it hard to know exactly which version of any one encounter is accurate.

As for a natural explanation, like most cryptids
Mothman's true origin is likely the simple misidentification of some other know animal. The most likely cantidate in this case, as first suggested by Joe Nickell, is the barred owl.

Though admittedly on the small side, the barred owl can appear either brown or grey in color, could easily be perceived as headless with eyes in it's chest, due to the birds shoulderless frame, has large eyes which could be seen as glowing red when reflecting light thanks to the animals night vision, and most tellingly of all, bears an obvious resemblance to this early eyewitness sketch of Mothman. The times and places where the original sightings are said to have taken place also paint the barred owl as a likely suspect for the real Mothman.


For a more detailed account of the Mothman myth, including it's alleged connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge connecting Point Pleasant with Gallipolis, check out episode #159: "The Mothman Cometh", of Brian Dunning's Skeptoid pdcast

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