Living Pterosaurs ("pterodactyls")?

© 2004-2017, Glen J. Kuban

Part of Kuban's web sites

Last revised: 28 April 2017

Figure 1. Rhamphorhynchus reconstruction Pterosaurs are an extinct group of prehistoric flying reptiles, sometimes called "pterodactyls," although technically that term refers only to a certain subgroup of pterosaurs with short tails, such as the specimen in Fig. 2. Based on fossil evidence, namely the lack of any known post-Cretaceous pterosaur remains, most scientists believe that pterosaurs went extinct along with non-avian dinosaurs about 64 million years ago. Nevertheless, some cryptozoologists and young earth creationists (YECs) have argued that one or more pterosaur species may have survived into modern times, and that some may still be alive today.
Figure 2. Pterodactyl cast
Figure 2. Pterodactylus kochi (cast)
A short-tailed Jurassic pterosaur,
about the size of a robin
Solnhofen Limestone, Germany

Whereas I acknowledged this as a remote possibility, I like most conventional scientists remain skeptical, since much of the supposed evidence for living pterosaurs relies on reported "sightings" which lack credible photos or other forensic documentation, making their credibility difficult to confirm. Generally speaking, such anecdotal evidence is not considered a sound basis for firm scientific conclusions. Indeed, numerous studies have indicated that eyewitness testimony is often far from reliable, and can be affected by numerous factors, including physical and temporal distance, mindset, bias, etc. (Arkowitz, 2010; Engelhardt, 1999).

Other alleged evidence for modern pterosaurs includes artifacts or rock etchings of questionable origin or subjective interpretation. Besides the paucity of clear photographs or video of the actual animals, what is sorely lacking is any reliably documented forensic or physical remains such as carcasses, bones, eggs, nests, or tracks. In fact, both sightings and physical evidence for living pterosaurs are less abundant and even more equivocal than for other unconfirmed putative creatures such as Big Foot or the "Loch Ness Monster," which is probably why even among YECs and cryptozoologists, relatively few promote the idea of living pterosaurs.

Some who do endorse living pterosaurs have suggested that mainstream scientists are unduly biased against the idea on the grounds that such finds would threaten conventional geology and evolution. However, this is a misguided notion, since the survival a remnant species from a group of animals once thought extinct would be a wonderful discovery, but not the least problematic for evolution or an old earth. Indeed, most scientists (including me) would wholeheartedly welcome any such find (as long as it was properly documented). As evidence, when such discoveries have been made before, such as Latimeria (a modern species of Coelacanth fish thought long extinct until one was caught off the coast of Africa in 1938), and Metasequoa (Dawn Redwood), scientists were not dismayed, nor tried to cover them up, but the opposite: they openly celebrated and widely publicized them. Moreover, representatives of many other groups that were alive while dinosaurs roamed the earth are still with us today, including sharks and other fish groups, crocodillians, turtles, lizards, birds, etc., although the ancient forms are not the same species as the modern ones.

In this regard, the focus of some YECs on finding living pterosaurs or other possible survivors of prehistoric groups, in apparent hopes that this will refute evolution or confirm their young-earth views is misplaced.1 What YECs actually need to refute the conventional geology is essentially the opposite: reliable evidence of modern forms existing much earlier in the geologic record than evolutionary theory can comfortably accommodate, such as humans or other large modern mammals anywhere in the early Mesozoic, Paleozoic, or Precambrian. This is not too much to ask, since YECism holds that most fossils were deposited together in a worldwide flood just a few thousand years, meaning that there should be countless thousands of such finds. Yet not one reliably documented example exists, as acknowledged even by large YEC groups such as AIG (Answers in Genesis). Likewise, the suggestion of some that conventional scientists are blinded by a "universal dogma of extinction" (Whitcomb, 2012) is readily dispelled by the fact that they already accept that not all dinosaurs are extinct, since birds are now regarded by almost all paleontologists as a branch of feathered dinosaurs. So it is clear that scientific skepticism over the concept of living pterosaurs is not due to prejudice or dogma, but a lack of compelling evidence.
Pteranodon in flight
Figure 2b. Pteranodon in flight
Heron in flight
Figure 2c. Heron in flight, resembling a Pteranodon-like pterosaur. Credit: Janet Fikar

Reported Sightings

Many websites and several books relate numerous alleged eyewitness accounts of modern pterosaur sightings in several countries, and many U.S. states. However, many entail only vague or sketchy descriptions, which are often not clearly compatible with pterosaurs, or incompatible with other creatures, and none are accompanied by convincing photos. Even if we assume that all of the witnesses are honest, serious, sober, and sane (a difficult proposition to demonstrate), it is usually difficult to rule out mistaken identifications. A number of large birds, including herons, egrets, cranes, storks, vultures, and frigates, as well as large fruit bats, can present pterosaur-like shapes (Hill, 2014), especially if seen from a distance and/or in silhouette. Some birds such as frigates have long tails can resemble profiles of long-tailed rhamphorhynchid pterosaurs in flight, as can herons, cranes, and storks that fly with their long legs lend outstretched behind them. Some have wing spans over 9 feet, and head crests that from a distance can be mistaken for the crests of Pteranodon-like pterodactyls. Other animals in flight, such as certain bats and short tailed birds, can resemble short tailed pterosaurs. Another complicating factor is that many people have relatively little familiarity with the details of pterosaur anatomy, or with the variery of large birds that may inhabit an area, especially when they (the people that is) travel to new areas.

Another problem, largely ignored by living-pterosaur advocates, is that a wide variety of pterosaur kites, radio-controlled models, and pterosaur "ornithopters" (models with flapping wings) have been available for decades from commercial sources, while others are custom built by hobbiests. Some are quite realistic looking, and could well be mistaken for real pterosaurs, especially when seen from a distance. For example, a YouTube video entitled "Real FLYING "DRAGONS" found alive & caught on camera?! (Pterosaurs, Pterodactyls & Thunderbirds!)", which has no narration (just dramatic music) shows at least two radio controlled pterosaur models, as well as some models in trees, and dubious historic photos such as those shown in Figures 5 and 6 below. One of the RC models shows rear leg vanes that are so distinct, one can identify its specific RC manufacturer (Martson). Several other YouTube videos purporting to show living pterosayrs show similarly dubious photos and video, most lacking source information.

