- Other names: Yard dog, yird swine
- Country reported: United Kingdom
The earth hound is described as a ratlike animal about the size of a ferret, with a long, doglike head, a piglike snout, prominent "tusks" or incisors, molelike feet, and a short bushy tail. Witness Archibald:
- "...describes it as being something between a rat and a weasel, and about the size of a ferret, head very like that of a dog, and I think he said the tail was not very long. At a casual glance it would be mistaken for a rat, but was quite unlike [one] on close examination."
Another eyewitness (or possibly Archibald again), described it as being:
- "...about the size of a rat. Asked about colour, he thought it was like a dark rat. It had feet like a mole, and a tail about half as long as a rat’s. Head was long and nostrils very prominent, suggesting a pig’s. Head somewhat like that of a guinea-pig. It had noticeable white "tusks", whatever that might mean – (probably incisors)…Mastrick is about 10 minutes’ walk from here, and curiously enough is close to the churchyard."
The first recorded mention of the earth hound was in 1881, when Reverend Walter Gregor wrote in Notes on the Folk-Lore of North East Scotland of:
- "...a mysterious dreaded sort of animal, called the 'yird swine'…believed to live in graveyards, burrowing among the dead bodies and devouring them."
In 1917, a gardener named Archibald recalled that 50 years earlier, his father was ploughing the fields near a churchyard in Deveron when he uncovered an earth hound in its nest. He tried to kick it to death, but it bit his boot so hard that it broke the leather, so he killed it with the plough’s swingle-tree, and took its carcass back home with him. Archibald and all the neighbours saw the carcass. Archibald later recounted the story to A. Smith of Wartle in Aberdeenshire.
When Alexander Fenton visited a Banffshire town called Reith in April 1990 he found that the earth hound was still spoken of. He was shown to a churchyard where the animal was supposed to live, but found no trace of it.
The identification of a badger was first suggested because "earth pig" and "earth hound" have both been used as local names for the animal in the British Isles, and because they are known to burrow through graves. However, Shuker points out that the physical description of the earth hound is entirely different to that of a badger, and that no country-living person could mistake a badger for anything else. The suggestion of a young wolverine was also dismissed by Shuker on similar grounds.
A June 1950 article in People's Journal claims that they are really rats, but Shuker writes that, although the earth pig is comparable to a rat in size, colour, and superficial form, its furry tail, digging feet, tusks, and hound-like head make this identity doubtful. Eyewitness Archibald also said that, although it resembled a rat at a distance, it was clearly distinguishable as a different animal up close.
Moles do possess digging feet, but not the hound-like head or tusks; and they certainly do not burrow into graves to eat corpses. The only other possibility is an undiscovered mustelid, but Shuker writes that he is sceptical of this due to the unlikeliness of a fairly large mammal existing in a country like the United Kingdom without ever being caught or photographed.