Figure 1. Poster showing reconstructions of various fossil pterosaurs
Credit: American Museum of Natural History.
Click on image for large view
© 2004-2017, Glen J. Kuban
Part of Kuban's web sites
Revised DRAFT, Last revised: 28 May 2017
"Pterodactyl" is an informal term for a group of prehistoric winged reptiles of the order Pterosauria, which are more properly called pterosaurs. The word comes from the Greek term for "winged lizard." Pterosaurs are a diverse group (Figure 1), with over 100 recognized genera (Castro, 2016). Although they are also often called "flying dinosaurs," pterosaurs are actually not dinosaurs, but a separate group of reptiles. Their fossils range from late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (approx. 228 to 65 million years ago). Many early forms had long tails and many sharp teeth (Figure 2a), while others Pterodactylus had long snouts but reduced tails (Figure 2b). Later forms such as Pteranodon (Figures 3a, 3b) exhibited large head creasts but lacked teeth. All had long wings formed by membranes of skin stretched over an extremely long forth finger on each arm. Evidently the bodies of many were covered with hair or hair-like filaments, and some sported head crests of various sizes and shapes. Their adult sizes spanned a wide range, from some as small as robins, to giant forms that were the largest winged creatures of all time, such as Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx with wing spans of over 30 feet, although there is some debate over whether these huge forms could fly (Witton and Naish, 2013).
Figure 2a. Rhamphorhynchus munsteri |
A long-tailed pterosaur with teeth, showing rare
impressions of wing membranes and tail vane
Cast by Glen Kuban
Whereas I acknowledged the slightest possibility of living pterosaurs (hereafter abbreviated "LPs") in remote areas, I and most conventional scientists remain very skeptical, since 1. There is no fossil evidence that any pterosaurs survived past the late Cretaceous, and 2. Most supposed evidence for LPs relies on reported "sightings" which lack credible photos or other forensic documentation. Such anecdotal evidence is not a sound basis for firm scientific conclusions. Numerous studies have indicated that eyewitness testimony is very unreliable, and can be affected by numerous factors, including physical and temporal distance, bias, motivations, etc. (Arkowitz, 2010; Engelhardt, 1999).
Other alleged evidence for modern pterosaurs includes artifacts and rock etchings of questionable origin or very subjective interpretation. What is sorely lacking, besides convincing photos of the living pterosaurs, is any reliably documented forensic or physical remains such as carcasses, bones, eggs, nests, or tracks. Indeed, totality of evidence for LPs seems even less abundant and more equivocal than for other unconfirmed creatures or "cryptids," such as "Bigfoot" or the "Loch Ness Monster," which is probably why even among YECs and cryptozoologists, relatively few promote the idea of living pterosaurs.
Figure 3a. Pteranodon longiceps |
reconstruction by Eaton (2010)
Figure 3b. Pteranodon in flight
Figure 4. Heron in flight, resembling a Pteranodon-like pterosaur.
Credit: Janet Fikar
Figure 2b. Pterodactylus kochi
A short-tailed Jurassic pterodactyl,
about the size of a crow
Solnhofen Limestone, Germany
Cast by G. Kuban
So, the focus of some YECs on finding living pterosaurs or other possible survivors of prehistoric groups, in hopes that this will confirm their young-earth views and refute evolution is quite misplaced. What YECs actually need to accomplish this 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). Therefore, the finding of say an Ordovician or Silurian pterosaur would, ironically, be far more problematic for mainstream geology than a modern one.
Likewise, Whitcomb's frequent refrain that conventional scientists are blinded by a "universal-extinction dogma" (that all dinosaurs and pterosaurs are extict) is readily dispelled by the fact scientists already accept that not all dinosaurs are extinct, some almost all modern paleontologists regard birds 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 evidence - fossil evidence pointing strongly to the likelihood of pterosaur extinction, and lack of compelling evidence to the contrary.
"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 parent's uncovered tracks that had three toes and were eight inches across."
Figure 6a. Blue Heron (left), Flamingos (right)
Figure 6b. Great Blue Heron in flight
Figure 7a. Drawing by Eskin Kuhn, often
used by Whitcomb to show a typical modern pterosaur,
showing a large posterior head crest and long tail -
features not found together on fossil pterosaurs.
Figure 7b. DC Comics pterosaur showing a
posterior head crest and long tail, as reported in
many "sightings," but not real pterosaur fossils.
Figure 7c. Comic pterosaur showing Rhamphorhynchus-like
tail and teeth, combined with Pteranodon-like head crest
Figure 5. 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 rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs
Notice that both accounts specifically call the creatures birds. Only the first even mentions a resemblance to a pterodactyl, and it was seen in silhouette, which tends to obscure potentially important details. As far as the large reported 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 sounds decidedly more like a large bird than a pterosaur. Besides being called a bird, a "gorilla like" face seems fit a buzzard better than a pterosaur. If it made three-toed tracks, it further supports a bird interpretation, since birds generally make tracks with three toes (or three forward pointing and a rearward pointing toe), whereas pterosaurs had four long toes and one small toe on each hind foot. The reported size of the tracks is also in the range of several large US birds.
Indeed, it is likely that many if not most alleged pterosaur sightings are misidentified birds. Many large birds, including herons, egrets, cranes, eagles, vultures, pelicans, flamingos, and frigates, can present superficially 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 rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs in flight (Figure 5), as can herons, cranes, and flamingos that dangle their long legs behind them as they fly. Further, their feet in profile can even resemble a pterosaur-like "vane" at the end (Figure 6a, 6b), and head crests on herons and egrets might be mistaken for crests of Pteranodon-like pterodactyls. Other animals in flight, such as certain bats (Figure 22) and large, short tailed birds, can resemble short tailed pterosaurs.
Another complicating factor is that many people have relatively little familiarity with pterosaur anatomy, or with the variety of large birds that may inhabit an area, especially when they (the people that is) travel to new areas. A bird watcher recounts an incident where a Great Blue Heron flew by a nearby man in a bass boat, who shouted (apparently in all seriousness), "It's a pterodactyl! It's an effing pterodactyl!" (Babsje, 2013). Even many bird experts have commented on the way herons and egrets resemble or remind them of pterosaurs --from their long beaks and head crests to their graceful take-offs and soaring with long wings and rearward dragging feet. A website discussing Great Blue Herons remarks: "In the air, these pterodactyl-like creatures with wingspans of up to seven feet are quite a sight to see (Stevens, 2014)." A Birdnote.org article states that this regal bird "Looks Like a Modern Day Pterodactyl...tall and prehistoric looking..." (Grey, 2007). Another states: "The prehistoric-looking Great Blue Heron is one of the largest... " Frank (2015). Similarly, when discussing a soaring frigate bird silhouetted against the blue sky (Figure 5, right photo), blogger Dan Grec writes: "I'm reminded of Pterodactyls when I see these birds" (Grec, 2009).
|Fig. 8. Radio controlled pterosaurs in flight|
Fig. 8b. Paul MacCready with his 1984 ornithopter |
based on the giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus
Fig 8c. Unnamed model builder with |
RC pterosaur glider
Another problem, often neglected or minimized 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 hobbyists. Where Whitcomb does mention "mechanical models" he quickly dismisses them as being inconsistent with witness descriptions or site conditions, but they seem capable of creating at least a few mistaken sightings, especially in developed countries. Some are quite realistic looking, especially when viewed from a distance (Figure 8). At least a few videos of them have been used to promote the idea of living pterosaurs (whether based on mistaken ID or deliberate misrepresentation ). 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 sculpted pterosaurs 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 its specific RC manufacturer (Martson) can be identified. Several other videos on YouTube and other websites purportedly showing living pterosaurs feature similarly dubious footage, most lacking any source information.
In cases like the above video, we have many visual clues to judge the veracity of the claims being made or implied. However, in many "sighting" cases we have no photos or film to go on, making it very difficult to assess a witness's honesty or accuracy. In personal interactions, it may be good to give people the benefit of the doubt, but in science we need more than trust in someone's sincerity and memory to make a compelling case. Many people assume they can accurately judge a person's honesty, and that witness perceptions and memories are largely accurate and stable over time, but scientific experiments demonstrate otherwise on all accounts.
In short, the anecdotal evidence on which LP advocates unreasonably require that we entirely trust all of the following in each "sighting," which I'll term the "chain of uncertainty"
1. The witness was completely honest, sober, sane, and lucid.
2. The witness's perceptions were entirely accurate.
3. His or her memory never faded or changed.
4. The witness accurately described whatever he or she remembered
5. The interviewer or researcher accurately recorded the testimony
6. The researcher accurately conveyed the account in his or her writings
The problem is, in most cases we can't know any of the above for sure, let alone all of them. Moreover, when accounts are related second or third-hand, or from individuals with histories of dubious or unfounded claims, even more levels of uncertainty exist. For these and other reasons explored below, anecdotal evidence is of little if any scientific value unless backed by compelling empirical evidence. Those who fully agree with this may want to skip to the section on "Sightings"; however, for those who need more convincing, the following additional considerations are offered.
Whitcomb acknowledges that many sightings may be misidentifications or hoaxes, but "judges" that at least half are not, and therefore "credible" (Whitcomb, 2017c). However, that is a highly subjective assessment. He admits that a small percentage of sightings (perhaps up to 5%) may also be from individuals with mental issues, but seems to often neglect or minimize other possible complicating factors such as drug or alcohol use, imperfect eyesight or viewing conditions, and most importantly, faulty and faded memories. Those sightings he features in his book he often describes as "credible," implying that we should trust the witnesses as completely honest and accurate. However, scientific studies show that witnesses are often unreliable--either mistaken in whole or part, or less than honest (Arkowitz, 2010; Engelhardt, 1999). Just as relevant, studies also indicate that people, including even police and professional investigators, are generally poor at detecting when others are lying or shading the truth (Navarro, 2012). On p. 102 Whitcomb flatly states, "Eyewitnesses are honest," even though in other places he himself admits to finding evidence that some are not. He often asks why a witness would lie about this or that, even though as we all know, people often exaggerate and lie about many things, for any number of reasons, or no discernable reason. Even if we could know a witness was entirely sincere and honest, it is still usually difficult to rule out faulty perceptions and flawed memories.
Many reported sightings are from people recalling events that happened years or even decades earlier, often when they were only young children. This is of special concern, since scientific studies show that memories are very unstable and pliable (affected by many variables), and tend to change substantially with time --often not much time (Dobrin, 2013; Konnikova, 2015). As disconcerting as it may be, scientific experiments have shown that memories often change significantly in just only one or two days, and with each time an event is recalled (Chant, 2012). Childhood memories have been shown to be especially faulty and unreliable (Vergano, 2013). Although the scientific evidence for these things is compelling, most readers can probably readily confirm them for themselves. Almost everyone has had the experience of recalling an event from their past with what they feel is complete clarity, only to find friends or family members who remember the same event very differently, often with just as much conviction. Recent studies have helped explain why and how this happens (Dobrin, 2013), but whatever the reasons, the upshot is that mere recollections cannot be considered scientifically reliable without firm empirical evidence to back them up.
Another concern is that Whitcomb actively solicits "pterosaur" sightings in his books and on many of his web pages, often with large clickable banners asking: "Please report your sighting." This may prompt some to fabricate sightings as a joke or lark. The link leads to a notice that witnesses need not leave their. names, and may remain anonymous if their sighting is published. This explains why Whitcomb often refers to witnesses by their initials. In the 2014 edition of his book Searching for Ropens and Finding God (SFR) Whitcomb says that keeping witness identities secret will help avoid "making life too easy for hoaxers." However, his reasoning seems upside-down. The assurance of anonymity may well tempt more people to fabricate or exaggerate a sighting, since it would minimize chances of any negative consequences. Another problem with publishing anonymous accounts is that there is no way to check what a witness said. Even if both the witness and researcher are sincere, mistakes can be made in documenting or interpreting witness statements.
