Science shows that yetis and Bigfoots are just well-known animals

July 2, 2014 • 8:50 am

But we already knew that, didn’t we? Nevertheless, a new paper by Bryan Sykes et al. in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (reference and free download below) used sequencing of mitochondrial DNA to examine the origin of hairs purported to be from various cryptozoological critters like Bigfoot and the yeti. You should be able to recognize the species names in the fourth column, but the fifth will tell you.

Their table tells it all:

Picture 1

And the conclusion shows that every sample except for two (which were clearly bears, probably either a polar bear or a Himalayan bear, but couldn’t be definitively placed), are extant and well known REGULAR species:

With the exception of these two samples, none of the submitted and analysed hairs samples returned a sequence that could not be matched with an extant mammalian species, often a domesticate. While it is important to bear in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and this survey cannot refute the existence of anomalous primates, neither has it found any evidence in support. Rather than persisting in the view that they have been ‘rejected by science’, advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so. The techniques described here put an end to decades of ambiguity about species identification of anomalous primate samples and seta rigorous standard against which to judge any future claims.

Bye, bye, Bigfoot!

h/t: John Jaenike


Reference: Sykes BC, Mullis RA, Hagenmuller C, Melton TW, Sartori M. 2014. Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20140161.


59 thoughts on “Science shows that yetis and Bigfoots are just well-known animals

  1. This paper also shows that what cryptozoologists have been doing so far is not good enough. Also, Sykes gets in a few digs at Melba Ketchum’s ridiculous human x ape conclusion.

    1. Thanks for the link. I thought this section of your link was very interesting, and reproduce it here for other readers:

      …the other two Himalayan samples were the most interesting of all.

      Not one but two samples, those from Ladakh, India and Bhutan, matched a fossilized genetic sample of Ursus martimus, a polar bear of the Pleistocene era, 40,000 years old. Note: TWO samples! There was not a match with the modern species of polar bear. Thus, the study has discovered a new anomaly! This result is a boon to bear studies. Future research will continue to look for more evidence of the representative animal, hopefully a living one. The paper is clear, as was the documentary on this discovered which aired months ago, this previously unknown hybrid bear may contribute to the yeti legend.

      1. Hmmm ,I was wondering a bit what U.maritimus was doing in the Hymalaya. Now I’m wondering a lot. Pleistocene U.maritimus ??

        1. Would have to be LATE Pleistocene! U. maritimus is reckoned to have emerged within the past 200k years, and polar bear DNA always nests within extant brown bear [U.arctos] populations. I’d assume this is merely another U.arctos population that didn’t happen to be in the DNA library.

          1. Very late Pleistocene – they get a minimum ages of (IIRC) 45Kyr for comparison sample from Svalbard.
            It doesn’t shock me that there may have been multiple weird (and hitherto unidentified) sub-species of bears wandering around the ice age landscapes of Asia. After all, there were several distinct species of hominin doing the same at the same time too.
            Oh, but for a perfect fossil record.
            Or maybe not – how many feet deep would we be in dinosaur bones? Or dead flies, for that matter?

        2. Well, the more boring (but still kind of exciting) explanation would be someone found a very well preserved body, and took fur off it. The more exciting explanation is that there’s a bear species thought to have gone extinct still running around those mountains.

        3. Bit from the [open access] paper:
          “Hair sample no. 25025 came from an animal shot by an experienced hunter in Ladakh, India ca 40 years ago who reported that its behaviour was very different from a brown bear Ursus arctos with which he was very familiar. Hair sample no. 25191 was recovered from a high altitude (ca 3500 m) bamboo forest in Bhutan and was identified as a nest of a migyhur, the Bhutanese equivalent of the yeti.”
          Darren Naish points out that this is most likely to be a mitochondrial lineage within the Brown Bear population resulting from old hybridization, rather than an undocumented separate species.

          1. Yeah, I read those bits later.
            So, along with the Denisovans, there were one or several distinct lineages of bear scuttling around late Pleistocene Asia. And mammoths – don’t forget the mammoths. And the woolly rhinos. And …
            I’m trying to remember if Eurasia had sabre-tooth cats? We certainly had some pretty big cats (and several species of bears now extinct) rattling around in the landscape in the late Pleistocene.
            Standard call for “more research” ; trouble is, there’s not a lot of industrial spin-off to Pleistocene palaeontology. Bit of a shame really, because that’s where you’d expect to find the most remains.
            Finding Neolithic and Mesolithic stone tool fragments was so normal at home that even magpies like me stopped picking them up after a time.

