Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Cuchivilu" the snake-pig


Nahuelito is not alone (posted Here); it is merely the most famous of the Patagonian lake monsters. There are many other lakes and streams boasting their own creatures, as well as more native legends about strange aquatic beings.

Mapuche myths describe several “small-sized” water beings; we have already mentioned the Camahueto "unicorn" and "Trehuaco" but there are many others. Today we will write about the"Cuchivilu" of Chiloé Island.


"Cuchivilu" stamp, inspired on an image by Ashton.
From [2]
. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

Its name comes from the Mapuche words “cuchi”, pig and “vilu”, snake; it is a strong and unwieldy pig-like creature. It is considered a degenerate being (“piguchén”) that lives in caves by bogs and lakes.

It snorts like a pig and the upper part of its bulky body is pig-like while its rear resembles a snake. It drags itself along the sea shore destroying the fishermen’s traps and eating the fish that they hold.[1]

[1] Cavada, F., (1914). Chiloé y los Chilotes. Santiago: Impr. Universitaria. Chap. v.
[2] Ashton, J., (1890). Curious Creatures in Zoology. London: J. C. Nimmo.

Lea este post en español

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Patagonian Lakes and Rivers with monsters


Austin Whittall Map Patagonia Lakes
Map with some Northern Patagonia Lakes. Copyright © 2008 by Austin Whittall

South Patagonia lakes
Map with some Southern Patagonia Lakes. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

In this post I will try to give you some bearings regarding the location of some Patagonian lakes and rivers that are home to strange aquatic creatures.

The list below shows only some of these lakes and rivers, as more appear, I will extend the list.

Some of them have appeared as our "Lake of the week" if so, they are linked to their respective posts. Other lakes have already been posted and their "creatures" described, in those cases there is a link to the post.

Patagonian lakes and rivers with "lake monsters"
Lake Vichuquen - (34°50' S, 72°05' W)
Lake Caviahue - (37°52' S, 71°02' W)
Lake Quillen - (39º25'S, 71º19'W)
Bio Bio River at Santa Bárbara (37°39' S, 72°01' W). Creature
Toltén River - (39°11' S, 73°12' W). Creature
Lake Villarrica - (39°15' S, 72°06' W). Creature
Aluminé River at Pilo Lil - (39°35' S, 70°57' W)
Polcahue - (39° 04' S, 71° 07' W). Culebrón
Aucapan [Huaca Mamul] - (39°38’ S, 71°17' W). Creature
Lake Huechulafquen - (39°46' S, 71°23' W). More on Huechulito
Lake Paimun - (39°43' S, 71°35 W)
Lake Lolog - (40°01' S, 71° 26' W)
Lake Lacar - (40°10' S, 71°25' W)
Lake Nonthue - (40°09' S, 71°37' W). Creature Here.
Lake Maihue - (40°16'S, 72°13' W)
Lake Ranco - (40°11' S, 72°22' W)
Lake Carrilaufquen - (41°08'S, 69°27'W). Cuero
Lake Nahuel Huapi - (40°58' S, 71°20' W). Several posts on Nahuelito
Lake Llanquihue - (41°09' S, 72°47' W)
Lake Todos Los Santos - (41°06'S, 72°13' W). Lake creatures
Reloncavi Fjord area - (41°41' S, 72°26' W). Water cryptids
Lake Vidal Gormaz - (41°29' S, 71°56' W). Creature Here
Lake de Las Rocas - (42°02' S, 71°05' W). Creature Here
Lake Tagua-Tagua - (41°41' S, 72°07' W). Creature Here
Chiloé Island – various locations (42°34' S, 73°57'W)
Lake Plesiosaurio - (42°09' S, 71°24' W)
Lake Futalaufquen (42°50' S, 71°38'W)
Lake Esquel - (42°53' S, 71°04' W). Creature Here
Lake Rosario - (43°16' S, 71°20' W)
Lake Vintter / Palena (ex-General Paz) - (43°56' S, 71°31' W). Creature Here
Lake La Plata - (44°52' S, 71°48' W)
Senguer River (45°49' S, 69°40' W)
Lake Colhue Huapi - (45°30' S, 68°50' W). Creature Here
Lake el Toro - (45°31' S, 71°51' W). Creature Here
Lake Foitzick - (45°38' S, 72°05' W). Creature Here
Lake Blanco - (45°53' S, 71°13' W)
Lake Buenos Aires / General Carrera - (46°28' S, 71°34' W). Creature Here
Tamango or Chacabuco River - (47°04' S, 72°10' W)
Deseado River - (47°53' S, 65°56'W to 46°31' S, 70° 51' W)
Lake Pueyrredón / Cochrane - (47°18' S, 71°55' W)
Lake Cisnes - (48°25' S, 72°39' W). Creature Here
Lake Tar - (49°15' S; 72°00' W). Creature Here
Lake Viedma - (49°41' S, 72°00' W)
Lake Argentino - (49°58' S, 71°58' W). Creature Here
Santa Cruz River - (49°58' S). Creature Here
Strait of Magellan (Sea) - (53°7' S, 70°40' W). Creature Here
Lake Fagnano - (54°34' S, 68°00' W) (not shown in map is on Tierra del Fuego Island). Creature Here

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

The Patagonian unicorns - Part 2


Camahueto a mythical Patagonian unicorn

We have elusive proof of close contact between men and unicorns in a legendary Mapuche beast, the Camahueto, which in Mapudungun means “very bad” (cadme = very and hueto = bad).

According to the Huilliche natives of Chiloé it is a very powerful unicorn the size of a yearling calf with a single silver horn on its head. Its color is “mari”, the blue-green color of the sea.[1][2] See its image in our previous post on Camahueto.

A one year old calf is a big critter and it can weigh between 300 and 500 kg (660 – 1,100 lb.) and have a shoulder height of 122 cm (50 in.).

Camahueto is born in rivers, where its bones are sometimes found, and although at first it is the quite small, it quickly grows stronger and bigger. Once it reaches adulthood it rushes towards the sea where with its strong claws and sharp teeth it destroys ships and feeds not only on fish, but also on human flesh.[3][4]

Their riverine habitat is similar to that of the Toxodontidae. However its sea-going habits do not fit in correctly with what we know about these animals. Its carnivorous diet and claws are also very different from that of the calm grazer toxodonts.

According to Latcham the Camahueto was also known as a “sea horse”; a creature that neighed strongly, foamed at its mouth and being very large, could fit up to twelve native wizards on its back.[3]

In his opinion, this creature was the native’s distorted view of a sea elephant (Macrorhinus leoninus) which was once abundant in Chile but had been hunted to extinction. The largest member of the seal family, its long snout -40 cm (16 in.) in length- could have seemed like a horn to Huilliche; its imposing size -up to 5 m (16,4 ft.) long and 4.000 kg (8,800 lb.)- and aggressive behavior in males also resemble the fierceness and enormity of the Camahueto.

Piri Reis map and the one horned oxen

There is evidence of unicorns in an early map of Patagonia dating to six years before Magellan’s official discovery; it was drawn in 1513 by Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis who compiled it based on information garnered from Portuguese sailors.[5][6]

See my other posts on Piri Reis' map Dog Headed PatagonsMap and Giant snakes.

The South American coast though distorted is shown to a latitude beyond 50°S; a fact that, though disputed by some scholars, is taken as proof that Magellan was not the first European to sail along the Patagonian coast and that a covert Portuguese expedition had been there before him.

South America, detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: South America.
From: [7]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: Unicorn (top center), and puma (right). Unknown animal bottom center.
From: [7]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

Note: The map also shows to man-like beings, a “wild man” and an “ape” (bottom left); but we are not sure if they belong to the Patagonian region or further north. If Patagonian, is the ape a Fuegian monkey? and the “wild man” (a Hanush, Hashi, Mwono or Chilludo?) (see my post on Patagonian bigfoot and Fuegian monkey).

