By: Natalie Wolchover
Published: 06/22/2012 10:30 AM EDT on Lifes Little Mysteries

More than a quarter of Americans believe in Bigfoot, a recent poll found. They claim this legendary bipedal ape, a "long lost relative" of humans, evades detection in remote woodland areas. Although it may seem strange to think a 7-foot-tall land mammal could go unnoticed for so long, the notion is actually widespread.

Along with that sizeable minority of Americans, an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that 21 percent of Canadians also believe in an undiscovered hairy humanoid, which they prefer to call Sasquatch. In Russia, belief in a similar creature, called the Yeti, is so common that local branches of the Russian government have funded Yeti expeditions, and the country has even considered founding an entire institute devoted to the study of Yetis.

The Yeti is also said to roam the Himalayas, sometimes going by the name of Meh-Teh, or the "Abominable Snowman." Not to be outdone, Australia has the Yowie, and South America, a mythical beast called Mapinguari. Malaysians, meanwhile, fear the orang minyak, or "oily man" monster.

Why do so many disparate cultures have their own version of a "wild man"?

Although no one knows for certain how the various legends got started, they appear to have arisen independently in each culture rather than being spread by travelers or through trade, said Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of three books on myths and mysteries, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries" (Rhombus, 2010). [The Best Bigfoot Hunting Expeditions]

Most of the myths trace back much further than the 1950s, when the explorer Eric Shipton photographed what he took to be "Abominable Snowman" footprints on Mount Everest. "While the famous Abominable Snowman snow track photographs ... led to worldwide interest in the creature, they didn't create the beast but instead for the first time offered tantalizing, tangible evidence of a regional legend," Radford told Life's Little Mysteries.

But the existence of so many separate "wild man" myths don't necessarily count as mounting evidence that we really do have feral cousins out there in the woods. Instead, the myths may all stem from the same aspect of the human psyche: the desire for and fascination with an "other."

Radford said, "The idea of a wild, man-like 'other' creature co-existing with us but just beyond our understanding is heavily rooted in mythology."

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • This still image taken from a 1977 film purports to show Bigfoot in California.

  • A film still shows what former rodeo rider Roger Patterson said is the American version of the Abominable Snowman of Nepal and Tibet. The film of the tall creature was shot by Patterson and Robert Gimlin northeast of Eureka, Calif., in October 1967.

  • Ohio Bigfoot Encounter -- April 2012

    As a motor biker was driving through the Grand River area of Ohio in April 2012, an alleged Bigfoot ran across the road and was caught on videotape.

  • Depicted is an illustration of a creature reported to inhabit the Kemerovo region of Siberia. Scientists from the U.S., Russia and other countries have yet to find one of these creatures known as the Russian Snowman. In early October, researchers claimed to be 95 percent certain that the animal exists.

  • An alleged footprint of a Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, appears in snow near Mount Everest in 1951. Now, scientists are setting out to find evidence of a reported unknown, hairy, bipedal creature known as the Siberian Snowman.

  • Bigfoot or bear? Impression left on the driver's side window of a pickup truck owned by Jeffrey Gonzalez. The bizarre image was left by an alleged Bigfoot in California's Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day 2011. DNA samples of the impressions will eventually determine the identity of the animal responsible for them. (See next slide for a close-up of the paw-like impression.)

  • Close-up of the "paw" print image. The impression was reportedly left by Bigfoot on the window of a pickup truck in the California Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day weekend 2011.

  • Bigfoot or bear? Pictured is a second impression left on the rear side window of the same truck from the previous slides. According to forensic/law enforcement photographer Mickey Burrow, "What you're seeing is a swipe mark. It looks like a small hand, swiping to the left, leaving another impression, and there's hair within those areas -- you can see where the hair would be."

  • This footprint was found over Memorial Day weekend, 2011, near Fresno, Calif. by a group of campers who were on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. The print, measuring approximately 12 inches, was found near a truck where possible DNA evidence was left behind by more than one Bigfoot creature.

  • This footprint was found in 2008 in the Sierra National Forest near Fresno, Calif.

  • Thomas Byers snapped this photo of "Bigfoot" along Golden Valley Church Road in Rutherford County on March 22, 2011.

  • Bill Willard is the leader of a group searching for evidence of a Sasquatch or Bigfoot creature, spotted by, among others, his two sons in Spotsylvania County. He is shown on May 19 in Thornburg, Va., with a plaster cast he made from a suspicious footprint several years ago.

  • This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC shows what Whitton and Dyer claimed was a Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.

  • This October 2007 image was taken by an automated camera set up by a hunter in a Pennsylvania forest the previous month. Some said it was a Bigfoot creature; others believed it was just a sick bear.

  • A preserved skull and hand said to be that of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman is on display at Pangboche monastery, near Mount Everest.

  • Idaho State University professor Jeffrey Meldrum displays what he said is a cast of a Bigfoot footprint from eastern Washington in September 2006. Some scientists said the school should revoke Meldrum's tenure.

  • Joedy Cook, director of the Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, talks to a visitor to his booth on Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference in Jefferson, Texas. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.

  • Ken Gerhard of Houston, Texas, holds a duplicate plaster cast footprint Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.

  • Josh Gates, host of Syfy TV's "Destination: Truth," holds a plaster cast of what Malaysian ghost hunters said was a Bigfoot footprint in 2006.

  • Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at the Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem in California, holds up a plaster cast of an alleged Bigfoot imprint in 2000. The museum houses a collection of research material donated by the estate of Bob Titmus, who spent his life trying to track the creature.

  • Costume maker Philip Morris, who does not believe the Bigfoot legend, claimed the Patterson-Gimlin film showed a person wearing a gorilla suit that he made.

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