A Thought.com site (Wagner, 2017) relates several typical pterosaur sightings in the U.S., such as the following:

"Early 1960s, California - A couple driving through Trinity National Forest reported seeing the silhouette of a giant "bird" that they estimated to have a wingspan of 14 feet. They later described it as resembling a pterodactyl."

"January, 1976, Harlingen, Texas - Teens Jackie Davis and Tracey Lawson reported seeing a "bird" on the ground that stood five feet tall, was dark in color with a bald head and a face like a gorilla's with a sharp, six-inch-long beak. A subsequent investigation by their parents uncovered tracks that had three toes and were eight inches across."

Frigate birds in flight Frigate bird in flight
Figure 2d. Frigate birds in flight. Note the lack of
obvious feathers when observed from a distance. When
the legs are held together, they can resemble long
tails of rhamphorhynchid pterosaurs

radio-controlled pterosaurs
Radio controlled pterosaurs
"Radio controlled pterosaurs in flight"

Notice that both specifically refer to birds, with the first only mentioning a resemblance to a pterodactyl. As far as the large size goes, people are notoriously poor at estimating the size of objects, especially if in the sky or at a distance. In this case, we don't even know how far away the creature was. The second account describes a face unlike any known pterosaur, and refers to three toed tracks, even though pterosaurs had four large toes and one small toe on each hind foot. Similar inconsistencies are found in many other "eyewitness" accounts, and again, even if they were entirely consistent with pterosaurs and contained no problematic aspects, without clear photographic or physical evidence to back them up, they cannot be regarded as reliable evidence.

This brings up an important scientific principle. When extraordinary claims are made, the burden of proof (or at least compelling evidence) rests on those making claims, not those questioning them. With a little thought, it's clear why this has to be the case. Otherwise, we'd have to accept any fantastic or extreme claim that anyone makes unless one could disprove it, and that is not reasonable. For example, if someone claimed that hoof prints in their yard were made a unicorn, the burden must be on them to demonstrate that, not on others to disprove it. This would be especially so if other considerations or evidence undermined the credibilitiy the claim, such as (in this case) the presence of horse stables nearby.

Of course, some alleged pterosaur sightings that are so specific and detailed that mistaken identification is not lilkely, but in those cases, we still have to rule out other possibilities, such as faulty memories, exaggerated descriptions, and outright hoaxes (whether malicious or not). For example, a detailed and sensational report of a modern pterosaur was recounted by active creationist Carl Baugh in his book Panorama of Creation(Baugh, 1989). After incorrectly referring to pterodactyls as "flying dinosaurs" Baugh states:

"The record states that in France, some workmen, in the winter of 1856, while working on a railway tunnel between St. Dizey and the Nancy lines, came across a huge boulder of Jurassic Limestone, which precedes the Cretaceous by several million years. After they had broken open the limestone, stumbling out of the tunnel toward them was a creature which fluttered its wings, croaked, and collapsed dead at their feet. This creature had a wingspan of ten feet, seven inches, with four legs joined by a membrane like a bat. What should have been feet were long talons. The mouth was arrayed with sharp teeth. The skin was black, oily, and thick. Local students of paleontology immediately identified this creature as being a pterodactyl. This was all reported in The Illustrated London News, February 9, 1856, page 156. They examined the limestone from which the creature had been released and found a cavity in the exact mold of the creatures body. It this is true, it is absolutely impossible for that creature to have lived more than a few thousand years in any form of hibernation...The worldwide, biblical Noahic flood explains this phenomena [sic] far better than the evolutionary process (Baugh, 1989).
Astute readers will readily recognize the inherent absurdities in this account. While Baugh says the creature could not live inside the rock more than a few thousand years, his own interpretation requires that it be remain buried alive since Noah's Flood--over four thousand years by his own time reckoning (Baugh, 1989). Baugh's reference to hibernation does not begin to explain how it managed to live and breath without any oxygen for a time span orders of magnitude greater than any creature's normal life span. Of course, common sense dictates that the creature could not live inside a sealed rock for thousands of years, or hundreds of years, or even one hour for that matter.

A TalkOrigins archive article adds some interesting background on the newspaper account:

At the time, there was a great Franco-Prussian rivalry, and the Solnhofen Limestone from Bavaria (from which Archaeopteryx would later be discovered) was producing many fabulous fossils which were loudly trumpeted by German paleontologists. When a tunnel was being built in France through limestone the same age as the Solnhofen Limestone, French "gentlemen geologists" took the opportunity to trumpet a story of their own. In the original report, the pterodactyl crumbled to dust, conveniently leaving no evidence." (Isaak, 2005)

Lest the reader wonder whether Baugh intended the story to be taken seriously, he remarks, "...having so many other anomalies, we certainly do not doubt this account..." Evidently by Baugh's reasoning, but since there are many unexplained things in the world, this fantastic story must be true. Baugh also assures the reader that the story was related in "a verifiable publication," as if its appearance in a newspaper assures its accuracy.

Remarkably, Baugh was not the only YEC to publicize this story as a credible account. In an article in Creation magazine, a publication of Creation Ministries International (CMI), entitled "Are dinosaurs alive today?: Where Jurassic Park went wrong!" Robert Doolan described how workmen in France "disturbed a huge winged creature... ... while blasting rock for the tunnel" and that "it died soon after."(Doolan, 1993). Later, a disclaimer on the web version of the article noted Doolan retracted this statement "new evidence shows that it was a hoax" - as if he iniitally had no reason to question whether a creature would be living inside an ancient rock, and then survive a while longer after being blasted out of it.

