The Great Chupacabra Memory Experiment & Contest

March 23, 2011


One of the most widespread misconceptions about the chupacabra is that it dates back decades; in fact the monster has apparently only been around for about 15 years. The evidence so far suggests that no one used the word "chupacabra" to refer to a vampire monster until the mid-1990s. In fact, there are at least two people who claim to have created the word "chupacabra" around 1995; if others used the word to describe a mysterious vampire before then, then either the men are lying or mistaken.

One consistent reaction I've gotten from readers is that my information about when the chupacabra first appeared is wrong. A few examples taken from recent posted comments:

 

Leah Marie Eseny: "I grew up in New Mexico and remember hearing stories and making jokes about the chupacabra in the 80's."

Hiram Mag: "This story dates back to the 50's and 60's in Texas."

Glory Mooncalled: "I grew up hearing of it in the 70s and 80s."

Mousekakat: "I am just shy of being 45, grew up in Houston and then moved to a small town about an hour from Corpus, and spent some time in South Texas around the border towns, and I have grown up hearing about the chupacabra."

Alison Peck: "I was at Arecibo in 1993, and the legend of chupacabra was already pretty widespread then."

 

In all, I have had nearly a dozen people swear that they heard about the chupacabra before 1995. To be very clear: There was a pre-existing belief that something mysterious was occasionally attacking animals prior to 1995 in Puerto Rico (and elsewhere; in fact in my book I describe a case from 1974 middle America that was very chupacabra-like). And there was a 1960 reference to a "chupacabra" in the TV show "Bonanza" which referred to a whippoorwill bird. But, as far as the information I've been able to find there was no reference to a blood-sucking monster called "chupacabra" before mid-1995 in Puerto Rico (or anywhere else).

Note that even if there exists an earlier reference to a "chupacabra," it has no bearing on the fact that the description of the original Puerto Rican chupacabra was taken from the 1995 film Species-that is indisputable. The only question is if the name itself was in use earlier. Still, I'm the kinda guy who loves solving mysteries and getting facts right.

So what can we make of this? There are only a few possibilities:

1) The "chupacabra" (vampiric monster) was known, written about, and discussed years or decades earlier than believed (possibly from the 1950s); or

2) We have a fascinating memory experiment in progress, in which dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people are mis-remembering the exact same thing: hearing stories about the chupacabra decades ago.

Who's right? I honestly have no idea. Just because I didn't find any references to a chupacabra before 1995 doesn't mean there aren't any. I'm a pretty thorough researcher, but no one's perfect, and I might have missed an earlier reference.

Memory research has shown that the perception that something has been around for a long time influences our beliefs. Researcher Elizabeth Loftus, for example, has shown how people can create false memories of experiencing things that never happened. For example, in one experiment Loftus and colleagues found that by (falsely) telling people that they had experienced something in their youths, they came to believe it. In one study, adults specifically remembered drinking Stewart's brand root beer from bottles decades earlier in their youth-despite the fact that the bottles had only been made for a decade. The same thing happened with Werther's Original caramels, which adults reminisced about enjoying as children in the 1950s, but could not have, since they were only created in 1969. (For more see Braun, K. A., Ellis, R., & Loftus, E.F. 2001. Making my memory: How advertising can change our memories. P sychology & Marketing ).

Either way, I hope we find the answer. Surely if a "chupacabra" was widely known and discussed as far back as the 1950s, there are plenty of written examples dating back to then (the word should appear in newspapers, magazines, books, folklore journals, etc.). Even if it was mostly confined to rumor and gossip, it should have appeared in print at some point.

I'll offer a public $200 reward (plus a signed copy of my book) for any verifiable written evidence of a vampiric monster called the chupacabra (or chupacabras) that dates before 1990. It must be a published, dated reference. Let's see what turns up!

Comments:

#1 Nexcerpt (Guest) on Wednesday March 23, 2011 at 4:52pm

Google Books Ngram sees no mention prior to 1996:

 

#2 Nexcerpt on Wednesday March 23, 2011 at 4:59pm

I don’t see what went wrong—but let me try to reconstruct that post while ~logged in~!

Google Books Ngram sees no mention prior to 1996:

  http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=chupacabra&year_start=1990&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=0

...although the plural reaches back to 1994:

  http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=chupacabras&year_start=1990&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=0

It seems likely that a Bonanza writer struck a typo, or a cast member misspoke.  One Spanish term for Nightjars (including Whippoorwills and Goatsuckers) is “Chotacabras”:

  http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caprimulgidae

References in the Spanish literature extend back to 1818:

  http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=chotacabras&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=10&smoothing=0

Maybe we don’t need to invent anything

#3 doctoratlantis on Wednesday March 23, 2011 at 9:30pm

Yeah there are lots of entries about “goatsuckers” but all seem to refer to the bird before the 1990s.
http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=goatsucker&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=5&smoothing=0

#4 doctoratlantis on Wednesday March 23, 2011 at 9:43pm

As prevalent as the “goatsucker” is before 1995 as a bird, one wonders if some of the occasional “flying” stories weren’t misunderstandings/retelling of something they’d heard about recast as an alien instead of a bird…

#5 Jrzy (Guest) on Thursday March 24, 2011 at 6:55am

When the Jersey Devil hockey team first announced their name in the early 80s.  When I told my parents the story behind the name, they laughed and told me all about the chupacabra.  They described it as a blood sucking horned goat ... thus the similarity they found between it and the jersey devil.  So while the Species like description may have originated in 1995, the chupacabra has been talked about way before that.

#6 Ben Radford on Friday March 25, 2011 at 8:50pm

Jrzy- Interesting! If you can find a published reference to a blood-sucking “chupacabra” before 1990, I’ll give you $250 cash and a copy of my book!  See http://news.discovery.com/human/making-monster-memories-are-chupacabra-recollections-real-or-false-110324.html

#7 Jrzy (Guest) on Saturday March 26, 2011 at 3:13am

I doubt I will .. talk like that among family was always in fun, not something for the news.  But, for $250, I’ll definitely keep it in mind!

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.