The term “chupacabra” (sometimes spelled “chupacabras”) comes from the Spanish for “goat sucker.” The chupacabra is a creature that supposedly kills livestock and drains the blood from the corpses rather than eating them.
The first stories of the chupacabra originated in Puerto Rico in 1995 to explain the deaths of sheep, goats, and other livestock and pets, though retroactively people attributed similar events from decades earlier to the beast. Since then the tales have spread throughout Latin America and into the mainland United States, mostly in Latin American communities. There have been occasional reports of the creature-or something like it-from more distant lands, including Russia and China.
Usually a chupacabra’s existence is inferred from the evidence of dead livestock, but occasionally there is a witness. Descriptions of the chupacabra from those who claim to have seen it vary a great deal.
One of the most common ways the beast is depicted is as a vaguely reptilian creature about the size of a small bear, with a hairless, scaly body and spikes running down its back. This version of the beast stems from one of the first eyewitness accounts in Puerto Rico in 1995, and has evidently simply been repeated and reproduced in drawings ever since. Unfortunately it turns out the “witness” responsible for this version had recently seen the science fiction movie Species, and was describing something very close to the main monster in that movie. Furthermore, the woman did not have a firm grasp of reality and when questioned indicated that she assumed the movie to have been nonfiction and the creatures depicted therein real.
Other sightings make the creature out to be somewhat closer to a large hairless canine, though sometimes with additional odd features such as the spikes or quills down its back, a forked tongue, a heavy stench, a piercing screech, glowing red eyes, and/or the ability to hop up to 20 feet in kangaroo fashion.
In recent years, several alleged chupacabras have been killed or found dead, which finally has enabled physical examination. In every case that has been studied scientifically so far, the animal has turned out to be a dog or coyote or similar beast, typically suffering from mange or some ailment that has caused it to lose most or all of its hair.
Given the fact that there still has not been produced one chupacabra that is not an animal-albeit perhaps mutant or diseased-from a known species, some believers in the tales have been driven to more and more fanciful extremes, as is common in pseudoscience and cryptozoology. Some claim the tests did in fact prove that the alleged chupacabras were a unique and monstrous type of creature, but were falsified or covered up by the government or other dark conspiratorial forces. Many say the chupacabra is an extraterrestrial or supernatural being whose powers include “shape shifting.” If scientists say they are simply dogs or coyotes or the like, they contend, then this is because the creatures supernaturally alter themselves to that form when they are captured or killed, thus keeping their true form mysterious.
As far as the supposedly inexplicable livestock deaths that constitute the primary indirect evidence of the chupacabra’s existence, scientists are unimpressed. Upon closer examination, many of the stories turn out to be made up or exaggerated. As far as the others that are verifiable, much like with the rash of cattle mutilations in the United States decades ago that fantasy-prone folks attributed to extraterrestrials performing animal experiments, the chupacabra killings of animals and the state of the bodies are consistent with attacks by predators, scavengers, and disease.
The chupacabra makes for a fun scary story to tell around a campfire, but it appears to be just another fanciful creature like bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster that is highly unlikely to exist outside the minds of humans.
Cecil Adams, “Can the mysterious chupacabra of Puerto Rico suck the blood of farm animals?” The Straight Dope.
Robert T. Carroll, “Chupacabra.” The Skeptics Dictionary.
Marc Herman, “The History of El Chupacabra.” Animal Planet.
“The Chupacabra Home Page.” Princeton.edu.