On the other side of the coin, some attention seeking individuals might report a sighting even with their name, in anticipation of seeing it featured in an article or book. They might also be subtly encouraged to enhance or exaggerate what they saw or remembered, or make it conform more to other reports, especially since Whitcomb often praises those who "come forward" to report a sighting as brave and courageous. That he seems to give the most adulations to those who give detailed and uniquely pterosaur-like descriptions might also subtly encourage others to do so, even if they are not quite sure of what they saw or remembered.
Whitcomb acknowledges being biased, and even asks in one place, "Who else has a greater potential, at least theoretically, to be swayed by bias than me?" (Whitcomb, 2017, p. 92), but claims that mainstream scientists are also biased by assumptions and "dogmas" about dinosaur and pterosaur extinction. However, as discussed earlier, scientific skepticism of living pterosaurs is not based on assumption or dogma, but evidence and lack thereof. I for one have no philosophical stake in whether the Earth is young or old, but accept the latter due to the great preponderance of evidence, which is the same reason I strongly doubt the existence of living pterosaurs, even though I'd be thrilled if a live one were confirmed. In contrast, Whitcomb and his associates seem firmly committed to the idea of living pterosaurs, and strongly motivated by a desire to vindicate their young-earth, anti-evolutionary views, even though demonstrating the existence of living pterosaurs would do no such thing.
Whitcomb sometimes argues that his motives and promotions are not mainly religious in nature, but many of his writings indicate otherwise, including the title of his book "Searching for Ropens and Finding God" (Whitcomb, 2014). In it he discusses his religious beliefs and motivations, including his conviction (as misplaced as it is) that demonstrating the existence of living pterosaurs will help confirm Noah's Flood and refute mainstream geology. One of his web pages entitled "Is the Ropen a Pterosaur", referring to the 2nd edition of Searching for Ropens states, "Be aware: This is a spiritual as well as a cryptozoological book, with much of the appendix disputing the General Theory of Evolution..." (Whitcomb, 2007). Even his Amazon promo for the book reads: "This fully supports the literal Flood of Noah in the Bible..." which he apparently tries to soften by adding "although the genre is nonfiction cryptozoology." Whitcomb sometimes objects to being described as a YEC (young-earth creationist), on the grounds that he does not believe the entire universe is young. However, he often argues against the "General Theory of Evolution," and acknowledges believing in a recent fiat creation of the Earth and all life on it, based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, which by any reasonable definition, makes him a YEC.
"Eyewitnesses" can also be subject to confirmation bias and other influences. Even when entirely sincere, they can be affected by peer pressure, and by things they have seen in movies, books, websites, etc., including all the "sightings" they read about in books and websites that promote "living pterosaurs." In other words, sighting reports and can feed off each other to foster more reports, and more confidence, conformance, and details in them than might otherwise might have been the case --what might be called the "me too" phenomenon. "Witnesses" can also have their memories or perceptions adversely affected with they are startled or frightened by something unexpected or unfamiliar.
Whitcomb relates that his parents were psychologists, and that he therefore is aware of and taking into account all possible psychological factors in witness reports as well as his own bias and methods, but often his arguments and assumptions seem to indicate otherwise. Often he talks about why a witness did not seem to be creating an outright hoax or fabrication, largely neglecting the more common and pervasive problems of faulty perceptions, altered memories, and the many factors that affect can both.
Besides often describing witnesses as "very credible" with little to go on but their word, he often seems to assume that virtually any reportedly pterosaur-like creature or feature is strong evidence of living pterosaurs. His choice of words often demonstrates complete confidence in the accuracy of witnesses' perceptions, descriptions, and memories, often based on his subjective impressions of their demeanor (even in emails, where body language and such cannot even be seen). He often states matter-of-factly so-and-so "saw" this or that, or that the creature "did" this and that, instead of saying the person reported seeing such and such, or stated that the creature did this and that, which would be more objective and scientific. Often he says that he found no reason to doubt a person's word, as if that settled the matter, neglecting the fact that people often report things inaccurately (whether deliberately or not) without showing any obvious indications of it.
Figure 7d. Cartoon pterosaurs showing large |
posterior head crests with long tails, often
reported in "sightings" but not found
together on real pterosaur skeletons
Figure 7e. Cartoon pterosaurs showing large |
posterior head crests, long tails, plus teeth,
sometimes reported in pterosaur "sightings" but
not found together on real pterosaurs
Figure 7f. This was done by an artist to |
teach others how to draw pterosaurs, showing
a Pteranodon-like head crest with "added"
In view of all this, mainstream scientists have no obligation to address the many anecdotes and other unsubstantiated evidence for modern pterosaurs offered by Whitcomb and associates. However, in view of their increased publicity efforts in recent years, and the curiosity many readers may have about their claims and alleged "evidences," reviewing some of them may be useful and edifying, and hopefully help convey some basic scientific principles along the way.
Fig. 9 Scaphognathus crassirostris|
Original fossil, showing no crest (top)
Reconstruction with small, fleshy crest (middle)
Reconstruction with no crest (bottom)
Whitcomb emphasizes that some witnesses describe features incompatible with modern birds, such as teeth, a long tail ending in a "diamond," and the lack feathers. But again, even if we could rule out exaggerations and fabrications, mistaken ID's are still possible. As mentioned earlier, the legs and feet of some birds in flight can mimic pterosaur-like tails, including an apparent vane at the end (Figure 6). Relatively few witnesses refer to teeth, and even they are typically from distances or under conditions that would make it difficult to reliably discern such details. The same goes for feathers. Often they are difficult to distinguish when a bird is seen only briefly or at a distance. Frigate birds in particular have wings that often appear featherless, and the smooth, grey feathers of some herons can appear cloth-like or leather-like.
Whitcomb notes that most pterosaur sightings describe creatures with both large Pteranodon-like posterior head crests and long Rhamphorhynchus-like tails, as often illustrated in his writings (Figures 7, 8e). Unfortunately, this too is more of a detriment than asset to his case, since no known fossil pterosaurs display both features. He suggests that modern pterosaurs may be significantly different from ancient ones, and that at least one Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur, Scaphognathus, had a head crest (Whitcomb, 2010d). However, the first is very speculative, and the second largely moot if not misleading. First, it is not clear that Scaphognathus had a head crest; the fossil skull does not show it, nor is it shown on some reconstructions (Figure 9). There are a few other similar genera with evidence of head crests, such as Pterorhynchus, Darwinopterus, and Wukongopterus. However, they do not help either, since their crests are basically delta, crescent, or semi-circular in shape, situated on top of the head and/or snout, and largely composed of integument rather than bone. Thus they are very different from the large, bony, posterior head crests of Pteranodons, and those shown in Whitcomb's composite Ropen drawings.
Figure 10. Cartoon "Ropen" showing
long tail with Rhamphorhynchus-like
head crest, used on J. Whitcomb's
"What is a Ropen?" web page
Ironically, even if some of these "combo" pterosaur depictions have gone extinct, Whitcomb has done his part to resurrect them, with his books and many pages showing similar drawings. These include his often used Eskin drawing (Figure 7), his "composite" Ropen (Figure 18), and one of the cartoons he uses on his "What is a Ropen" web page (Figure 10). In other words, his own promotions, icons, and depictions of living pterosaurs are, ironically, fostering the same potentially complicating influences that he claims went extinct decades ago. Underscoring these concerns, a study by Kang (2011) demonstrated that "visual working memory" can influence our perceptions; in other words, mental images in the mind's eye can alter the way we see things.
In short, there is ample evidence that people often conflate (either by accident or intentionally) key features of different pterosaur groups, and thus imagine, describe, and/or illustrate composites such as those seen in many cartoons and films, and described in many "living pterosaur" reports, but which are not found in any real pterosaur fossils.
These things may be worth keeping in mind as we review some alleged U.S. sightings. It would be impractical and tedious to analyze all or even most of those related by Whitcomb and others, but it may be instructive to examine the first several that he describes in his LPA book, since are presumably among those he considers "very credible," if not the best. Afterward several other often touted sightings in the U.S. and other countries will be reviewed, along with a "Civil War" photo that he claims to be proof of modern pterosaurs, and finally, claims that ancient artworks or literature references support the existence of living pterosaurs.
Figure 11. A "drawing" that J. Whitcomb |
attributes to Susan Wooten, allegedly showing what
she saw fly by her car in South Carolina in 1989.
Whitcomb states that after Wooten learned of accounts of glowing pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea, she recalled going with friends several times to watch the mysterious "Brigham Lights" or "Ghost Lights" along an old railway and swamp in the nearby community of Brigham, in Dillon, SC. Like similar controversial illuminations reported in other areas, such as Brown Mountain, NC and Marfa TX (discussed below), have been ascribed to many different possible causes, from ghosts and UFOs, to swamp gases, seismic activity, ball lightning, and reflected car lights. However, Whitcomb suggests that they all may be due to "bioluminescent" pterosaurs, having the ability to glow brightly for a few seconds at a time. However, no convincing photos or other empirical evidence demonstrating such a connection (or demonstrating the existence of living pterosaurs, for that matter), has ever been produced (further discussed below).
The third sighting was made from a man identified as "SNW" who saw a "large flying creature" during the day in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary of Orange Co., CA. According to JW, he described the animal as dark gray or black, about 30 feet long, with about half that being a tail. SNW reportedly did not see any feet, or get a good view of the head, but that it had a triangular-shaped "flange" near the end of the tail. SNW described the wings as having "wrinkles" and not showing feathers, which brings up the same concerns as in the MB sighting--namely, this fits common fictional pterosaurs better than a real one. As far as the alleged long tail and "flange" goes, we're back to the ability of herons and other large birds to foster such an impression (see Figure 6). Whitcomb relates that he subsequently visited the wildlife sanctuary and polled visitors about whether they had seen or heard anything unusual flying there, but reports no promising replies. Nor evidently did any of the many thousands of annual visitors to the park report seeing pterosaurs. Nevertheless, Whitcomb opines that he found SNW's account "credible" and that it "seemed unlikely" to be a hoax, hallucination, or misidentification of any bird or mechanical model. The trouble is, reliable scientific conclusions are not based on subjective evaluations or what "seems" so, but hard evidence.
The fourth account (p. 19-21) is more of a "hearing" than a "sighting" since the witness merely reported hearing loud "screeching and screaming" sounds outside his house, about 1 a.m. The unnamed man, who at the time was living in Rancho Santa Margarita of CA, said it sounded like "some sort of creature was suffering, or fighting..." in his back yard. He said that when he went outside to investigate the strange and "terrifying" noises, he did not locate the source, but after he went back inside, he formed a mental image of "a large prehistoric bird about 4 feet tall." Remarkably, Whitcomb spends several paragraphs on this story, saying he believes it was "a real encounter," that the man "is credible." He acknowledged that the man did not even see any creature, and that it might "have less value than other reports," but that it "fits into the overall picture of a giant flying creature." He even revisits it later in the book (p. 103), should be considered "secondary evidence" and might someday be useful in some research." One can hardly imagine a more severe example of "confirmation bias." Obviously, even if the man's account were 100% true, the sounds could have come from any number of animals, including cats, racoons, or other common animals fighting or mating, or even a large bird, as the video-taped heron in distress discussed below shows. Besides that, no one knows what kind of sounds pterosaurs made. In short, the account is not just weak or "secondary" evidence for living pterosaurs as Whitcomb implies; it is zero evidence.
In an on-line essay entitled "Science and the Marfa Lights," originally written by Norman Huntington (one of Whitcomb's pen names), Whitcomb repeatedly refers to himself in the third person as he endorses his own conclusions that the lights are primarily due to bat-hunting pterosaurs (Whitcomb, 2010e). He back-hands those who disagree or who question his objectivity as "shallow minded critics," but as usual, neglects to properly cite their writings. On another web page (Whitcomb, 2010f), and his 2011 LPA book, he gives more coverage to the issue, discussing the research of Edson Hendricks, who concludes that most of the lights are due to atmospheric phenomena, and an eight-year study by James Bunnell, who agrees with other workers that most are due to a variety of inorganic and mostly mundane causes (Bunnell, 2009). Whitcomb acknowledges that he is new to the subject and that most of what he knows about it he learned from these men. Nevertheless, he criticizes them for not accepting his interpretation, and challenges Bunnell's specific objections to it. For example, when Bunnell pointed out in an email that the lights sometimes last for three hours in one place, and that one grew to an enormous size that lit up the clouds, Whitcomb suggested that this is due to "many ropens" gathering together in a competitive "courtship ritual," glowing as brightly and for as long as possible, and making a circle "more than a hundred meters in diameter" (Whitcomb, 2011, p. 86).
