The Jersey Devil is a creature that has been said to have massive bat-like wings, an elongated head that appears like a horse, and other supernatural features like a fiery breath that move it so far from the anatomy of any known creature that it has been removed to the realm of the supernatural. But strangely enough there is a far more mundane version of this creature that appears in the natural world – although it still does not solve the mysterious legend of the Jersey Devil.
The Hammerhead Bat, a creature known to have an elongated head, strange nostrils, and large leathery batwings is strikingly similar to depictions of the Jersey Devil in some respects. If you were to take size out of the equation and focus primarily on the head and wings, it would be clear that the creature is somewhat of a curiosity to begin with and at the very least appears to have some relation to the creature. Someone looking at it with no knowledge of the bat’s physiology could easily say that the creature at least bore a resemblance to the Jersey Devil when seen up close.
Unfortunately there are some elements to the story that don’t quite add up. For one thing the Hammerhead Bat’s body reaches a maximum wingspan of just a little over three feet. Accounts of the towering Jersey Devil suggest it could have had a wingspan taller than a full grown human. And then there are the creature’s hoofed legs. The Jersey Devil was said to have hooves like a goat. The Hammerhead bat has tiny legs that are used more for climbing than supporting its weight on the ground. The bats cling to a surface above them when not in flight.
But let’s say a few elements (such as being able to survive a direct shot by a cannon while in flight) are merely apocryphal and the actual creature itself may have looked a little more like a particularly large bat. Unfortunately, H. Monstrosus, or the hammer-headed bat is found primarily in Western Africa – not in the pine barrens of New Jersey where it was most often reported.
But what if a creature had been brought to the west as a curiosity in a traveling show? Is it possible this show could have eluded record keeping prior to the creature’s escape? It would have had to have been an unusually large specimen – likely surpassing even the maximum size of the largest bat we currently have on record. Another point is it would have likely needed either a small population of these super-sized bats or it would have needed a preternaturally long lifespan to continue its reign of terror for more than three hundred years. Of course there is the possibility that some of the sightings could have been entirely fabricated, but they were almost certainly started with a grain of truth. Someone saw something nearing the description of the Jersey Devil – and likely more. And whatever it was haunted them to the end of their days. Could a bat do that?