According to Atlas Obscura, there are quite a few superstitions concerning animals.
The animal world is full of harbingers of doom—at least, according to superstitions. From the Tower of London’s ravens (whose departure would signal the fall of an entire nation) to the average black cat crossing your unlucky path, plenty of critters warn of woe. In Ominous Animals, we explore the lore—and the science—behind these finned, furry, and feathered messengers of impending calamity.
A tiny spotted feline, often smaller than the average house cat, with a bushy tail and big eyes, moves through temperate forest and farmland in southern Chile. Despite its adorable appearance, a mere glimpse of the animal—the kodkod—may cause a farmer to fear for their livelihood, or even their life. According to some Indigenous Mapuche stories in Chile, seeing the pocket-sized predator could spell famine, disease, or death. The kodkod is notorious for raiding chicken coops.
According to a 2013 paper in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, superstitions about the kodkod are common in rural areas. Interviews with local students and Mapuche community members in southern Chile revealed that some people believed the cat had supernatural abilities, such as being impervious to bullets, or ripping off the heads of chickens to drink their blood—an exaggeration likely rooted in the tiny feline’s preference for eating only the neck and head of its poultry prey.
But the kodkod offers benefits as well: The tiny cats hunt the rodents that carry hantaviruses, which can cause potentially fatal infections in humans. If conservation campaigns are successful, the cat may one day be known as the cutest pest controller, rather than an omen of catastrophe.