Even if the story didn't entail the preposterous elements noted above, there were clues that it was a hoax from the start. Some of them relate to details omitted from Baugh's version. As noted by cryptozoologist Karl Shuker (1997), natural history hoaxes were common in English periodicals of the day. This pterodactyl story indicated that a naturalist identified the creature as "Pterodactylus anas" but there is no pterosaur species with that name. Nor would there be, since Pterodactylus is a genus of small (mostly robin-sized) pterosaurs (Figure 2), whereas the creature in the story was reported to have a wingspan of 3.22 meters (about 10 1/2 feet). Moreover, the word "anas" is Latin for duck. The French word for Duck is canard, which means a hoax or invented story.2

Vertebrate paleontologists Darren Naish (1995) remarked on the Dinosaur List (a web-based paleontology forum) that this pterodactyl-in-a-rock story might have been inspired by stories of toads found alive in rocks. He notes that despite such rumors, only one such specimen has been retrieved, and this was "found" by the same man responsible for the Piltdown hoax. Moreover, there are quite plausible explanations for toads in rocks; namely that the creature either crawled in a small hole or crevasse which was not noticed then the rock was broken open, or that eggs or a tadpole might have been laid or fallen in a smaller opening, possibly trapping an adult (which might live for a while from insects passing by). At any rate, there is no evidence that any animals have been found "alive" in a tightly sealed rock, nor any reason to expect they would be.

Alleged Pterosaurs ("ropens") in Papua New Guinea

Baugh and a handful of other "living pterosaur" and young earth proponents, including David Whitcomb, David Woetzel, Paul Nation, and Garth Guessman have conducted expeditions to Paupa New Guinea (PNG) in hopes of confirming reports of living pterosaurs there.

Baugh's "Creation Evidence Museum" website states that CEM has sponsored PNG expeditions n 1994 and 1996, and that these excursions resulted in nocturnal, eyewitness sightings of "bioluminescent pterosaurs." Baugh notes that nationals and missionaries in the area describe "flying reptiles with wingspans up to 25' across," which have the habit of "scavenging gravesites for food." Reportedly they are known to locals as "ropens." Baugh' site gives no names of witnesses or photos of the alleged creatures. A "Creation in the Crossfire" web page by Garth Guessman states that Baugh himself saw one of these pterosaurs through a monocular night scope, and "snapped a photo of a strange print in the sand the next morning." However, neither Baugh nor Guessman's web pages show the photo in question.

Paul Nation of Granbury, Texas, who accompanied Baugh on his 1994 PNG trip, conducted his own expeditions there in 2002, 2006, and 2007. He returned with footage of the moving lights that he and others interpret as possible biolumiescent pterosaurs, but without any clear photographic evidence of the creatures (Whitcomb, 2010).

Jonathan Whitcomb of California, who describes himself as a "foresensice videographer", traveled to Papua New Guinea in 2004 after reading about Baugh and Nation's initial expeditions. Whitcomb did obtain some clear video and photos; however, they are of local "witnesses" not the creatures in question. On one of his websites called "Pterosaurs Still Living" Whitcomb recounts several interviews with local residents. After retracting some claims from earlier interviews, such as a false report about multiple pterodactyls being seen at once (which he attributes to language and translation difficulties) Whitcomb indicates that the consensus of local testimonies indicates a single, primarily nocturnal rhamphorhynchid pterosaur species having a wing span of 20 to 25 feet, which often uses bioluminescent lights while flying and fishing. Whitcomb describes how he used a knife to draw in the sand, in order to help a witness named Gideon identify the creature. After drawing a pointed head-like shape, Gideon "continued drawing the body and wings." Whitcomb remarks in that the drawing is "not visually accurate as he [Gideon] is not a realistic artist." No offense to Whitcomb, but judging from the portion drawn by himself, neither is he.

Whitcomb's site also displays photos of some museum artworks from the area. One captions asks how these carvings might relate to the creature sightings. However, a likely answer is revealed in another caption, which acknowledges, "The artistic representations do not necessarily closely resemble any pterosaur." Indeed, one could as easily interpret the artwork as composite of several known creatures or mythical/spiritual beings (demons, dragons, etc), so the potential significance to the Ropen creature seems tenuous at best.

Also related on Whitcomb's website is a sighting by strict creationist David Woetzel, who reportedly observed a possible "Ropen" on Umboi Island in the fall of 2004. The site states, "This may be the best sighting on this island by a westerner in years." If so, it evidently is not saying much, the web site goes on to clarify that all Woetzel saw was a light move across the sky for 2 seconds. In personal communication, Woetzel confirmed that he did not see any actual any bodily form, just a brief light.

Woetzel maintains a website called "Genesis Park" where he briefly describes his 2004 PNG expedition. He relates anecdotal reports of locals, and describes his own sighting (evidently the same one related by Whitcomb) as follows: "a large, yellowish glow approximately 20-25% the size of the full moon was observed to fly behind one of the volcanic peaks. The light left no trail and it twinkled around the edges. The whole sighting lasted for only a few seconds." Woetzel's website also related that a female missionary pilot experienced a "near miss" with the creature in the mid 1980's, and that she "took a fascinating picture of the Ropen off the wing of her plane while flying near Mt. Barik." However, he showed no picture, nor explained what happened to it. More recently Woetzel related that upon doing more research, he concluded that the pilot was not credible. To his credit, Woetzel has removed the questionable account from his website.

Frigate bird mistaken for pterosaur
Figure 3. Screen capture of alleged video of pterosaur
from Papua New Guinea (left) and a female frigate bird (right)

A Salem-News.com article (Aym, 2010) describes Woetzel's more recent PNG expeditions, includes a photo stil from a video, with the caption, "Amazing amateur daylight video of a 'Ropen' (Dimorphodon pterosaur) hunting for fish off a Papua New Guinea beach." Unfortunately, when one compares a silhouette of a frigate bird in flight with a screen capture from the video (Figure 3), it's clear that the animal in question is a bird, not a pterosaur. What's unclear is where the video came from. I have not been able to reach the author, and Woetzel related in personal communication (2017) that it did not come from him.

