27 Cryptids and Monsters from the Americas

A lot of the mythological and fantasy creatures that have endured in cultural awareness are European in origin—things like fairies, elves, dwarfs, mermaids, or ancient Greek mythological creatures like gorgons, sirens, harpies, or cyclopes.

Using these familiar creatures in your fiction has advantages. Your readers have likely already heard of them, in some form, so they come into the story with some background and details already in mind and you don’t have to provide as much description or explanation in the text.

That pre-knowledge can also be a kind of baggage, though, and could limit your creative freedom to use the beings the way that best suits the story. They can also run the danger of reading as cliché or referential.

And the truth is—these European-derived critters are just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of other mythical and supernatural beings from all corners of the world and all eras of history.

I’m currently in the beginning stages of a large project that will utilize a smattering of cryptids from across the Americas. Because of this, I’ve spent some time lately sifting through my notes and research on world mythologies, and came across plenty of other creatures that have lots of potential for storytellers. Here are 27 American cryptids to spark speculative fiction writers’ imaginations.


People of origin: Inuit

The Ahkiyyini is the ghost of Alaska, a living skeleton spirit that causes earthquakes and tidal waves by the movements of his arms. He liked to dance and play music when he was alive, and continues that in death by using his arm bone to play his scapula like a drum.


People of origin: Aztec

This creature was described in the Florentine Codex as a guardian of lakes and the fish living in them. It’s like an otter but with dexterous hands and a prehensile tail. Its tricks included crying like a baby to lure victims or making all the fish rise to the surface to lure fishermen out on the water. Once it catches someone, it drags them to their deaths, and their bodies would later be found without their nails, teeth, or eyes.

Ao Ao

People of origin: Guarani

Sometimes described as a carnivorous peccary, the ao ao is named for the sound it makes while it chases its victims. It’s a sheep with giant fangs whose diet consists solely of humans, though it’ll also eat their clothing. It stalks its prey over any distance—the only way to escape it is to climb up a palm tree. They’re said to protect hills and mountains, and are also a spirit of fertility, said to reproduce in great numbers.


People of origin: Tupari

The Aunyaina is a demon with boar tusks that (continuing the theme) eats people, although in its case, specifically children. The most fun detail about this one is that, when you kill one, lizards run from its corpse.


People of origin: Kwakwaka’waka

This is a forest spirit that lures travelers into rivers, after which they’re never seen again. You know there’s one coming up behind you because you’ll hear the sound of running water.


People of origin: Chilote

El Camahueto is basically a unicorn cow. The single horn on its forehead is its most valuable part, said to cure sexual dysfunctions. It can also be planted to grow new camahuetos. When one’s full-grown, it bursts from the earth and drags itself toward the sea, leaving a massive hole and a path of destruction in its wake.


People of origin: Chilote

The exact form of the carbunclo (or carbuncle) varies from one myth to the next. Sometimes it’s some kind of oyster or similar bivalve, which contains a precious stone that will bring its owner great fortune. Sometimes it’s said to be a small fluffy animal with a mirror on its head, or clutching a gem. Whatever its form, it glows with a light that can be seen from a great distance, but also has excellent hearing, and clams up to protect its treasure whenever someone gets close. Most legends include an elaborate series of steps that must be undertaken to claim the carbunclo’s treasure.

Colo colo

People of origin: Mapuche

The appearance of this one varies depending on the area. Sometimes it’s a snake with rat paws or feathers. Other places, it’s a mouse with a head like a rooster. Either way, it’s born from a snake’s egg that was incubated by a rooster. It lives in the corners of homes, or under the floorboards, eating the saliva of the inhabitants while they sleep, weakening them over time and eventually killing them.

Cuero del Agua

People of origin: Mapuche

Here’s one with lots of potential for the cli-fi and environmental sci-fi writers out there. Also known as cuero vivo (living leather) or manta del diablo (the devil’s blanket), it’s animal hide that’s been transformed into a flat, snake-like creature, with spines or claws along the edges of its body. It hypnotizes its victims then kills them by suffocation, and is said to live in the lakes, lagoons, and rivers of Chile and Argentina.


People of origin: Cherokee

This nightmarish demon of insanity is said to feed on the dreams of children. It’s so hideous that just looking at him causes madness.

Flying Head

People of origin: Multiple cultures, including the Inuit, Iroquois, and Seneca

Also called Dagwanoeient, Big Head, or the Great Head, this cannibalistic spirit appears as a disembodied head the height of a man, sometimes with a pair of bat wings on its cheeks, or with bird-like talons under the chin. They’re usually said to be created after a violent murder, and are cursed with insatiable hunger.


People of origin: Mapuche

The guirivilo is an aquatic fox that lives in rivers and boggy waters, where it creates whirlwinds to drag people and animals down to the bottom so it can feed on them. Its main weapon is its tail, which looks like that of a fox but with nails at the end.

El Huallepen

People of origin: Mapuche

This is an amphibian creature with the body of a sheep and the head of a calf. It’s calm if you find it on the river bank, but once it’s in the water it’s ferocious, attacking any animal or human it finds. Mothers fear it especially because it’s said to make women sterile, or cause deformities in their future children.