Figure 12a. Drawing by Phillip O'Donnell |
(an 11 year-old boy at the time)
Figure 12b |
A. Greater Imperial Woodpecker (male)
B. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
C. Pileated Woodpecker
"My name is Phillip O'Donnell. We live in Oregon. I really enjoy this website. The info about living dinosaurs is great! I just thought that you might like to know that in 2003 my brother and I saw a strange bird. It was perched in a tree for about 1 minute. It was about three feet tall with a white chest and black spots. I looked at through the binoculars and so did my brother. It had a horn-like thing protruding out of the back of it's head that was pointing upwards and was not like a heron's tuff of hair. As it flew away we guessed the wingspan to be about 9 feet... The wings were long and pointy. It returned the next year and we saw it in the same field. The sighting only lasted about 5 seconds. We briefly saw a long and very large pair of wings that had red streaks on them." Here is my sketch. Please note that the body is not the right size compared to the head."
Taylor calls this a "Possible pterosaur sighting" but it is likely that O'Donnell saw a bird. Not only did he call it a bird, but if we allow that the "horn-like" thing could be a bird's crest, then both the description and drawing (Figure 12a) seem to match a bird, especially a large woodpecker (Figure 12b), better than a pterosaur. Granted, he said the crest was not-heron like, but even if we can trust a boy's memory, woodpecker crests are proportionally larger and more robust than heron crests. Likewise, if he somewhat overestimated the size (as is often done by adults let alone children), it could have been a common Pileated woodpecker. The red crest might have been mistaken (or misremembered) as red on the wings during flight. Other candidates include an Ivory Billed woodpecker, but that is probably less likely, since they have been on decline and rarely seen in recent decades; some think they may be extinct, or went extinct around the time of O'Donnell's sighting. Dale Drinnon suggests he could even have seen the even larger Greater-Imperial Woodpecker, up to 2 feet long (Drinnon, 2011). Although once widespread in America, it declined sharply after 1950, and many think that it too may have gone extinct in recent decades, despite occasional reports into the 1990's. At any rate, it seems far more plausible to surmise that Donnell saw a large woodpecker or other crested bird (even a very rare one that may now be extinct) than a pterosaur whose last confirmed remains are 65 million years old.
Three years after his sighting, while still a teenager, O'Donnell wrote a short book entitled Dinosaurs: Dead or Alive? promoting his YEC views and existence of modern pterosaurs and dinosaurs (O'Donnell, 2006). Interestingly, O'Donnell's book, which is endorsed by Whitcomb, does not mention his own sighting above. It does relate many others that are more questionable, including a 15 foot bipedal lizard reported in Milton, OK, small T. rex-like dinosaurs in Colorado, a 25 foot tall reptile along the "Gulf Coast," a "Troodon" like dinosaur in Texas, and other supposed dinosaurs and pterosaurs in other countries (including some of the same ones Whitcomb describes). O'Donnell also promotes (without citations) several alleged out-of-place fossils and artifacts, including an alleged shoeprint in an Triassic rock, a supposed sandalprint with squashed trilobite, and a supposed Cretaceous hammer, which were all well rebutted long ago (Kuban, 1997, 1998, 2006), and are not supported even by most YECs. Although some leeway might be allowed for the author's age, O'Donnell is now in his twenties, and still sells the book. It does include a bibliography, indicating that O'Donnell mainly consulted YEC books and websites, including those of Carl Baugh and Kent Hovind, whose sensational claims even most YEC groups distance themselves from.
Figure 13. Covers of Whitcomb's books |
Live Pterosaurs in America, 2011 (top) and
Searching for Ropen's and Finding God
4th ed., 2014 (bottom)
While Eskin seems to describe at least one uniquely pterosaur-like feature (tiny fingers not part of the wing), it's doubtful he could see such details, let alone "vertebrae in the back," at a height of over 100 feet. I say over 100 feet, because Eskin implies the creatures were seen at an angle (looking toward the ocean) rather than directly overhead, meaning that their distance from him would have been far greater than 100 feet --perhaps several hundred feet or more. One might argue that he might still have been able to see bat-like "struts" in the wings from such a distance; unfortunately it does not help the credibility of the account, since pterosaurs did not have bat-like "struts" in their wings. Each membrane on a pterosaur wing extended along a single highly-elongated finger (see Figure 32).
Eskin reportedly drew the sketch (figure 7) that Whitcomb often uses as a symbol of a typical modern pterosaur on his web pages and book covers. However, the sketch curiously does not show the reported "bat-like struts." It does shows a large, posterior head crest and a long diamond-tipped tail, but neither are mentioned in the quoted account, nor is that combination of features found on any real pterosaur fossils (just cartoons and other fictional pterosaurs).
Figure 14. Patty Carson's drawing of |
the "Gitmo Pterosaur
In order to take the account at face value, we have to trust that as a child, Carson could discern details such as the size and color of the eye on a creature moving quickly and only in her sight briefly, then recall them accurately 46 years later. Her mentioning the leathery skin (not matching real pterosaur skin) also undermines the plausibility of the account. Her denial about hair also seems odd and suspicious, since one would not normally mention things not seen, unless an interviewer specifically asked about or suggested them.
A follow-up article posted by Whitcomb on August 29, 2011, discussed a "preliminary drawing" that Carson made of the creature, but noted that Patty was not satisfied with the eye and other aspects. He also noted that it contained some discrepancies between it and the pterosaurs described by Eskin at a nearby location. Whitcomb wrote: I don't want to publish the preliminary sketch of the pterosaur, for it may lead to some people believing it to be very accurate in its present form (Whitcomb, 2011d)." Whitcomb later published a revised drawing (Figure 14) by her, said to contain "many medications" (what they were, he did not say). It exhibits a large, posterior, Pteranodon-like head crest and jaw filled with tiny teeth (almost like a porpoise), even though no known pterosaurs had both (Pteranodons were toothless). Whitcomb states, "She is still not satisfied with the sketch, in particular with the mouth and where it connects with the skull, but she likes the eye and sketch" (Whitcomb 2011e). Unfortunately, the eye appears quite different (lacking a vertical slit) that Whitcomb claims helps authenticate a "Ptp" Civil War photo of a Pteranodon carcass (discussed later). Whitcomb subsequently used Carson's revised drawing on many web pages and on his book covers. It shows only the head and upper parts of the creature's shoulders and wings, although it's unclear whether this is because that's all her drawing showed, or because he cropped out the rest.
The drawing appears to show a single bat-like claw on one of the wings, even though real pterosaurs had three small claw-bearing fingers on each wing. One could argue she might miss such details, but if so, one might ask how we can then trust details such as the eye and teeth, especially considering her many "modifications" and her having to recall what she saw as a child over 40 years earlier. The latter alone is a major concern, in view of the evidence discussed earlier regarding the tendency of memories to change with time, and for childhood memories to be especially unreliable. Speaking of which, Whitcomb mentions that Patty's brother "came forward" to say that a year after his sister's sighting he saw a creature flying at about 100 ft that was grayish-tan in color. Whitcomb relates that he could not be sure if it had feathers or not, or if it was the same kind of creature his sister had seen (Whitcomb, 2011e). He argues that his admitting being unsure of such details makes his report credible, but that point is as moot as the account itself, since there is nothing about it to rule out a large bird, even if his childhood memory were reliable.
Whitcomb used Carson's drawing along with Eskin's on the covers of his 2011 and 2014 books (Figure 13), and often displays them together as icons of typical modern pterosaurs on many of his web pages. On the cover of his latest book (2017) he instead uses the what he beleives to be a genuine Civil War era photo of a real pterosaur carcass (discussed later). The 2011 cover (Figure 13, top) shows the two pterosaur drawings superimposed along a lake shore, with modern buildings in the background. Evidently to Whitcomb this is not an unrealistic scenario. However, if pterosaurs are really romping and soaring around even developed and densly populated areas, it underscores the difficulty of explaining why no convincing photos of them have ever come to light.
Fig. 15. Papua New Guinea map showing |
Umboi Island and New Britian
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, north of Australia. Several young earth proponents, including Jonathan Whitcomb, David Woetzel, Carl Baugh, Paul Nation, and Garth Guessman have led or participated in expeditions to PNG and nearby islands in hopes of confirming reports of living pterosaurs, and relating them to local legendary creatures or beings called "Ropens" (sometimes translated as "demon fliers"). Other legendary creatures called "Dah" or "Duwas" by other locals in or around PNG are suggested by some to be the same as Ropens. Although often downplayed by Whitcomb and associates, these legends entail various spiritual and demonic elements. Evidently many locals do not even associate them with physical creatures. Some apparently believe they represent some sort of supernatural beings or human/beast hybrids--perhaps even vampires. Some stories say they have a taste for human flesh and sometimes rob graves (though supposedly they ceased doing this in recent years), and occasionally attack and carry off natives.
Whitcomb and associates attempt to link these legends to "sightings" of living pterosaurs, as well as to unusual nocturnal lights sometimes called "Indava" by natives. However, the mysterious lights, which are similar to others reported at dozens of locations worldwide, are considered by others to be a largely separate phenomenon, with no reliable connection to "Ropens" or living pterosaurs.
Fig. 16. Duane Hodgkinson comparing his 1944 PNG |
sighting to the pterosaur in an Alley Oop comic book
Whitcomb who communicated with Hodgkinson by phone and email, as related Chapter 3 of in his 2017 book Searching For Ropens and Finding God. argues that this PNG sighting is one of the most credible. However, he acknowledges that Hodgkinson's friend and fellow witness to the incident was a biology professor, and denies that they ever saw a pterosaur. Whitcomb speculates that this is because either the friend was either distracted by wandering thoughts about teaching, or because a living pterosaur would "drop a bomb" on standard biology." However, neither is sound. First, the distraction idea is contradicted by the fact that Hodgkinson himself indicates during the interview both he and his friend had their attention drawn to commotion in the brush and the creature causing it, and that during the incident they discussed what the creature could be. The second idea is contradicted by the fact that, as discussed earlier, whenever "living fossils" have been found before, scientists have gladly reported and widely celebrated them. In short, Whitcomb seems to reveal his bias in fully trusting Hodgkinson's word and memory, while dismissing without basis the testimony of his more scientifically knowledgeable friend. Excerpts from Guessman's video-taped 2005 interview, posted by Whitcomb, are available on-line at a number of sites, including https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dl1A2xXnxpU
The video includes subtitles and comments, but never mentions the friend or his denial, despite it's obvious relevance. Likewise, when Whitcomb tells the story in other writings, including his latest book Modern Pterosaurs (2017, p, he does not mention the friend's denial, and instead implies that both men saw a pterosaur. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to always trust that Whitcomb is fully and fairly relating all relevant information in sightings he recounts, even aside from other uncertainties inherent in most witnesses' perceptions, recollections and descriptions. This is not to suggest that Whitcomb is deliberately deceptive or dishonest (he seems sincere), but his obvious passion and YEC inspired drive to prove the existence of living pterosaurs may foster less than objective reporting.
Whitcomb complains that I and other skeptics do not adequately explain Hodgkinson's having seen a long tail on the creature. But again, Hodgkinson indicates in the video interview that he did not get a good look at the tail, and as explained earlier, herons and other large birds that drag their legs behind them in flight can create the illusion of a long tail.
