100 B.C., a peculiar religious cult grew up among the
Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. The cult venerated
an anthropomorphic monster with the head of a bat, an
animal associated with night, death, and sacrifice (1).
This monster soon found its way into the pantheon of
the Quiché, a tribe of Maya who made their home
in the jungles of what is now Guatemala. The Quiché
identified the bat-deity with their god Zotzilaha Chamalcan,
the god of fire.
Popol Vuh, a Mayan sacred book, identifies
Zotzilaha as not a god, but a cavern, "The House
of Bats" (2). Zotzilaha was home to a type of bat
called camazotz; one of these monsters decapitated the
hero Hunahpú. Camazotz has been translated as
"death bat" (3) and "snatch bat"
(4). It is recorded in chapter 10 of this book that
the Camazotz's call was similar to eek, eek
(5). A vastly different story appears in Chapter 3.
Here a demon called Camalotz, or "Sudden Bloodletter",
clearly a single entity, is identified as one of four
animal demons which slew the impious first race of men
In the Latin American region, it seems
that the ancient belief in the "death bat"
survives even to the present day. Several cultures have
traditions of bat-demons or winged monsters; for example,
legends of the h?ik'al, or Black-man, still circulate
among the Zotzil people of Chiapas, Mexico. Perhaps
revealingly, the H?ik'al is sometimes referred to as
a "neckcutter" (7). Other bat-demons include
the soucouyant of Trinidad and the tin
tin of Ecuador (8).
Yet another similar creature appears in
the folklore of rural Peru and Chile. The chonchon
is a vampire-type monster; and it is truly bizarre,
even for a legendary creature. It is said that after
a person's death, the head will sometimes sprout enormous
ears and lift off from the shoulders. This flying head
is the Chonchon; its sound, as recorded by Jorge Luis
Borges, was like tui-tui-tui (9). Could the
legends of the Chonchon have sprung from the same source
as the Camazotz legends?
But what exactly was the basis for the
Camazotz legend? Most archaeologists believe that the
monster was based on the common vampire bat (Desmodus
rotundus), a bat traditionally associated with bloodletting
and sacrifice (10). Another suspect is the false vampire
bat (Vampyrum spectrum), due to its large size and habit
of attacking prey around the head or neck (11).
One of the most prominent and commonly
mentioned features of the Camazotz is "a nose the
shape of a flint knife" (12), which could be an
exaggerated interpretation of the nose-leaf possessed
by members of the Phyllostomidae, or leaf-nosed bats.
The vampire bat is a relative or member of this group;
thus we are once more forced to look at D. rotundus,
or its relatives, as suspects (13).
In 1988, a species of fossil bat related
to Desmodus rotundus, but 25 percent larger, was described
as D. draculae. It was described on the basis of two
specimens from Monagas State, Venezuela. A third specimen
from São Paulo State, Brazil, was described in
a 1991 article by E. Trajano and M. de Vivo. The Brazilian
specimen had not yet been dated when the article was
written, but the two biologists suggest a "relatively
recent age" for the skeleton. They refer to reports
circulating among local natives of large bats which
attack cattle and horses; these reports may suggest
that the bat still lives (14). Its recent age and large
range suggest that the bat could have co-existed with
the Quiché, giving rise to the legends of the
Camazotz. Trajano and de Vivo also speculate that D.
draculae may have fed on larger prey than did normal-sized
vampire bats (15); possibly even humans?
Several other stories supporting the idea
of a large bat-like creature have come out of Latin
America in the last century. A 1947 report of a creature
presumed to have been a living pterosaur may in fact
have been of a large bat. J. Harrison saw five "birds"
with a wingspan of about 12 feet. Harrison's birds were
brown, featherless, and beaked (16).
The next report of a bat-like monster
from the area is a story told by a Brazilian couple,
the Reals. One night in the early 1950s, they were walking
through a forest outside of Pelotas, Brazil, when they
saw two large "birds" in a tree, both of which
alighted on the ground (17). Although reported as winged
humanoids, the proximity of the sighting area to the
Ribeira Valley, where the Brazilian specimen of D. draculae
was found, forces one to wonder whether the Reals' "birds"
were actually bats.
In March, 1975, a series of animal mutilations
swept the countryside near the Puerto Rican town of
Moca, and during the incident a man named Juan Muñiz
Feliciano claimed that he was attacked by a large, gray-feathered
creature. These bird-like creatures were seen numerous
times during the outbreak (18).
These reports didn't gain real notoriety
until the mid-1970s, when a number of sightings of large
birds or bats surfaced in Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
The first report came from the town of San Benito, where
three people reputedly encounters with a bald-headed
creature (19). But rumors had long circulated among
the Mexican inhabitants of the town about a large bird-like
creature, believed to make tch-tch-tch sounds
On New Year's Day, 1976, two girls near
Harlingen watched a large, birdlike creature with a
"gorilla-like" face, a bald head, and a short
beak. The next day, a number of three-toed tracks were
found in the field where the creature had stood (21).
On January 14, Armando Grimaldo said he was attacked
by the creature at Raymondville. He said it was black,
with a monkey's face and large eyes (22). Further reports
surfaced from Laredo and Olmito, with a final sighting
reported from Eagle Pass on January 21 (23).
The reports cited above, as well as countless
others which await careful researchers, support a conclusion
that a mysterious winged creature exists in the deserts
and jungles of Mesoamerica. The prominence of the bat
in Latin American mythology and the discovery of the
recently-extinct Desmodus draculae in South America
point to the possible identity of the creature as a
large, as-of-yet unknown bat, rather than a living pterosaur,
as is generally supposed.