Individuals claiming to have seen Bigfoot describe it as a large, hairy, muscular, bipedal ape-like creature, roughly 2–3 metres (6 ft 7 in–9 ft 10 in) covered in hair described as black, dark brown, or dark reddish. Some descriptions include details such as large eyes, a pronounced brow ridge, and a large, low-set forehead. The top of the head has been described as rounded and crested, similar to the sagittal crest of the male gorilla, with a strong, unpleasant smell.
The enormous footprints for which the creature is named are claimed to be as large as 24 inches (60 cm) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide. Some footprint casts have also contained claw marks, making it likely that they came from known animals, such as bears, which have five toes and claws.
Proponents of Bigfoot's existence claim that the creature is omnivorous and mainly nocturnal.
Wild men stories are found among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Anthropologist and cryptozoologist Grover Krantz has written that stories of the indigenous population which can be confidently related to the Sasquatch, correspond to the areas where white Americans have reported similar sightings. According to David Daegling, the legends existed before there was a single name for the creature; and that they differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community; and that similar stories of wild men are found on every continent except Antarctica. Ecologist Robert Pyle argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history, expressing a need for "some larger-than-life creature." Each language had its own name for the creature featured in the local version of such legends. Many names meant something along the lines of "wild man" or "hairy man", although other names described common actions it was said to perform, such as eating clams or shaking trees. A story told to Charles Hill-Tout by Chief Mischelle of the Nlaka'pamux at Lytton, British Columbia in 1898 gives another Salishan variant of the name, meaning "the benign-faced-one".
Members of the Lummi tell tales about Ts'emekwes, the local version of Bigfoot. The stories are similar to each other in the general descriptions of Ts'emekwes, but details about the creature's diet and activities differed between family stories.
Some regional versions contained more nefarious creatures. The stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai were a nocturnal race that children were told not to say the names of lest the monsters hear and come to carry off a person—sometimes to be killed. In 1847, Paul Kane reported stories by the native people about skoocooms: a race of cannibalistic wildmen living on the peak of Mount St. Helens.
Less-menacing versions exist, such as the one recorded by Reverend Elkanah Walker. In 1840, Walker, a Protestant missionary, recorded stories of giants among the Native Americans living near present-day Spokane, Washington. The Indians said that these giants lived on and around the peaks of nearby mountains and stole salmon from the fishermen's nets.
Local stories were compiled by Indian Agent J. W. Burns in a series of Canadian newspaper articles in the 1920s recounting stories told to him by the Sts'Ailes people of Chehalis and others. The Sts'Ailes maintain, as do other indigenous peoples of the region, that the Sasquatch are very real and take great umbrage when it is suggested that they are legendary. According to Sts'Ailes eyewitness accounts, the Sasquatch prefer to avoid white men, and speak the Lillooet language of the people at Port Douglas, British Columbia at the head of Harrison Lake. It was Burns who first borrowed the term Sasquatch from the Halkomelem sásq'ets (IPA: [ˈsæsqʼəts]) and used it in his articles to describe a hypothetical single type of creature reflected in the stories.
The name "Bigfoot" for the creature appeared in the late 19th century. Spotted Elk, also called Chief Big Foot, was a well-known Lakota leader killed during the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Famous in his time, his name likely inspired the name of two fabled attacking bears. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries at least two enormous marauding grizzly bears nicknamed "Bigfoot" were widely noted in the press, perhaps inspiring the common name of the ape-creature and may be a source of confusion in early stories. The first grizzly bear Bigfoot was reportedly killed near Fresno, California in 1895 after killing sheep for 15 years; his weight was estimated at 2,000 pounds (900 kg). The second grizzly bear Bigfoot was active in Idaho in the 1890s and 1900s, between the Snake and Salmon rivers, and was attributed with nearly supernatural powers. "Nearly twice the size of an ordinary grizzly, Bigfoot for years has levied his tribute of prime steers and no one has been found brave enough or clever enough to catch or kill him. With a single blow of his giant paw he kills the largest and best animal he can find and he usually takes the pick of a herd. He makes a single meal of the animal, and it is usually a meal that would provide a camp full of men for a week, and disappears, never to return to that locality again that season." The Idaho Bigfoot was shot and killed in 1902 near Pierce City, credited with killing 1,000 cattle in his lifetime.