When David Woetzel (1999-2017a) relates the sighting, he too neglects to mention the friend's denial. Woetzel only briefly states that Hodgkinson recalls that the creature had "dark-gray coloration, long serpentine neck, beak, and distinctive head crest". Evidently Woetzel added the term "serpentine" since during the taped interview, Hodgkinson only mentions a "long neck."
Interestingly, during the taped interview, Hodgkinson holds up an Alley-Oop comic book, which he says reminded him of the creature (Figure 16). The page displayed shows a pterosaur with a Pteranodon-like head crest and long tail, even though as explained earlier, no fossil pterosaurs show this combination. One wonders if Hodgkinson may have been reading such comics before or during the war, possibly influencing his perceptions or recollections.
Whitcomb devotes about two pages of SFR to another decades-old sighting on the Island of Brougainville, by psychologist Brian Hennessy. Whitcomb says that Hennessey related it to him in email in 2010 (about 39 years after the incident). According to Whitcomb (2010c), Hennessy saw an "unusual" flying creature, slowly flapping its wings. He estimated the wing span as "at least 2 meters," adding that it could have been larger, but the size was difficult to judge because of the distance, which was also hard to judge. He said the creature had a long tail and something on the back of his head that he described as a "horn", but says he "could not see any detail" and could not discern if it had feathers. Hennessy remarked that it "looked prehistoric" but acknowledged, "Well, maybe my memory has been influenced by the intervening years."
Evidently realizing that the account involved a lot of uncertainty and could well be compatible with a heron or other crested bird, Whitcomb asks, "Could this have been strange large bird with feathers not easily visible?" However, instead of answering "yes," as would have been appropriate, he remarks, "That 'horn' and long tail suggests a ropen or at least a large flying creature similar to the one seen by Hodgkinson." Evidently lost on Whitcomb was the possibility that Hodgkinson too saw a large bird, especially since the friend Hodgkinson was with denied that they saw a pterosaur. In fact, Whitcomb seems to deliberately set up a misleading straw man at this point by stating, "Neither of these men were along during the sightings: similar hallucinatings are even less likely." Besides no one ever accusing the men of hallucinations, Whitcomb is clearly implying here that people with both witnessess supported their interpretaations. However, the very opposite is true in the case of Hodgkinson's friend, and we have no information about whoever was with Hennessy, or what they saw or concluded.
In his 2014 book Whitcomb says he showed Hennessy some head profiles to choose from (which seems somewhat leading). Whitcomb says that Hennessy picked his 2006 composite head as being "similar," but that Hennessy added that he "could not see any detail." Considering that admission, that he could not discern whether it had feathers, and that Hennessy himself questioned the accuracy of his memory from 2 decades earlier (as any competent psychiatrist would), the sighting seems weak at best, despite Whitcomb often showcasing it, and scolding any skeptic who leaves it out (Whitcomb, 2015).
Carl Baugh who runs the "Creation Evidence Museum" in Glen Rose, Texas and who has a long history of unfounded claims about ancient human tracks and other matters (Kuban, 2017), states on his website that CEM has sponsored PNG expeditions in 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," known to many locals as "ropens," which have the habit of "scavenging gravesites for food." Baugh's site gives no names of witnesses or photos of the alleged creatures.
Figure 17. Photo of "lights" taken by |
Paul Nation. From D. Woetzel website
Also, the original report seems to be unavailable, and what is posted on-line is an abridged version that was (as a subtitle indicates) "edited, simplified, and explained by Jonathan Whitcomb." In one of annotated sections Whitcomb states "Paul Nation videotaped two lights that we believe are the bioluminescent glow of creatures very similar to the ropen of Umboi Island" without making clear who "we" is, or whether both report authors concur.
Whitcomb relates that Carl Baugh told him in a phone call about a crippled old man with cancer in PNG was attacked by one of the creatures in 1995. Baugh reportedly said that the creature carried the man into the air and dropped him three separate times, before being finally carrying him off and eating him. Apparently taking the sensational hearsay story seriously, despite coming from someone with a long history of unfounded claims, Whitcomb remarks, "It sounded like a dragon story but with the feeling of reality" (Whitcomb, 2014, p. 17). Whitcomb recounts other stories about people being carried off by Ropens, but they only detract from the credibility of Ropen legends. They may be consistent with cartoons and Hollywood films like One Million Years B.C. and Jurassic Park, but contradict what is known about pterosaur anatomy. Fossils indicate that even pterosaurs, even ones the size of the larger "Ropens" did not have strong grasping feet capable of picking up people or large animals. Rather they had very slender, weakly-muscled feet with non-opposable digits (Naish, 2017).
Figure 18. Composite Ropen drawing, by |
Whitcomb and Guessman. Compare to
composite drawing by Woetzel below
Whitcomb concludes that the consensus of local witnesses indicates a single, primarily nocturnal rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur species with a long tail and large head crest, having a wing span of 20 to 25 feet, which often uses bioluminescent lights while flying and fishing. He notes that the term "Ropen" is mainly used by people on the PNG island of Umboi, "where in the local language of Kovai it refers to a large nocturnal flying creature that on occasion, and briefly, it "glows brightly." He explains that other native PNG languages appear to have different names for the same or similar creatures, including "Indava", used on the PNG mainland, "Kor," on islands north or Umboi, "Duwas," in other areas on or near Umboi, "seklo-bali," in or around Wau of Morobe Province, and "wawanar", in areas near Pilio Island, off the coast of New Britain Island (Whitcomb, 2015b). However, there seems to be a major inconsistency in his argument for one species, since various witnesses report a short tailed pterosaur, and others a long tailed pterosaur, so if all of their testimonies are credible as Whitcomb repeatedly claims, it implies at least two species (as suggested by Woetzel and other LP advocates).
In 2006 Whitcomb posted a "composite drawing" that he says he an Guessman produced (Figure 18). Interestingly, it differs signifcantly from the composite drawing by Woetzel (Figure 20a), especially in regards to the head. Whitcomb shows a chart listing various features from several PNG witnesses that were evidently used to produce the composite drawing. Curiously, however, the drawing does not appear to show any legs or feet. In the chart, the only mention of feet is "Feet (tucked in) Hodgkinson". However, in the 2005 interview video, at least the excepts posted on line, Hodgkinson does not mention seeing legs or feet. So, it seems that few if any witnesses saw legs or feet. That seems to lend credence to the possibility that some witnesses may have mistaken the rearward extended legs and feet of a large heron or egret in flight (Figures 6a, 6b) for a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur tail.
Figure 19a. Drawing shown on Whitcomb's web page |
"Is the Ropen a Pterosaur" implied to be a drawing
by local Gideo Kono, but evidenty just the snout
part of the head, drawn by Whitcomb himself.
Figure 19b. Back part of head drawn by J Whitcomb |
onto which Gideo Koro reportedly added his drawing
Fig. 20a. Woetzel's "composite drawing" of a Ropen |
Fig. 20b. Statue shown by D Woetzel|
with no obvious link to pterosaurs
At one point the translator said "He did not show his head," presumably referring to the creature. However, Whitcomb then asks Gideon, "so you did not see the head well," as if encouraging him to say he saw the head to some extent, right after the translator indicated that he did not see the head. Whitcomb then asks Gideon what the mouth was like, again disregarding the translator's statement. Gideon replied "like a crocodile." Whitcomb then used a machete to draw two animal heads in the sand -one supposedly crocodile like and the other pterosaur like, even though they look very similar. Gideon picked the latter, and then scratched in the rest of the creature in the sand. The drawing shows bat-like wings about the same size as the head, bumps on the neck and body, and a long tail without a vane.
Evidently realizing that the drawing did not much resemble what a Ropen is supposed to look like, Whitcomb remarks that the drawing is "not visually accurate as he [Gideon] is not a realistic artist," later adding that neither is he. That seems true, but if so, it largely undermines the drawing's value, even aside from the fact that drawing the head for Gideon was not proper or objective. It also seems curious that Whitcomb would not think to bring some paper and pencil along, or if he did, would not use it in a situation like this, and invite witnesses to do the same, instead of making crude scrawlings in the sand.
A photo of the drawing appears on p. 83 of SFG, but parts of the sketch is cropped of the photo on all sides, and it is a dull, low-contrast photo, making its details difficult to discern. Two of Whitcomb's websites show parts of what is implied to be Gideon's drawing, but each shows only part of the head, which again, was drawn by Whitcomb rather than Gideon. One appears to show the end of the snout (Figure 19a), and the other the back part of the head (Figure 19b). A You Tube video of the interview (Whitcomb, 2013a) also doesn't show the entire drawing, just parts of it. Curiously, none of them, even the head that Whitcomb himself drew, look much like the corresponding parts of a real pterosaur, or Whitcomb's iconic Ropen images (Figures 7a and 18).
The same video includes comments by two other locals who supposedly saw ropens: Mesa Augustin and Gideon's brother, Wesley Koro. However, all they say is that the tail had a "diamond" on it. In Whitcomb's 2014 book, he says that he also asked them, while they were together and with Gideon, whether they saw what Gideon saw, and they nodded yes. However, he says that they Mesa looked frightened and Wesley nervous, and admits that he should not have interviewed all three together, so that they would not influence each other's answers. In view of these problems, the discrepancies from the 1994 interview, and the language difficulties, it's hard to know exactly what Gideon actually said and meant in each interview, let alone what he and the others actually saw. Whitcomb's warns on one of his web pages: "Beware of critics who ignore eyewitnesses such as the natives Gideon Koro, Mesa Augustin, and Wesley Koro" (Whitcomb, 2013b). I'm glad to address them; however, Whitcomb's warning seems largely moot, since interviews seem far from objective or convincing.
David Woetzel has a website called "Genesis Park" where he recounts his PNG 1999 expedition with Guessman, and his follow up GNP expedition. They reportedly interviewed numerous local "eyewitnesses," but most only reported seeing lights at night, not actual creatures. Likewise, Woetzel related his own sighting of "a possible Ropen" on Umboi Island, which he described as "a large, yellowish glow approximately 20-25% the size of the full moon which 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." Whitcomb commented on one of his websites that "This may be the best sighting on this island by a westerner in years." If so, it is not saying much, since Woetzel confirmed that all he saw was brief light, no shape or bodily form (Woetzel, 1999-2017).
Woetzel states that during a PNG expedition with Carl E. Baugh, missionary Jim Blume "observed one of the creatures through a monocular night scope and snapped a picture of a strange print in the sand the next morning." However, neither Baugh's nor Woetzel's web sites show the photo in question.
Woetzel and Blume suggest there are two different pterosaur species in and around PNG. Whitcomb suggests only one PNG species going by different names, although he allows for multiple species in other countries. Woetzel's "composite drawing" of a Ropen based on his interviews (Figure 20a) resembles Dimorphodon-like pterosaur, and thus does not closely match the Rhamphorhynchus-like Ropen drawings Whitcomb often uses (Figures 7 and 18).
Woetzel's website once reported 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, and deleted the questionable account.
Figure 21. Screen capture of alleged video of pterosaur |
from Papua New Guinea (left) and a female frigate bird (right)
The overall credibility of Woetzel's site is not helped his promotion of a "Japanese plesiosaur" carcass, which years ago was conclusively demonstrated to be a decayed basking shark (Kuban, 1997), after which virtually all other YECs stopped promoting the case. AIG, one of most prominent YEC groups, recommends that no one use the case as anti-evolutionary evidence (Mitchel, 2010).
Figure 22. "Flying Foxes" (large fruit bats) in flight |
A Salem-News.com article (Aym, 2010) describes Woetzel's more recent PNG expeditions, includes a photo still 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 21), 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.
Whitcomb seemed less pleased with a 2009 production by MonsterQuest, which produces similar paranormal/crytozoology TV programs. Their crew trekked to New Britain Island in PNG to investigate the "Ropen" claims, and featured the topic in their June 2009 (Season 3) episode 15 on the History channel. The show included excerpts from interviews with Garth Guessman and Duane Hodgkinson, as well as comments from a professional paleontologist. Whitcomb (2017) was unhappy that the animation that accompanied the program showed a short-tailed pterosaur instead of a long-tailed one like his composite drawing. The objection seemed questionable, since he himself suggests, based on witness statements, that some pterosaurs in PNG and elsewhere are short tailed. In fact, on his own web page entitled "What is a Ropen" (2004-2014) he shows two pterosaur drawings at the top (one on each side) one of which has a short tail, and the other a long tail (Figure 10).
