Call of the Cryptid: The Cactus Cat of the American Southwest

A Saguaro cactus is seen against the blue sky in Saguaro National Park, Arizona. The saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)
A Saguaro cactus is seen against the blue sky in Saguaro National Park, Arizona. The saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images) /

The cactus cat is apparently a lion-like creature with spines it uses to slash open cacti, returning to drink the fermented juice at night. Yes, legend has it this mythological creature gets drunk. Would it be called a cacti-holic? Being a zany “fearsome critter” of legend, it seems few out there actually believe in this creature, but it’s nonetheless entertaining, and, honestly, who wouldn’t want this crazy critter to be real?

William Thomas Cox wrote of this creature in 1910 in his book Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts“(an online version is available here).

That book’s entry for the Cactus Cat presents a dizzying description of the fantastical feline’s drunken habits: “By the time it is back to the place of beginning the sap of the first cactus has fermented into a kind of mescal, sweet and very intoxicating. This is greedily lapped up by the thirsty beast, which soon becomes fiddling drunk, and goes waltzing off in the moonlight, rasping its bony forearms across each other and screaming with delight.” One would not soon forget such an incredible sight, but who would believe you?

Origins and modern, expanded versions of the Cactus Cat?

Though it’s considered iffy to quote a Wiki page regarding updated versions, it’s scarcely less reliable than the original tall tales, and it’s rather difficult to deny the compelling nature of the following description which seems to use similar language to Cox’s book: “…In the earlier days when this animal was more common thirsty Mexicans often trailed him and Would anticipate him in making the second circuit.

This practice became so widespread that it probably hastened the extinction of the species. Occasional cases have been reported where the Cactus Cat overtook the marauding Mexican and flogged him to death with his spiny tail. Owing to the reddened blebs appearing on the victim’s hide, such deaths were usually attributed by the laity to a severe attack of prickly heat. But the oldtimers knew better. It was the Cat.”

So does the “Cactus Cat” just appear randomly in literature, or is the terrifying creature based on something at least vaguely real? The Cactus Cat is said to have a whip-like tail, which is very reminiscent of the Ball-Tailed Cat   previously covered in “Call of the Cryptid.”

Whichever creature came first, it’s tempting to say the Cactus Catis the bigger party animal of the two. As another interesting point, the trusty Wikipedia page randomly claims the Cactus Cat is immune to scorpion venom. Though that detail almost sounds outlandish, that immunity actually makes it similar to the grasshopper mouse (don’t you love it when bonkers fantastical stories overlap with reality?).

How would we deal with this creature?

Everything about the Cactus Cat falls under the “citation needed” category, make no mistake. Still, for fun, one can imagine how crazy it would be to encounter the creature, and how it would be a disaster to get in the way of its pursuit of sweet cactus nectar. Scientists would be enthralled trying to gauge its life span, how it goes about the birds and the bees, its genes. Also, cryptid rights activists would be campaigning to just leave those poor animals be, while protecting their precious cacti food and alcohol source.

However, like the infamous Fiji mermaid, one can only hypothesize how such a creature could live and thrive in the real world. People have fun expanding the legend, such as one website that suggests they can actually photosynthesize, in addition to having “thorn-like fur and a branched tail.”

Thanks to the internet, any number of people can create their own “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods,” and I say “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.” How about a Mushroom Dog or a Pineapple Piranha? In fact, none other than J. D. Salinger made a name for himself with his classic story A Perfect Day for Bananafish — a great little made-up creature of classic literature.

The horror story potential

The horror story potential to the Cactus Cat is inherent. I imagine the critter’s cries would be like a baby crying, except more fierce. Already brutal, imagine how they would feel about being caged! Imagine how the creature would stalk towards the cage, thrashing against the thick bars of the door. If you really want to get nuts, you can say cactus cats were the only surviving remnants of early mankind that crawled out of the dust to roam the planet, a perversion of man’s original self, with a fiendish propensity to stalk victims night and day.

Of course, the mythical cactus cat could also be made cute and cuddly, Gizmo-style, if you want to reverse the myth, with it cutely getting drunk on its cactus juice. Or how about a combo where, at first it seems cute, but is eventually known to strategically savage and murder at will. From an environmental angle, say its home in the Mojave Desert was said to be the “Desert of Death,” but human encroachment is really what caused the creature’s frenzied wrath.

If you want to get interdimensional and supernatural, link it to some legendary portal ritual mumbo-jumbo prophecy, with the Cactus Cat as the harbinger of some Great Cataclysm, and soon humanity can hear its mighty, distinctive roar as its approaches, ready to pounce upon us all as an unexpected Cactus Cat Cthulu!

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What are your thoughts on The Cactus Cat? Let us know in the comments!