Any cryptid hunting advice?



*I asked about this in the message board of a few days ago. Although several people have responded, one in particular has offered me a wealth of advice. I thought it was a good idea to cut-and-paste our conversation to this board so people here can add to or modify homeschoolmama's advice instead of unknowingly repeating it. The more time you take to read our conversation, the less time you will waste on a redundant or irrelevant reply. At least read my first post so you know exactly what I am planning to do. Thank you.*


For many months now, it has been a goal of mine to discover a new species of animal here in the Mohawk River valley of New York State. The semester is over and the weather has warmed, so I have no reason to put my quest off any longer. I am going to focus on spiders and other arthropods, but I will be prepared to deal with any unfamiliar amphibians or reptiles I should encounter in the process. Birds and mammals require traps or guns if the goal is a captured specimen and there are plenty of reasons for ME not to use either of those. And while I have plenty of fishing equipment and experience, I know from experience that known fish are usually much harder to catch than I would like them to be. Thus I think it would be foolish for me to try to discover a new local fish. Although my zoology professor did say that I would be more likely to discover a new local fish than any other vertebrate, I have already ruled them out as quarry.

I've been making preparations, such as assembling a "cryptozoology kit" consisting of a backpack stocked with the following: 1. one of those clear plastic small animal containers with a hinged and ventilated lid which has a clear plastic hinged door in the center of it for detaining invertebrates, amphibians, and small reptiles, 2. an aquarium net, 3. a paper cup for placing over "bugs" and other small animals once they are in the net, 4. a reptile/amphibian field guide, 5. a very thin, black, cotton sack for containing reptiles that are too big for the plastic container, 6. a notepad and pens, and 7. a trowel for peeling bark off dead trees, ripping apart rotten stumps, or just plain digging. There is probably something else in the bag that I am forgetting at the moment but I have mentioned pretty much everything else. As I wander through *????* in search of spiders and other arthropods, I will carry a net with a handle that (trying to remember) is about 3.5 feet long with a 2 foot deep bag of very fine yet tough mesh and a rim that is maybe fifteen or sixteen inches across. This will be for trapping any unfamiliar-looking amphibians or reptiles I might encounter. As for the stereotypical cryptozoological implement known as a camera, I'm going to leave it at home. There is no reason to bring an expensive piece of electronic equipment into the *????* with me. I can photograph my specimens after I take them home. The arthropods will go into the freezer and the less-likely amphibians and reptiles will be captured alive and immediately identified and released if I can find their picture or description in my guide. I have a 12 gallon Rubbermaid tub with two interlocking hinged flaps that let more than enough air in around the edge to comfortably support a cold-blooded vertebrate should I find one I can't identify immediately. So, can you think of anything I should add to my equipment list?