Alleged African Pterosaurs ("Kongamto")

Kent Hovind is a vocal YEC who claims there is compelling evidence of "living pterodactyls." Michael Snoeck, who maintains a website, archiving Hovind's creation seminars, relates that in Kenya, Africa, local natives knew of a living pterosaur named Kongamato. Reportedly a Kenyan exchange student at Louisiana State University named "Romandi" stated that there were living pterosaurs in "his village back home" which had a wing span of about four feet. However, the name of the village was not given, nor any photos or other corroboration of the student's report. Hovind was reportedly contacted by an African explorer named Melland, who heard repeated reports about a creature by the same name (Kongamato) that inhabits the swamps of the Belgian Congo. Natives were said to have described it as not quite bird-like, but "more like a lizard with wings of skin like a bat's." Hovind states that the natives identified pictures of pterodactyls as the same creature, and ends by remarking "Folks, have we been lied to about dinosaurs being dead for millions of years?" Apparently Hovind is unaware that birds are considered a branch of feathered dinosaurs by almost all modern paleontologists, and that pterosaurs are not dinosaurs. So ironically, dinosaurs are still with us, while by the preponderance of evidence, pterosaurs are not.

Other alleged sightings, especially in the southern hemisphere may be explained by fruit bats. Some fruit bats such as "flying foxes" (Fig. 4) grow quite large (with wing spans over 4 feet across), and if seen in silhouette (which would be the case at night) can present a pterosaur-like profile, especially to nonscientific observers.

Flying Fox 2 Flying Fox bat in Flight
Figure 4. "Flying Foxes" (large fruit bats) in flight
Of course, no bats are known to be bioluminescent, or to have long tails or wing spans of 25 feet. However, the bioluminescent feature seems tenuous, since only a few sightings even claim to include an actual pterosaur form with the lights. And no mammals (modern or ancient) are known to possess bioluminescence. Nor, as far as I know, have the living-pterosaur advocates proposed a plausible mechanism to explain it. A superficial coating caused by luminescent algae picked up from the water seems unlikely; the pterosaur proponents themselves suggest the lights only last a few seconds and are under the pterosaur's control. As far as the size of the beast goes, this would be difficult to judge from a distance, especially in the air. Furthermore, the larger the creature, the more difficult it is to explain why they are not seen more often and regularly photographed. It would be hard to miss 25 foot pterosaurs soaring around, even at night. Whitcomb, Baugh, and others insist that the PNG locals are well aware of fruit bats and would have no trouble distinguishing them from pterosaurs. However, this seems less certain when the animals are viewed from a distance, and as discussed earlier, various birds in flight, can also present an even more pterosaur-like appearance. Their tails and rear leg lengths vary considerably, but so did the feet and tails of pterosaurs. In any case, its difficult to put much confidence in anecdotal reports.

Alleged Photographic Evidence

Boy holding a pterosaur
Figure 5a. Odd looking pterosaur, widely
considered a fake
Floopy pterosaur photo
Figure 5b. Another dubious modern pterosaur photo
Strung-up pterosaur
Figure 5c. Strung up pterosaur (likely fake)
Bat winged pterosaur
Figure 5d. Fake pterosaur with bat-like wings
Bat winged pterosaur
Figure 5e. Rumored "Thunderbird" photo?

Only a handful of photographs have been presented as possible evidence for modern pterodactyls, and even these are strongly questioned or rejected by most researchers, including most YECs and cryptozoologists. Some are apparent misidentifications of birds or other creatures, while others are likely hoaxes. Among the latter is a photo shown on several websites (Fig. 5a), showing a young man wearing a ranger-like hat, holding a creature resembling a long-tailed pterosaur. However, the head is unusually tiny, the wings unusually wide, and no reliable information exists as to the source or age of the photo. Another rumored to have been taken in the 1800's (Fig. 5b) shows a rather crumpled and floppy looking pterosaur, which is also widely regarded as a fake, as are the creatures in Figures 5c and 5d. The latter seems to have a fairly well-done head, but was given bat-like wings, with multiple finger bones extending into the wing membranes. In contrast, pterosaur weing membranes were supported by the arm and a single greatly elongated finger, as shown in Figure 7. The last example (Fig. 5e) is a very indistinct photo of uncertain origin, representing another likely fake. It is one of the candidates for the long-lost "Thunderbird" photo rumored to have been originally featured in a newspaper in th late 1800's, but which no one has been able to reliably track down.

Pterosaur hoax
Figure 6a. Civil War "pterosaur"
Widely acknowledged as a hoax
Ptp photo
Figure 6b. Alleged "genuine" Civil War photo
claimed by some to be a modern Pteranodon
Other examples include two controversial photographs, which have recently been the subject of much discussion on the web, largely due to active promotions by Jonathan Whitcomb and associates. Both photos show a giant Pteranodon-like pterosaur carcass posed with several rifle-bearing Civil War soldiers. One (Figure 6a) is widely recognized as a hoax used (and perhaps specially created) for the Fox television "Freaky Links" TV series. A similar photo sometimes referred to as "ptp" (Figure 6b), has been claimed by Jonathan Whitcomb to be a "genuine" photo, showing a real modern pterosaur, which he suggests was the basis for the Freaky Links hoax. Whitcomb correctly pointed out that I and others originally confused the two photos, and I thank him for that clarification. However, to me neither photo appears authentic, and the creature in the ptp photo has even more serious and obvious problems than the Freaky Links photo (discussed further below).

Several websites state that the ptp photo was reportedly taken near Vicksburg VA in 1864, without citing any specific sources for this, or even the original source of the photo. Whitcomb states that "many people" recall seeing the photo in a book during the 1970's, but none have cited any particular book. Cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon pointed out a number of signs of modern photo editing, including the lack of fingers grasping the rifle of one of the soldiers, the presence of edge halos typical of Photoshop manipulation, and signs of blur filter usage (Drinnon, 2012). Others have also pointed out the suspiciously blurry and grainy nature of the photo, compared to the sharp focus of most photos from the time.

Even more serious problems arise when one compares the creature in the photos to real Pteranodon remains. Among the ones I immediately noticed were the following:

1. The animal appears to have large teeth, whereas Pteranodons were toothless
2. The upper beak appears thick, downward bent, and rounded at the end, whereas real Pteranodon beaks are slender, straight or curved upward, and sharp at the end.
3. The head is too small for the size of the body and wings, compared to real Pteranodons.
4. There are no signs of the lesser digits on the forearms.

