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What is the Lunksoos?

The lunksoos is a mysterious creature in Maine, which is known as the “Indian Devil” or the only creature in the forests that the native Penobscots were afraid of encountering. I was recently trail running at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and came across signs for Lunksoos Mountain and Lunksoos Camps. This vague description of “Indian devil” has led to some big understandings of what this creature really is. Even Henry David Thoreau mistakes its identity in “The Maine Woods”. Many stories describe the lunksoos as a large cat - often a mountain lion or a lynx. Other stories have it as a hairy humanoid or some other fearsome beast. While these stories may be true accounts, the name lunksoos has certainly been misapplied in these cases. The lunksoos is in fact a very real animal which is quite well known to science. It is the wolverine (Gulo gulo) which is a powerful and fearsome hunter, capable of stealing prey from bears, wolves, mountain lions, or humans. With huge claws, bone crushing jaws, an ability to emit a nasty musk, and no fear - the wolverine is certainly worthy of respect.

The confusion around the term lunksoos is a linguistic one. The Penobscot people, whose traditional territory encompassed most of central Maine have often and unfortunately been misunderstood by English speakers communicating with them. The Penobscot’s word for an old and dangerous wolverine is álαksohs - which to an English speaker sounds very much like “a lunksoos”. The second factor is that the wolverine was driven to extinction in Maine by the late 1800’s and was quite rare even before then. These animals suffered the same fate in Quebec and Labrador.

You can find out much more about the lunksoos, and 40 other mysterious creatures in “Mythical Creatures of Maine”, available for pre-order or wherever books are sold on 9/1/2021! Preorder a signed copy:

Walking wolverine image credit: Hans Veth Staring wolverine image credit: Vincent van Zalinge

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