There is a long necked puma (see above). Beside it is the caption “Bu canaavara Sami derler” which Argentine author, Federico Kirbus in his book Enigmas, Misterios y Secretos De América translates as “They call this beast Sami” and then states that Sami is the phonetical equivalent of the animal’s current name: llama.[8]

This llama (Lama glama) is a South American cud-chewing camelid, a mammal related to camels, but smaller and without humps on its back. We believe that Kirbus is mistaken because there are no llamas in Patagonia, only a distant ancestor, the guanaco; furthermore their short stubby tails are very different from Sami’s long flexible feline-looking tail. It is very likely that Sami is a puma.

Another part of the map shows some well known Patagonian animals such as deer -maybe the Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) or the huemul- that are described as “six-horned oxen” (See the image below), a many pointed stag perhaps.

Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513).
From: [7]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

What is most interesting is a “one horned” bull-shaped unicorn that is described in a marginal note as “oxen with one horn”. Though it closely resembles the Camahueto it cannot be based on this myth because the map was drawn forty five years before the Spaniards’ first contact with the Huilliche at Chiloé. However not all agree with this interpretation; some authors believe it to be a “Bonnacon”; a mythical Asian being that resembled a bison and emitted murderously foul vapors through its rear; they could sear up to 1,5 hectares (3 acres) with their farts. It also had harmless curled horns that pointed backward.

Yet the beast on Piri Reis’ map has only one horn, not two like the Bonnacon, and it curves forward.

There are two other strange animals drawn on the map, which do not correspond to any known Patagonian beasts.

One which has a spotted hide with two long horns above its short ears, a fox-like tail, and two tusks like those of a wild boar.

Some have identified it with a llama, which is very unlikely since llamas lack both horns, tusks, spots or fox tails. Others believe that it is a mediaeval European mythical being, the Yale.

The other unknown animal, next to the six-horned beast, is described as “white-haired monsters [sic]” and drawn with a long tail, deer-like head and body, slender legs, and two long curved horns. We do not know what it is. Perhaps they are the strange horned beast that the Selk’nam described to Lucas Bridges and which we will discuss in a future post.

This map clearly places unicorns close to the Patagonian Andes in the early 1500s.

Over a century later (1630) an engraving by Matthaeus Merian,[9]the New World Landscape, depicts several animals unique to South America and it shows a weird single-horned creature that resembles a giraffe or a long-necked guanaco. Whether it was a Patagonian unicorn, we do not know. Since then the beast was not reported by any other explorers; it simply vanished.

Detail of a New World landscape showing a unicorn.
From: [9]. De Bry, J., (1630). Les grands voyages. Hanau. Part xiv, 55.

Perhaps Piri Reis’ informants had seen unicorns in Patagonia, maybe the last of a relictual group of gradually vanishing Toxodontidae, which have since become extinct.
However, the true answer may lie in a genetic quirk of deer.

Unicorns do exist

Contrary to what most believe, deer with one single antler despite being rare are not unheard of; in June 2008 a unicorn deer was spotted in a nature preserve area in Italy. A genetic defect causes only one instead of two antlers to grow centered on the creature’s head, giving it the appearance of a true unicorn. See for yourself:

one horned deer
One horned deer found in Italy.© AP. From: [10]

This makes it possible that an anomalous one-antlered Patagonian deer may have inspired the unicorn myth.[10]

The huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) is a stocky Patagonian deer that is about 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall and 1,65 m (5.4 ft.) long, and weighs between 40 and 100 kg. (88 - 220 lb.). Like all deer, males have antlers about 30 cm (1 ft.) long. Interestingly they escape persistent pursuers by swimming into lakes. They can swim with ease and are indeed an “amphibious” creature like the Camahueto.

Its habitat ranged from 34°S to the Strait of Magellan and from the Pacific Ocean to the edge of the steppe. But now, its limited and endangered population of less than 1.000 individuals lives in isolated pockets within the Chilean and Argentine Andean mountain forests.

Nowadays they are not seen by the sea nor on the steppe yet they may have at one time frequented the coast where they could have been seen by Piri Reis’ Portuguese sources: Prichard said that they were once spotted at the mouth of Deseado River on the Atlantic sea coast (47°45’ S, 65°53’ W).

Though there have not been any reports of “one horned” huemul, it is quite understandable due to the creature’s small population and endangered status. In the past, being more abundant, they could have inspired the formidable Camahueto and, must surely be the most reasonable explanation to the Patagonian unicorn myth.

The unicorn depicted in the rock-art at Cueva de las Manos, seems to uphold this idea, because the animal could be a Huemul with only one horn.

Go back to Part 1 of Patagonian Unicorns.


[1] Pérez Tello, S., (2004). Chiloé: Una isla de inmigración. El Carrete de la Sera; Periódico de la Comunidad Chilena. N° 19. 03-2004. Online.
[2] Schwarzenberg, J., and Mutizábal, A., (1926). Monografía geográfica e histórica del Archipiélago de Chiloé. Santiago. Ed. Nascimiento. pp. 87.
[3] Latcham, R., (1924). La organización social y las creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Santiago: Cervantes. pp. 611+
[4] Keller, C., (1972). Mitos y leyendas de Chile. Santiago: Jerónimo de Vivar. pp. 38.
[5] Leman Yolaç, Ayşe Afetinan, (1954). Life and Works of the Turkish Admiral Piri Reis: The Oldest Map of America. Ankara. pp. 28-34
[6] Dutch, S., (1997). The Piri Reis Map.
[7] Piri Reis. The World Map (1513) [Map]. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum. No. H. 1824.
[8] Kirbus, F., (1976). Enigmas, misterios y secretos de América… B. Aires: Editorial La Barca Gráfica.
[9] De Bry, T., (1630). [Engraving] Les grands voyages. Hanau. Part xiv, 55.
[10] Falconi, M., (2008). AP Single-horned 'Unicorn' deer found in Italy.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Patagonian Unicorns - Part 1



Camahueto a Patagonian unicorn, by Austin Whittall. Copyright © 2008 by Austin Whittall

«Now I will believe / That there are unicorns (…) »
William Shakespeare - The Tempest

English travel writer Bruce Chatwin had his fictional Father Palacios assert that there had been unicorns in Patagonia and that they had been hunted to death by the natives eight thousand years ago. He also added, mixing fact and fiction that there was proof of this at Lake Posadas, where “you will find two paintings of unicorns. One holds it horn erect […] the other is about to impale a hunter”.[1]

Chatwin was actually expressing the ideas of the heterodox Salesian priest Manuel Jesús Molina (we mentioned him in our post on Yosi), who was sure that the Paleo-Indians had hunted unicorns for several thousand years and painted them in their rock-art.

He mentions one painting that shows some men apparently hunting a unicorn, which he dated to 9,000 years BP at Arroyo Lechuza, a stream that flows into Santa Cruz River.[2]

He also documented another painting with a “Unicornium patagonicum at Cerro del indio, lago Posadas”, which is precisely the one mentioned by Chatwin. Below is a photograph of this unicorn:

unicorn Lake Posadas

Unicornio. Copyright © 2008 by Alejandro Aguado. From: [3]

These paintings located in the basin of lakes Posadas and Pueyrredón, where the arid steppe meets the Andes (47°35’ S, 71°43’ W), have been dated to some 3,850 years ago.

The unicorn according to a Patagonian travelogue is “rather faded” and in our opinion it either represents a stocky creature with a very long horn or a slender necked guanaco decapitated by weathering. The interpretation lies in the eyes of the beholder. I am skeptical.