David Peters, an active pterosaur researcher, noted the following additional problems (Peters, 2001):

- The head is too small. It should be longer than shoulder to wing fingers, even without the crest.
- The head is too wide.
- The crest is too thick. Real Pteranodon crests are very thin --only about 1/8 inch thick.
- The wings material appears cloth-like, whereas pterosaur wing membranes were evidently thin and taut, and probably translucent.
- The metacarpals should be very long, but appear short in the photo.
- The portion of wing beyond the free fingers appears way too short.
- The photo shows no propatagia (the anterior wing material between the wrist and shoulder)
- Either the "Pteranodon" is lacking a forearm (radius and ulna) or is lacking hand bones (metacarpals) because the proportions are wrong in the wing.

As a result of all these problems (and others) the overall the general appearance of the animal is quite unnatural - more closely resembling a cheesy Pteranodon from early Hollywood movies, or even "Rodan" from old Japanese films (which was probably loosely based on a Pteranodon) than a credible Pteranodon carcass. Even Whitcomb acknowledged in his earlier writings that the photo and creature in it had some suspicious features, including "canoe-like wings," although he rationalized that they could have appeared that way due to rigor mortis. (Whitcomb, 2017a).

However, after receiving some communications from YEC physicist Clifford Paiva in early 2017, Whitcomb and Paiva evidently put aside any initial concerns, and publically declared that they had developed new evidence that both the ptp photo and creature in it were authentic. Whitcomb summarized their main lines of evidence as follows (Whitcomb, 2017c):

1. The shadows are consistent with a real soldier's boot on the beak of the animal.
2. Anatomical features of the head and neck, etc. point to it being a real pterosaur.
3. The positions of the solders is consistent with a Civil War photograph.
4. Marks on the ground suggest the animal was dragged to a good location for photography.
5. A broken sapling suggests they prepared to drag the animal past the sapling.

Pterosaur hoax
Figure 7. Pterosaur, bird, and bat wings
Compare pterosaur wing to model in Fig. 5d.
Despite calling these points "direct evidence" for living pterosaurs, all are weak at best, and do nothing to counter the more serious problems related above.

Point 1 is irrelevant, since the shadows are equally consistent with an actor standing on a model pterosaur.

Point 2 is ambiguous and ignores the aforementioned problems with the shape and features of the head, beak, and crest. Even if the head and neck matched a real Pteranodon, they could be created by any competent hoaxer. In some articles Whitcomb suggests that an apparent humped shape of the neck is indicative of a real pterosaur and not something a hoaxer would know about or create. I don't see anything especially special about the neck that would make it unlikely for a model maker to intentionally (or even unknowingly) create. After all, if Whitcomb could notice certain pterosaur features, so could a hoaxer. Whitcomb's comments about little being known about pterosaurs at the time of the Civil War mean little, since again, the photo could have been staged and taken only decades ago, or even more recently, due to the uncertainties discussed above.

Points 3 and 4 are also moot, since the positions soldiers could simply be the result of actors recreating a Civil War photo, while the marks on the ground could be as readily be the result of their dragging a model pterosaur as a real one.

Point 5 is a stretch at best, since there could be any number of reasons for a broken sapling.

In other articles Whitcomb emphasizes that under magnification the eye pupil can be seen to have a "reptilian" slit-like shape. However, to me this is not clear; all I see are two dark areas near the top and bottom of the eye. Even if it did have a slit-like pupil, it proves nothing, since not all reptiles have slit-like eyes, and it's unknown what kind of eyes Pteranodons had. Whitcomb suggests that using a slit-like pupil is not something a hoax creator would think of, whereas it actually seems entirely plausible, if not likely, that anyone taking the time to manufacture a large model pterosaur would also take the time to check what type of eyes most reptiles had.

Whitcomb claims the photo was taken before 1970, but has provided nothing more than unsubstantiated, anecdotal claims that many people recall seeing it in a book in the 1950's or 60's. None can recall exactly what book, or relocate it. It therefore seeems quite possible that they could have remembered a different but similar photo, perhaps one of those shown in Fig. 5. A similar situation exists with regard to the renown "Thunderbird photo", which has been widely disussed in Cryptozoologist circles. According to sketchy recollections of many people, it showed several ranchers or cowboys posed alongside or under a giant bird or pterodactyl carcass. Some say they recall seeing such a photo "some book" years ago, and others suggest it was originally freatured in a Tombstone newspaper in 1892, but no one has been able to confirm either, or demonstrate which (if any) of the photos shown in Fig. 5 might be the photo in question.

Whitcomb argues that the "yellow" photo and php photos show too many common features for the similarities to be coincidental, and that since the ptp photo is older, the fake yellow one was based on it. That may be. However, besides the age of the yellow photo being very uncertain, Whitcomb's contention that the ptp photo is therefore is a real Civil War photo of a real pterosaur does not follow. When all factors discussed above are considered, it's likely that it is neither.

Whitcomb goes so far as to propose that the FreakyLinks producers engaged in a pre-meditated, anti-YEC plot to discredit the "genuine" ptp photo, by producing and publicizing an inferior photo that could be easily refuted and confused with the original. Besides being highly conjectural, this presumes that the ptp photo and animal in it are substantially more convincing than the yellow one, which is not the case. Although the details of the pterosaur are hard to discern in the yellow photo, many of the more easily seen details in the php photo are highly problematic. Again, even Whitcomb initally acknowledged problems with both the photo and pterosaur in it.

Aside from all of these issues, one might ask how populations of gigantic flying creatures managed to exist without being very frequently seen, reported, and recorded by many other people of the day (or since), or how a band of solders managed to shoot one down with muskets, or why it was not reported in any newspapers or scientific publications of the day.

