Sorry, That 'Bigfoot DNA' Came from a Raccoon

an illustration of a forest beast
(Image credit: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:00 p.m. E.T.

A new genetic analysis has found no evidence for a cryptic humanlike primate known as Bigfoot or the Yeti.

Hair samples from creatures claimed to be Bigfoot or Sasquatch actually come from cows, horses, dogs and even a few extinct bears. But none seem to come from a completely new primate species, according to a study published today (July 1) in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

Throughout the world, stories abound of a mysterious man-beast covered in shaggy hair, who has eyes, nose and ears like a human, and who walks on two legs. Dubbed the Yeti in the Himalayas, and Bigfoot or Sasquatch in North America, the creature has been called a hybrid human, an early human — such as a Neanderthal or Denisovan — or an extinct ape, such as Gigantopithecus. [Busted! The World's 6 Greatest Hoaxes]

Shaggy man-beast

Scientists, however, have mostly discounted cases of Bigfoot sightings, saying researchers would have identified such a large and strange creature by now if it were breeding in the wild. And some of the most well-known Bigfoot sightings have turned out to be hoaxes: In 2008, two Georgia men claimed they had photos and the body of a Bigfoot, but the genetic samples came from an opossum and the "body" turned out to be a frozen gorilla suit.

Bigfoot proponents say more research needs to be done.

"Some of the greatest criticism within the Bigfoot community was that science would never take a serious look at the phenomenon," said study co-author Rhettman Mullis, a psychologist who runs the website.

Hair samples

To remedy that problem, Bryan Sykes, a geneticist at the University of Oxford in England, teamed up with Mullis and other researchers to solicit hair samples from supposed Bigfoot sightings around the world. If the sightings were real, the thinking went, then the DNA should not match that of any known animal.

The team received 57 samples, one of which was actually a piece of fiberglass, the researchers said. After winnowing down the samples to the most likely bets, the team did a genetic analysis on 36 of the samples.

Almost all came from known animals, including cows, horses, raccoons, humans, deer, coyotes and even a Malaysian tapir. None of the samples, however, came from a completely new primate species, the researchers said.

Extinct bear?

But two hair samples, one from Bhutan and the other from Ladakh, India, closely matched the genetic sequence of an extinct Paleolithic polar bear. One came from an animal shot over 40 years ago by an experienced hunter, who claimed the bear acted more aggressively than do typical brown bears. The other came from an area that is reputed to be the nest of a "migyhur," the Bhutanese version of a Yeti.

It's possible that the two samples are from a previously unrecognized bear species or a hybrid of existing species, the researchers said. If the newly discovered bears are widespread, they may contribute to the legend of the Yeti, especially if the hunter's report of more aggressive behavior is representative of the species as a whole, the authors wrote in the paper.

However, Mullis is not convinced that the Yeti described in countries outside the Himalayas is a bear. In the Himalayas, there are three words for different types of Yetis, one of which is a bear. But the others may be more akin to what is popularly known as Sasquatch or Bigfoot in the United States, Mullis said.

Despite the results of the new study, Mullis — who said he has had many interactions with Bigfoot or Sasquatch — said he still believes the mysterious apelike beast is out there somewhere.

"It doesn't mean the Bigfoot doesn't exist," Mullis said.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Rhettman Mullis' name on second reference

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.