Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 1: September 1977

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Cattle Mutilations Called Episode Of Collective Delusion

During the past several years, farmers in the western states have been reporting dead cattle that seemed strangely mutilated. Soft, exposed parts, such as the ears and genitals, were apparently removed with surgical precision. Some corpses seemed bloodless. Local papers blamed satan worshippers and UFO occupants.

This paper analyzes the 1974 mutilation "flaps" in South Dakota and Nebraska, with special attention to the rapid rise and equally rapid decline of public interest as measured by newspaper coverage. In the opinion of the author, these two episodes are classic cases of mild mass hysteria, similar to the occasional crazes of automobile window-pitting. In all cases where university veterinarians examined the corpses, the mutilations were ascribed to small predatory animals. The veterinarians also pointed out that blood coagulates in a couple days after death, accounting for the frequent "bloodless" condition. With such expert reassurances, the "mass delusions" subsided quickly. Cattle mutilation flaps are thus seen by the author as episodes when people interpret the mundane in bizarre new ways, due perhaps to cultural tensions.

It is noted, however, that expert veterinarians examined only a few of the dozens of mutilations, and that some people rejected the above commonplace explanations.

(Stewart, James H.; "Cattle Mutilations: An Episode of Collective Delusion," The Zetetic, 1:55, Spring/Summer 1977.)

From Science Frontiers #1, September 1977. 1977-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987