Whitcomb attempts to rationalize the last problem by suggesting that newspapers and their readers of the day were not much interested in anything but war stories. However, this is not credible, since a spectacular event like this would surely have been regarded as newsworthy, even if (or especially if) no one knew exactly what the strange creature was. Furthermore, Whitcomb's suggestion is readily dispelled by the fact that many newspapers of the day routinely covered many other things besides war stories, including many issues (recipes, sales, weather reports, local events, etc.) far more mundane than the downing of a gigantic, unknown flying creature.

Whitcomb argues that there have been a number of other supposedly "credible" sightings in several U.S. states, and wrote a book devoted to the subject (Whitcomb, 2011b). However, like the alleged sightings in Papua New Guinea and other countries, almost all are based solely on anecdotal reports, many of which are interpretive at best, and none of which include clear and compelling photos. His other books relate sightings of pterosaurs in other countries, but again, the number of sightings is still inexplicable small if entire populations of giant beasts really exist.

Whitcomb tries do downplay the relative paucity of sightings (and good photos) by arguing that modern pterosaurs are primarily nocturnal (mostly active at night). However, even if they were, they would still make readily noticed silhouettes (especially on moon-lit nights), and would hardly escape regular notice. His claim that populations of multiple species of large pterosaurs still exist in multiple countries, including heavily populated ones like the U.S., only exacerbates the problem, since millions of star-gazers, astronomers, and others regularly scan the night sky, many bearing cameras, and most having camera-ready cell phones. After all, there is no shortage of well documented sightings (plus clear photos and physical evidence) of many other nocturnal fliers, such as bats and owls, even though most are much smaller than the pterosaurs Whitcomb and associates assert are still around.

The nocturnal hypothesis also leaves a major question largely unanswered, which is, where do these large pterosaurs spend their time during the day? Whitcomb and Woetzel suggest they dwell in caves in Papua New Guinea, but this explanation does not work well for populated areas of the U.S., where virtually all caves large enough to hold giant pterodactyls have been well explored by spelunkers, naturalists, and scientists. Moreover, in all their expeditions to PNG, including cave explorations, none have reported finding any pterosaurs or pterosaur remains or traces (eggs, nests, tracks, etc) in them.

Whitcomb's assertion that many modern pterosaurs are bioluminescent (producing their own glowing lights) when flying at night also only seems to exacerbate the problem, as it would only attract more attention to them, and (one would think) result in at least a smattering of decent photos (the lights are said to be only intermittent, which should allow at least silhouetted forms to be readily seen). Besides the alleged glowing "Ropens" of Papua New Guinea, Whitcomb attempts to link the so-called "Marfa Lights" in Marfa, Texas, which many onlookers have attributed to paranormal phenomena such as ghosts and UFOs. Whitcomb suggests the lights are due to large pterosaurs hunting bats at night (Whitcomb, 2011), even though the bats in the area are recognized and commonly documented, but not one pterosaur there (or anywhere else) has ever been clearly photographed. At any rate, scientific studies on the lights have concluded that most, if not all, are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires. (Lindee, 19932; Nickle, 2016). Moreover, most large pterosaurs were evidently adapted for eating fish, and would by the nature of physices be far less manuverable and agile in flight than bats or other small fliers, and thus probably have trouble using them as a food source. Whitcomb and others even suggest that "Ropens" in PNG eat fish, but even if they did this only at night, they should be fairly easy to see on a regular basis, and at least occassionally film (especially using high-speed, infarred film, since birds feeding over water at night, especially on a moon-lit night, are quite easy to spot and record.

This may be a good place to mention the phenomenon known as "confirmation bias", which is the the tendency to seek and interpret things in ways that confirms one's preferred conclusions or preexisting beliefs, while neglecting or rejecting potentially contrary data. Ironically, Whitcomb complains about mainstream scientists being overly skeptical of pterosaur reports due to "confirmation bias" even though his approach and arguments seem to involve extra large doses of it.

Despite all of these problems, in early 2017 Whitcomb launched a major publicity campaign, flooding the Internet with dozens of articles, blog entries, and "press releases" promoting his views and books on the subject, with special emphaasis on the pth photo, declaring it "proof" of modern pterosaurs. It appears that Whitcomb created over two dozen websites for these purposes. Although he no longer uses the pen names "Nathal Coleman" and "Norman Huntigton" as he sometimes did in prior promotions, the new ones still often refer to himself in the third person, and often refer to other of his articles or books as if they are independent and authoritative sources. Where he does discuss independent sources, he often fails to provide proper citations.

How much influence Whitcomb's promotions have had on laymen, is difficult to say, partly because his dozens of largely redundant sites and articles dominate any search engine results on the topic of "living pterosaurs." Loren Coleman, a renown American cryptozoologist, flatly rejected Whitcomb's ptp arguments (Coleman, 2007), while so far the major creationist groups have largely ignored them. Even some of his Whitcomb's fellow promotors of "living pterosaurs", such as David Woetzel, do not consider the ptp photo convincing evidence, let alone "proof" as asserted by Whitcomb (Woetzel, 2017).

Alleged Artifacts and Pottery Depictions

Alleged UT ptero pictograph The About.com site mentioned earlier discusses a pictograph from Thompson, Utah, suggesting that the "beak, head prominence, wings, and legs look very much like a pterosaur." However, this seems to be a case of special pleading at best. The "beak" on the pictograph is relatively small and simple, appearing at least as bird-like as pterosaur-like. The head crest seems moot, as any number of birds have them. The wings are appear "wavy" and highly stylized, and thus don't particularly match a bird or pterosaur. The legs are simply drawn, without showing individual toes. In short, there is nothing about the image to suggest a pterosaur over a bird.