About one-third of all claims of Bigfoot sightings are located in the Pacific Northwest, with the remaining reports spread throughout the rest of North America. Most reports are considered mistakes or hoaxes, even by researchers who maintain that Bigfoot exists.
As Bigfoot has become better known and a phenomenon in popular culture, sightings have spread throughout North America. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States have had many reports of Bigfoot sightings. The debate over the legitimacy of Bigfoot sightings reached a peak in the 1970s, and Bigfoot has been regarded as the first widely popularized example of pseudoscience in American culture.
Various types of creatures have been suggested to explain both the sightings and what type of creature Bigfoot would be. The scientific community typically attributes sightings to either hoaxes or misidentification of known animals and their tracks, particularly black bears.
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said that the photos that the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization said showed a juvenile Bigfoot were of a bear with mange. Anthropologist Jeffrey Meldrum, on the other hand, said that the limb proportions of the suspected juvenile in question were not bear-like, and stated that he felt they were "more like a chimpanzee."
Both Bigfoot believers and non-believers agree that many of the reported sightings are hoaxes or misidentified animals.
Bigfoot sightings or footprints have, in some cases, been shown to be hoaxes. Author Jerome Clark argues that the Jacko Affair, involving an 1884 newspaper report of an apelike creature captured in British Columbia, was a hoax. Citing research by John Green, who found that several contemporary British Columbia newspapers regarded the alleged capture as very dubious, Clark notes that the Mainland Guardian of New Westminster, British Columbia, wrote, "Absurdity is written on the face of it."
On July 14, 2005, Tom Biscardi, a long-time Bigfoot enthusiast and CEO of Searching for Bigfoot Inc., appeared on the Coast to Coast AM paranormal radio show and announced that he was "98% sure that his group will be able to capture a Bigfoot which they have been tracking in the Happy Camp, California area." A month later, Biscardi announced on the same radio show that he had access to a captured Bigfoot and was arranging a pay-per-view event for people to see it. Biscardi appeared on Coast to Coast AM again a few days later to announce that there was no captive Bigfoot. Biscardi blamed an unnamed woman for misleading him and the show's audience for being gullible.
On July 9, 2008, Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton posted a video to YouTube claiming that they had discovered the body of a dead Sasquatch in a forest in northern Georgia. Tom Biscardi was contacted to investigate. Dyer and Whitton received $50,000 from Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. as a good faith gesture. The story of the men claims was covered by many major news networks, including BBC, CNN, ABC News, and Fox News. Soon after a press conference, the alleged Bigfoot body arrived in a block of ice in a freezer with the Searching for Bigfoot team. When the contents were thawed, it was discovered that the hair was not real, the head was hollow, and the feet were rubber. Dyer and Whitton subsequently admitted it was a hoax after being confronted by Steve Kulls, executive director of SquatchDetective.com.
In August 2012, a man in Montana was killed by a car while perpetrating a Bigfoot hoax using a ghillie suit.
In January 2014, Rick Dyer, perpetrator of a previous Bigfoot hoax, said he had killed a Bigfoot creature in September 2012 outside of San Antonio, Texas. He said he had scientific tests performed on the body, "from DNA tests to 3D optical scans to body scans. It is the real deal. It's Bigfoot, and Bigfoot's here, and I shot it, and now I'm proving it to the world." He stated that he intended to take the body, which he had kept in a hidden location, on tour across North America in 2014. He released photos of the body and a video showing a few individuals' reactions to seeing it, but never released any of the tests or scans. He refused to disclose the test results or provide biological samples, although he stated that the DNA results, which were done by an undisclosed lab, could not identify any known animal. Dyer stated he would reveal the body and tests on February 9 at a news conference at Washington University, but the test results were never made available. After the Phoenix tour, the body traveled to Houston. On March 28, 2014, Dyer admitted on his Facebook page that his "Bigfoot corpse" was another hoax. He had paid Chris Russel of Twisted Toy Box to manufacture the prop, which he nicknamed "Hank", from latex, foam, and camel hair. Dyer earned approximately US$60,000 from the tour of this second fake Bigfoot corpse. He maintains that he did kill a Bigfoot, but states that he did not take the real body on tour for fear that it would be stolen.
Bigfoot proponents Grover Krantz and Geoffrey H. Bourne believed that Bigfoot could be a relict population of Gigantopithecus. According to Bourne, all Gigantopithecus fossils were found in Asia, and, as many species of animals migrated across the Bering land bridge, it is not unreasonable to assume that Gigantopithecus might have as well.