Close by is the Cueva de las manos (Cave of Hands - 47°09’ S, 70°39’ W). A World Heritage Site of the UNESCO. It got its name from the hundreds of negative impressions of hands painted on the walls of the Rio Pinturas canyon. These red, white and black imprints date back between 9,000 and 13,500 years and are interspersed with renderings of guanaco and men hunting them, as well as later abstract designs and, monster-like matuastos.

The place is impressive. I visited it in February 2007 and took the photograph which I reproduce below. The painting seems to depict a fat guanaco-like animal with a sharp pointed horn on its head (perhaps it is a one-horned Huemul? We will get back to this in the second part of this post).

Unicorn Cueva de las manos

Unicorn at Cueva de las Manos. Copyright © 2007 by Austin Whittall

Unicorns existed

Molina described his “unicornium” as a toxodontid that had a:

long curved frontal horn, prominent thorax and the character and behavior of the rhinoceros. In Indian paintings they can be seen running to attack […] they had an amphibian life with a body adapted to an aquatic and marshy environment. The head carried a small nasal horn.[4]

However strange it may seem, Molina was right. Patagonia was once home to “one-horned” beasts belonging to the Toxodontidae family (named after its most recent member the toxodon).

Toxodon was a large hippo-like South American mammal that belonged to the now totally extinct order Notoungulata, hoofed mammals endemic to the American continent. They disappeared quite recently, some 10,000 years BP, with all the other megafauna; they co-existed with humans and are pictured on rock art in Brazil.

Among these Toxodontidae, was the paratrigodon, unearthed in the 1930s close to northern Patagonia and its relative, the trigodon; both of which had a strong frontal horn: they were unicorns! Below is a reproduction of the one-horned trigodon:


Trigodon. Copyright by The Natural History Museum, London © 2008. Michael Long. From: [6]

There were two other “unicorn” Toxodontidae; one was the small 1,5 m long (5 ft.) Adinotherium ovinum which looked like tiny rhino, and had a small dermal horn on its forehead.[7]

The other was the larger nesodon (Nesodontinae cornutus) that also had a dermal horn and whose habitat in Patagonia reached well beyond 47°S.

However, the time frame would not have allowed modern men to see either of them because they became extinct between 2 and 15 Ma. years ago. If these creatures are the ones that were painted by Paleo-Indians, this means that some of these “unicorn” Toxodontidae must have managed to survive at least until men hunted and painted them; not earlier than some 35.000 years ago.

On Monday we will continue with the second post on Patagonian unicorns.


[1] Chatwin, B., (2006). In Patagonia. B. Aires: Gráfica MPS. pp. 103.
[2] Molina, M., (1976). Op. Cit. pp. 54 and 193.
[3] Aguado Alejandro, (2009), “unicornio.100.jpg”.Bitácoras Fotográficas de Otras Patagonias. “Variados”, 13.03.2009
[5] Molina, M., (1976). Op. Cit. pp. 22.
[6] The Natural History Museum, London. Trigodon
[7] Prothero, D., et al., (2002). Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals. Baltimore: JHU Press. pp. 15.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Dinosaurs - Patagonia


Dinosaur Villa el Chocon

Dinosaur head replica at the Museo Municipal "Ernesto Bachmann". Municipality of Villa el Chocón.
Copyright © 2006. From:[1]

Long before the Andes rose out of the Pacific Ocean, long before there were "Pampas" in Argentina, huge dinosaurs rumbled across Patagonia.

In those days, the now arid Patagonian steppe was a lush humid place with swamps and forests. Warm and well watered, it was home to some of the world's greatest dinosaurs:

For instance the Giganotosaurus carolinii (Giant Southern Lizard). This carnivore was larger than the famous Tyrannosaurus rex and was unearthed at El Chocón in 1993. More remains were discovered in 2000 by Dr Philip Currie; they belonged to a beast 15 m (45 ft.) long from snout to tail, weighing nearly nine tons.

Big carnivores mean big prey. Patagonia had the world's larges herbivore dinosaurs, the Argentinosaurus huinculensis. These creatures which lived 90 million years ago measured nearly 40 m (130 ft.) long, was 8 m (26 ft.) tall and weighed 90 tons.

Their tracks can be seen at El Chocón's "Valle de los dinosaurios" (Dinosaur Valley) which in 1997 was declared a National Historic Site.

The small village of El Chocón is located 77 km (48 mi.) from the city of Neuquén, the capital of Neuquén Province in north western Patagonia (1,200 km - 745 mi. from Buenos Aires).

Many of these fossils which were discovered by chance, when a local happened to come across them in the open countryside. This makes me wonder if the natives, also found these giant bones and wove myths about them.

Further reading: go Here, the BBC's "Extreme Dinosaurs" which transcribes a program on these Patagonian giants.


[1] Municipality of Villa el Chocón.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

"Cuero" at Lake Carrilaufquen


The Cuero is a mythical Patagonian beast which I have mentioned in a previous entry on Nahuelito. I have found many references on it in lakes set well within the Andes, in the forested areas of Patagonia. But until now I had not seen it mentioned in the lakes located on the arid steppe region of Patagonia.

Yesterday while going through my old books, I came across a story called "el cuero del agua" (the water hide). It is a true story that the author, Elías Chucair compiled in 1965, it was told to him by an old man (then in his eighties) by the name of Ambrosio Meilivio who then lived in the town of Ingeniero Jacobacci.

Here is his story:[1]

"...When that disgrace happened to that fellow Ramil, I was still very young (...) he had disappeared in the water, which was hard to believe, something like that hade never happened before"

He had been "boleando" "ñandues" along the shore of Lake Carrilaufquen (41°08'S, 69°27'W) when:

"...his horse rolled and threw him along the shore of the lake (...) Ramil fell on top of something that resembled a hide that was lying by the edge of the watre, that quickly rolled him up and took him with a rolling motion into the lake"

Ramil was never seen again. Though the bodies of those who drown are thrown upon the shore, his never appeared.

laguna Carrilaufquen

Laguna Carrilaufquen.
By: Miguel Angel Muñoz Copyright © 2006. From: [2]

There are two lakes named Carrilaufquen in the area, the one mentioned in this story is the "Grande" (big), the other is the "Chica" (small).

The lake is located in the "Maquinchao basin", 20 km (12 mi.) from Ingeniero Jacobacci nearly 800 meters above sea level (half a m;ile). Its surface area is variable (and is now roughly 67 km2 - 26 sq.mi.). It is a shallow (2 m - 7 ft.) and subsaline (i.e. very slightly salty) body of water, whose name in Mapuche language means "green lake".

It has pejerrey (silverside - O. bonariensis ) and trout, and on very cold winters it freezes over for a few days.

These two lakes are the remains of a great paleo lake that had a surface area of 1,500 km2 (580 sq. mi.) which was 70 m deep (230 ft.) which was formed by the melting permafrost and glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago.[3]

Below is a map showing its location. The lake is in the central part of the map and it is spelled differently (Cari Laufquen Grande).

Laguna Carrilaufquen Map.


[1] Chucair, E., (1996) La Inglesa Bandolera y otros relatos patagónicos. General Roca: Editorial de la Patagonia. pp. 99.
[2] Muñoz, Miguel Angel. The Photograph is Here.
[3] Del Valle, R. A.; Tatur, A.; Rinaldi, C. A. Cambios en lagos y circulación fluvial vinculados al calentamiento climático del Pleistoceno tardío-Holoceno temprano en Patagonia e isla 25 de mayo, islas Shetland del Sur, Antártida. Rev. Asoc. Geol. Argent., Buenos Aires, v. 62, n. 4, dic. 2007. Online Here.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Peuquen" - a Patagonian gnome


The Peuquen are small gnomes that live in Chiloé. I have only found one reference about them, written by Guillermo Cox, in 1862. He calls them “mountain genies”.

