Real Creatures Commonly Mistaken For Mythical Beasts

Actual animals you might encounter on your travels.

“Vampire Deer” (or Kashmir Musk Deer)

Where You Might See Them: Northeastern Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Western Nepal

Diminutive deer with fang-like tusks protruding from the sides of its mouth. Other various breeds of musk deer roam throughout Southeast Asia. Despite their menacing appearance, they are herbivores.


Where You Might See Them: Arctic coastal waters

More than one person has looked at a narwhal tattoo on a friend and been shocked by the information that these unicorns of the sea exist. They do. The distinctive tusk, which grows up to nearly nine feet long, is one of two teeth these porpoises have.

Tasmanian Devil

Where You Might See Them: Tasmania

Not nearly as cute as the Looney Toon equivalent, these nocturnal carnivorous marsupials do sputter and snarl as they eat their way from the inside out of cattle.

Goblin Shark

Where You Might See Them: Deep sea, most often caught in waters off Honshu, Japan

A rarely spotted deep-sea dweller that’s earned its name with its good looks. In death, its large, flat snout and protruding jaw (which is built to rapidly extend when feeding) become even more pronounced, exaggerating its sinister appearance.


Where You Might See Them: Eastern Australia and Tasmania

The duck-billed, semi-aquatic, beaver-tailed and otter-footed mammal that lays eggs and has a venomous spur on its heel was deemed so outlandish that when 18th Century British scientists first examined a specimen, they deemed it a hoax and posited a trickster had stitched it together from multiple animals. Of course, it was not.

Komodo Dragon

Where You Might See Them: Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang

A very large monitor lizard that cannot breath fire, but can reach lengths up to 10 feet and weigh as much as 300 lbs. Dragons can run up to 16 mph, take down prey with powerful neck and jaws and finish the job with a row serrated teeth and spray of anticoagulation venom.


Where You Might See Them: Tasmania

A much more elusive sight, but no less real, the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger for its stripes, is an almost lupine predatory marsupial could open its mouth very wide to show sharp teeth—nearly 90 degrees. Now believed extinct, but stay alert because reports from the bush persist.


Where You Might See Them: Deep waters off the coast of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand

Often mistaken for a sad cartoon fish or US senator and former presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. Comes in bubblicious pink with a floppy “nose” and boasts soft bones that won’t crack under the pressures of its deep-sea home.


Where You Might See Them: Eastern and Southern Africa

Truly tiny antelope that measure about a foot at the shoulder, made even more impossibly cute and Disney-like by the tuft of hair that grows from their foreheads. Not the result of an enchanted fairy spell, but a real, actual animal.

Greenland Shark

Where You Might See Them: Waters around Greenland (duh) and the North Atlantic Ocean

One of the largest species of shark in the world, these behemoths reach 24 feet in length, live a couple of centuries and have antifreeze for blood. Polar bears, reindeer, horses, and other large land mammals have been found in their digestive systems.

Flying Fish

Where You Might See Them: Warm ocean waters around the globe

Winglike pectoral fins enable these fish to get airborne and, as the name implies, fly when they break the surface of the water with enough speed. So they are fish with wings. Who fly up to 605 feet or so.

Shoebill Stork

Where You Might See Them: Freshwater swamps throughout central tropical Africa (Sudan–Zambia)

5’ in height with a 17” wingspan, this bird’s most noticeable characteristic is the thing that looks like a wooden clog strapped to its face but is actually a knife-edged bill that decapitates whole fish it catches and eats. The comical Friar Tuck tuft of feathers around its head help make it look very much like an audio-animatronic puppet you’d encounter at the Enchanted Tiki Village, but nope, it’s actually alive.

Ocean Sunfish

Where You Might See Them: Tropical and temperate waters around the globe

Weighing up to 2,200 lbs and basically flat, one of the more ridiculous fish in the ocean, the Sunfish maddeningly serves no purpose other than to boggle the mind at its very existence.

The Iceland Worm Monster

Where You Might See Them: This one lake in Iceland

Long rumored to lurk in the waters of Lake Lagarfljot in Iceland, the Worm Monster, or Lagarfljotsormurinn, went from folklore to fanfare after a 2012 video thought to have captured footage of it motivated the Fljotsdalsherad municipal council to launch an inquiry. The conclusion, that the elusive 90-meter serpent-like creature which has been reportedly sighted going back to 1345, actually exists, might have been motivated by the influx of tourism the attention brought to the town. So this one’s a little murky.

Naked Mole Rat

Where You Might See Them: Popping up uninvited in your DMs

Basically looks like a penis with teeth, but the naked mole rat is not a Photoshop creation, just proof that Mother Nature has a sense of humor.