Image: International Museum of Cryptozoology, Portland, Maine
Amy Waterman  /  International Cryptozoology Museum
In 2003, Loren Coleman opened the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.
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updated 8/5/2009 11:19:40 AM ET 2009-08-05T15:19:40

There’s even a scientific-sounding name for it: cryptozoology, the study of hidden or unknown animals. Obsessive fans of legendary monsters travel the world over to hunt down their legendary quarry. The most famous U.S. cryptid is Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, and in Scotland it’s the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie.

Cryp fans know that besides these top two, there are many more whose lairs have become tourist draws. In the U.S. alone, you might have heard legends of the Mothman (West Virginia), Thunderbird (Lawndale, Illinois), Chessie (Lake Champlain) and the Jersey Devil (Pine Barrens of New Jersey), while roasting marshmallows around the campfire.

Obviously the U.S. hasn’t cornered the cryptid market. If you grew up in Scotland, you would’ve listened wide-eyed to tales of Nessie, who lurks in the deep dark waters of the famous Loch Ness.

Africa boasts a bunch—the walrus-like Dingonek, the Gambo, and the Adjule. In Java, you would have heard about the massive, flying Ahool, found in the deepest rainforests. England lays claim to the phantom wildcat, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, and the carnivorous Black Shuck, said to roam the craggy coastlines of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex.

Given such a wide variety of cryptids, it’s no wonder that at some point, monsters grew from an interest into an obsession, and finally, into a career for Loren Coleman, author of 30 books and an adviser to TV’s "In Search Of" series. He’s even opened a museum on the subject, the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. This by-appointment-only showplace features artifacts, toys and artists renderings from around the world.

Coleman has traveled far and wide looking for mysterious creatures, covering every state in the union and much of the world. His favorite spot so far: Not surprisingly, Loch Ness. “It reminded me of the first time I saw Fenway [Park]. It was so green and so beautiful,” he reminisces. “I got up every morning to go looking for the Loch Ness Monster.”

Image: Cape Greko, Ayia Napa, Greek Cyprus
Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy  /  Alamy
Located off the coast of Ayia Napa in Cyprus, the Ayia Napa Sea Monster is a lot less scary than the word “monster” implies. Its name, which translates to “the friendly monster” is known for doing nothing more nefarious than ripping up the occasional fishnet.
"They have the haar—the fog that goes across the loch; it was amazing,” Coleman continues. “Like a fairy tale.” Besides the atmosphere, Coleman also found it a relief to be immersed in a like-minded population. “Just to have people not laugh at you for being into monsters. . . .” he half laughs. “It certainly has changed the economy there. It changes the economy of a lot of places where the creatures are found.”

Not everyone is as obsessed. Scottish filmmaker John McFarlane remains skeptical about the Loch Ness monster, his country’s most famous resident. Though she was first reportedly spotted back in the sixth century A.D., he says that growing up, it certainly was a topic of conversation. “When I was a kid, my grandfather told me it is quite feasible that there is a creature that lives in the loch ... that’s maybe from the dinosaur period,” he says. “There was speculation that there might be a link from the loch’s bottom out to the open sea.”

Fact or fiction? Go and see for yourself, but watch out for large, hairy (or scaly) animals.

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