They are in his words: “small men that are clothed in “avellano” [Gevuina avellana is a native Chilean tree] leaves… they also have a hat made from bark and an axe whose handle is of avellano.” The Peuquen lives in the forests chopping trees with its axe in this it resembles the other dwarf that the Mapuche natives place in the same region, Trauco. Yet (just like the Fuegian Yosi dwarf) it does not light fires with the wood.

Those who come across him face a nasty fate, their heads are turned around for the rest of their lives.

Pequen, like Yosi and Trauco, is a lewd and lascivious creature. It likes to have sex with women. If a child is born of these trysts, its skin is like the bark of an avellano.

The similarity between these three gnomes (Trauco, Yosi and Peuquen) is incredible considering that they are mythical creatures belonging to different groups of people (the Chilotes of Chiloé the Mapuche of northern Patagonia and the Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego) separated by thousands of miles of barren steppes and dense forests.

This may imply a common origin for this myth, which may have been inspired by a real "dwarfish" hominid.


Cox, G., (2006). Expedición de la Patagonia Norte: un viajero en el Nahuel Huapi: 1862-1863. B. Aires: Continente-Pax. pp. 67-69.

Lea este post en español

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

English libel law - a word of caution


This post is not about the usual kind of "monsters", it is about another kind of "monster", the retrograde English libel legislation that affects bloggers (like me) wherever they live, because:

It doesn’t matter where your site or blog is hosted or what language it’s in. If your site can be read in England, it’s subject to English law.

That is, if an English reader gets to access your blog, the act of downloading information or uploading the page occurs in England. It does not matter if your blog is written in another language (i.e. Spanish) if they are read by people who understand the language and are located in England, you may be sued if someone feels that you have written something defamatory.

Amazing isn't it?

See Here what happened to Simon Singh, who published an article in the Guardian newspaper a year ago in which he accused the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) of "happily" promoting "bogus" treatments. (his words not mine). BCA sued him for libel.

In this case, both BCA and Singh are English, but in another case, Mr. Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian millionaire, sued -and won- a Ukraine-based website about an article published only in Ukrainian language. Because it had been read in Britain!

So bloggers beware and don't let the English read your posts or access your blog or you may get into trouble.

More information Here, in an interesting article by The Economist.

To show that I care about science or free speech below is a banner supporting freedom of speech (click on it!):

free debate

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Patagonian wolves?


We have already mentioned the "warrah" or Malvinas-Falklands fox-wolf and the "wolfish" appearance of the Fuegian dogs.

Could there have been other warrah-like ‘wolves’ in Patagonia?

Perhaps. Magellan’s chronicler, Pigafetta mentions the word wolf (“ani”) in his vocabulary of Patagon (Tehuelche) words recorded at San Julián. Did he mean a sea wolf or a real wolf (i.e. warrah)?

Captain FitzRoy (who sailed around the world in the 1830s taking Charles Darwin with hm) was intrigued too; he wrote “what the Patagonian animal is which the Blanco Bay people called ‘wolf’, […] I cannot say: I was inclined to suspect an equivoque arising out of the word ‘lobo’, which means seal as well as wolf; but Lieut. Wickham says he saw a wolf near the Colorado River”.[1]

What Wickham probably saw was an aguará guazú whose habitat in those days extended well into northern Patagonia. Though, there is the intriguing possibility that the cryptid Andean wolf may have lived in Patagonia.

The Andean wolf

This creature was described based only on one skin found by a German named Lorenz Hagenbeck in 1927. Inspected in 1940 by Dr. Ingo Krumbiegel, he at first though it was a domestic dog gone wild, but later, after relating it to some large canid skulls that he had examined, became convinced that it was some kind of wolf so he published a paper naming it the Andean wolf (Dasycyon hagenbecki).

Below is a copy of Hagenbeck's book in which he describes his discovery:[7]

Discovery of andean wolf

The thick and long fur, its large size and short legs were very unlike those of a dog or an aguará guazú.[2] It seemed an animal adapted to live in cold and extreme environments, could it have moved down the Cordillera into Patagonia? Could it be related to the warrah?

Read more on the Andean wolf and see a photograph of its pelt in my post on Punalka.

De la Cruz, who crossed Patagonia in 1806 from Concepción in Chile, to Buenos Aires in Argentina, recorded that in Neuquén the native Peguenches [sic] told him that “there are other animals they call oop, whose body is shaped like a dog, which it resembles with its head, snout, legs and tail and with the ears of a cow; they state that the wool that covers it is like that of a sheep, a span or more in length, very soft and of a bright yellow color”.[3] It was named after its high-pitched yell –perhaps the howling of a wolf.

Regarding this creature, Argentine naturalist Estanislao Zeballos writing about it in 1870, called it “huamil” (did he mean huemul which is a variety of deer that lives in Patagonia?) and said that it had a “mysterious shout that sounded oop, name by which it was known by some Indians and under which they professed a religious respect”.[4]

Nowadays there are no wolves in Patagonia, only foxes. Furthermore, the "Andean wolf" should not be mistaken for the "Lobo Andino" (Spanish for "Andean wolf"), which is a species of fox (Pseudalopex culpaeus) whose geographic range extends from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego along the Andes and is also known as "Red fox" or "Andean fox". See photograph below.[5][6]

Andean fox

Pseudalopex culpaeus. From: [6] Copyright © Fiona Reid


[1] FitzRoy, R. Op. Cit. vii. pp. 251.
[2] Krumbiegel, I., (1950). Von neuen und unendeckten Tierarten. Stuttgart: Franckh.
[3] De la Cruz, L. (1835). Descripción de la naturaleza de los terrenos que se comprenden en los Andes, poseídos por los peguenches… B. Aires: Imprenta del Estado. pp. 25-26.
[4] Zeballos, E., (1958). La Conquista de quince mil leguas. B. Aires: Hachette. pp.230-231.
[5] The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Online Here.
[6] Sistema de Información de la Biodiversidad, which displays an image from: Redford, K., H. and Eisemberg, J., F., (1992). Mammals of the Neotropics. The southern cone. Vol. 2. Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
[7] Hagenbeck, L., (1956). Animals Are My Life London: The Bodley Head. pp. 126.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

"Trehuaco" the Mapuche water dog

Trehuaco is a Mapuche word, which in their language (Mapudungun) means “water dog” (“trehua” = dog and “” = water).

They are fierce, strong and big dog-like animals that live in lakes and rivers. Their dark fur is shiny and abundant and some believe that it was inspired by the Patagonian otter or huillin.



Folklorist Bertha Koessler-Ilg recounts a story about a “a strange dog” that some natives noticed:

swimming in the river […] that hunted fish and drove them to an opening in a rock that was placed above the river […] they had never seen a dog like that one […] it was a big ‘Trewa’”. When they tried to capture it and one Indian caught it by its foot, but the dog “bit him strongly and disappeared in the [deep] rapids

The unfortunate Indian later died from his wound.[1]

It was also called a river dog (“Leufu Trehua”) and known as “Ngaqiñ” in the north and “Ponono” in the south of Chile. Chilean folklorist Guevara described it as a mythical creature that snarled and barked, making a noise that sounded like “hera-cac”; it lived in underground caves close to the water.