Whitcomb also objected that the program mentioned the fruit-bat as a possible source of some sightings, and expressed even more displeasure that the program showed the paleontologist stating that he felt the chances of a modern pterosaur were only about one in one hundred million. Whitcomb went on for several paragraphs about how biased and unfair this was, and how in view of this a paleontologist would be "the last person on earth" he would choose to go on a PNG expedition.
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 legs and tails of pterosaurs. Moreover, some "Ropen" reports or other alleged sightings of LPs elsewhere do not mention tails, or refer to short tails. There is a fruit bat called the Long-Tailed fruit bat or Long-tailed Blossom bat, that has a fair sized tail. It is mostly known from areas farther east in the Pacific (mosly Fiji and nearby islands), but the possibility that this bat or one like it (perhaps with an even longer tail) exists in PNG, and the ability of large bats or birds to be construed by some witnesses as "Ropens" seems more reasonable than positing an extant pterosaur. Indeed, as discussed below, the word for bat evidently translates as "bird" or "bat" in some PNG dialects (CreationWiki, 2015).
Of course, no known bats are known to be bioluminescent. However, the linkage of pterosaurs to the mysterious lights seems tenuous, since only a few people have claimed to see even vague bodily forms with the lights. Whitcomb (2014, p. 280) states that some owls are reported to be luminescent, and even claims that they may be bioluminescent (capable of generating their own luminescence) based on the writings of Fred Silock. However, if this were verified, it would seem to undermine more than help Whitcomb's case, since it would mean that if the mystery lights in PNG and elsewhere are related to any flying animals, they need not be bioluminescent pterosaurs. Indeed, Silock himself suggests that the controversial "Min Min" lights in Australia and other areas may be related to glowing owls (Silock, 2016).
As to the possible mechanism for the supposed bioluminescence in Ropens, Whitcomb (2014, p. 94) states that PNG missionary James Blume who suggested that it may "related to secretions that seem to drip from the creatures as they fly, like "sparklers" falling to the ground. Apparently he got that idea from a sketchy reported sighting by PNG local Jacob Kepas when he was 12 years old, and caught a "brief glimpse" of the back and tail of a Ropen or "seklo-bali" (Whitcomb, 2014, p. 94).
Although the reported size of many pterosaurs in PNG and elsewhere often exceeds any known birds, as mentioned earlier, people are notoriously poor at an objects estimating size, especially at a distance or in the sky. Furthermore, the larger the creature, the more difficult it is to explain why they are not seen more often and regularly photographed (discussed further below). Incidentally, although a small portion of pterosaurs grew to immense sizes (with wingspans over 30 ft). People are used to seeing pterosaurs in movies and fictional books carrying off animals or people, but the vast majority of pterosaurs species were much smaller, with many only the size of modern cranes or turkeys, and some as small as crows.
Speaking of birds, while discussing Kepas and his fleeting "sighting," Whitcomb mentions that Kepas was surprised that Whitcomb used the term "Ropen" rather than "Seklo-bali," since in Kepas's language "Ropen" means "bird". This seems like a very relevant piece of information, yet Whitcomb and other living pterosaur hardly ever mention it. Likewise, in an article on "Ropens" at "CreationWiki" website, the authors note that several different words in PNG may refer to the same creature, but due to the complexities of the many languages and dialects in the area, sorting them out is challenging. They then state (emphasis mine):
For example, "ropen" near Wau (mainland P.N.G.) means "bird." The same word (ropen) in another areaWell, there you have it, from a YEC source no less. Whereas Whitcomb often ridicules "skeptics" for suggesting that many "ropen" sightings could be large birds or bats, evidently in at least some parts of PNG the very term "ropen" translates as "bird" or "bat". That does not mean every sighting is a bird or bat, but added to the uncertainties and variations in "eyewitness" reports, and potential influences or confusion with elements of various Ropen legends, it does seem to increase reasons to doubt that any sightings are actually modern pterosaurs. Whitcomb himself indicates that about 90% of the sightings are just of the unusual lights, which again, may have little if any relation to real creatures, let alone living pterosaurs. To be fair, the above article also indicates that on the Island of Umboi, locals seem to differentiate the fruit bat ("byung" in the Kovai language) from what they call "ropen", with the latter said to be a larger creature that eats fish and has a long tail.
of the mainland, refers to the giant fruit bat that English speakers call the Flying Fox (CreationWiki, 2015).
Figure 23. Manta rays leaping and soaring |
Of course, Whitcomb and associates can continue to say that none of the alternative explanations work, because this and that sighting had 'this and that' feature, or such and such sighting is not consistent with a bird or bat or manta ray, etc. However, that approach presumes the complete accuracy of all witness perceptions, memories, and statements, which again, are subject to all the uncertainties and complicating factors discussed earlier. When they are all considered, it is usually impossible to know exactly what if anything each witness saw. This comes back to the issue of who has the burden of proof. Skeptics do not have to demonstrate exactly what was seen in each case, or what "Ropens" really are, or even provide reasonable possibilities (though the latter has been done), since they are not the ones making extraordinary claims. The living pterosaur advocates are making extraordinary claims, so they do have the burden to provide the extraordinary evidence (at least compelling photos, and preferably, physical evidence).
Whitcomb next relates a sighting from a twelve year old boy from a farm near Redcliffe, who said that while doing his chores, he was frightened by a large winged creature on the roof, about the size of a man. Whitcomb says the wings were folded to the side and back, "reminiscent of bat wings," but as is often the case when Whitcomb recounts sightings, it is unclear whether these were the boy's own words (Whitcomb does not put them in quotation marks), or Whitcomb's interpretation or paraphrasing. At any rate, Whitcomb does even say that the boy himself thought he saw a pterosaur, and in view of the boy's age, plus the scant and ambiguous information given, there is no reason to conclude that he did.
Whitcomb's third account is from a man from S. Australia who reported seeing what he first thought was a large pelican about 5 km away about 9 pm, but and that when seen by "moonlight" it appeared to be shinning "as if it had no feathers." Whitcomb says the man then searched online for "pterodactyl", and found one of his web pages. The only problem is, if this account demonstrates anything, it is how prone some "witnesses" are to jump to the conclusions, and how eager Whitcomb is to endorse their leap, or make his own longer one. He concludes "I have no doubt about his honesty little doubt that it was a giant ropen." Evidently he did not even consider that the man could be entirely honest, but if he made a mistaken ID, entirely wrong.
The fourth Australian sighting Whitcomb discusses was made by two pilots on a flight from Australia to Indonesia, who at an altitude of about 6500 feet above the sea, reported seeing what they thought was a small dark plane coming at them, but then realized it had the wingspan about that of a pelican. Whitcomb says that the pilots dove the plane as the creature caused a "near miss." Whitcomb says that when he asked about the wings, one of the pilots lot estimated that the elbow was about half way between the body and the wing tip, and that it has a "low aspect" wing ratio (relatively short distance from body to wingtip). Nothing specific was reported about the head or tail. Considering these vagaries, and their compatibility with a pelican (known to sometimes fly very high), it seems likely that the plane just had an unfortunate encounter with a high flying pelican. Whitcomb himself admits that this sighting and the previous one "could be misidentifications." That seems quite likely, since as with the boy, the pilots evidently did not even claim to have seen a pterosaur. In fact, Whitcomb says they discussed whether they had seen some kind of "soaring bird." He acknowledges that the account is "far less convincing than the sighting by Hodgkinson," which seems telling, considering how questionable the latter is, in view of it's suspicious elements, especially the denial by the co-witness friend.
Despite the weaknesses in four of these these "down under" accounts, Whitcomb concludes, "We can thus feel confident that Ropens live in Australia." Finally he asks, "What if a nocturnal, bioluminescent Ropen could light up with a brilliant bioluminescence, a glow suggesting old legends of fire-breathing dragons are not entirely fictional?" Of course, this questions seems not only highly speculative, but a little out-of-place, considering that the pilots apparently made their sighting during the day, and did not mention anything about bioluminescence. Moreover, apparently no other Australian pilots have reported any glowing pterosaur-like creatures during the day or night (which you would expect at least some to do, if Whitcomb imaginative suggestion were correct).
Whitcomb, Woetzel, and others, including vocal YEC Kent Hovind have claimed that living pterosaurs occur in Africa, and may be associated with a legendary creature that called Kongamato, primarily in Zambia, Angola and Congo. Some have pointed out that the term translates to "Overturner of Boats" which might fit other creatures better than a pterosaur. Whitcomb hastily dismisses that point as "irrelevant," as he does Dale Drinnon's suggestion (Drinnon, 2012) that the legend (or the similar legends of "Ropens" or similar creatures in other areas) might relate to leaping and "flying" manta rays (Figure 10).
In his 2014 book, Whitcomb indicates that in Kenya natives refer to apparent pterosaurs as "Batamzinga", whereas "Kongamato" refers to other pterosaurs in Zambia. He recounts that in 1959 an engineer named JPF Brown saw two flying creatures near Lake Bangweula that he described as having a long tail, narrow head, and when one opened it's mouth, it showed many pointed teeth." In another case, he says a boy from Sudan saw a 4-5 foot creature on a roof that had leathery skin, a tail like a lion, and a "bone looking thing" on the back of its head (Whitcomb, 2012). As usual, no photographic or other supporting evidence accompanied the accounts.
Figure 24a. Shoebill storks, native to Africa. |
4-5 feet tall. Wingspans up to 10 ft.
Often described as "prehistoric" looking
Figure 24b. Hammerheaded fruit bat
In his book Cryptozoology A to Z, Loren Coleman discusses the history of the Kongamato legend, and concludes that the creature "appears to be a form of giant bat, despite some interpretations of it as a reptilian prehistoric creature." He notes that author Ian Sanderson, who reported seeing the creature in Cameroon in 1932, theorized that it was an exceptionally large specimen of the hammerhead bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus), "a particularly ugly-looking fruit bat," which has a long snout and large teeth (Figure 24a). Coleman also notes that the well known cryptozoologist, Bernard Heuvelmans, agrees that Kongamato may be an unknown huge variety of bat, or the hammerhead bat (Coleman, 1999).
Whatever the true nature of the above sightings, as in other areas, large birds or bats probably explain the majority of "pterosaur" sightings on the continent. African is not only home to a number of large fruit bat species, but also many herons, egrets, cranes, hornbills, and vultures, as well as a large, big-billed, crested bird called the "Shoebill" stork (Figure 24b), which is often described as "prehistoric looking" (Walker, 2017).
Perhaps realizing the ambiguous nature of the Kongamato legend and reports, on a web page entitled "Living Pterosaurs in Africa?" Whitcomb writes: "But what about the "flying snake" of Namibia? According to research done by the British cryptozoologist Richard Muirhead, one of these creatures "swooped down" from a cave near Kirris West, in 1942, (sixty miles east of Keetmanshoop, south-west Namibia). It left a trace of something on the ground and a burning smell. Could that burning smell be related to the cause of death of a fisherman who was killed by a kor " (northern Papua New Guinea, 1960's)? "
Figure 25. Holaspis laevis lizard |
While relating some of these accounts, Whitcomb launches into a tirade (p. 1710172) against "skeptics" who question his conclusions. He complains about the "fallacy of insisting an eyewitnesses needs to give skeptics indisputable proof, adding "Why should any person on earth be required to prove anything to any careless skeptic?" However, no one is faulting a witness for not being able to provide a photo or other clear supporting evidence, and Whitcomb and others are welcome to believe any account without it. What he seems to keep missing is that in science, we need more than anecdotes to form reliable conclusions; we need hard evidence.
