Professor sees possible reason behind many ‘chupacabra’ reports

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This story originally aired in November 2010 on KRQE in Albuquerque.

MYSTERY WIRE — We’ve all heard the stories and seen the pictures. Mysterious creatures with long fangs — and an appetite for blood. The legendary beast called the chupacabra.

Dr. Barry O'Connor chupacabra
Dr. Barry O’Connor of the University of Michigan. (KRQE-TV)

“The name actually translates as goat sucker in Spanish, because the monster was supposedly attacking livestock like sheep and goats and draining them of their blood,” says Dr. Barry O’Connor, a professor at the University of Michigan who has become an expert on the chupacabra legend.

He believes he’s nailed down a scientific explanation behind the creatures that have mystified people for years.

The chupacabra legend first came to light in Puerto Rico, then spread to Central and South America. Eventually, the legend arrived in New Mexico.

A northern New Mexico man told the story of a strange beast that killed his animals in 2005. That even prompted a response from state police. Two women showed us pictures of a mysterious animal roaming the streets of northwest Albuquerque back in 2007.

It’s the kind of animal Dr. O’Connor knows very well. His theory: There’s a real beast behind it all.

“This is the same mite that causes the disease called scabies in humans,” O’Connor says.

sarcoptes scabiei chupacabra
A mite known as sarcoptes scabiei, which causes scabies in humans. (KRQE-TV)

A tiny, parasitic bug called “sarcoptes scabiei.” Dr. O’Connor syas they infest and multiply, causing a severe case of mange in domestic dogs and their wild relatives — coyotes, wolves and foxes. And the results are ugly.

“The immune response causes the skin to become thickened,” O’Connor says. “The hair falls out because the hair follicles are squeezed and they don’t get blood flow. The animal starts to smell bad because the crusty lesions will get bacterial infections. The face will swell and this will make the teeth appear more prominent.”

The mange weakens the animals to the point they can no longer hunt.

That could be the reason so many people report “chupacabras” killing their farm animals.

“Because they are weakened, they might turn to penned up livestock — sheep, or goats, or whatever,” O’Connor says. “And that would be much easier prey for them.”

Still, Dr. O’Connor admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Nighttime video shows a mysterious, two-legged greature scaring the pants off a couple of cameramen. That’s the way many people describe their chupacabras. It’s much different from the mangy animal Dr. O’Connor describes.

“Does this put to rest the myth of the chupacabra? Can you ever put a myth to rest … fully?”

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