  2. It has been suggested in certain paleoanthropological circles that these pervasive legends of gigantic wild-man like creatures may have been passed down from the times of Homo erectus as memories of Gigantopithecus blacki which is contemporary in the fossil record and may well have survived longer in remote refuge areas and have been seen by early Homo sapiens.

    1. That would be a gene evolving to a meme. Somebody call Dawkins, we’ve got a live one!

  3. Why isn’t absence of evidence evidence of absence? At the very least it is evidence that proving a ridiculous claim substantiated by not a speck of evidence is a colossal waist of time.

    1. Worry not.

      Irving Copi agrees with you:”In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.”

      Off course “qualified investigators” might be a wildly contested term within the yeti-community…

      I believe!!!!

    2. Absence of evidence is always evidence of absence, and the more thorough the search the more compelling the conclusion. When the search encompasses the entire domain, absence of evidence becomes proof of absence.

      For example, the absence of evidence of an angry hippo in the room of you is proof that there aren’t any angry hippos in the room with you.

      Curiously enough, centuries before the invention of Christianity, Epicurus made the observation that we have a conclusive lack of evidence for gods. That observation continues to hold today, and is reaffirmed every time Jesus (e.g.) fails to call 9-1-1 in circumstances that any moral human with a cell phone would make the call.


      1. Your example is a bit “thin”: just because there’s no evidence of an angry hippo in the room with you doesn’t prove that there’s not an angry hippo, somewhere- you have to be careful to delineate of WHAT there is an “absence”: in the above case, the “absence of evidence” only means that SPECIMENS of hair, feces, etc. from cryptozoological creatures suitable for DNA testing are absent; it doesn’t “prove” that none will ever be found, or that such creatures don’t exist. To claim that the entire domain has been searched is speculation, not fact, given the extent of the wilderness areas still in existence on this planet.

        1. I was very clear in my example. The hippo example isn’t one of no hippos in existence anywhere in the Cosmos, but merely of hippos in your room. It is impossible for an angry hippo to be in the room with you right now without you being fully and unquestionably aware of its existence.

          Similarly, while there may well be all sorts of powerful entities elsewhere in the Cosmos, we know without doubt that there are no entities with more power than us who have our best interests at heart. If there were even very weak entities that we don’t otherwise know about, we’d know of them because they’d call 9-1-1 whenever they had the chance. That that never happens tells us that either any powerful entities that might exist are not morally responsible the way humans use the term; that they are morally responsible but utterly impotent; that they are perfectly unaware of our existence; or that they simply don’t exist. There aren’t any other options, and none of those options is compatible with anything any human has ever worshipped as a god.


        2. What I am saying and I imagine Ben is also saying is that lack of evidence does not prove that something is absolutly impossible. Despite having no evidence to that effect one may someday find a wild hippo in a room somewhere. The probability of that happening though is so remote that it would be undoubtably a waste of time to spend your life searching for the critters.

        1. I’m pretty sure that quote is out of context, with Sagan referring to the “You can’t prove me worng!” types of conspiracy theories.

          Absence of evidence is always evidence of absence over the domain of your search. The “interesting” question is generally the scope of the domain.

          For example, the absence evidence of black swans in sixteenth century London was evidence that black swans didn’t exist in London in the sixteenth century. There were, in fact, black swans in New Zealand in the sixteenth century, but not in London. But the existence of black swans in New Zealand is irrelevant to the question of black swans in London.

          Statistical sampling techniques can be applied to determine the domain over which nonexistence is applicable. Eventually, the domain is either completely sampled or even over-sampled, at which point continued lack of evidence is, indeed, proof of nonexistence. Again, the complete lack of evidence of black swans in sixteenth century London is proof that black swans did not exist in London in the sixteenth century.