Added 5-27-2017 Whitcomb often stresses how good he is at judging credibility in a witness. However, even if he was perfect at it, anecdotal sightings are still inherently questionable, since as noted earlier, studies confirm that people often have seriously flawed perceptions and memories. Moreover, as studies also show, people are generally poor at judging other's veracity, even when they think they are very good at it. Whitcomb seems to be no exception, since he sometimes cites as trustworthy individuals who by all evidence are anything but, including Phillip O'Donnell, whose book promotes things such as T-rex like dinosaurs running around in Texas, and Carl Baugh, who has misrepresented so many things that even major YEC groups have warned their followers not to trust his assertions without clear independent evidence (Batten, 1996). Ironically, some of Baugh's most obviously false claims concern a supposedly live pterosaur (at least momentarily alive) in France, which brings us to our next topic.
"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 creature's 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).Many 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 silly 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 it were not apparent from the start that a creature could not be living inside an ancient rock, let alone live a while longer after being blasted out of it. Another YEC website called "Discovery World" still promotes the story as realistic, along with many other long-ago discredited claims (Anderson, 2017),
Fig. 26. Silver-haired bat photo (left) onto which a bird head was |
Photoshopped to foster a pterosaur-like appearance (right).
Vertebrate paleontologist 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. For a more detailed discussion of the French pterosaur hoax see Gross (2009).
Another apparent hoax or parody is a YouTube video entitled "Rare Pterodactyl being saved: Amazing video of a real Teradactyl [sic]" at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf5qBosdgBk The video shows several people trying to free a long-beaked creature from some type of entanglement on a muddy lakeshore. The text from "yogwhatup" that accompanies the video states: "Uploaded on Aug 31, 2009. Update: 9/3/2016. Through digital spectrum analysis we have determined that this is animal is not a bird, including any species of heron. Multiple studies of the video continue as we progress to the identification of this species. This is groundbreaking as we may actually have the fist true video evidence of a dinosaur living in the 21st century." Although filmed at night, one can plainly see feathered wings, and by the end of the video, one can see enough to identify it as a heron, probably a Great Blue Heron. The loud, shrill, almost blood curdling cries of the bird add an interesting element to the event, and to some may sound "prehistoric." Whether the video was intended as joke or not is besides the point that large birds are sometimes promoted and/or misidentified as "pterodactyls." . Several viewers who left comments, agree. One correctly pointed out the irony that since it was a bird, it was a dinosaur, whereas pterosaurs aren't dinosaurs.
Figure 27a. Odd looking pterosaur, widely |
considered a fake.
Figure 27b. Another dubious modern pterosaur photo||
Figure 27c. Strung up pterosaur photo ||
Figure 27d. Fake pterosaur with bat-like wings||
Figure 27e. Screen capture from |
"Flying Dragons" YouTube video showing
dubious pterosaur photo of unknown origin
Figure 27f. Rumored "Thunderbird" photo?||
Figure 27g. Photoshopped Civil War "Triceratops" |
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 are several dubious historical photos shown on many cryptozoology related websites. One (Fig. 27a), shows a young man 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 photo rumored to have been taken in the 1800's (Fig. 27b) shows a rather bunched-up and floppy looking pterosaur, is widely regarded as fake, as are those in Figures 27c and 27d. The creature in 12d seems to have a fairly natural-looking head, but was given bat-like wings, unlike any real pterosaurs. Whereas a bat wing membrane is stretched across four elongated fingers, a pterosaur wing bore the membrane on one highly elongated finger, with three much smaller fingers extending outside the membrane (see Fig. 32). Figures 27e and 27f follow the same theme (gun-toting men proudly displaying a pterosaur carcass), and like the others are of uncertain age and origin. Most of these photos (and a few others) have been proposed by various authors as possible candidates for the long-lost "Thunderbird" photo rumored to have been originally featured in a newspaper in the late 1800's, and which many people have vague recollections of, but which no one has been able to reliably track down (Shuker, 2014).
Another photo circulating on the web shows a dead Triceratops dinosaur posed with a troop of Civil War soldiers (Fig. 27f), which may be considered the same genre. Evidently it was originally submitted to the now defunct "Worth1000" website as Photoshopping contest entry.
Figure 28. Civil War "pterosaur" |
Called the "yellow" or HFf
Widely acknowledged as a hoax staged for
the FreakyLinks TV series
Figure 29a. Allegedly genuine "Ptp" Civil War photo |
claimed by some to show a real modern Pteranodon
Figure 29b. Close-up of head in Ptp photo |
Note apparent teeth, and blunt, downward sloping upper jaw
Figure 29c. Close-up of pterosaur eye in Ptp photograph||
Figure 30. Variations in Pteranodon heads. |
Putative males at right, females at left. Note absence
of teeth, and straight or upward sloping jaw lines
Adapted from drawing by Smokeybjb at Wikipedia.
Fig. 31. Still shot from 1933 King Kong movie. The head |
shows some of the same problems as the Ptp photo.
Fig. 32. Pterosaur, bird, and bat wings compared
Two other so-called "Civil War" photographs have recently been the subject of much discussion on the web, largely due to active promotions by Jonathan Whitcomb. Both photos show a giant Pteranodon-like pterosaur carcass posed with several rifle-bearing Civil War soldiers. One, sometimes called the "yellow" photo due to it's slight yellowish hue (Figure 28), is recognized as a hoax by virtually all researchers, including Whitcomb. It was apparently staged with actors and a model pterosaur for the 2000-2001 Fox television "Freaky Links" series, produced by Haxan Films. In recent writings, Whitcomb calls the photo "HFf" for "Haxan Films fake," and I'll use that acronym here. The model ended up at Loren Coleman's International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.
A similar photo, dubbed the "Ptp" photo for "Pterosaur photo" by Whitcomb (figure 29a) is also questioned or rejected by most researchers, but has recently been claimed by Whitcomb to be a real Civil War photo showing a real modern pterosaur carcass. He also suggests that the Freaky Links hoaxed photo was based on this "real" photo (more on that later). In early 2017 Whitcomb correctly pointed out that I and others originally confused the two photos, and I thank him for that clarification. However, to me and many others neither photo appears authentic, and both have serious problems.
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 does not even indicate where he first obtained the photo, other than unnamed "web sources" (the images shown here are from his sites). Whitcomb states that "many people," including himself, recall seeing the in a book during the 1950s, 1960s or possibly 1970s, and that even he has a "vague memory" of it. However, none of them seem to recall exactly what book, and none have located it.
A similar situation exists with regard to the renown "Thunderbird photo", which has been widely discussed in cryptozoology 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 featured 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. 27 might be the photo in question.
Cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon pointed out a number of signs of photo editing on the Ptp photo, 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)--all of which Whitcomb disputes. I agree that some of Drinnon's observations may be questionable or moot (for example, alleged missing fingers on one of the soldiers could be due to the man gripping a different part of the gun). However, there are many other and better reasons to question the photo and creature in it, including evidence that the creature in it is a pterosaur model, and not even a good one. Any photo editing could have been done later to alter certain features of the photo or make it look old, as discussed in detail below. In his latest book (2017) even Whitcomb acknowledges that it could have been "digitally altered recently" (p. 93). Others have pointed out the suspiciously blurry and grainy nature of the photo, compared to the sharp focus of most photos from the time.
Whitcomb and Paiva argue that the carcass is a modern Pteranodon; however, it shows many significant differences from a real Pteranodon, most of which can be readily seen by comparing the Ptp photo with real Pteranodon skeletons and skulls (Figures 3a, 30). Among the differences I noticed were the following the last several of which apply to any pterosaur, not just a Pteranodon:
1. The animal appears to have large teeth, whereas Pteranodons were toothless
2. The upper beak appears thick, downward bent, and blunt at the end, whereas real Pteranodon beaks are slender, straight or curved upward, and sharp at the end. 3. The lower beak also appears to be shaped unlike that of a real Pteranodon.
4. The posterior crest is essentially parallel to the central line of the beak, whereas real Pteranodon crests tend to make an upward angle from the beak.
5. The head is too small for the size of the body and wings.
6. There are no signs of the three small, clawed digits that should occur on the forearms.
7. The wings have an odd concave shape - what Whitcomb called "canoe-like"
8. The wing membranes look thick, cloth-like, and opaque, unlike the thin, taut, translucent membranes paleontologists believe pterosaurs had. That no indications of the soldiers' legs are visible behind the wings accentuates this problem.
9. If it were a real carcass, the head would probably have flopped to one side or the other, rather than be standing upright. Having the man's boot on the end of the beak would be unlikely to prevent this. Any rigor mortis would probably have occurred with the head lying flat on the ground, not an upright position.
David Peters, an active pterosaur researcher, independently noticed many of the same problems, as well as the following (Peters, 2001):
- The head is too wide.
- The crest is too thick. Real Pteranodon crests are very thin --only about 1/8 inch thick.
- The portion of the wing beyond the wrist (where the free fingers should be) appears too short.
- The wing appears to lack a propatagia (the anterior wing material between the wrist and shoulder--see Fig. 32a)
As a result of all these and other problems, the overall appearance of the animal is quite unnatural and phony looking, and far from anatomically "perfect" as Whitcomb and Paiva claim. In my view, it more closely resembles a cheesy Hollywood movie model than a credible Pteranodon carcass. Indeed, the head of the pterosaur in the 1933 King Kong movie (Figure 31) looks remarkably similar, showing many of the same inaccuracies (although the Kong pterosaur actually shows more natural looking wings, including three small clawed fingers protruding from them). Even Whitcomb acknowledged in his earlier writings that the photo and creature in it showed suspicious features, including canoe-like wings, although he rationalized that they could have appeared that way due to rigor mortis. (Whitcomb, 2017a).
Evidently Paiva and Whitcomb put aside any initial concerns about the photo, overlooked or disregarded most of the above problems, and focused on their new and supposedly compelling observations, so that in early 2017, they publically declared that both the Ptp photo and creature in it were authentic. Whitcomb summarized their main lines of evidence as follows (Whitcomb, 2017b):
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 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.
On another web page Whitcomb indicates that three of the best "evidences" for the photo's authenticity are that the wings are "inverted", that the eye shows a reptilian slit-like pupil, and that the neck is shaped and connected in the right place. 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.
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. Even aside from many other possible causes, if real soldiers could break it to clear the way for a real pterosaur carcass, actors could as easily break it clearing the way for a model pterosaur.
As far as the eye goes, even under magnification the details of the eye pupil are not clear (Figure 29c). Instead of usual reptilian slit shape, which should be widest at the center, to me it appears to show are darker area at the top and bottom, and lighter area in the middle, but some of this could be artifacts of shadows or imperfections of the photo. Even if it did have a more typically reptilian eye-slit pupil, it means little, since not all reptiles have slit-pupil eyes, and it's uncertain what kind of eye pupils 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 that someone taking the time to manufacture a large model pterosaur might also take the time to check what type of eyes most reptiles had.
In regards to the "inverted wings," Whitcomb seems to use tortured logic in reasoning that unrealistic looking wings are somehow evidence that the carcass is real, on the grounds that a model maker would not think to make them look so unnatural. In his Modern Pterosaurs book he says (p. 92) that when considering the authenticity of the photo, he did some research, and when he could find "no image of a canoe in North America that looked like those wings" he "moved up to around the half-way point, the twilight zone between doubting it and believing it." He then says that what "tipped the balance" (in favor of the photo being genuine) was when he consulted a "canoe expert." In other words, he apparently concluded that if the unnatural-looking, canoe-like wings were not actual canoes, the animal is probably real. Ironically, on the next page Whitcomb warns readers to be wary of critics and their "fuzzy thinking."
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. However, 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 (2017, p. 98-99) argues that a stick used as a "prop" is visible under the creature's beak, and that it not only supports the authenticity of the photo, but shows that it was taken before the 1960's. However, this argument is as weak as the others. First, the feature in question is indistinct, and could just be an area of dry or light colored vegetation, or a patch of bare ground, or a random stick not even supporting the beak. Second, even if it were a "prop", it could have been used to support the head of a model pterosaur rather than a real one.
