Mythology is ripe with outlandish stories, brutish gods (seriously, if you've never looked up Medusa's origin story, you'll understand her so much better--I'd become bitter and murderous, too), and freakish creatures that sport the characteristics of multiple animals. It seems so strange that people would believe in some of these weird creatures, and even stranger that they would fear or respect them.
In China, people believed that this creature was a companion to the gods and appeared to people only when a very wise person or great king was born or died. Despite its strange and fearsome appearance--the head of a dragon, scales of a dragon or a fish, antlers of a deer, and the body of a horse--it is described as incredibly gentle, so much so that it is afraid to walk on grass in case it harms even the smallest of creatures. As such, it's often drawn walking on clouds or water. Despite its predominately peaceful nature, however, according to legend it kills the wicked people it meets.
This creature comes from Korean mythology. It was said to have the head and body of a bear, needle-like fur and skin, the claws of a tiger, a bull's tail, an elephant's nose, and the eyes of a rhino. As hilarious as it looks, it also has an amusing creation story; a monk literally got bored one day and decided to make it out of leftover rice. Once he made it, the creature started eating everything made of metal that it could find--including needles--and kept growing.
3. Cockatrice (aka Basilisk)
This creature looks nothing like the giant serpent in the "Harry Potter" movies; the original creature, which people actually believed in, looks so comedic that it's hard to believe it could have been feared (although admittedly it does have an arsenal of terrifying abilities). It has the head and feet of a rooster, the tail of a snake, and is often depicted with bat-like wings sprouting from its serpentine back. It was believed that these creatures were brought about when a cock (yes, I mean an actual male chicken - mythology doesn't have to make biological sense) laid an egg and a snake or toad incubated and hatched it. It could supposedly kill with a glance, turning its victims to stone (which perhaps it did so that no one would have time to laugh at it), and was thought to have saliva so venomous that it could kill an elephant. Its only natural enemies were believed to be weasels and roosters; weasels were said to be immune to the basilisk's powers and to secrete a deadly poison, while it was said that simply hearing a rooster's crow would kill a basilisk on the spot. People were so terrified of them that villagers would carry roosters with them in order to ward the basilisks off. There's also a similar Korean creature, called gye-ryong, which seems to be respected rather than feared, since roosters and dragons (it's considered a type of dragon there) are members of the Twelve Symbolic Animals; it was seen as a chariot-pulling creature and there is even a legend surrounding a princess being born from a gye-ryong's egg.
4. Questing Beast
This strange creature has its origins in the Arthurian legends of Celtic mythology, where it is hunted by the famous knights. It has the head of a snake, body of a leopard, hindquarters of a lion, and hooves of a deer. Supposedly it sounded like the barking of thirty dogs. Not too much else is known about it outside of what's given in the Arthurian legends, but I have a soft spot for this one.
5. Bean Nighe
Bean Nighe is a messenger from the Otherworld who, while she sometimes appears as a beautiful woman, usually appears as an ugly human-like creature with one nostril, one tooth, and webbed feet. Legend says that she appears washing the blood-soaked clothes of those who will soon die, and that if passerby ask her she will give them the names of those doomed to die. It's also said that, if you're careful, you can ask her three questions--but only if you're prepared to answer three of her questions in return.
This creature is said to have the body of a man...sewn onto the back of a rotting horse. In short, he's incredibly gruesome and equally evil; the people of Scotland once saw Nuckelavee as responsible for all kinds of natural disasters. Essentially he liked to go on murderous rampages in the form of floods and horrible storms.
While these aren't gross and certainly aren't malevolent, I love this mermaid-like creature. Selkies are seals in the sea but sometimes choose to shed their seal's skin and come ashore as humans (usually as beautiful women, of course). There are a lot of Irish and Scottish legends surrounding them, as Selkies were often believed to take human lovers while on land, sometimes staying for years before yielding to the draw of the sea and disappearing in the night. If their human lover knows that they are a Selkie, however, they can find the seal skin and hide it or destroy it so that the Selkie can never return to the sea.
A creature in Greek mythology (but originally adapted from a Persian legend) that had the head of a man, horns, shark-like rows of teeth, the body of a lion, and the tail of either a dragon or a scorpion. Despite its human face, it was a vicious creature, incapable of language, that was believed to hide behind tall grass so that only its human face was exposed, prompting curious passerby to come close enough for it to attack and eat them whole--including their clothes and possessions. Many modern-day illustrations either give the manticores dragon-like wings for a little extra flair like the one above, draw a lion's face instead of a man's, or both.
These are shape shifting creatures found in Brazilian mythology; they live most of their lives in an underwater city called Encante in the form of dolphins, but will often come ashore in human form. As humans, they are pale and graceful but have a bald spot and a blowhole at the top of their head; as such, they always cover their heads with hats. They were often described as loving music, dancing, and parties and were thought to have beautiful singing voices; it was also thought that Encantado would sometimes live on land for years at a time, making a living as a musician. When they returned to Encante, however, they often kidnapped lovers or children they'd had on land to keep them company in their underwater home.
This is another monstrously mutated, fire-breathing creature born from Greek mythology. It had the head and body of a lion, a tail that ended in a snake's head, and a goat's head attached to its back.
Two words: Horse sirens. In Scotland, kelpies were thought to be shape shifting water spirits who preferred to take the form of a horse. They lure people--especially children--to climb onto their backs, but once mounted their victims find that the horse has become sticky and they cannot get off. The kelpie then plunges into the river, dragging their victim to the bottom to eat them. While a kelpie's favorite form is a horse, they can also shape shift into humans, usually taking the form of a beautiful woman in order to lure young men into the water or appearing as hairy humans so that they can ambush travelers and crush them to death before dragging them into the river. They can also summon floods to sweep people close to the river into the water and straight into their awaiting jaws, so they're pretty dangerous. They do have one weakness, though: anyone who can grab and hold onto a kelpie's bridle gains control of not only that kelpie, but all kelpies. So basically you'd gain control over a massive horse siren army.