Every culture passes down fantastic tales of legendary monsters. Usually these add up to no more than ridiculous storytelling. (See: Every Egyptian legend.) But sometimes these mythical animals are actually found to be real ... as in the following cases.
Vietnamese Lake Monster
In the 15th century, the emperor of Vietnam was out for a boat ride across a Hanoi lake. As Vietnamese emperors are known to do, he was waving around a sword given to him by a magic turtle god. Suddenly, an enormous turtle-shaped monster roared from the depths. Showing a complete lack of the goodwill for which Vietnamese turtles are known, the monstrous reptile grabbed the sword and swam away. Despite a search, neither the turtle nor the sword was ever found, and citizens probably assumed the emperor lost his sword playing some 1400s version of "Yu-Gi-Oh!"
Scientists considered the existence of the turtle to fall into the category of "cryptozoological." That is, until 1998, when a monstrous 6-foot turtle was caught on film at the same lake. The turtle had somehow managed to evade observation, despite living in a lake that was only 200m x 600m, and a shallow 2 meters deep. The Hoan Kiem turtle is down to its last few members, and there have been considerable efforts to mate them. Which just goes to prove that the only way to land a mate is to poke your head out of your shell.
In the 1860s, the Smithsonian received a peculiar delivery: the skin and skull of an 8-foot long yellow bear. Unable to verify the identity, or even if it was a hoax, researchers boxed up the skin and skull for later examination.
Then they forgot about the box for over 50 years, which makes one wonder about the smell of their storage facility.
This is a grizzly-polar bear hybrid. The thought that a ferocious polar bear and a fierce grizzly could produce a super-bear offspring has long been speculated by some of the less-boring scientists. In 1918, a doctor found the dusty old storage container that held the skull and skin and did some research. He concluded that the oft-supposed grizzly-polar-bear hybrid was real, or at least had been. He also probably concluded that when you combine a ferocious man-eating beast with a different ferocious man-eating beast, all you get is a boring new color of ferocious man-eating beast.
When Darwin came to his conclusions on the origins of modern species, his suggestions were received with more civility than those of any executed astronomer. That isn't to say that some of his theories weren't regarded with contempt. Of particular ridicule was his theory that eventually fish had walked out of the sea and said, "Hey, let's try to evolve. Start by killing that slow guy." This polarized scientists at the time. Some believed that fish did evolve into walking modern life; others thought that Darwin was crazy. However, the important thing was that Darwin's theory was next to impossible to prove. Because it alleged that fish left the sea 65 million years ago, the odds of finding a missing link fossil, or a specimen that had lived unevolved for 65 million years, were virtually nil.
In 1938, a peculiar fish was found off the east coast of South Africa. Scientists examined the fish, excitedly, and soon learned two important facts. First, due to a lack of natural competition or limited resources, the fish had not evolved in 65 million years. Second, the fish had bendable limbs.
Interestingly, the second species of coelacanth ever discovered was first found in 1998 at an Indonesian fish market . The surprises never stop at Asian fish markets.
This took place in 1798. To set the story, we have to summarize what life was like in 1798, and we can do it with one sentence:
In 1798, life was so boring that stitching together dead animals and then mailing them to animal scientists was actually a pretty fun hobby.
So when animal expert George Shaw received a beaver carcass with a duck's beak and weird spurs on its legs, he naturally assumed that someone had sewn together parts of many animals as a hilarious gag. Shaw even cut up the skin with scissors, looking for stitches.
By 1800, reports of this new creature were coming in from sources too respected to ignore. Eventually, researchers were able to capture and examine the previously unknown platypus. What they found left them doubting their own eyes. With a beaver's body and a duck's beak, the platypus might be the most eccentric animal on Earth, at least until the dolphins rise up and do something freaky. The platypus is one of only five or six venomous mammal species on Earth. It stores fat in its tail (sort of like Chloe Kardashian). Pretty much, the platypus is freaky, as if evolution had somehow spawned an entire race of post-op Joan Rivers.
The African Unicorn
In equatorial Africa lies a strip of land where "one of the most dreary spots on Earth" is a compliment, as it implies there might be somewhere worse. It's always humid and hot, with huge storms happening nearly every day. The rugged, remote terrain is why western scientists didn't start exploring and documenting the area until the late 19th century, upon hearing legends of a unicorn in the region.
Reports of sightings caused quite a stir as they reached the press. First it was described as a donkey, then a zebra. Other scientists claimed it was a giraffe. Still others claimed that Africa must be an awesome place to find drugs growing wild.
Now called an okapi, this partially striped animal is actually a species of giraffe. In 1901, a carcass was finally sent for photography, which caused a media sensation at the time. The nocturnal animal finds food by forging through brush for greens. Its main means of survival is, apparently, making the other animals laugh at it while it runs away.
While exploring Sierra Leone in 480 B.C., Hanno the Navigator described a "tribe of hairy women." Explorations in the 19th century returned reports of an extremely strong, hostile group of extra-large people. Attempts to communicate were met with aggression, not unlike interviewing Gary Busey.
Eventually, these "hairy people" were trapped and identified as a different species: the gorilla. Mistaking them for hirsute humans is probably related to the fact that gorillas share an estimated 98.4 percent of their DNA code with humans. Still, one has to wonder whether Hanno the Navigator would have called Hellboy a "red, horny people." It's weird that a guy with perception this bad ever came to be known as "the Navigator."
Norse sailors would often recount horrific tales of a giant octopus-like creature surfacing and attacking their ship. Reports stated that the boat would be rocked by this giant beast, and a tentacle could slap a sailor overboard. As time passed, myth-telling made the creature an enormous sea monster, waiting to swallow unwary sailors with absolutely no warning (as if guys in old wooden boats in the middle of the ocean need more stuff to worry about).
For many years, historians assumed that these sailors were exaggerating sightings of a giant squid, which can grow up to 13 meters long. Scarily enough, they were wrong: There's something down there even bigger than a giant squid, and it's called a "colossal squid". It wasn't until 2003 that a complete specimen of this aquatic beast was discovered.
The colossal squid might be the scariest thing lurking in the deep, dark ocean. Wider and longer than a giant squid, the colossal squid's tentacles have hooks that swivel and have multiple barbed ends. Apparently, this thing only rises up to scare Vikings, soiling their reputation worse than Brett Favre.
All of these animal rumors were once considered unbelievable, but they all turned out to be true. One can only speculate as to which legendary beasts of today will eventually be discovered as real.