Sea serpents; tall, hairy creatures; unicorns; blood-sucking doglike animals -- they've all been in the news this year. They're either real, myth or simply new and previously unknown beasts that share the world with humans and come under the category of cryptozoology: the study of hidden or unknown animals.
Here's a look back at some of the more interesting cryptozoology stories that we covered in 2010.
Lake Monsters & Sea Serpents
You would think that if an alleged animal were simply a myth, then it wouldn't need protection, right? But after centuries of eyewitness accounts of a strange creature inhabiting the deep, dark waters of Loch Ness in Scotland, we learned how authorities in the 1930s actually tried to get the Scottish government to protect and defend the "monster" known as Nessie.
• Ex-Detective Hunts the Loch Ness Monster
• Does the Loch Ness Monster Have English Relatives?
• No Sea Serpents Here, Says UK's Royal Navy
A Tale of a Unicorn
While this animal has two horns -- unlike the traditional single-horned unicorn of myth and legend -- a mammal known as the saola, dubbed the "Asian unicorn," is so rare that only 250 are believed to exist in the world. Minus one, because after one was captured in a village in Laos this year, it unfortunately died. But not before it was photographed.
• Chinese 'Unicorn Cow' Horns In on Fame
Bigfoot: Missing Link or Dark Hair?
When you hear the words Bigfoot or Sasquatch, an image may come to mind of a 9- or 10-foot-tall apelike creature all covered in dark hair that lives in forests, occasionally showing itself to unsuspecting eyewitnesses. And like its lake monster pals, the main criticism of the reality of Bigfoot is that none has yet to be captured.
But one man this year claimed to have gotten so close to a Bigfoot that had wandered onto his North Carolina mountaintop property, he managed to poke the unwelcome visitor with a stick. But the real curious thing about the story was that the creature reportedly was covered in yellow hair.
• China Hunting for Dollars to Hunt Bigfoot
Red Panda Fossils Found in Tennessee
With the face of a giant panda bear and the body of a small raccoon, the cuddly looking red panda was, until recently, only thought to have lived in the mountains of Nepal, Burma and China.
That is, until fossil excavations determined that the cousin of the black-and-white panda once lived in the ancient forests of Tennessee. In fact, at the Gray Fossil Site, bones from a saber-toothed cat, camel, elephant and rhinoceros indicate these animals lived in the Volunteer State more than 4 million years ago.
Chupacabra: Year of the Goat Sucker
Saving the best for last, one little beastie that caught our attention several times in 2010 was the legendary chupacabra (Spanish for "goat sucker"). This hideous-looking four-legged animal has been blamed for the killings of livestock in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United States.
One of the problems of identifying the chupacabras are the numerous conflicting descriptions of them, from being large, heavy animals, sometimes displaying a long row of spines on their backs, to smaller, canine-type creatures.
But this year, numerous reports in different states included photographs of strange-looking hairless beasts with shriveled skin.
Through DNA testing and other analysis, researchers are mounting a case that many of the alleged chupacabra suspects may turn out to be coyotes that have been infected by tiny parasites, which can result in the animals' bizarre appearance.
But does it explain all chupacabra incidents? That's unknown and it's what keeps the legend and mystery alive.
• Chupacabra Watch: Kentucky Creature Could Be Hairless Coyote
• Chupacabra Alert: 300 Goats Mysteriously Slaughtered in Mexico
• Are These Strange Animals Actually Chupacabras?
Strange animals, indeed. And one of our New Year's resolutions is to come up with many more bizarre and weird "monster" stories for you in 2011.
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