In the 1890s, a land surveyor battled a nasty critter in the woods, not far from Rhinelander. It set off a sensation that lasts to this day. Get the scoop on the Hodag after the jump.
Lumberjacks brought tales of the hodag and other fearsome critters along with them. In many cases, they were just tall tales to tell around a fire or haze a new crew member.
Like the boogeyman, these critters represented a fear of the unknown. Many people migrating to the northlands had never seen anything like a badger, wolverine or other wildlife that lived underground.
In a nutshell, you never knew what would crawl out of the woods. Up in Chequomegon-Nicolet National Forest, they’ve got wolves, bear, badgers and other badass critters. Why wouldn’t there be a stout, fanged, horned creature ready to pounce on someone?
A critter’s appearance can tell much about its habitat, adaptations and its prey. In this case, the hodag has these features:
- green fur
- sharp teeth and long incissors
- tail with horns
- stout body
- short nose
- long body, short legs
- hooked claws
- durable hide
That’s a lot of contradictory anatomy! But what can we learn about it? Let’s start with the easier parts and what they mean.
The green fur looks like an adaptation to blend in with its environment to surprise prey. Horns on its back and tail seem more protective, but the ones on its head are probably used like a deer. That means to show dominance when woo-ing lady hodags. I bet the claws are only used to climb and kill prey.
Its other features seem to focus on harsh living conditions in the Northwoods (more later). A long, broad body and short legs would allow the core of its body to stay warm. But the short nose throws me off. Short noses mean animals don’t need to regulate its body temperature as much. This makes me think it can cool its body by exposing its belly. As for heating under sub-polar winters, it may hibernate. I bet it burrows like a badger or wolverine.
Lastly, the durable hide would prevent bear and wolves, the alpha predators in the forest, from tearing a hodag apart. Eugene Shepard, who captured the beast in 1893, had to use dynamite to bring it down.
Territory is the habitat, which also lets you know how this monster adapted to its living conditions. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in northern Wisconsin, may have dense forests, but it’s really swamp and bog land. This can tell us that the hodag adapted to survive in standing water and climb high trees. It also has to survive under insufferably long, cold winters.
For adaptations, the long, stout body helps with flotation. The tail would propel the critter through the water. The shape of its body and fur protects from cold temperatures. I still think it may hibernate because the lakes, ponds and swampy area would freeze over and fish would go into torpor.
I believe the hodag may be a marsupial. If you think about it, it would likely have its offspring during cold months and it would need a safe place to put them. A pouch would be ideal to have live young and protect them. Of course, if it burrows, then it could store them in its sett, like a badger.
It appears the hodag is an omnivore. If you look at the mouth, teeth and claws, these are adaptations to hunt animals. A wide mouth with sharp teeth seems ideal to open and capture fish, a plentiful source in Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes. The claws would allow it to grasp land prey. It may eat badgers, beavers, fawns, dogs under 40-lbs., raccoons and other small mammals.
Its hunting season is likely late spring through early fall (April-October), before the first freeze sets in. If it hibernates, it would need to put on enough fat to sleep from December through March. It may spend most of its time hunting or fishing, like a bear.
The Hodag Today
No one has seen a hodag in over 100 years. They may remain in the dense woods and swamps of the Upper Peninsula and north woods of Wisconsin. The tales persist, however.
If you want to take in hodag lore, celebrations and beer drinking, then head to Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It’s the hodag capital of the world. You can find more information here: https://hodag.com/
- Hodag on Wikipedia
- Explore Rhinelander (probably best site with local lore)
- Wisconsin Life
- The Carpetbagger (YouTube video with a tour of all hodag-ness)
- Atlas Obscura