Whitcomb repeatedly asserts that the photo was taken before 1970, but has provided nothing more than unsubstantiated claims that he and other people "recall" seeing it in a book between the 1950s and 1970s. It therefore seems quite possible that they could have remembered a different but similar photo, perhaps one of those shown in Fig. 27. Even if the photo were verified to have been taken before 1970, it could have been done with actors and a staged photos shortly before that time, possibly with later editing to make it look older or enhance certain features.
For the same reason, 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 created with a staged model and actors only decades ago, or (less likely) in recent years by digitally pasting a model photo into a real Civil War photo (in latter case, the man in the forefront could originally have had his foot on some other object, such as a log or rock).
Whitcomb's largely neglects both possibilities, which is a serious problem, since he needs to completely eliminate both of them to have any case. He claims to have largely ruled out the possibility of major Photoshopping, but the first possibility does not even require Photoshopping, and if any was involved, it could have been done years later, to alter or enhance or alter certain features (such as making it look older). The second possibility is also not ruled out by his arguments about Photoshopping or "correct" shadows. Most if not all of the same "shadows" would be expected with a pterosaur model photographed under similar lighting conditions, and any needed merging or alteration of shadows would be well within the abilities of any competent user of Photoshop or other advanced image-editing software.
Likewise, the supposed drag marks and broken sapling could be made by a model pterosaur, or if the second possibility is correct, by any number of other causes (after all, more than a few saplings get broken during a war). Furthermore, Whitcomb's argument about the sapling is not even logical. On p. 100 he states, "A sapling had been broken down, probably to allow the dragging of the animal to where it was to be placed for photography" (2-17, p. 100). But based on his presumed drag marks, the sampling is broken in the wrong direction. Instead of minimizing damage or making the dragging easier, the direction in which the tree is broken would force the animal to be dragged "against the grain" of the branches and twigs, whereas breaking it in the other direction would have caused less damage and resistance, as would dragging the animal to one side or the other of sapling. On page 103, he revisits the issue, and even notes that the sapling was broken to the right, "... taking the case that a real animal was to be dragged into that clearing." If he is implying that they were planning to move it again, that does not add up, since it was already in the clearing and already photographed. If he just means they broke it before moving it to it's present place, we're back to the previous problems. Whitcomb then remarks that a digital hoaxed would not think of a detail like a broken tree, and asks why a hoaxer would not break the tree to the left, since that would be "more dramatic." Again his logic seems flawed to say the least, since not only is there no reason to think the sapling was Photoshopped in any way, but any way you slice it, the sapling does not support real soldiers moving a real pterosaur. Remarkably, his next comment is "Why has nobody, apparently thought of this before? Westerners assume universal extinctions, clouding their vision..." This seems to include at least a couple ironies, since as far as I know, Whitcomb and associates are Westerners.
Likewise, in several places Whitcomb argues that since the pterosaur in the photo shows "correct" eyes, beak, and head, and since little was known of pterosaur anatomy in 1864, it must be a real photo of a real pterosaur. But again his reasoning is faulty. First, as explained before, there is no reason that if the photo was staged, it had to be done over 150 years ago, rather than within the last several decades, and 2. If the creature is a model, whether a full sized one used in a staging, or a photo of one pasted onto an old photo, the same creature features could be created by any reasonably competent model builder. However, unless he were an exceptionally skilled model builder, various and deficiencies would be expected, and that's what we find. In other words, the serious problems seen in the creature do far more to undermine it's authenticity than a few "correct" ones do to support it.
In his book (2017) Whitcomb describes an imaginary civil trial about the photo, calling witnesses to recount their vague memories of seeing it in a book decades ago, and some others to testify about seeing live pterosaurs (including a deceased witness, and another who was a child at the time), concluding that the "preponderance of evidence" favors his position. He even says that because it's a civil trial "we don't have to prove it 100%." However, science is not a civil trial. Nor does it deal in absolute "proof," but what is does require, especially when an extraordinary or extreme claim is made, is clear and compelling evidence, which is far from what Whitcomb has presented.
In short, while Whitcomb argues that the both the Ptp photo and creature in it are real, when all evidence is considered, it's likely that neither are, and virtually certain that the creature is not. Indeed, it appears to be another example in a long line of dubious, untraceable photos showing armed men posed with a prehistoric animal carcass.
Aside from all of these issues, one might ask how populations of gigantic flying reptiles managed to exist without being very frequently seen, reported, and recorded by many people of the day (or since), or how a band of solders managed to shoot one down with muskets, and yet it was not reported in any newspapers or scientific publications of the day. Whitcomb attempts to explain away the last problem by suggesting such newspapers were only interested in war related stories. However, this is readily dispelled by the fact that many surviving copies (available on the web) often covered many other things, including local events, fashion, politics, commercial matters, weather reports, etc., that were far more mundane than the downing of a giant flying monster (UT, 2017). Indeed, there is little doubt that such a stupendous event would have been considered very newsworthy, as well as become the subject of much subsequent discussion and scientific interest (unless the soldiers buried it immediately, and never said a word about it, which seems highly unlikely). Yet there is no evidence that it was ever mentioned in any publication of the day, popular or scientific. Nor is there any information on what became of the carcass. That too seems telling, since many museums, schools, natural history buffs and collectors, etc., would surely have clamored to obtain such an astounding specimen, and been glad to pay handsomely for it.
Despite all of these problems, in early 2017 Whitcomb launched a major publicity campaign focusing largely on the Ptp photo -- flooding the Internet with numerous articles, blog entries, and "press releases" declaring it to be proof of modern pterosaurs. This was on top of his scores of pervious sites promoting "living pterosaurs." Indeed, it appears that Whitcomb has over two dozen web domains registered just for these purposes, and within them and other sites (by his own count) over 1000 articles and blog entries. While he seems to regard this as a positive achievement, it is academically questionable at best, since many of the articles rehash or overlap the same material, and the effect is that when someone does a web search on the topic of living pterosaurs (or even pterosaurs), his writings dominate the results. This makes it difficult to readily find and compare other writings or rebuttals on the issue, or to keep track of any new or altered claims Whitcomb makes. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that when Whitcomb criticizes me and other skeptics, he seldom properly cites or links to our writings.
Also of concern is the fact that in many of the "press releases" and blogs Whitcomb often refer to himself in the third person, and/or positively reviews his own articles and books as if they were independent and authoritative sources. One of the web pages he registered is "bookapplause" which promotes his books, but curiously, the comments are mostly remarks about the benefits of books in general, not reviews of his books. He formerly sometimes used the pen names "Nathan Coleman" and "Norman Huntington," and even though he no longer does, he still often promotes his views and writings in the third person, and sometimes leaves his own positive remarks or links to his other writings or books in the Comments section of a blog, then closes the comments. He published a new book in April 2017 (Whitcomb, 2017c); despite being titled Modern Pterosaurs: Human encounters with living "pterodactyls" , it focuses heavily on the Ptp photo. Perhaps as a sign of being rushed into print, it contains no index or references. When he criticizes skeptical scientists and their writings (including mine) in it, he does not mention names or include proper academic citations. On several web sites he complains that I wrote an article "31 paragraphs" criticizing his claims, but not adequately addressing some of best evidence. I trust this version of the critique does that and more. However, no matter how much I or others write, LP proponents can always say the next sighting that comes alone is better evidence. That is why scientists have no obligation to address any such claims, unless they are backed up by hard evidence, and the Ptp photo is hardly that.
Among the likely reasons Whitcomb and Paiva latched strongly onto the Ptp photo as proof of modern pterosaurs, besides YEC-driven motivations and confirmation bias, is that they evidently neglected to consult with any paleontologists before cementing and promoting their conclusions. Whitcomb often emphasizes that a "scientist" (Paiva) has confirmed the authenticity of the photo and creature in it. However, as far as I know neither Paiva nor Whitcomb have any significant training, experience, or expertise in paleontology, let alone fossil pterosaurs. That does not necessarily prevent them from doing good research. It does mean that before sticking their necks out on the issue, it would have behooved them to seek such expertise. If they did not trust any mainstream workers, they could still have consulted with one of the few YEC paleontologists, such as Kurt Wise. It is also normal scientific protocol to publish a scientific paper before launching any publicity campaign, but evidently this too was not done in this case. What Whitcomb calls two previous "peer reviewed" papers (Whitcomb, 2009) did not even address the Ptp photo, and appeared in the Creation Research Society Quarterly, a staunchly YEC publication that apparently does not have the level of rigorous peer review of most mainstream scientific journals.
How much influence Whitcomb's promotions have had on the public and most YECs is difficult to say, partly because his dozens of largely redundant web sites and articles dominate search engine results on the topic of "living pterosaurs." However, many comments on cryptozoology sites have been skeptical or negative. Renown American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who previously addressed both the Ptp and HFf photos in a 2007 Cryptomundo website column, rejected both, and as far as I know, no other leading cryptozoology researchers endorse either of them. This further reinforces the hollowness of Whitcomb's constant complaints about scientists being blinded by "dogmas of extinction," since most cryptozoologists not only have no such dogmas, but much of what they do involves searching for creatures that others think are likely extinct.
Nor do any major YEC groups such as ICR, AIG, or CMI have "extinction dogmas" or a-priori biases against living pterosaur claims (any biases would be in favor of them). However, as far as I know, none have plainly endorsed the idea of modern pterosaurs, let alone Whitcomb's supposed Ptp photo "proof" of them. A 2017 book How Do Dinosaurs Fit in the Bible discusses pterosaurs, but makes no mention of allegedly living ones (Biddle, 2017). Moreover, at least one of Whitcomb's fellow LP promoters, David Woetzel, does not consider the Ptp photo convincing (Woetzel, 2017).
Years ago I suggested to Dave Woetzel that he give PNG locals cameras in order to increase changes of recording any pterosaurs there. Recently he informed me that he had done this, but that so far it has not been productive. Likewise, Whicomb reportedly gave some cameras to locals, also with no significant results. This seems telling, since both researchers imply that local sightings are "common." Whitcomb states on his "Woetzel-Guessman Expedition" web page that one of the locals sees Ropens flying over Opai "about once per month."
In his 2017 book (p. 8) Whitcomb suggests that a major reason for the shortage of good pterosaur photos is that people often forget that they have a camera or camera-ready cell phone with them. However, many people do remember, and the satellites and other automated cameras don't have to. Moreover, in regards to PNG sightings, it seems implausible that the locals would constantly "forget" to take pictures of the creatures they supposedly see on a regular basis, and which they know Whitcomb and others are dying to get clear evidence of. Whitcomb also suggests (p. 10) that in the U.S. many sightings are from moving cars, which would make photography difficult. However, the majority of sightings are not from cars, and those that are would tend to be inherently less reliable, since the witnesses would often need to deal with the movement of both the car and the creature.
The nocturnal hypothesis also begs the question of where most pterosaurs go during the day. Whitcomb suggests that in PNG they dwell in high cliff overhangs which the locals call "caves" (Whitcomb, 2017c, p. 22). However, this explanation doesn't fly for heavily populated areas, especially most U.S. states, which either don't have high cliffs, or where any cliffs and caves large enough to hide large pterosaurs have been well explored by spelunkers, naturalists, and scientists. In a web page entitled, "Can Ropens Hide in Caves" Whitcomb (2014b) attempts argues that smaller ones could bunk in bunk in "holes" in rock faces. He states that we should remember that "not all of those featherless flying creatures are gigantic... A small hideaway room on the side of a cliff is better than being homeless.." However, Whitcomb himself claims that most living pterosaurs range from large to huge, and he has to account for where they all hide during the day, not just the smaller ones. He declares, "potential spots could number in the billions, if ropens were very careful about concealing nests and they were built both inside and outside caves." However, no matter how "careful" they were, it is simply not credible to imagine that entire populations of giant prosaurs (and populations would be needed to sustain the species) could build nests every year (presumably large ones) even "outside" caves, without any of the animals or their nests, eggs, and hatchlings ever being seen or documented.