So, the process for arthropods is: "Take the small net out of the big net and quickly drop the big net. Get the "bug" between the small net and cup and get it into the plastic container (with the rest of the bugs?). Ignore everything that doesn't have seven or eight legs unless it is "looks like a cryptid." Some examples of bugs that "looked like cryptids" which I've let slip through my fingers in the past include: A trio of 1-inch long "ladybugs" with no spots, a 5-inch long, 0.75 inch thick, pink, "hairless" caterpillar, something "about 6 inches long" with "many legs" that ran in rapid bursts, with extremely brief stops in between, across a street-lit campground road one summer night. As for the reptiles and amphibians, I'm not expecting to encounter anything that I won't recognize after all the time I've spent leisurely reading my field guide, but considering the fact that most of the animals cryptozoology is famous for are much larger or otherwise more exciting than a simple new lizard, snake, or salamander, I don't think I should take it for granted that I won't run into any "medium-sized" cryptids. Any amphibians I don't immediately recognize will go into the plastic container with some wet leaves, (oops! What if it already has bugs in it??? I guess I should buy a second one!) and any reptiles will be tied into the sack until I can get them back to the tub waiting in my car trunk. So there you have step one of the plan so far. Feel free to make any suggestions. What I haven't yet figured out is what kind of habitat I should explore in search of unknown terrestrial ectotherms. That is what the *????*s stand for. I also need to know HOW to search the habitat as my quarry is so small and requires a different kind of "looking" than someone pursuing giant ground sloths or thunderbirds with a gun. I was hoping someone here would be able to guide me in the right direction. I want very much to actually discover something, but I need some instructions on how to do it. Perhaps more important than advice on how to capture a cryptid is instructions on what to do next. Figuring out that I have caught a new amphibian or reptile is easy. But what about arthropods? I've been searching like mad for a complete list with descriptions of all the known spider species in New York State without much success. First I called a university in California about this (can't remember which one at the moment) and they suggested calling Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I called them, and they gave me the names and phone numbers of two Doctors at the American Museum or Natural History in NYC. I called one of them and he told me to search online for information. I've had a tiny bit of success online. Specifically the knowledge that 576 spiders were known in New York State in 1928 and that this list was published by "Crosby & Bishop (Is it for sale? Is it accessible by me? Is it still complete?). I also found a website describing a two-year taxonomic survey of the spiders in New York's Blackrock Forest that was recently performed. I e-mailed the doctor who appeared to be the head of the project and he has not responded after more than a week. I have also e-mailed the New York Academy of Sciences. Both the AMNS and the NYAS were recommended to me by the sole replier to a post I made about this in a literature message board. I was asking about where and how I could purchase a complete guide to spiders of New York. Does such a book exist? Where and how could I buy it? In short, how can I tell that I have captured a specimen of an unknown arthropod?

As for step three, (if indeed I get to it) what follows my capture of something I am unable to subsequently identify? I have little to no clue what would happen next because, so far, I've mainly been searching for information on how to rule out known species. To sum things up, I need advice on all three steps of the cryptozoological process: 1. specimen collecting, 2. ruling out known species, and 3. classifying my own new species. As you can tell from the huge length of this cut-and-pasted post, I take cryptozoology very seriously and I am willing to do the work it takes to achieve success in this field. I hope you can help me succeed. Thank you.


Hiya Ken!
My children and I are very interested in nature journaling. As a result of this we regularly capture and carry various plant & animal specimens for identification & study. A few things you'll want to consider are:

Make sure you note EXACTLY where you find your specimen... location and nearby plant life, what other animals are present, and what exactly your specimen was sitting/laying on when you found it. We often bring a micro cassette recorder along to do just this... It can be used later on to identify birds in the area as well. Once you are ready to release them again, it's always best to return them to the EXACT same spot as they may rely on something unique to that area to live.

Insects live absolutely everywhere. Some good places to find many kinds are: at edges of still bodies of water, (swamps, small lakes, etc.) in the woods on undersides of leaves and under the underbrush or fallen stumps, and at night with the aid of a flashlight you can capture all sorts of nocturnal flying insects.

When capturing insects we use a cool-whip container to pop over the animal, and slide the cover of our notebook under it and then transfer them into our "bug huts." Nets can be used, but we find that tiny insect legs tend to get stuck in the netting so you need to be very careful. Always remember to bring several leaves or a large chunk of the plant (or several handfuls of the dirt, etc...) you find the animal on with you, as this may be its only food supply and it may take a few days to identify it. Never EVER place more than one specimen into the same container; you never know when you might accidentally be feeding one species to the other ;) Several types of insect don’t freeze well. They tend to shrivel up and can sometimes actually chance color, making identification nearly impossible. If at all possible, try to keep them alive.

You will also want to have several field guides, preferably in your car or at home, for quick identification & classification. If you can afford to buy a few it's a wonderful lifetime investment. Otherwise you'll quickly become a regular visitor at the local library... this isn't a bad idea to start with though, as you can get a good idea of which books will be most helpful specifically for you. I like the Peterson guides best, as their pictures & descriptions are easily classified, clear and concise.

You will also want a magnifying lens, and of course you need to remember not to fry any poor buggies you may be checking out. Many specimen jars come with ventilation and attached magnifying lids these days.

