Ask A Scientist

Is Bigfoot real?

Asked by: Sierra Zacharias
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6

Hobbies/Interests: Art and cooking
Career Interest: Artist and chef

Answer from Michael A. Little

Distinguished professor of anthropology

Research area: Human adaptation to the environment
Ph.D. school: Pennsylvania State University
Family: Wife, Adrienne, and two grown children
Interests/hobbies: Swimming, choral singing, antique toys and books
Web page address: http://anthro.binghamton.edu/LittleM.html

It is exciting to think about the discovery of a new or unusual creature, especially one that may be related to humans in its general form.  “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” is the name for a human-like or ape-like animal that some believe walks upright and appears to inhabit wooded areas in many parts of the United States and Canada.  People in Asia have claimed to observe similar creatures that are called the “Yeti” or “Abominable Snowman.”  This whole class of animals is called “cryptids” or animals that are regarded by scientists as highly unlikely to exist. (The Loch Ness Monster is identified by many as a cryptid.)  Support for the existence of Bigfoot is indirect and very limited.  There is a very blurry film from California (Patterson-Gimlin film), footprints, some of which have been identified as hoaxes, and other indirect evidence, including numerous claimed sightings.  But this evidence is sufficient for many individuals to encourage them to keep looking for this unusual creature.  There is even an organization called The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) that identifies itself as “The only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery.”  They have a whole series of field expeditions planned for 2012 to search for Bigfoot.

I am what is called a skeptic about Bigfoot and other cryptid species.  There are several reasons for my lack of belief in these creatures: First, all of the evidence is indirect – no one has captured or killed the creature and all specimens of hair or hide have been shown to be from animals that we know. Second, if this creature were a close relative to the apes or humans, then it has persisted in the United States and Canada for hundreds of years without being closely observed or captured.  Third, we have no prehistoric or fossil evidence that human-like or genuine apes have existed in North America for millions of years.  Fourth, some people are prone to imagine having seen animals that look like monsters or humans, and other people are likely to carry out hoaxes to fool others who may be quite gullible.  Finally, any real animal must live among a population of like creatures, with males and females and young, and these animals must be able to reproduce themselves.  If the population is very small, as Bigfoot might appear, then the likelihood of it living undisturbed for hundreds or thousands of years is very small or zero.  It is certainly fun to imagine what it would be like to find such a creature as Bigfoot, but I am afraid that we never will.

Last Updated: 9/18/13