Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Wednesday 25 April 2012


A 19th-Century engraving of the enigmatic but seemingly extinct izcuintlipotzotli

Sometimes, tragically, by the time that a cryptid attracts mainstream scientific attention, it is too late - the creature in question has already become extinct. Certainly, for example, it may be too late to secure a specimen of a still-unidentified creature formerly reported from Mexico - the unpronounceable izcuintlipotzotli - because it has not been reported for more than 150 years.

This bizarre beast first came to attention in 1780, courtesy of a tome entitled Historia Antigua de Mexico ('Mexico's Ancient History'), penned by Jesuit priest Father Francisco Javier Clavijero, a highly respected New World scholar. Inhabiting the Tarascan region of Michoacán in western Mexico, the izcuintlipotzotli was the size of a maltese terrier, with a small, wolf-like head, extremely short neck, lumpy muzzle, and small pendant ears. Strangely, its forelimbs were notably shorter than the hindlimbs, its skin was mottled with black, brown, and white spots, and - most striking of all - a grotesque hump (but possibly fatty rather than bony in composition) extended the entire length of its back, from its shoulders to its haunches. Indeed, part of its name, 'potzotli', translates as 'hunchback'.

So singular was its appearance that some zoologists questioned the accepted belief that the izcuintlipotzotli was a breed of dog (albeit an emphatically homely one), even speculating that it may be some exotic species of rodent! However, the few known engravings of it that exist (such as the example opening this present ShukerNature blog post) suggest that this idiosyncratic entity was even less like a rodent than a dog.

Whatever it was, however, the izcuintlipotzotli is no more. What appears to be the last documented mention of such a creature occurred in 1843, within Frances Calderón de la Barca's book Life in Mexico, noting a dead specimen that she saw hanging from a hook near the door of an inn visited by her in the valley of Guajimalco. I am not aware of any preserved museum specimens either. If anyone reading this does have any additional information, however, concerning the seemingly demised izcuintlipotzotli, I would greatly welcome receiving it.

This post is excerpted from my book Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopaedia of the Inexplicable (Carlton: London, 1999).


  1. Hi Stoosh - I deleted your comment by mistake (I'm still getting used to the new blogger format) - sorry about that. Your comment was:

    "Where did you hear about this one, Karl? Just happened to be browsing in the reference library of a village in the back of Mexican beyond again?!"

    And in answer: lol, not quite. I found some info concerning it by chance in a book on the Mexican hairless dog or xoloitzcuintli, years ago, and followed it up from there. Fascinating creature. All the best, Karl

  2. This would seem to have been a dog bred for food, hence the fatty body and piglike appearance. Mustve made for some great Aztec barbecues back in the day (Dog roasts instead of hog roasts)

  3. This is the first I've heard of a canine breed (if indeed that's what it was) going extinct. I'm curious to know if the existing documentation on this animal made enough references to try to locate where a specimen may have been buried. It would be a long shot but wouldn't it be interesting to try to glean some DNA for testing.

  4. In fact, there are a number of extinct dog breeds on record - including the luath, St Hubert's hound, English black-and-tan terrier, English white terrier, braque, shock dog, turnspit, Spanish spaniel, brabanter, Salish wool dog, Alpine spaniel, alaunt, chien-gris, Cumberland sheepdog, and Hawaiian poi dog, to name but a few. Yes, DNA analysis would be excellent for the izcuintlipotzotli, but a specimen has first to be found, and I haven't been able to uncover any evidence as yet for surviving preserved specimens or tissues, sadly.

  5. I am Mexican and never heard about this animal until a couple years ago, but from the description it sounds like a mix of xoloitzcuintli (mexican hairless) and perhaps another breed of dog. Some xolos can get really fat and they tend to look lumpy, so meaybe this unique animal was a mutt. Also, I googled the second root of the name, potzotli, and found it to be related to the mesoamerican dog known as alco, now extinct and considered a forerunner of the modern chihuahua. A ilustration i've found (http://retrieverman.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/alco-and-carrier-dog.jpg) makes me think it is related to your quasimodo dog, and maybe the potzotli was just one of the last members of this breed, killed, according to the description by a Ms. Calderón de la Barca, because it got too nasty and wild. Anyway, it's interesting to see some cryptohistory of my country coming to the light. Thanks doctor.

  6. I have always been intrigued by this creature. It could easily be dismissed as simply some unusual dog if it wasn´t for something that has been said about it and seems beyond the ability of any domesticated dog; it is said that the izcuintlipotzoli would roam around villages and howl to attract domesticated dogs, after which it would attack and kill them.
    It sounds a lot like the crocotta of Roman myth, but how could the two be related? To my knowledge, only one Mexican carnivoran is known to use vocal mimicry to hunt, but it is a feline, the margay, not a canid.
    Of course, it may not be vocal mimicry at all, as dogs will often go after wild animals too dangerous for them to take on, and get killed as a result.

    Is it possible that the izcuintlipotzotli was a canine equivalent of the feral hog? You know how pigs escape domesticity and revert back to a very wild-boar-like form that's completely wild, smarter and fiercer than domestic pigs? Since the Aztec bred dogs for food, is it possible that some of them escaped and became a wild form of their own, somehow? Just a thought...

  7. This reminds me of Wendy the whippet who has a rare myostatin mutation that makes her "double muscled" (much like some of the huge hulk cows etc). I am sure that it is only the whippet breed in dogs that get this mutation and rarely so this could have been a descendant of the breed (dog breeds only really becoming common in victorian times, the old "breeds" weren't kept "pure" like they are know so differnt the dogs that fitted into a similar catagory had huge differences (not sure that's such a terrible thing seen as we have ruined many breeds by controlling how a certain breed should appear and to achieve it many were and still are heavily inbred)!
    I really do think this could be some of the past to bully whippets, or possibly even the naturally heavy muscled bull breeds (staffs, pitbulls etc).


    Here is a link to with some pics of wendy to see if anyone agrees =)

  8. Hey dude! There are some alive, last I heard! But it seems to be a rare genetic mutation, rather than a dog breed or species. Here's a few pictures of two specimens (not the double-muscled one linked above; this disorder seems to deprive the dog of a neck!)



    And footage of Quasimodo at the Ugliest Dog contest is included here, so you can tell it's not a photo-manipulation (about 6 seconds in, then a few more times) http://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/ap-photos-past-winners-ugly-dog-contest-24236424

    How do ya like that?

  9. I've seen some of these so-called double-muscled mutant dogs before, and although they are not identica to the izcuintlipotzotli, they are similar enough to suggest that a comparable gene mutation may have been responsible for the latter's grotesque form.

  10. Wow, and right the day after hearing about Quasimodo, and reading this page, here's ANOTHER live example! I guess the stature occurs from the dog being born with their spine twisted/fused over itself, resulting in extremely short necks and backs. It's sad, but fascinating!


  11. nice article!