A compact inexpensive pair of binoculars is also nice. Target has a pair of 12/24 Bushnell binoculars with a strap & carry case for $20.

For specific information I would get ahold of your local DNR Extension Services center. They ought to have pamphlets and book lists, and should definitely be able to point you in the right direction even if they can't help much. If you were lucky enough to capture an unidentifiable species, they would be the ones to bring it to as well. They will want the live creature, and as much information as you can give them on when & where you captured it.

I sure hope this helps!

Thanks, homeschoolmama. If it is that much better to work with live specimens, do you think it is a good idea to capture and work with only one spider (or other arthropod) at a time? Is that a more responsible and effective way to determine whether or not the animal has been classified? No sense in collecting as many specimens as possible if I'm just going to mismanage them.

Is refrigeration of captured arthropods a good idea to slow down their metabolism during periods of time when I'm not working with them? That would keep them alive longer if it was likely that captivity would overstress them or I could not meet their nutritional or other biological needs.

Am I correct in guessing that "DNR" stands for Department of Natural Resources? Two biologists I have talked to recommend taking specimens I can't identify to "The State Museum," which just happens to be a reasonably short drive from where I live. However, to avoid excessive visits to whomever I should be showing my mystery arthropods to, I will need to rule out known species on my own if possible. I will continue to search for the most complete guide to local spiders available, but any other help in locating such a source or group of sources to own, borrow, or visit is much appreciated. As for other taxa of arthropods, I won't be catching too many of them to upload pictures of them to the gallery like I did with my box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus) back in early April of this year. I got more replies in the forum and via e-mail from that gallery submission then I ever thought I would. Furthermore, most people who replied agreed on its identity. The image was deleted once we figured out what the insect was. Next time the picture will probably be of something larger than 1.5 cm! I'll only capture and upload pictures of very large or otherwise bizarre insects. As for spiders, I expect to be catching too many of them to make uploading their pictures to the gallery and expecting them to be identified and deleted reasonable. That is why I must find a resource that will allow me to identify virtually all known NY spiders on my own.

Hiya Ken :)

As far as only capturing one specimen at a time, it really depends on how much time you have to devote to research at any given time. On the average, it takes us 8-12 working hours to identify any specimen we bring home. If you will be doing this nonstop, and assuming you have several good reference guides, it could take you a lot less time. It will also depend on what and when you find unknown specimens. We go on our walks 3x weekly and often won't find anything we can't identify for weeks on end, and all of a sudden there will be 3 or 4 unknowns all at once. You sort of take what comes to you with insects ;)

I see no reason that refrigerating them shouldn't work for keeping them. Since they're cold-blooded it ought to slow them down without stopping their circulatory systems completely. I'd check with a professional first though, as we have only dealt with live specimens, and usually keep them for observation purposes. Nutritionally, most insects seem to be fine for a day without food. Just make sure to bring some of the plant they were on with.

Yes, DNR is the Department of Natural Resources. If you've been told that your state museum can help then they'd be a good place to try also. My mother is a Volunteer Master Gardener and has worked extensively with DNR for over a decade. They are trained & paid to help educate the public about the environment and many other things.

I'm assuming you've already seen this site with the list of known spiders in NY?

Here is a link to an identification site based on the spider's characteristics...

This site has a list of characteristics to look for, and a good book list too!

And another...

And one more interactive I.D. site

Hope this helps :)


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 7, 2001
Reaction score
I'm surprised you don't intend taking a camera. If for nothing else, it would be a good quick way of recording the habitat.

Modern cameras are light and versatile, so wouldn't add much to your load.


I agree with rynner. A camera is almost essential.

In addition, a map (of a suitable scale) of the areas you will be working is useful. If you keep aware of exactly where you are at all times marking the find location of the unknown critter on the map will make follow-up much easier. It'll also make it easier to return unwanted critters to their right ecological niche.

Other than that, I'd have to say that mama's advice looks pretty sound and comprehensive to me.


How do you hunt cwyptids? Well, fiwst, you have to be vewy, vewy quiet....

Nonny Fudd, dodging supsiciously well-timed rain of frogs.