Its bizarre appearance was, according to the Mapuche, “perimontun”; against the laws of nature.[2]

It was also seen in a lake by Yaldad, in the south of Chiloé Island, and described as a dark dog-like creature, with shiny hair and powerful muscles that came out of its aquatic domain to seduce and mate with the women who happened to come too close to the magic lake.[3]


[1] Koessler-Ilg, B., (2000). Cuentan los Araucanos: Mitos, leyendas y tradiciones. B. Aires: Del Nuevo Extremo. pp. 116.
[2] Guevara, T., (1925). Op. Cit. Chap. I.
[3] Cárdenas, R., (1978). Apuntes para un diccionario de Chiloé. Ediciones Aumen. pp. 85.
[4] Source Internet. Author, unknown.

Lea este post en español

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mythical "Magallanica" and the Furufuhue



Detail of the 1607 Kaerius World Map, showing an allegorical painting of Magallanica.

The allegory of "Magallanica" drawn in the 1607 World Map drawn by Kaerius, shows some interesting creatures that were believed to live in the mysterious Terra Australis south of America, in the South Polar regions.

Tierra del Fuego was then believed to be part of this unknown southern continent, and the Strait of Magellan was then thought to be the only route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Though Francis Drake had already noted in the 1570s that there may be a passage between both oceans south of Tierra del Fuego, it would be discovered in 1616 by a Dutch expedition led by Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire. They identified an island named by them Cape Horn as the southernmost tip of the Americas and the passage now known as Drake Passage.

Detail of the 1607 Kaerius World Map, showing Magallanica, a part of Terra Australis with its Terra del Fuego region and also, Patagonia just above it.

Surprisingly, "Magallanica" was not portrayed as a frozen icy realm but, quite the opposite, a balmy tropical zone.

The animals depicted in Kaerius' map are definitively not polar creatures: white elephants, a dog (or sheep? or bear?) like creature and a peculiar bird with long flowing feathers which reminds me of a mythical Patagonian bird,Furufuhue.

Furufuhue, the "wind bird"

There is a myth which explains the bitter Patagonian winds as being created by an enormous and mysterious creature resembling a cross between an eagle and a fish.

This bird is the size of a Mapuche hut and its body is covered with shiny scales instead of feathers.[1][2]

Scales are a definitively reptilian feature, which is quite strange for a bird. Furufuhue is seldom seen, but its song is heard at a great distance “even in the whole world”.[3]

[1] Noticias de Antropología y Arqueología, (2002). El Diccionario de Mitos y Leyendas. Online.
[2] Batic, L., (2005). Seres mitológicos argentinos. Diario 1. Patagonia. B. Aires: Ed. Albatros. pp 54.
[3] Alvarez, G., (1969). Donde estuvo el paraiso, del Tronador a Copáhue. B. Aires: Ed. Pehuen. pp 303.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Skepticism, science and religion


Theory of Evolution

A nice thought; Creationism should be kept inside the churches.

A skeptical entry today. As most of you know, in the U.S., there still is a debate on Evolution vs. Creationism (Believe it or not!).

Basically the situation is the following:

Evolution is the foundation of modern biology and it explains a wide range of phenomena, such as the the origin of different species by adaptation to the changing environmental pressure and microbe's resistance to antibiotics. It is a satisfactory theory and has to constantly face the challenges posed by new scientific findings.

Creationism on the other hand upholds the (non-scientific) biblical notion that God created Earth and its life forms a few thousand years ago–should, just as it is written in the Scriptures.

If religion would keep to the churches there would be no problems but, as biology is taught in schools, American creationists want their belief to get equal footing with evolution in public school science classes.

In the U.S., there is a constitutional mandate to keep religion and state separated, so there is no legal basis to teach religious beliefs at public school (ran by the state). For this reason, creationists have been trying to sell their creationism as science, and promote the idea of "intelligent design", that is: life is too complex to have evolved all by itself without divine intervention.

Their latest attempts involve penalizing teachers who do not present "objectively" the "scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory". Let wisdom prevail over religious bigotry!.

Below I add some links (See [2], [3] and [4]) to sites which give an overview of what Creationism is, what Evolutionary science is, and an interesting review of the legal controversy involved plus essays and links on both sides of the conflict.

So, I found an interesting website [1], with some cool images, which, as I quote below, proposes that those of us with a scientific and unbiased mind use sarcasm as a weapon in this silly debate:

You don't have to be an atheist to want to keep science in science class, and sporting one of these graphic tees sarcastically urging schools to teach other pseudosciences, myths and discredited theories is a fine way to show your pro-science stance. Darwin would be proud! Humorous geek friendly apparel intelligently designed by Jeremy Kalgreen.

Below are some of the images that you can print on your T-shirts. I disagree regarding cryptozoology, which in my previous posts (Here and Here) explained that should be considered scientific.


Some "cute" Cryptids and "monsters" (which are not science according to: Teach the Controversy. From: [1]

And here is a group of other non-scientific stuff:

this is not science?

Teach the Controversy images of pseudoscientific junk. From: [1]

I hope that you enjoyed the post, and that I have not hurt your religious feelings. The fact is that, quoting the Bible:

Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

Which I interpret as follows: Let science delve in things scientific, and religion in its own religious field.

Sources and further reading.

[1] Teach the Controversy. See it Here.
[2] Intelligent Design network. Online Here.
[3] Evolution, Theory and Science. Online Here.
[4] The Evolution Controversy. Online Here.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

The Patagon, Patagonia Giants – Part 3 (last part)


Measured at last: tall but not gigantic

In 1767, Captain Samuel Wallis took the HMS “Dolphin” back to Patagonia and actually measured the tallest natives with a rod. He proved that they were tall but not giants: “one of these was six feet seven inches high [2.01 m], several more were six feet five, and six feet six inches high [1,96 to 1,98 m]; but the stature of the greater part of them was from five feet ten to six feet [1,78 to 1,83 m]”.[1]

He also the first to point out that their feet were “remarkably small”;[1] putting in doubt the myth about big footed Patagons.

That same year French Explorer Louis de Bougainville commented on their “good height” and strong but not gigantic build.[2]

Spanish Admiral Alonso de Cordova measured them accurately in 1785/6, and found that the tallest did not exceed 2 m (6 ft. 7 in.) and that their average height was between 1,83 and 1,97 m (6 – 6 ft. 6 in.).[3]

Jesuit Father Falkner also wrote about a Tehuelche chief, by the name of Cangapol, who was “seven feet and some inches tall” [over 2.10 m], yet he noted that he “never heard about that nation of giants mentioned by others” despite having seen members of all the southern tribes;[4] except the tall and stout Buta-Guillín who may have been the “real” giants.

It appears that during the closing years of the eighteenth century, Illuminism and modern science marked a change: the giants suddenly disappeared from Patagonia and were replaced by very tall men –humans not giants.

In 1780, Spanish official, Antonio de Viedma, who explored the Patagonian coast, reported their height was between two varas and nine palms, that is 1,63 to 1,89 m (5.3 to 6.2 ft.). He believed that their build “thick in proportion to their height” and the fact that they wore bulky guanaco furs as clothes, may have fueled the stories that depicted them as giants.[5]

In 1826, English Captain Phillip Parker King noted that the natives’ height was “between five feet ten and six feet [1.78 – 1.83 m]”.[6]

Captain FitzRoy, who was accompanied to Patagonia by Charles Darwin (of evolutionary fame), wrote in 1833 that they were “a tall and extremely stout race of men” of which very few measured less than “five feet nine or ten” [1,75 -1,78 m].[7] Once again tall but not gigantic.