          If we understand a god to a powerful moral agent that cares for humans, we again have proof of nonexistence, as no god has ever even done so much as to call 9-1-1 — let alone anything that would require more power than even a young child is capable of.



        2. If the context was the question of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life (which initially seems likely, because Carl), the statement would accurately describe the state of knowledge prior to SETI. Subsequently, the more frequencies and star systems were searched by radio telescopes, the more there was actual evidence for absence of radio-using civilizations in our part of the galaxy.

          The quote as from ‘Cosmos’ floats widely and freely on the interwebs, but I don’t know if it’s in that series or book at all. But it is also said, more specifically, to be on p. 213 of The Demon-haunted World, 1st ed.; but my copy (not the same edition in any case) is in a box somewhere.
          Fortunately, someone else has checked the source and discussed the context and meaning of what Sagan wrote. Unfortunately, I find the meaning to be unclear even now, and think it was an uncharacteristically poorly expressed argument in an otherwise terrific book.

        3. Your quote is certainly out of context. Read a little further and you will find that Carl Sagan says the following:
          “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”
          ― Carl Sagan

  4. But the scientists must be wrong! Yeti lives! Are you telling me that polar bears live in Bhutan and India and no one has noticed their pet seals disappearing?

  5. The bigfoot from Texas is clearly AronRa 🙂


  6. So what have the guys on “Finding Bigfoot” on Animal Planet been hearing all this time?

    1. Well, the advertisement for that stupid show plays a mountain lion scream that’s promptly declared to a sasquach call.

      Fortunately, the amount of noise they make as they thrash their way through the underbrush at full tilt in the dark would give any nearby mountain lions ample warning of their approach, allowing the cat to retreat to a safer location that isn’t infested with night-vision camera toting idiots.

  7. I was assured recently by a Bigfoot proponent that there “is a species of bipedal ape living in the Pacific Northwest.” I agreed. “There are millions of them. I’ve seen their cities and used their airports.”

      1. I want to have a T-shirt made up that says, “Help! I’m trapped in the world of the insane, greedy, killer monkeys!”

  8. Heeeey, scientists have some success in being able to track the spread of invasive Asian carp in the U.S. by screening water samples for Asian carp DNA. So the obvious application here is to screen for Nessie in the Loch Ness.

  9. That article is so going to appear on my genetics class’ reading list next semester!!! I love a good “science bursts the pseudoscientific ballon yet again” paper.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  10. “I think Bigfoot is blurry, that’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault. Bigfoot is blurry, and that’s extra scary to me. There’s a large, out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside.” ~Mitch Hedberg

  11. Does anybody else wonder what in the hell an animal that gets mistaken for a horse, a sheep, a porcupine, two kinds of deer, two kinds of bear and three different canines would actually look like?

  12. At least the truth will out. That said, I have to admit it would have been interesting if DNA from a hitherto unknown population of Gigantopithecus species had been found.

    Then again, I’m the sort of person who wishes they could see Dimetrodon and other prehistoric animals in life, so it’s less because of some partiality to yeti and more I’m just a big palaeontology fan.

  13. They’re only checking mitochondrial DNA. So all we can say is that Bigfoot’s mama may be a polar bear.

  14. I’m a wee bit disappointed – I kind of liked the idea of Yetis and Bigfoots, of large intelligent apes who had survived humanity’s encroachments on their habitats!

    1. That was the plot of a movie I saw on TV (likely through “Wonderful World of Disney” or something) once. The gist was the Bigfoots were terrified now that there were so many humans around and had become rare and scarce because of it. A sappy “can’t we live together?” message. Live action, too, in case anyone can remember its title. Colleen Dewhurst was in it too I think.

  15. “And the conclusion shows that every sample except for two (which were clearly bears, probably either a polar bear or a Himalayan bear, but couldn’t be definitively placed), are extant and well known REGULAR species:

    Unless Bigfoot is a relative of extant bears! There on to something with those two samples.

  16. I can see people mixing up bears with humans. Their skeletons have a human look to them and I can imagine people thinking they are seeing some furry looking human when they are really seeing a bear.

  17. from the AP story

    “I thought there was about a 5 percent chance of finding a sample from a Neanderthal or (a Yeti),” said Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, who led the research, ….”

    I wonder how he calculated the 5%

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