Jonathan Whitcomb, Carl Baugh, Don Patton, and Dennis Swift have claimed that pterosaurs and dinosaurs are depicted in ancient figurines from Acambaro, Mexico and on ancient pottery found near Ica, Peru, often referred to as the "Ica Stones" (Whitcomb, 2015).
Acambaro figurine
Acambaro figurine, interpreted by Whitcomb
as a "Crude depiction of a long-tailed pterosaur."
Ptp photo
Ica stone showing man riding a supposed pterosaur
Most of the Acambaro figures are interpretive at best; however, some of the Ica images clearly depict dinosaur and pterosaur like animals. Some even show humans riding on the backs of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Evidently Baugh, Patton, and associates accept these as convincing evidence of humans living with these prehistoric reptiles, without clarifying whether they actually believe men actually rode around on them. In any case, both sets of artifacts are widely regarded by mainstream scientists as likely forgeries. In an article of the North Texas Skeptics newsletter, John Blanton writes:

"Dating both the Acambaro figurines and Ica stones has proved inconclusive. Unfortunately, both the stones and figurines have been removed from their original settings, making reliable dating difficult, if not impossible. In the Peruvian case, the curator and discoverer of the artifacts, Javier Cabrera, a medical doctor, refuses to reveal the location of a cave where he allegedly found the stones, leading archeologist Neil Steede, who investigates both cases on Cote's Jurassic Art, to question the doctor's story. So, we come to the end of the tale, and we still don't know what's behind the Acambaro dinosaurs."(Blanton, 1999)

In an article by Robert Todd Carroll we find additional reasons to question the Ica stones:
The Ica stone craze began in 1996 with Dr. Javier Cabrera Darquea, a Peruvian physician who allegedly abandoned a career in medicine in Lima to open up the Museo de Piedras Grabadas (Engraved Stones Museum) in Ica. There he displays his collection of several thousand stones. Dr. Cabrera claims that a farmer found the stones in a cave. The farmer was arrested for selling the stones to tourists. He told the police that he didn't really find them in a cave, but that he made them himself. Other modern Ica artists, however, continue to carve stones and sell forgeries of the farmer's forgeries. In 1975, Basilio Uchuya and Irma Gutierrez de Aparcana claimed that they sold Cabrera stones they'd carved themselves and that they'd chosen their subject matter by copying from "comic books, school books, and magazines" (Polidoro 2002).

Another inconsistency regarding the Ica stones concerns the question of why some of the stones supposedly show images of surgery, telescopes, powered flight, and other sophisticated technologies, yet no such artifacts exist outside the Ica Stones themselves. Another is the difficulty in explaining how an advanced civilization had no other means of recording such activities or communicating in general than scrawling rough images on rocks. Still further evidence that these artifacts are questionable and in at least some cases outright hoaxes is discussed by Massimo Polidoro in the Sept-Oct 2002 issue of Skeptical Inquirer , in David Matthews' Weekly Column #56, and in a website article by Stephen Meyers of the Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies (Meyers, 2005).

Thus, unless the proponents of the Ica Stones and Acambaro figurines provide better evidence of their authenticity, they seem dubious at best. Indeed, even most creationist and cryptozoologist leaders have refrained from endorsing such artifacts as credible evidence that humans coexisted with dinosaurs or pterosaurs.

Alleged Physical Remains

As far as I know, the only case of alleged physical (bodily) remains of a modern pterosaur involves a photo of a supposed "pterodactyl skull from Africa" shown in several photographs on the now defunct "Pterodactyl Society" website. However, no details were provided as to precisely where, when, or by whom it was found, or who identified it. As it turns out, the specimen was not a skull at all. According to skeletal experts Joe Williams and Jay Villemarette of the World of Nature Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma, the photo showed an ostrich pelvis. To his credit, the webmaster, who went by "Harry O." removed the photo in question (which I neglected to save) after being notified of the mistaken identification. Of course, it would have been better if Harry had researched the identity of the skull before displaying the photos. A website by "Richard Paley" Objectiveministries still refers to the skull as an example of modern pterosaur remains. Whitcomb and others believe that Paley's site is a hoax or parody, and it probably is. Unfortunately that may not be obvious to most visitors, especially since many of its claims do not seem appreciably different or more extreme than those at other YEC and living-pterosaur advocating sites.

Alleged Biblical Evidence

Baugh, Whitcomb, and a few others YE advocates have claimed that the Bible supports the idea of recent pterodactyls. Among the more commonly quoted Bible versus are Isa. 14:29 and Isa. 30:6. These passages speak of a fiery serpent and fiery flying serpent respectively. First, there are legitimate exegetical questions about whether these verses are meant to be taken literally. Other Biblical scholars believe they may present symbolic imagery. Second, even if literal, they seem more evocative of fire breathing dragons than pterosaurs.

Seal with alleged flying serpent
Figure 5. Seal with alleged "flying
serpent" showing bird-like wings.

Isreal Seals
Figure 6. Seals from Israel imagined by
John Goertzen to show pterosaurs attacking an ibex

Creationist John Goertzen has a website advocating the idea of living and recent pterosaurs, suggesting that the Bible and other ancient writings refer to such creatures. He also maintains that Egyptian artifacts and seals depict them. However, all of the literature passages cited seem to require very speculative interpretations to support a pterosaur reference. For example, Goertzeb states: "The spiritual and symbolic knowledge of pterosaurs is found primarily from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when speaking with Nicodemus (Jn. 3:14)." However, John 3:14 simply refers to Moses lifting up a "serpent" which most scholars assume is a snake, not a pterosaur. Likewise, although Goertzen declares that the scientific basis for recent pterosaurs is "established by unmistakable artifacts that depict morphological details," none of the artifacts he shows depict clear pterosaur images. In fact, some seem to show feathered wings (Fig. 5), strongly indicating birds, not pterosaurs. Indeed, the lack of clear pterosaur images in Egyptian art would seem to be a strong argument against his case. Many animals are depicted with significant detail in various Egyptian artworks--in some cases allowing individual species to be identified--but none show clear pterosaurs.


Conclusions

To date there is no reliable evidence of living or recently living pterosaurs. The few researchers who argue otherwise appear to be largely motivated by anti-evolutionary views, and largely rely on sketchy annecdotal "sightings," dubious artifacts, and shakey interpretations of ancient artworks and literature, without any convincing photographs or video of the actual creatures, let alone physical remains. Of the handful of photos purported by some to show supposed modern pterosaurs, all have suspicious aspects and largely untraceable histories, and are not considered convincing even by most YECs and cryptozoologist researchers. The single photo (ptp) promoted as genuine and compelling by Johnathan Whitcomb does not stand up to close scrutiny. If populations of large pterosaurs really did inhabit several countries and many U.S. states as some claim, we would expect far more clear and convincing photos and forensic evidence. Despite these and other reasons to be skeptical of "living pterosaur" claims, if they were someday verified, it would be a wonderful scientific discovery, but do nothing to undermine mainstream geology.