Gigantopithecus fossils have not been found in the Americas. The only recovered fossils are of mandibles and teeth, leaving uncertainty about Gigantopithecus's locomotion. Krantz has argued, based on his extrapolation of the shape of its mandible, that Gigantopithecus blacki could have been bipedal. However, the relevant part of the mandible is not present in any fossils. An alternative view is that Gigantopithecus was quadrupedal, and it has been said that Gigantopithecus's enormous mass would have made it difficult for it to adopt a bipedal gait.
Matt Cartmill presents another view regarding the Gigantopithecus hypothesis: "The trouble with this account is that Gigantopithecus was not a hominin and maybe not even a crown group hominoid; yet the physical evidence implies that Bigfoot is an upright biped with buttocks and a long, stout, permanently adducted hallux. These are hominin autapomorphies, not found in other mammals or other bipeds. It seems unlikely that Gigantopithecus would have evolved these uniquely hominin traits in parallel."
Bernard G. Campbell wrote: "That Gigantopithecus is in fact extinct has been questioned by those who believe it survives as the Yeti of the Himalayas and the Sasquatch of the north-west American coast. But the evidence for these creatures is not convincing."
A species of Paranthropus, such as Paranthropus robustus, with its crested skull and bipedal gait, was suggested by primatologist John R. Napier and anthropologist Gordon Strasenburg as a possible candidate for Bigfoot's identity, despite the fact that fossils of Paranthropus are found only in Africa.
Michael Rugg, of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, presented a comparison between human, Gigantopithecus and Meganthropus skulls (reconstructions made by Grover Krantz) in episodes 131 and 132 of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum Show. He favorably compares a modern tooth suspected of coming from a Bigfoot to the Meganthropus fossil teeth, noting the worn enamel on the occlusal surface. The Meganthropus fossils originated from Asia, and the tooth was found near Santa Cruz, California.
Some suggest Neanderthal, Homo erectus, or Homo heidelbergensis to be the creature, but no remains of any of those species have been found in the Americas.
The evidence that does exist supporting the survival of such a large, prehistoric ape-like creature has been attributed to hoaxes or delusion rather than to sightings of a genuine creature. In a 1996 USA Today article, Washington State zoologist John Crane said, "There is no such thing as Bigfoot. No data other than material that's clearly been fabricated has ever been presented." In addition, scientists cite the fact that Bigfoot is alleged to live in regions unusual for a large, nonhuman primate, i.e., temperate latitudes in the northern hemisphere; all recognized apes are found in the tropics of Africa and Asia.
Mainstream scientists do not consider the subject of Bigfoot an area of credible science and there have been a limited number of formal scientific studies of Bigfoot.
Evidence such as the 1967 Patterson–Gimlin film has provided "no supportive data of any scientific value".
As with other similar beings, climate and food supply issues would make such a creature's survival in reported habitats unlikely. Great apes have not been found in the fossil record in the Americas, and no Bigfoot remains are known to have been found. Phillips Stevens, a cultural anthropologist at the University at Buffalo, summarized the scientific consensus as follows:
In the 1970s, when Bigfoot experts were frequently given high-profile media coverage, Mcleod writes that the scientific community generally avoided lending credence to the theories by debating them.
Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans have spent parts of their career searching for Bigfoot. Later scientists who researched the topic included Carleton S. Coon, George Allen Agogino and William Charles Osman Hill, although they came to no definite conclusions and later drifted from this research.
Anthropologist Jeffrey Meldrum has said that the fossil remains of an ancient giant ape called Gigantopithecus could turn out to be ancestors of today's commonly known Bigfoot. John Napier asserts that the scientific community's attitude towards Bigfoot stems primarily from insufficient evidence. Other scientists who have shown varying degrees of interest in the creature are David J. Daegling, George Schaller, Russell Mittermeier, Daris Swindler, Esteban Sarmiento, and Carleton S. Coon.
The first scientific study of available evidence was conducted by John Napier and published in his book, Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, in 1973. Napier wrote that if a conclusion is to be reached based on scant extant "'hard' evidence," science must declare "Bigfoot does not exist." However, he found it difficult to entirely reject thousands of alleged tracks, "scattered over 125,000 square miles" (325,000 km²) or to dismiss all "the many hundreds" of eyewitness accounts. Napier concluded, "I am convinced that Sasquatch exists, but whether it is all it is cracked up to be is another matter altogether. There must be something in north-west America that needs explaining, and that something leaves man-like footprints."