Alcide D’Orbigny, a French naturalist also measured them at the Rio Negro River in 1828 found them shorter: 1,73 cm [5 ft. 8 in.].[8]

Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno attributed D’Orbigny’s low height to the fact that he mistook shorter Pampa natives for real Patagon Tehuelche. Moreno’s measurements of pure blooded Tehuelche gave a greater figure: their average height was 1,86 m [6 ft. 1 in.].[9]

George Musters, an Englishman who travelled with them for over a year in 1870 estimated the mean height of the Aonikenk Tehuelche in his group as “five feet and ten inches [1,78 m]”.[10] He also gave an explanation for their “big” feet myth:

hide overshoes are worn [besides their horse skin boots] and the footprints thus made are really large enough to convey the idea of giant’s feet, and partly explain the term ‘Patagón’, or large feet.[10]

He also noted that their “feet […] were frequently smaller than mine”. This definitively debunked the “big feet” myth.

giant Patagon woman and child

English sailor giving a giant Patagon woman a biscuit for her child.
From: [11]. Anon. Front Plate.

Was there a tribe of giants?

So, we have seen that there is conflicting evidence. Some explorers saw men of gigantic proportions; others saw tall and well built men, but not giants. What can we make out out of this?

There is no doubt that the Tehuelche people are of a great height, comparable to that of the Sudanese Dinka, the Dutch and Croatians, who nowadays are the tallest people on Earth.

To XVIth century Europeans, the tall Tehuelche must have appeared enormous. At that time, the average height of northern Europeans was barely 1,67 m (5 ft. 6 in.) and southern Europeans were even shorter (1.5 m or 5 ft.). When face to face with men over 30 cm (1 ft.) taller than them, they must have been very impressed and indubitably would have called them giants.

Unfortunately, the Tehuelche as a race disappeared in the late XIXth century; the proud, strongly built and tall natives of the Patagonian steppes are now only a memory. But, as reported by Van Noort, Frezier and Byron, the Tehuelche were not alone; there was another group, gigantic and warlike, the Tiremenen.

Could they have been the bearded bellicose Caucauhue seen by De Rueda and not reported by any other explorer since 1641?

Though contrary to contemporary mainstream anthropologists’ views who do not record any tribe of gigantic stature in the region, we believe that there may be some truth underlying van Noort’s Tiremenen.

It may be possible that they were a tribe of slowly vanishing giant men; a group of “foot-Indians” unable to compete with the horse riding Tehuelche. They were probably weakened by illnesses borne by the first European explorers, against which they had no defenses (small-pox, measles or even the common cold). Both factors –illness and war- forced them to retreat away from the coast where they had first been seen by the Europeans, into the Andes, their last bastion against their fierce Tehuelche enemies.

They somehow managed to survive until the late 1700s when they were last seen, and after bloody battles with the Southern Tehuelche groups (Aonikenk), they quite suddenly disappeared.

We find corroboration of this hypothesis in the reports of the XIXth century Patagonian explorers:

Ned Chace, an American who lived in Patagonia between 1898 and 1929 had heard from contemporary natives of “Indians in Patagonia different from the Tehuelches, bigger than they, and hostile to them”.[49] Unlike the Tehuelche who used boleadoras (for information on these stone weapons, see our post on Tachwüll), they used the same stone tipped arrows and “bola perdida” that the Paleo-Indians –and Pigafetta’s Patagons- had employed. This clearly indicates their pedestrian way of life (bow and arrows are difficult to use while riding a horse).

He also had heard of the killing of the last of these giant Indians, which had been “caught by the Tehuelches in a cave near Gallegos and smoked to death there”.[12]

Chace was sure that they were giants because he had dug up some old graves and in one found a very large leg bone that when rested on the ground “came two inches [5 cm] above his knee. Chace was 5 ft. 11 in. tall [1,80 m]” so the bones were indeed large.[12]

There are however true and reliable reports on ancient stories of terrible battles fought in Southern Santa Cruz, where tribe decimated tribe; these may reflect the dying throes of the giant Tiremenen.

Italian explorer Giacomo Bove in 1881 wrote that a local “gaucho” (Argentine cowboy) named García told him that while driving cows through southern Santa Cruz, he came across “a valley full of bones”; they were gigantic, and human, belonging to “an extinguished race […] a nation of men with colossal skeletons”.[13]

Argentine explorer Ramón Lista heard similar tales from the Aonikenk and wrote about some caves along the middle course of the Gallegos River, which he believed “may be the homes of a race defeated by the Tehuelche”.[14]

Carlos M. Moyano, an officer of the Argentine navy had already explored these caves in 1886, reporting that the ground was strewn with their bones, his native guide told him that it was a place where, “many Indians of ‘yore’ had fought”. [15]

Coinciding with Chace’s comments, Moyano noted that one of the caves was known as the “grotto of the asphyxiated”.

The succinct evidence mentioned above hints that, after all, there could be some truth in the myth of the Patagonian giants, the Tiremenen, proud members of a bellicose tribe that quietly vanished from the face of the Earth after being vanquished by their fellow Tehuelche. Their bones turning to dust by the Gallegos River.

My humble homage to them is this “unofficial stamp”:

Patagon - Stamp

My homage to the great Patagones, a stamp. Copyright © 2007 by Austin Whittall

Previous posts:
Read about Giants - Part 1.
Read about Giants - Part 2.


[1] Hawkesworth, J., (1773). Op. Cit. pp.68
Ibid. pp. 374.
[2] De Bougainville, L., (2004). Viaje alrededor del mundo: en la fragata real Boudeuse y el Etoile. B. Aires: Continente. pp. 53.
[3] de Cordoba, A., (1820). A voyage of discovery to the Strait of Magellan…. London: Printed for Sir R. Phillips. pp. 85+
[4] Falkner, T., (2008). Descripción de Patagonia y de las partes adyacentes de la América meridional. B. Aires: Continente. pp. 52 and 117.
[5] de Viedma, A., De Angelis, [Comp] (1837). Diario de un viaje a la costa de Patagonia, para reconocer los puntos en donde establecer poblaciones. B. Aires: Imprenta del Estado. pp. 68.
[6] King, P. P., (1839). Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle… London: Henry Colburn. pp. 96.
[7] FitzRoy, R., (1839). Op. Cit. v.ii. pp. 134-5.
[8] D’Orbigny, A., (1999). Viaje por la América meridional II. Buenos Aires: Emecé. pp. 305.
[9] Moreno, F., (2007). Exploración de la Patagonia Sur II: el lago Argentino y los Andes meridionales. 1877. B. Aires: Continente. pp. 114.
[10] Musters, G. Op. Cit. pp. 153+
[11] Anon. “English sailor giving a giant Patagon woman a biscuit for her child”. (1769). [Engraving]. In Byron, J., Gómez Ortega, C. [Ed.] (1769). Viage del comandante Byron alrededor del... Madrid: Real Gazeta. Front Plate.
[12] Le Moyne Barrett, R., and Barrett K., (1931). A Yankee in Patagonia, Edward Chace. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 89 - 90.
[13] Bove, G., (2005). Expedición a la Patagonia: un viaje a las tierras y mares australes 1881-1882. B. Aires: Continente. pp 16-7.
[14] Lista, R., (2006). Viaje a la Patagyonia Austral (1879). Los indios tehuelches. Una raza que desaparece (1894). B. Aires: Continente-Pax. pp. 86.
[15] Moyano, C., (1999). Exploración de los rios Gallegos, Coile, Santa Cruz y Canales del Pacífico. B. Aires: Ed. Confluencia. pp. 25 - 32.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Chica", Patagonia's other name


1562 map Gutierrez

Diego Gutiérrez - 1562 map. From: [4]

As the map above shows, in 1562, the northern part of Patagonia was known as "Chica". This is the oldest reference that I have been able to find that includes this strange name.

The word, in Spanish, means "small" and as nouns have a gender in that language, it is the femenine "small", for if it would be masculine, it would be "chico". But why would a large territory be be named "small"? The answer must lie elsewhere.

We know for certain that a Spanish soldier named Joan de Chica was killed by the natives in what is now Chilean Patagonia in 1558 while fighting for Governor Francisco de Villagrán.[6] Could the name have been bestowed in his honor? We have not been able to ascertain this.

