I think all of us must have seen the following scene in a film, or read it in a book:

It is night, and there are cows standing in a field. All of a sudden, a flying saucer appears, and starts to beam the cows up to perform horrible with them.

This cliché has been used countless times, and the green aliens with big eyes clearly has a preference for cow.

I suspect this rather odd scene has a single origin, somewhere in the 30-ties or 40-ties. What is the origin of the cow abducting 'meme'?

  • 1
    You ask that as if aliens were not abducting cows. Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 2:47
  • Whoever close-voted this is mad.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 10:27

2 Answers 2


The quote from this article is illustrative of the issue.

"First, I thought [the cow] had died naturally, and then I got closer to it and I could see it wasn't natural," he said. "The eyes were gone, the tongue was gone. The ears were gone. The sex organs were cut out. It was just kind of weird."

The conventional explanation is that this matches what happens when cattle dies and lies in the field for a few days. Blood pools in the lower parts of the body, or is consumed by insects. Eyes, tongue, and other soft tissue are eaten by blowflies and vultures. "Precise" cuts appear due to bloating or dehydration.

No doubt this has been happening for as long as there have been cattle and ranchers chalked it up to cattle killed by predators. But in 1950s brought the UFO craze and now there was seemingly an explanation. Instead of looking for terrestrial explanations for odd occurrences, people began using extra-terrestrial ones. In the 1970s and 80s the UFO craze became increasingly exploited by books, television, and movies, some claiming to be documentaries, widening the public idea of a secret UFO invasion.

Aliens aren't the only ones blamed. Cultists, long associated with ritual animal mutilation, also get the blame. The media created in the public mind an idea of secret satanic cults surrounding sensational murderers like Ricky Kasso, Son Of Sam, the Zodiac Killer, and Charles Manson. Some are genuine cultists, some are not. Some might have mutilated cattle, but nobody has been caught in the act. But this added to the public imagination more explanations for mutilated cattle.

Cattle mutilation reached such a height in the US public consciousness that in 1974 the FBI was asked by the Senate to conduct an investigation citing numerous claims from ranchers of cattle mutilation. This investigation was completed in 1979 and concluded the cause was natural predators, plus some unexplained anomalies.

An alternative explanation is money. The aforementioned FBI report said 8,000 "mutilations" in Colorado cost ranchers an estimated million dollars. If this was due to natural causes, or the rancher's negligence, the ranchers are out. If this is due to a government cover up or cultists, maybe they can get compensated! It's not necessarily a sensible idea, but one can see the psychological lure: "it's not my fault, there's a government conspiracy"!


I can understand why you didn't just google it, because the results can lead down a rabbit hole of ... doubtful... websites.

However, this article from the Huffington Post mentions earliest use of cattle mutilations occurring in the early 1960s.

Cattle Mutilation Theories - Caution: Graphic Imagery

  • Searching for was difficult indeed. It was like finding a picture of the island "black rock" east of Argentina... Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 9:03
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    -1 I am super skeptical about using a "documentary" (I cannot put enough quotes around that word) called "The Unexplained Files" as a historical source. They appear to be rehashing all the tired "mysteries" with the usual focus on sensationalism and not checking their "witness" reports. Here's a clip from that show.
    – Schwern
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:51
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    @Schwern I can't contradict your statement. As I stated, beginning to search on this leads you down a rabbit hole of kooks and nutcases. The question, though, was fairly clear: not whether there is any "truth" to these, not whether these are actual third-party inflicted mutilation, but merely when people attributed "aliens", as in extra-terrestrial visitors.
    – Marakai
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 0:18

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