CUERO, Texas - Phylis Canion lived in Africa for four years. She's been a hunter all her life and has the mounted heads of a zebra and other exotic animals in her house to prove it.

But the roadkill she found last month outside her ranch was a new one even for her, worth putting in a freezer hidden from curious onlookers: Canion believes she may have the head of the mysterious, bloodsucking chupacabra.

"It is one ugly creature," Canion said, holding the head of the mammal, which has big ears, large fanged teeth and grayish-blue, mostly hairless skin.

Canion and some of her neighbors discovered the 40-pound bodies of three of the animals over four days in July outside her ranch in Cuero, 80 miles southeast of San Antonio. Canion said she saved the head of the one she found so she can get to get to the bottom of its ancestry through DNA testing.

She suspects that a chupacabra may have killed as many as 26 of her chickens in the past couple of years.

"I've seen a lot of nasty stuff. I've never seen anything like this," she said.

What tipped Canion to the possibility that this was no ugly coyote, but perhaps the vampire-like beast, is that the chickens weren't eaten or carried off - all the blood was drained from them, she said.

Chupacabra means "goat sucker" in Spanish, and it is said to have originated in Latin America, specifically Puerto Rico and Mexico.

But what folks are calling a chupacabra is probably just a strange breed of dog, said veterinarian Travis Schaar of the Main Street Animal Hospital in nearby Victoria.

"I'm not going to tell you that's not a chupacabra. I just think in my opinion a chupacabra is a dog," said Schaar, who has seen Canion's animals.

They could have all been part of a mutated litter of dogs, or they may be a new kind of mutt, he said.

As for the bloodsucking, Schaar said that this particular canine may simply have a preference for blood, letting its prey bleed out and licking it up.

Chupacabra or not, the discovery has spawned a local and international craze. Canion has started selling T-shirts that read: "2007, The Summer of the Chupacabra, Cuero, Texas," accompanied by a caricature of the creature.