In the first part of this series, we covered the mysterious hidden animals of Cuba. Our next stop on our cryptid journey is the beautiful islands of the Bahamas. The Bahamas is a sovereign island nation located east of the Florida Keys and is comprised of around 700 islands, islets, and cays that are all part of a greater chain of islands shared with the Turks and Caicos Islands. All of the islands in the Bahamas are low and flat, with the highest elevation belonging to Mt. Alvernia on Cat Island, which stands at a height of 63 meters (207 feet). The Bahamas also has some curious cryptozoological oddities.
Among these myriad islands can be found the island of Andros. The island is well known for its striking underwater vertical sinkholes and meandering undersea cave systems that form the mysterious and beautiful blue holes, as well as the mysterious, man-eating octopus-like creature known as the Lusca, both of which I have discussed here at Mysterious Universe before.
The Lusca is variously described as either a giant octopus, a sort of half shark-half octopoid abomination, or a squid-eel combination, and is said to lurk within the extensive underwater cave systems of the blue holes. The Lusca is said to attack swimmers and even boats, sucking them down beneath the waves to be eaten within the dark caves. Missing swimmers, underwater cave divers, and even flotsam of wrecked boats floating in the water have all been blamed on the Lusca. Purported victims of Lusca attacks who survived their encounters have told of being grabbed by tentacles, and some have even reported welts reminiscent of sucker marks on their bodies after being attacked.
One of the hallmarks of a Lusca attack, according to witnesses, is that the water will often bubble or roil beneath the victim just before they are sucked under. This unique detail has caused speculation that rather than a giant octopoid monster, the victims could be succumbing to spontaneous whirlpools that are created when rapid tidal changes draw water through the blue holes. Such whirlpools would certainly resemble the phenomenon of boiling water just before an attack, and they would surely be capable of pulling people under. However, such whirlpools certainly would not account for the actual sightings of the the monstrous Lusca itself, nor would it account for the mysterious sucker marks on victims. The Lusca remains a curious mystery.
The island of Andros holds mysteries on land as well as in the sea. Stories have long circulated among the islanders here of a large mystery bird known locally as the Chickcharney, which is only sighted within the ancient pine forests of Andros Island. The Chickcharney is said to have an appearance very much like an owl, and is typically described as being around 3 feet tall and covered with fine feathers that resemble fur. The creature is said to have three fingers, three toes, and large, piercing red eyes situated on a head that allegedly has the ability to turn around nearly 360 degrees. There is also often mention of a prehensile tail that helps the arboreal birds to climb in the trees where they make their homes. Chickcharney nests are reportedly composed of the tops of two pine trees tied together.
Chickcharnies feature heavily in the folklore of Andros, where they are said to be elfin humanoid creatures that merely resemble birds rather than actual birds. The creatures are known to be very mischievous and on occasion quite aggressive. It is said that if a traveler happens to come across a Chickcharney, it would be wise to treat it kindly. Those who treat the Chickcharney well and show respect are said to be rewarded with good luck, while those who don’t, or even worse those who laugh at the creature, will meet with bad luck and hard times. If the Chickcharney is especially offended, it is said that the creature will violently and forcibly twist the persons neck all the way around. Andros islanders once were so wary of Chickcharnies that they often carried brightly colored flowers or pieces of cloth in order to charm the creatures and dissuade them from attacking or causing trouble.
One legendary story of the wrath of Chickcharnies involves a former Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain. According to the tale, Chamberlain took over his father's plantation in the Bahamas and upon arriving did a large amount of rampant land clearing. Unfortunately for him, some of the decimated vegetation had been home to Chickcharnies, which immediately sought revenge. The planation was a failure and financial disaster in the end, and locals have long attributed this misfortune to the vindictive Chickcharnies wreaking havoc.
Despite the various folkloric connections, sightings of the Chickcharney persist right up into the modern day. Interestingly, the creature may have a basis in fact. Andros was once the home of a large, flightless species of owl that closely matches descriptions of the Chickcharney, both in terms of appearance and of size. Tyto pollens was a large, 1 meter tall (3.3 feet) burrowing owl related to the barn owl that once inhabited Andros island and coexisted with early colonial settlers until it supposedly went extinct in the 16th century due to hunting and rampant destruction of its habitat by new settlers of the island. Although Tyto pollens was flightless and not known to be arboreal, its similarity in appearance and historical presence on the island mean that a surviving population could certainly account for modern reports.
Columbus's Mystery Serpent
The Bahamian island known as Isabela is also home to a rather curious historical oddity. It seems that during his journey to the New World, Christopher Columbus himself killed a mysterious serpent here. Columbus's diary entry for October 21, 1492 described how the explorer killed and later skinned a 5 foot long creature described as a "serpent," that he had seen in a lake on the island. The next day, a similar serpent was reportedly killed in another lake on the island by Martin Alonso Pinzon, who was captain of one of the ships under Columbus's command.
Sadly, both specimens were never properly preserved so it is impossible to know just what kind of animals were killed. Further complicating matters is the rather loose definition of the word "serpent" in the vernacular of the era. In Columbus's day, the term "serpent" could be applied not only to large snakes, but to practically anything large and reptilian. Crocodilians, lizards, and even mythical dragons were all equally known to be referred to as serpents. This muddies the waters a bit when searching for an answer to the mysterious diary entry because Columbus could have killed an actual serpent by our understanding of the word, which is to say a giant snake, or it could have been a large type of lizard, a crocodile or alligator, or who knows what else. Considering that the entry offers frustratingly few details, it is impossible to say.
An expedition led by Florida State Museum's assistant curator, Bill Keegan, in 1987 uncovered the remains of an alligator in the ruins of a village on Isleta believed to have been visited by Columbus. It was suggested that the serpent described by Columbus may have actually been an alligator, which were previously unknown to have ever inhabited the Bahamas and so making it a rather interesting find in its own right. If alligators existed at one time n the Bahamas, it could mean that they were merely imported from elsewhere, but could also represent an unknown population of the animal's historical range or even a new species. However, the presence of alligator bones in a village that Columbus just happened to have visited is far from concrete evidence to link the alligator remains to the diary entry, and so what exactly was killed on that day long ago remains a mystery.
Columbus would later go on to log yet another mysterious sighting in the Caribbean when in September 1494, while sailing along the east coast of the Dominican Republic, he and his crew apparently sighted what was described as a gigantic turtle the size of a whale, with a long tail and fins on its sides. The enormous creature apparently was keeping its head out of the water. The Dominican Republic lies on the island of Hispaniola, and giant turtles are not the only mysterious creatures that would call this place home. In fact, let's make Hispaniola our next stop on our cryptid Caribbean cruise.
Be sure to check out Cryptids of the Caribbean Part 3: Hispaniola. Coming soon!