Notes:

1. Many representatives of plant and animal groups living during the time of dinosaurs and other "prehistoric" creatures are still with us today. These include reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodillians, as well as various fish, amphibians, and birds (now regarded as a clad of feathered theropod dinosaurs). However, all the modern species are different from the extinct species, even if members of the same family or genus.

2.Another interesting quirk in the story about the pterosaur stumbling out of a rock is that it seems to contradict itself on where the workmen broke open the rock--inside the tunnel or outside? The story seems to have it both ways.

3. I happened to be listening to a broadcast of the Southwest Bible Church (the organization who published Baugh's book Panorama of Creation), when Baugh retold the same bizarre story. The host, evidently wondering if Baugh was serious, and perhaps wanting to give him an opportunity to soften the claim, asked Baugh whether he was actually suggesting that the creature had remained alive in the rock since Noah's Flood. After pausing for a few seconds, Baugh replied, "Well, perhaps not alive as we know it, but chemically alive." At that unfathomable answer, the host moved on. Had he wanted to prolong the inquiry, he could have asked Baugh why, if there were anything to the account, the creature's remains were not studied, preserved, and described in scientific publications--as would be the case even if it were a highly embellished version of a pterodactyl skeleton discovery, let alone one that only recently "croaked."

Creation in the Crossfire website, http://www.creationinthecrossfire.com/Articles/pterosaurs.htm

References

Arkowitz, Hal, and Lilienfeld, Scott O. 2010, "Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts" Scientific American, January 1, 2010. Web version at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

Aym, Terrence, 2010. "Jurassic Park in New Guinea? Not quite, but close..." Salem-News.com article at: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/august122010/live-dinosaur-ta.php

Barnes, Derek, 1998. "How Many Pterosactyls Did You Kill in the War, Daddy?". Website article at: http://www.haxan.com/archived/freakylinks/WWWFRE~1.COM/FREAKO~1/TAILS_~1/THUNDE~1.HTM

Baugh, Carl E., 1989. Panorama of Creation. Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., Div. of Southwest Radio Church, Oklahoma, OK. pp. 19-20.

Baugh, Carl E., 1989b. Article by David Bassett at Baugh's Creation Evidence Museum web site at www.creationevidence.org. Bassett states that the great Flood of Genesis took place "definitely 4,300-4,400 years ago".

Blanton, John, 1999. Newsletter of North Texas Skeptics, October 1999.

Doolan, Robert, 1993. Are dinosaurs alive today? Where Jurassic Park went wrong! Creation 15(4) (Sept.): 12-15. Web version at: http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i4/dinosaurs.asp

Drinnon, Dale A., 2012. "Surviving Plesiosaurs and Pterosaurs Part 1." Frontiers of Zoology. N.p., 16 May 2012. Drinnon expressed similar views on Web. 21 June 2014 at: http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2012/05/surviving-plesiosaurs-and-pterosaurs.html

Engelhardt, 1999, "The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony," Commentary on a talk by Barbara Tversky and George Fisher, Stanford Law School, April 5, 1999, sponsored by the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies, Web version at: http://agora.stanford.edu/sjls/Issue%20One/fisher&tversky.htm

Isaak, Mark, 2005. Article CB930.4 at Talk Origins archive: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB930_4.html

Herbert Lindee, 1992. "Ghosts Lights of Texas," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 166, No. 4, Summer 1992, pp. 400-406

Hill, Sharon, 2014. "Prehistoric Survivors? They Are Really Most Sincerely Dead," Website article at: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/prehistoric_survivors_they_are_really_most_sincerely_dead

Massimo, Polidoro, 2002. "A Pterodactyl in the Civil War - Notes on a Strange World." Skeptical Inquirer

May, 2012. Massimo Polidoro, 2002, "Ica Stones: Yabba-Dabba-Do!: Notes on a Strange World", Skeptical Inquirer, Oct-Sept. 2002. Website article at: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/ica_stones_yabba-dabba-do

Meyers, Stephen C. 2005. "Dr.Dennis Swift - Inca Stones". IBSS website article at: http://www.bibleandscience.com/otherviews/swift.htm

Naish, Darren, 2017. Pterosaur.net: Myths and Mysconceptions, Web article at: http://pterosaur.net/myths.php

Naish, Darren, 1995. Dinosaur List forum, http://dml.cmnh.org/1995Nov/msg00759.html , Nov. 13, 1995, post

Peters, David, 2001. The post was originally in his "ThePterosaurHomepage" website blog, which no longer exists. A copy of it was related in an article by Derek Barnes of the FreakyLinks series (Barnes, 1998).

Nickell, Joe, 2016. "The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)", Investigative Files, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016

Shuker, Karl P.N., 1997, From Flying Toads to Snakes with Wings, Llewellyn Publishing, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010. Wikipedia and Tiny Minorities, Web article at: http://www.floodofgenesis.com/pterosaurs/?tag=whitcomb

Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2011. Marfa Lights and Ropens. Web article at: http://www.searchingforropens.com/marfa-lights/

Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2011b. Live Pterosaurs in America. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 154 pgs.

Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2016. "Dinosaurs Living With Humans" Website article at: http://www.knowablenews.com/dinosaurs_and_pterosaurs/?p=933

Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2017c. "Is the Civil War Photograph a Trick?" Web article at www.applaud-health/pterosaur-fossils/2017/07/

Woetzel, David, 2017. Email communication, April 24 - 26, 2017.


Paluxy website Page hits:
Revised 12-5-2010. Added Figure numbers and John G. illustrations.
Revised:10-18-2006. Added link to Stephen Meyers article on inca stones
12-03-2005, GJK (Expanded references)