Another theory states that it is an incorrect spelling of the word "Chile", in Francesco Ghisolfo's 1562 Atlante Nautico map.[7] I have seen a poor definition version of the map (Here) and can not be sure if it is so.

Below is a map published in 1575 by André Thevet (who wrote about the Succarath; it included "Chica", located to the north of Patagona [sic] Region des Geants (Patagona region of giants).

Thevet map 1575

Andre Thevet - 1575 map.From: [3]

Cornelius Wyfliet published in 1597 the first map of Chica and its title was Chica sive Patagonia et Australis terra, which means: Chica that is, the land of Patagonia and the Southern land. It can be seen online Here.

Other maps also mention "Chica", such as those done by: Hulsium (1599), Mercator (1608), Koerius (1614), Bertius (1616), Brahe (1630), Piscator (ca. 1639), Valk (1654), Goos (1654), L'Isle (1703), Lapie (1816), Brué (1816), Collin (1828) among others.[2]

Hondius included it in his 1608 and 1623 maps, but in the 1631 edition he eliminated the name from his map. Furthermore, it was often spelt incorrectly as "Chicha" such as the Ptolomeus printed in Venice in 1598.[5]

German geographer Philip Cluverius in his "Introductionis in universam Geographiam" dated 1611, mentions different parts of South America such as Peru, Chile and includes Chica.[1]

Somehow, the name "Patagonia" was preferred and gradually replaced Chica, which disappeared from the maps as Patagonia expanded northwards towards the Pampas.

Could the name have originated from the word "Charcas" which was part of what is now Bolivia? or from the word "Chicha", an alcoholic beverage that the natives made by chewing corn and letting it ferment? It will remain a mystery.

See our post on the origin of the name "Patagonia".


[1] Roccatagliata, J., (1988) La Argentina: geografía general y los marcos regionales. B. Aires: Planeta. pp. 501.
[2] Deharis, F., J., (2006). Contribución a la cartografía de Patagonia o Chica desde 1519 a 1900: Río Negro Argentina. pp. 33.
[3] Thevet's map. Online Here.
[4] Diego de Gutierrez (1562)Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio [North and South America]. Online Here.
[5] Levene, R., (1939). Historia de la nación argentina: (desde los orígenes hasta la organización definitiva en 1862). B. Aires: El Ateneo. Vol 4. Part 2. pp. 200.
[6] de Vivar, J. Crónica de los reinos de Chile. Chapter CXIX.
[7] Martínez J., (1967). Atlas manuscrito en la Biblioteca Nacional. Investigaciones y ensayos, Academia Nacional de la Historia (Argentina). Buenos Aires. No. 3, 1967. pp 109+

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Patagons. A map from 1669

Below I copy a part of Alexis Hubert Jaillot's 1669 map (Nova Totius Americae sive novi orbis tabula...).

It shows the southern tip of South America.

Once again (as in my previous post) Patagonia is called Chica.

Three tall Patagon natives can be seen (beside the caption "Patagons") towering over two Europeans.

Above them, but out of Patagonia, in what is now central Argentina, a bear-like animal can be seen (in front of a wolfish dog and a jaguar?).

old map and Patagons

Alexis Hubert Jaillot's 1669 map (Nova Totius Americae sive novi orbis tabula...) - Patagons and Europeans.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Ancient map depicting a Succarath

old map showing a Succarath

Detail of a 1635 Map Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
Showing Patagones and what seems to be a Succarath

This is a small part of the 1635 map Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in which two Patagones can be seen. Note that Patagonia was named Chica; this intrigued me, so I have done a little research on this matter and posted Here my findings.

Notice the strange animal to their right. It has a long fluffy tail, and seems to be carrying its young on its back.

Could it be a Succarath?

See my previous post on Succarath Here.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Lake Rosario - Lake of the week

lake of the week

Lake Rosario, also known as the Laguna del Toro Negro (Lake of the black bull) it is just south of the Argentine town of Esquel in the province of Chubut (43°16’ S, 71°20’ W).

Set on the edge of the steppe its shores are surrounded by ñire forests and with the mighty Andes are its backstage. See it in the lower central part of the map above.

It is quite shallow (55 m – 187 ft.) and small (14.5 km2 – 5.6 sq. mi.); it flows into the Pacific Ocean through Chile through the Futaleufú river.

map of Esquel area

Map of Esquel area. See Footnote[*].

The local natives tell an ancient tale about a fierce black bull that lived by the lake that killed the son of an Indian chief who had tried to hunt it. The grieving chief in turn killed the bull, which, even dead, can often be heard howling and “seen swimming in the lake”.[1]

The lake is also said to have a Cuero (see our post on Cuero)and a mermaid “sirena” - (see our post on Mermaids).


[1] Fernández, C., (1995). Cuentan Los Mapuches. B. Aires: Ediciones Nuevo Siglo. pp. 70.

For a lovely photograph of Lake Rosario, go Here.

Map adapted from: Nuevo Atlas de la Argentina © Cases i Associats S.A. 1995. Published by Clarin. Edición especial para la Secretaría de Turismo de la Nación 1996. ISBN 987 9153 00 6.

Legal stuff:
Regarding Copyright of third parties, please see my FAIR USE NOTICE (items 13.a and 13.b) at our Terms and Conditions page. Thank you.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Real Creatures - Pouched Lamprey


weird but real animals

Another strange but real animal that can be found in Patagonia is the Pouched Lamprey or Geotria australis Gray, shown in the image below.

Patagonian lamprey

Pouched Lamprey (Geotria australis). From [1].

This lamprey lives only in the Southern Hemisphere, in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina (just like the Nothofagus trees, it is a relict of the ancient continent of Gondwana).

It is an anadromic species, that is, it breeds in fresh water and then migrates to the sea where it lives and matures.

This lamprey can be found in Patagonia, both in Chile and Argentina and its average length is about 50 cm (20 inches).

They swim upstream to breed (like salmons) and sometimes they exit the water by wriggling up the bank to bypass obstacles to migration. During their brief life as adults in freshwater, they stop feeding and die shortly after spawning.[3][4]

It is vulnerable to the salmonids (brown, rainbow, brook trout and salmon) that were introduced into Patagonia in the early 1900s.

Argentine Explorer Ramón Lista, was the first to report them in Lake Argentino, Lake Nahuel Huapi in the 1880s.[2]


[1] Photograph in an Online Gallery Here, the original source is: Pez Raro del Limay - Novedades, see it Here.
[2] Berg, C.,(1895) Sobre peces de agua dulce nuevos ó poco conocidos de la República Argentine. Anales del Museo Nacional de Buenos Aires. B. Aires: Imprenta Juan Alsina. Vol. IV. pp. 5.
[3] Geotria Australis
[4] Geotria Australis Gray 1851

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

The Patagon, Patagonia Giants – Part 2


We have seen in our previous post that giant people were reported by Magellan when he discovered Patagonia; those who followed him also saw men of enormous height. These sightings continued in the XVIth century:

In 1614 Dutch Privateer Joris van Spilbergen saw at the Strait of Magellan, “a human being of very big stature”.[1]

The following year, Jacques Le Maire and, Willem Corneliszoon Schouten also dug up some stone cairns that they had found on the hills at Puerto Deseado (see engraving below) and found “the skeletons of men’s bodies ten or eleven feet long [3,05 – 3,35 m]”.[2]

The next to report of giants were Spanish officers, Bartolomé and Gonzalo García del Nodal in 1618; one of their crew informed that on Tierra del Fuego there was “a race of men taller, by the head, than the Europeans”.[3]

Giant bones at Puerto Deseado
Graves of giants. Detail of a map of Puerto Deseado (1615).
From: [4]. De Bry, Theodor. “America”, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. The map’s caption “H” reads: “Graves with skeletons of very tall human beings, with bones 10 to 11 feet, their skulls, once opened, could be placed on our heads as if they were helmets.”