In 1974, the National Wildlife Federation funded a field study seeking Bigfoot evidence. No formal federation members were involved and the study made no notable discoveries.
Beginning in the late 1970s, physical anthropologist Grover Krantz published several articles and four book-length treatments of Sasquatch. However, his work was found to contain multiple scientific failings including falling for hoaxes.
A study published in the Journal of Biogeography in 2009 by J.D. Lozier et al. used ecological niche modeling on reported sightings of Bigfoot, using their locations to infer Bigfoot's preferred ecological parameters. They found a very close match with the ecological parameters of the American black bear, Ursus americanus. They also note that an upright bear looks much like Bigfoot's purported appearance and consider it highly improbable that two species should have very similar ecological preferences, concluding that Bigfoot sightings are likely sightings of black bears.
In the first systematic genetic analysis of 30 hair samples that were suspected to be from bigfoot, yeti, sasquatch, almasty or other anomalous primates, only one was found to be primate in origin, and that was identified as human. A joint study by the University of Oxford and Lausanne's Cantonal Museum of Zoology and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2014, the team used a previously published cleaning method to remove all surface contamination and the ribosomal mitochondrial DNA 12S fragment of the sample was sequenced and then compared to GenBank to identify the species origin. The samples submitted were from different parts of the world, including the United States, Russia, the Himalayas, and Sumatra. Other than one sample of human origin, all but two are from common animals. Black and brown bear accounted for most of the samples, other animals include cow, horse, dog/wolf/coyote, sheep, goat, raccoon, porcupine, deer and tapir. The last two samples were thought to match a fossilized genetic sample of a 40,000 year old polar bear of the Pleistocene epoch; however, a later study disputes this finding. In the second paper, tests identified the hairs as being from a rare type of brown bear.
After what The Huffington Post described as "a five-year study of purported Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) DNA samples," but prior to peer review of the work, on November 24, 2012, DNA Diagnostics, a veterinary laboratory headed by veterinarian Melba Ketchum, issued a press release claiming that they had found proof that the Sasquatch "is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species." Ketchum called for this to be recognized officially, saying that "Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a 'license' to hunt, trap, or kill them."
Failing to find a scientific journal that would publish their results, Ketchum announced on February 13, 2013 that their research had been published in the DeNovo Journal of Science. The Huffington Post discovered that the journal's domain had been registered anonymously only nine days before the announcement. This was the only edition of DeNovo and was listed as Volume 1, Issue 1, with its only content being the Ketchum paper.
Shortly after publication, the paper was analyzed and outlined by Sharon Hill of Doubtfull News for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Hill reported on the questionable journal, mismanaged DNA testing and poor quality paper, stating that "The few experienced geneticists who viewed the paper reported a dismal opinion of it noting it made little sense."
The Scientist magazine also analyzed the paper, reporting that:
There are several organizations dedicated to the research and investigation of Bigfoot sightings in the United States. The oldest and largest is the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The BFRO also provides a free database to individuals and other organizations. Their website includes reports from across North America that have been investigated by researchers to determine credibility.
In February 2016, the University of New Mexico at Gallup held a two-day Bigfoot conference, at a cost of $7,000 in university funds.
In his pursuit of Bigfoot, David Paulides, author of two self-published books on the subject, created the research group "North America Bigfoot Search" for which he serves as director, and which Paulides says was instrumental in the genesis of the Ketchum paper published in 2013 claiming Bigfoot was real.
Bigfoot has had a demonstrable impact as a popular culture phenomenon. It has "become entrenched in American popular culture and it is as viable an icon as Michael Jordan" with more than forty-five years having passed since reported sightings in California, and neither an animal nor "a satisfying explanation as to why folks see giant hairy men that don't exist".
When asked for her opinion of Bigfoot in a September 27, 2002, interview on National Public Radio's "Science Friday", Jane Goodall said "I'm sure they exist", and later said, chuckling, "Well, I'm a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist", and finally, "You know, why isn't there a body? I can't answer that, and maybe they don't exist, but I want them to." In 2012, when asked again by the Huffington Post, Goodall said "I'm fascinated and would actually love them to exist," adding, "Of course, it's strange that there has never been a single authentic hide or hair of the Bigfoot, but I've read all the accounts."