In 1995, a Puerto Rican woman was the first person to report a modern sighting of the now mythic chupacabra. Standing on two legs and reaching a height of about four or five feet tall with spikes and claws, wings and fangs, the scaly, large-eyed monster was said to drain the blood from livestock. In fact, its name means goatsucker.

Thanks to the internet, the legend of the chupacabra grew quickly and spread across continents, changing over time. Do any of these versions of the monster have roots in reality? Sort of.

Early chupacabra sightings

After the initial reports of a sighting, the legend of the monster and the stories around it grew quickly. Farmers reported substantial livestock losses due to the monster and were actively guarding their animals. Children were escorted to schools as communities tried to understand the threat. Some residents even abandoned their homes due to fear. Rumors of what it could have been ranged from an alien, to a vampire, to a satanic cult, to a lab experiment. Tellingly, no actual specimens of the monster had been found.

The early legend grows stronger

A number of the explanations and descriptions of what the monster was may have their roots in cultural influences that were affecting Puerto Rico at the time of the sightings. During the initial months that the modern legend took hold, the sci-fi horror film Species was popular and featured an alien that looked very similar to the way the chupacabra was described. At the same time, the legend flourished as Puerto Rican farmers struggled with every member of their livestock herd was important to them. This fearful environment connected to the frightening threat of a negative impact on any resident’s income was fertile ground for stories of a frightening monster to grow.

Also at that time, and through the years afterward as the legend took hold, the island was acutely aware of its status as a U.S. territory subject to American law but without the power even to participate in the country’s elections. This kind of resentment may have played a role in the parts of the story that described the monster as the escaped victim of a scientific experiment from a U.S. laboratory located less than an hour from the first sighting of the monster.

The chupacabra’s look evolves

As years passed, descriptions of the chupacabra began to change. By the early 2,000s sightings talked about a nearly hairless animal that mobilized on four legs and was as dog-like as it was alien-like. What remained, however, is that the monster continued its vampire-like ways, reportedly sucking the blood out of its livestock victims. Luckily, this version of the legend left traces including both the bodies of victims and corpses that were the suspected embodiment of the legend. Would these bring people closer to understanding what the chupacabra actually was?

Efforts to capture or verify the existence of the chupacabra

A legend this strong inspired a number of efforts to capture the monster or, at the very least, to prove it is real. In late 1995, Mayor Jose Ramon Soto led 200 people and armed police on a hunt for the monster. He left at night pulling a goat in a trailer as bait and carrying a large crucifix. While the hunt was ultimately unsuccessful, it gained a lot of attention and he was quoted in major media including the New York Times and the infamous Weekly World News.

In the 2,000s, Benjamin Radford, a research fellow for the Committee For Skeptical Inquiry, began his own search into the possible origins of the legend. While he was skeptical of the creature’s existence, he was also aware that new species are regularly being identified on the planet. He meticulously evaluated DNA evidence from specimens, talked to those who had reported sightings, and evaluated what he could from the evidence of victimized livestock. Based on this research he came to conclusions that while the monster may not be real, there was some reasonable basis for what people were seeing.

Scientific explanations for the monster

As Radford talked about his conclusions that the monster itself may not be real, he wanted to address potential reasons he found for what people had been seeing. After DNA analysis, he determined that the animals put forth as dead chupacabra specimens were likely to be stray dogs or coyotes. They weren’t visually recognized as what they were because they were suffering from severe mange. The itchy skin-condition was caused by mites and is likely to give an animal a hairless, possibly scaly appearance.

Radford also addresses the reasons for the descriptions of the specific kinds of blood loss that’s been seen in the livestock victims of the monster. He notes that when killing, canines will often attack an animal at their neck, sometimes leaving it to die of hemorrhaging after the attack. Internal hemorrhaging might pool in a part of the animal after it has been deceased for a period of time, leaving only clean bite marks as a sign of attack. To a casual examiner, this lividity would make it appear as if an animal has been drained of blood.

Do these explanations satisfy?

These explanations are proving satisfactory to some. They feel that Radford’s research makes sense and that it is time for the community to accept reality and to move onto focusing on other things. However, the myth is strong. Each time a member of a farmer’s livestock herd goes missing or is killed in a way that is similar to the descriptions of chupacabra killings, the monster’s name is brought up. It appears that the legend may last a while longer.