The image of gigantism was strengthening with each new report, however some explorers failed to sight them. For instance in 1623-24 Jacques L’Hermite, reported that the Fuegians he saw “were not larger than the inhabitants of Europe”.[5] We know that this was quite likely because the Alakaluf and Yaghan boat men were much shorter than the Selk’nam foot-Indians seen by the Nodales.

In 1641, General Dionisio de Rueda, governor of Chiloé while sailing south towards the Strait of Magellan fought at Los Pabellones with the local natives, the Caucauhue, “gigantic people” of a very belligerent nature.[6]

After this expedition, a Rio de los Gigantes (River of Giants) began appearing on maps, flowing into the Pacific Ocean south of Taitao Peninsula.

These giants would be incorporated into a very detailed map of South America prepared by the Spanish cartographer Juan de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla in 1775. It contained a Valle de los Gigantes (Valley of Giants) close to Puerto Bueno in southern Chile (50°59’ S, 74°13’ W) and a Bahia de los Gigantes (Bay of Giants) in Tierra del Fuego.[7]

Returning to our chronology, in 1642, Dutch Admiral Henry Brewer saw at the Strait of Le Maire, Tierra del Fuego, “footsteps of men that measured eighteen inches. [45,7 cm]”.[3]

English explorer, Sir John Narbrough who wintered at San Julián in 1670, described the natives as “people of average height and well shaped (…) Mr. Wood [his second in command] was taller than any of them”.[8]

It is evident that he did not come across any giants. Neither did François Froger, a member of Jean-Baptiste de Gennes’ unsuccessful 1696 expedition to colonize the Strait of Magellan. The men that they encountered though big were not taller than six feet [1,83 m].[5]

Contradictory reports kept arriving. In 1704, Captain Harrington commander of the “James” a ship from Saint-Maló France “saw seven of these giants in Gregory Bay” on the Strait of Magellan;[9] Captain Eon de Carman, of the “Saint-Pierre”, also from Saint-Maló, reported seeing giants too.

In 1714, Frenchman Amédée Frezier in his book, Relation Du Voyage De La Mer Du Sud Aux Cótes Du Chili Et Du Pérou, said that he was told by Don Pedro Molina y Valiente, governor of Chiloé Island, that there was an Indian nation in Patagonia whose men, known as Caucahue “were more than four varres high [3,25 m - 10.7 ft.]”.[10]

At that time, French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon rang a skeptical bell, noting that the reports on giants were “fraught with exaggerations” and added that it was doubtful that such a race of giants really existed.[9]

John Bulkeley, who sailed with Admiral Anson’s fleet and was shipwrecked on the HMS “Wager” in 1741 on the southern Chilean coast, wrote an account upon returning to England reporting Indians “of a gigantick [sic] Stature”.[11] However, he was rebutted by another member of the same fleet, Thomas Pascoe, who declared that these “wild and gigantick [sic] Cannibals” were in fact “harmless, civil, inoffensive people; of a middling stature”.[12]

John Byron, grandfather to the famed poet, was midshipman on the ill fated HMS “Wager” did not see any giants at that time, perhaps because he was stranded among the smaller Alakaluf or Chono people. However Byron would return to the Patagonia twenty years later as commander of the HMS “Dolphin”, and on that occasion he did meet Indians “of a gigantic stature […] monsters in a human shape”.[5]

When the “Dolphin” got back to England in 1766, the stories of the crew began a giant craze in Europe. One of the officers, Charles Clerke wrote a letter to the Royal Society detailing his encounter with gigantic Patagonians at the Strait of Magellan where he saw:

them examined and measured by Mr. Byron. He represents them in general as stout and well-proportioned, and assures us that none of the men were lower than eight feet [2,44 m], and that some even exceeded nine [2,74 m], and that the women were from seven feet and a half to eight feet [2,29 to 2,44 m ].[13]

He said that Captain Byron who was a tall man nearly six feet tall [1.83 m], had to stand on tip-toe and stretch his arm in order to reach the top of a native’s head.[3]

Byron himself wrote that one of his officers, Mr. Cumming was astonished “upon perceiving himself, though six feet two inches high [1,88 m], become at once a pigmy among giants; for these people may indeed more properly be called giants than tall men”.[14]

Although many questioned and discredited Byron’s reports, he was quite certain of what he had seen and in 1771 he wrote a letter providing an explanation to why he had not met the giants while marooned on Wager Island in 1741. In it, he reasserted the Patagons’ height as being between seven and eight feet [2,13 to 2,44 m]:

The people I saw upon the coast of Patagonia were not the same that were seen the second voyage. I had often heard from the Spaniards that there were two or three different nations of very tall people, the largest of which inhabit those immense plains at the back of the Andes.[3]

So he too, like van Noort (remember the Tiremenen?) believed in different nations of natives, some tall and some not, the former living in the steppe at the foot of the cordillera.

Below is an image of Byron and a Patagon woman and child (I do not have the source).

Byron and Patagon woman with child
Woman and Boy of Patagonia receiving beads from Admiral Byron.
London. Published by Alan Hogg at the Kings Arms No. 6 Paternoster Row. Caption: Woman and Boy of Patagonia in South America receiving Beads from Commodore (now Admiral) Byron, whose Valuable Discoveries in his Celebrated Voyage Round the World (as well as All the Other Modern Discoveries in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres) will be inserted in this Work.

Tomorrow we will post the final part (Part 3).

Previous post (Part 1) Here.


[1] Van Spilbergen, J., (1906). The East and West Indian mirror: being an account of Joris van Speilbergen's voyage round the world (1614-1617)…. London: Hakluyt Society. pp. 39 and 41.
[2] Le Maire, J., (1619). Relación diaria del viage de Iacobo Demayre y Guillermo Cornelio Schouten… Madrid: Bernardino de Guzman. pp. 9.
[3] FitzRoy, R., (1839). Appendix v.ii. pp. 102.
[4] De Bry, T., (1602). America. Part IX. Plate XX. Frankfurt. [Engraving]. Library of Congress, the Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake.
[5] Hawkesworth, J., (1773). Account of the Voyages... the Southern Hemisphere. London: Cadell. v.i.: 12+
[6] de Rosales, D., (1877). Historia general de el Reyno de chile. Valparaiso: El Mercurio. v. 1. pp 105.
[7] de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla, J., (1799). Mapa Geografico de America Meridional. London: Faden. National Maritime Museum, London. Online.
[8] Pico Estrada, P., [Ed] (2007). Un relato de diversos viajes y descubrimientos recientes. B. Aires: Eudeba. pp. 110. With Narbrough’s Voyage Journal.
[9] Buffon, G., (1807). Of the Varieties in the Human Species. London: v. 4. pp 330.
[10] Frezier, A., (1717). A Voyage to the South-Sea. London: Jonah Bowyer. pp. 84.
[11] Bulkeley, J. and Cummins, J., (1743). A Voyage to the South-Seas… loss of H.M.S. the Wager. London. pp. 70.
[12] Pascoe, T., (1745). A True and Impartial Journal of a Voyage to the South-Seas. London: S. Birt. pp. 125 +
[13] Clerke, C., (1768). An Account of the Very Tall Men, Seen Near the Streights of Magellan, in the Year 1764… Royal Soc. of London, Philosophical Trans., LVII (1768), pt.1, 75–79.
[14] Hawkesworth, J., (1773). Op. Cit. pp.68.

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Patagonian Monsters
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