The term was coined by John E. Wall in a 1983 letter to the International Society of Cryptozoology newsletter.However, 'cryptid' was used in the late 1800s and early 1900s to describe some genus of Hymenoptera insects.

'Cryptid' has also been applied by cryptozoologists to animals whose existence is accepted by the scientific community, but which are considered of interest to cryptozoology, such as the coelacanth, once believed to be extinct, and the okapi, at one time thought to be entirely fictitious.

Legendary creatures such as the unicorn and the dragon are sometimes described as cryptids, but many cryptozoologists avoid describing them as such.

Skeptics contend that evidence for the existence of cryptids is typically limited to anecdotal evidence or other forms of evidence insufficient to withstand normal scientific scrutiny by the general zoological community. Proponents agree that much cryptozoological evidence is weak, but also contend that the mainstream scientific community sometimes overlooks compelling evidence of unknown animals—even when studied by recognized authorities in their field—not due to the quality or nature of the evidence, but rather due to a priori preconceptions and willful ignorance. Mainstream scientists who are skeptical of cryptids in general agree that some specific cases might represent animals unrecognized by science.

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