A few weeks ago a strange, small, hairless beast stumbled into a Chinese village looking for food, and the locals made the natural assumption: That's not some kind of monkey, it's an alien. Because when creatures from other planets come to Earth in spaceships, that's how they roll: naked and hungry. Maybe their luggage was lost.

Point is, if my male-pattern baldness continues its inexorable march, I might find myself in a strange place looking for dinner, and I don't want the locals to hit me with sticks and tell me to go back to Venus. For one thing I'd have to note that the climate of Venus makes it highly unlikely life exists there at all -- ouch! -- and even if it does, it's microbial -- OUCH, STOP THAT -- not in hominid form. Think logically, terrified villagers.

Which brings us to the Chupacabra of Alexandria. A few days ago a strange naked badger-like creature with five claws on its front paws and long toenails on the back, was found dead by the road. KSAX-TV quoted the person who found the beast as saying "it looked like half-human," and someone else said it looked like "a pig with paws, or a wolf." Once the beast's picture hit Facebook, it went "viral" -- meaning passed around at ever-increasing rates and utterly unresponsive to standard antibiotics -- and some were insisting it was a chupacabra.

A what? A chupacabra -- literally, "goat sucker" -- is a cryptid, a word for "an animal no one can prove exists, except on Facebook." Wikipedia: "It is supposedly a heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail." The Wikipedia page notes that Chile has chupacabra sightings, but they're less dog-like and resemble "winged snakes." Which is like saying that St. Paul has cars like Minneapolis, but they have no wheels and use sails for locomotion.

There are several important facts here.

1. It's a badger. Or was.

2. Mexican Goat Sucker is an exotic cocktail just begging to be invented. Three shots tequila, jigger of Corona, dash of bitters, tincture of bleach, goat cheese speared with a swizzle-stick, topped with cappuccino froth to simulate the foam of a rabid animal. If you want to make it the Mangy Badger, replace goat cheese with furry cheddar from the back of a frat-house fridge.

3. We are woefully ignorant of the natural world. Obviously no one has any idea what a badger looks like or thinks they walk on their back legs and wear a sweater that says W, like the Wisconsin mascot. I'm not saying your average citizen should be able to look at mysterious roadkill and say "Well, that's genus rodentus, species badgerus, I can tell by the mandible shape, the slope of the cranium and the striated pigmentation on the snout, and also 'cause there's a sign that says BADGER CROSSING right there where I hit him. Could be a deer -- there was a sign about that few miles back -- but I don't think so." But if people say "half-human wolf pig chupacabra" it's a sign our knowledge of taxonomy is limited to cat, dog, bird and after that it gets fuzzy. Thin horse or fat cow? I don't know! Does it answer to Bossie? OK I know it's not a dolphin, so we can rule that out.

4. We need better mythical animals. Tijuana Vampire Pigs may sound cool, but you may recall the snipe, a quick-footed invisible rodent found near summer camps, is another -- kids are always sent on snipe hunts by the cruel alpha-dog campers eager to haze the newbies. What if a camper found a chupacabra, lured it into the paper bag by tapping the bag with a stick -- the time-honored method for entrapping snipes -- and brought the beast back to the cabin? I shudder to think. Police would say they're looking for a half-human pig with mange, and people would scoff: Oh, you say that every time a entire camp barracks is drained of blood. Get real! Look for the winged snakes!

5. Since it's from Alexandria, it might be a hoax to get tourists to stop and look at the Kensington Runestone. Somewhere right now in a Sauk Centre Chamber of Commerce, civic leaders are wondering how to respond to get the tourist dollars. Gentlemen, the time has come. We have no choice. Release the Jackalope.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.