People of origin: Abenaki

A variety of beings were said to walk the earth during the Ancient Age of Abenaki legend. Among them are the Kee-Wakw, a forest-dwelling cannibal giant that’s half-human and half-animal in appearance. In most legends, they were once human but became Kee-Wakw after committing a terrible crime, or during possession by an evil spirit, and they now feel only hunger.


People of origin: Abenaki

Here’s one from the Abenaki present age, a toad creature that wears the guise of either a partridge or a woman dressed in moss. It seduces men and lures in children then (as many of these creatures are wont to do) kills them.


People of origin: Lakota

Nagi are spirits that never had a mortal tether. They can appear in many forms, including as an incomplete or monstrous human, or as an anthropomorphic animal. Their most fun detail is that they feed on human emotions, and can be either benevolent or malevolent depending on which emotions they eat. The good ones are attracted to love, joy, and peace, while the bad ones are drawn to sadness, anger, and vengeance.


People of origin: Cherokee

Translating to “Dressed in stone”, these are monsters with impenetrable stone skin that can control people’s minds and have other powerful magical abilities. Oh, and they also eat people (natch). They carry a magical cane to point out their victims, and if you manage to kill one, their remains contain a great jewel. One fun fact of the Nun’yunu’wi legend is that they hate the sight of menstruating women. In one story, a village protects itself by making a ring of all the women on their period, which weakened the Nun’yunu’wi enough for their medicine man to kill it. If that’s not a ready-made analogy for toxic masculinity, I don’t know what is.


People of origin: Taino

These are dog gods, described in one text as the “Cerberus of the mystic Taino world.” They served as psychopomps, guiding spirits of the dead or shamans on drug-aided journeys. They look basically like dogs, but with legs made of wood.


People of origin: Chilote

Mythical snakes exist in just about every world culture, but the Peuchen is a particularly fun one. It’s a giant, flying serpent that can shapeshift instantly into any animal form. Its gaze paralyzes victims, allowing them to suck their blood or eat their heart, without leaving a mark. You can tell one’s coming from the strange whistling noise they make.


People of origin: Inuit

Inuit parents who wanted to stop their kids from wandering toward the shore would tell them tales of Qallupilluit, humanoid creatures with green skin and long hair and fingernails who live in the sea. They kidnap children wandering alone, adopting them and carrying them underwater to live. Similar to the Peuchen, you can tell they’re near from their distinctive humming sound.


People of origin: Many, including the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Nuxalk

Here’s another snake creature, though this one lives in the water. It has three heads, two reptilian and one human, along with skin that’s impervious to weapons. In some legends, it’s the pet of the god Qamaits and lives in a pool behind her home until it’s summoned to earth, where it can bring people either death or good fortune. Stepping on the slime trail they leave behind can make someone get sick or die, too, so they’re best to steer clear of, although its flesh has healing properties for anyone who manages to kill one. Salmon is said to be one of its forms, while Thunderbirds are its main natural predators, and it rides orcas, because why not.

Teju Jagua

People of origin: Guarani

Known as the Lord of Caverns, the Teju Jagua is a huge creature with the body of a lizard and seven dog heads. It’s fearsome, with eyes that shoot fire and clawed digits. Despite this, it’s a calm, mostly harmless critter who eats fruit and honey. Finding one is good news, in fact, because it protects buried treasure, and its skin is shiny from rolling around in the precious stones and gold it hoards.


People of origin: Aztec

This is technically a goddess, not just a cryptid, called the Queen of the Earth among the Aztec. She’s also a demoness toad monster with mouths all over her body who is always hungry and demanding flesh, a fun enough detail I felt I needed to throw her on the list.


People of origin: Lakota

The unktehi look like giant ruminants (e.g. cows or goats) with long tails. Where you’ll find them depends on the gender—females live on land, and males in the water (how they reproduce, given those divisions, I didn’t dig deep enough to learn). They’re credited with contaminating water sources and causing floods, though they can also share knowledge, teaching humans the proper methods of ceremonial body painting.

Water Baby

People of origin: Yokuts

These mysterious spirits live in natural springs and ponds. Their cry sounds like a human baby and is seen as an omen of death. Responding to the cry by picking up the baby is bad, too. In some legends they have non-baby-like characteristics, like fish tails or scaled skin.


People of origin: Grand Medicine Society

Another one for the “cannibal monster” category, the Wendigo is a tall but gaunt creature that has a never-ending hunger for flesh. It brings winter with it, prompting icy blizzards and snow clouds, and the trees crack from cold when it passes. Its victims are ripped apart and the flesh stripped down to the bones. The Mi’kmaq have a similar creature known as the Chenoo that’s created from a human whose terrible crimes turned their heart to ice.


People of origin: Maya

The Xtabay is a dragon who takes the appearance of a beautiful woman wearing a white dress. She’ll wait behind a ceiba tree, combing her long black hair with spines of Tzacam cactus. Once she’s caught a victim, they have sex then she turns into a poisonous serpent and eats them (or in other versions rips their heart out then throws them over a cliff). In the version from Quintana Roo she’s a bit more justice-oriented, and specifically targets thieves, drunks, and violent criminals.

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