Whitcomb suggests that pterosaurs may not breed in all areas where they are seen, and may sometimes fly large distances, even over entire continents and oceans. However, this only moves the problem from one area to another, plus creates new problems. If giant pterosaurs are doing such things, it is odd that they are never detected by pilots, satellite cameras, or radar. Proposing that they fly low to the ground would not help, since it would exacerbate the problem of why more people do not report and photograph them, and even night flights would be detected by radar.
Worsening the problem even further, Whitcomb makes the astounding claim: "During the past 50 years, over the entire planet, over 7,000,000 persons have encountered a living pterosaur at night" (Whitcomb, 2014, p. 306). Lest one wonder if this could be a typo, on the next page he spells it out, writing: "Seven million eyewitnesses of live pterosaurs!" He bases this on some fuzzy math and his assumption that far more people have seen living pterosaurs than report them. He even states on the next page that his estimate was "conservative", although elsewhere on the same page he states (perhaps forgetting his earlier estimate, or perhaps making a typo this time), that "about 70,000 persons worldwide" have seen pterosaurs. That's only 1% of his first estimate, but orders of magnitude greater than the "less than 200 credible reports" he reportedly collected, and 200 more than the number I and most scientists consider reliable reports of living pterosaurs.
Another sticky question for living pterosaur advocates is why witnesses seldom describe creatures with fur or hair, even though fossil evidence indicates that most if not all pterosaurs had hair or hair-like coverings. It is also likely that pterosaurs had translucent wing membranes, yet this too is virtually never reported in "sightings." Instead they are often describe them as "leathery" -- again matching popular and fictional depictions more than real pterosaurs.
Whitcomb's assertions also involve a "Catch-22". He suggests there are too many sightings for all to be misidentifications of hoaxes. Yet the more sightings there are, the harder it is to explain the lack of good photos. Indeed, even if the Ptp photo were legitimate, and even some of his sightings are, he seems to have a serious problem explaining why no other credible photo has surfaced in over 150 years, and why no credible photos showing a living pterosaur has ever been produced. He sometimes calls living pterosaurs "rare" and other times stresses the many sightings he says are "credible." But if so, it would imply at least two different species (one long tailed, another short tailed) and widespread populations throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries.
This raises another problem. If we apply the same standards Whitcomb seems to use when assessing the credibility of living pterosaur reports, we'd have to also accept Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra, modern "Thunderbirds," and even mermaids and "MothMan." After all, as mentioned earlier, some of these "cryptids" and legendary beings have even more putative evidence (as claimed by their followers) than "living pterosaurs." Whitcomb even has a section in While science cannot categorically disprove them, and anyone is free to believe in any or all of them, including living pterosaurs, science cannot accept any as well-established without compelling empirical evidence. This is summed up in the adage, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." A corollary principle is that when extraordinary claims are made, the burden of proof (or at least convincing evidence) rest on the claimants, 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 (or even zebra) the burden is on them to demonstrate that, not on others to disprove it. This would be especially so if other considerations or evidence undermined the credibility the claim, such as (in this case) the presence of horse stables nearby.
Whitcomb not only seems to misunderstand these important and widely accepted scientific principles, but sometimes turns them on their head. For example, when writing about the mystery book that he and others vaguely recall as containing the Ptp photo, he states: "Since this is like a civil trial, my side has no obligation to provide a copy of that book before the jury gives some degree of credence as existing before Photoshop... we have three witnesses who have testified that it is quite likely that old. What evidence does the opposing side have that Ptp is not old?" Apparently he forgets that it is not the "other side" making extraordinary claims about the photo and creature in it, and fails to realize that even if the vague memories about book are correct, it would not authenticate the photo or the creature, for reasons explained earlier.
Other misunderstandings by Whitcomb about science and how it operates seem to be revealed when he suggests that paleontologist are probably skeptical due to "fear" which he calls "the enemy of discovery." He asks, "How much better to walk in faith like a little child!" Elsewhere (LPA, p. 108) Whitcomb tells us to "Trust your feelings when you recognize the truthfulness of an eyewitness." However, in science sound conclusions are not based on faith, trust, or feelings, but hard evidence.
As a final word about photographs, it might be worth mentioning that even though the few putative photographs of living pterosaurs offered so far have exhibited many clues that they are fakes, in view of ever-improving technologies, from advanced CGI and photo editing capabilities, to sophisticated model making and staging capabilities, it may become increasingly difficult to determine whether a particular photo or video is authentic, or exactly how it was made. In cases of alleged cryptids and other extraordinary claims, this will make the need for compelling, independent physical evidence all the more vital. Some have claimed that certain historic artworks or literature may help their case in this regard, but as will shown, the examples often proposed are typically very subjective and questionable.
Jonathan Whitcomb, Carl Baugh, Don Patton, and Dennis Swift have claimed that pterosaurs and dinosaurs are depicted in ancient figurines from Acambaro (Figure 34), Mexico and on ancient pottery found near Ica, Peru (Figure 35), often referred to as the "Ica Stones" (Whitcomb, 2015b).
Fig. 33. Pictograph from Thompson, UT claimed |
by some to be a pterosaur, but very likely a bird
Fig. 34. Acambaro figurine, interpreted by Whitcomb |
as a "Crude depiction of a long-tailed pterosaur."
Fig. 35. Ica stone showing man riding a supposed pterosaur
"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 2002b).
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. Further evidence agaisnt the reliability of the Ica stones is discussed by Matthews (2007) and 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.
Figure 367. Painting of St. Michael |
and the "dragon," by unknown Spanish
painter, c. 1405, showing little
resemblance to a pterosaur or dinosaur
Whitcomb notes that both Celtic "dragons" and pterosaurs often show featherless wings and long tails with diamond shapes at the end. However, he ignores multiple major differences. For example, most dragon depictions show scales instead of hair, bat-like (strutted) wings rather than pterosaur-like wings, four legs instead of two, multiple horns, and other features not found on any known pterosaurs. (Whitcomb, 2011f). If dinosaurs or pterosaurs were involved in these legends at all, it may be that some were inspired or influenced by the occasional finding of fossil remains. In other words, in a sense Whitcomb and associates may be right that dragon myths may relate to dinosaurs or pterosaurs, but fossil ones rather than living ones. Indeed, some shops in China still sell dinosaur teeth, claws, and bones as "dragon" remains.
David Woetzel has a web page entitled "Dragons in History" promoting the idea that dragon legends support the idea of modern dinosaurs and pterosaurs (Woetzel, 1999-2017). He relates several dragon legends, but in none of them does the described creature bear more than a vague similarity to fossil dinosaurs or pterosaurs. Moreover, to imagine that real dragons, pterosaurs, or dinosaurs were terrorizing local European or Asian populations only begs the question of why no historic artworks or literature from either region clearly describe and depict them realistically (further discussed below), and why no carcasses or skeletons of the "slain" beasts were preserved (all known pterosaur remains are fossils and tracks in Mesozoic rock strata).
By YEC reasoning and the type of evidence accepted, one could as easily argue that in past centuries people regularly saw griffins, Cyclopes, unicorns, sphinxes, and mermaids. More likely, these mythical creatures were also based on imaginative combinations of various living animals and/or fossil remains (Kuban, 2013). For example, the Cyclops legend is believed to relate to the finding of mammoth and mastodon skulls, whose merged eye sockets were probably interpreted to house one giant eye.
Suggestions by a few YECs that a Bible verse referring to St. Michael slaying the dragon (Figure 36), or depictions of St. George slaying a dragon, are based on actual slayings or real "dragons", dinosaurs or pterosaurs, are as misguided and unfounded theologically as they are scientifically. Depictions of St. George slaying the dragon are based on nothing more than medieval folklore. One Bible mentions St. Michael slaying a dragon (Revelation 9:7), but the very next verse clarifies that the dragon is "the old serpent called Satan." While some old paintings depict St. Michael slaying a actual dragon (Figure. 36) others show him slaying the devil as a winged humanoid. None closely resemble dinosaurs or pterosaurs. Other Biblical passages offered by some as "living pterosaur" evidence are discussed below.
Figure 37. Seal with alleged "flying |
serpent" showing bird-like wings.
Figure 38. Seals from Israel imagined |
by John Goertzen to show pterosaurs
attacking an ibex
Creationist John Goertzen has a website entitled "Revolution Against Evolution" advocating the idea of living and recent pterosaurs, suggesting that the Bible and other ancient writings refer to such creatures. However, all of the literature passages cited seem to require very speculative interpretations to support a pterosaur reference. For example, Goertzen 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.
Goertzen declares that the scientific basis for recent pterosaurs is "established by unmistakable artifacts that depict morphological details," including various Egyptian artifacts and seals. However, none of those he shows depict clear pterosaur images. In fact, some appear to show feathered wings (Fig. 37) and thus resemble birds more than pterosaurs, whereas others look more like generalized animals than pterosaurs (Fig. 38). Ironically, the lack of clear pterosaur images in Egyptian art actually undermine 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.
On his website Goertzen also promotes various "living pterosaur" claims from other YECs,
and notes that "Sightings of pterodactyls in Mexico are so frequent that creationist
missionary John Pendleton is setting up a trap on a rooftop to see if they can be photographed" (Goertzen, 215)
In a video interview by Stephen Meyers (2013), Pendleton says that he set up three motion detecting cameras,
and that he will let everyone know when he captures a pterosaur on them. Three years later, we're
still waiting, but I wish him luck.
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Nickell, Joe, 2016. "The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)", Investigative Files, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016
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).
Paiva, Clifford, and H. Slusher, 2007. Results of Investigations Concerning Pterosaur Sightings In Papua New Guinea. BSM Associates Technical Monograph 2007-1. Web article at: http://www.ropens.com/report/pg-01/
Parker, Chris (pseudonym), 2004. A New Look at an Alleged Living "Baby Pterosaur" & Perfect Pterosaur Found in Fossil Egg. Website article at: http://s8int.com/articles/66/20th-Century-Dinosaurs-Page-11.htm
Shuker, Karl P.N., 1997, From Flying Toads to Snakes with Wings, Llewellyn Publishing, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Shuker, Karl, 2014. Seeking The Missing Thunderbird Photograph - One Of Cryptozoology's Most Tantalising Unsolved Cases. Web article at: http://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2014/11/seeking-missing-thunderbird-photograph.html
Silock, Fred, 2016. A Review of accounts of luminosity in Barn Owls Tyto alba. Web article at: http://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=18
Stevens, Lillian, 2014. Blue herons are nesting among the bald eagles, but why? Web article at: http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2014/blue-herons-are-nesting-among-the-bald-eagles,-but-why123.php
Taylor, Scott, 2014. Pterosaurs in the Bible. Web article at: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/dinosaurs/flyingserpent.html
UT (University of Texas), Tyler. 2017. Civil War newspaper excerpts. Web page at: http://scholarworks.uttyler.edu/cw_news/
Vergano, Dan, 2013. Brain Science: Early Childhood Testimony Unreliable. National Geographic. Web version at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131030-child-memory-testimony-neuroscience/
Walker, 2017. A Giane Prehistoric-looking Bird. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170203-a-giant-prehistoric-looking-bird
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2004-2014. What is a Ropen? Web page at: http://www.laattorneyvideo.com/nonlegal/pterosaurs/what/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2005. Woetzel-Guessman Expedition. Website article at: http://www.laattorneyvideo.com/nonlegal/pterosaurs/G-W/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2006. Composite Drawing of a Ropen. Web page at: http://www.laattorneyvideo.com/nonlegal/pterosaurs/composite/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2007. Is the Ropen a Pterosaur?" Web page at: http://www.laattorneyvideo.com/nonlegal/pterosaurs/ropen/#
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2009. "Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific." Creation Research Society Quarterly, Volume 45, Number 3.
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010a. Wikipedia and Tiny Minorities, Web article at: http://www.floodofgenesis.com/pterosaurs/?tag=whitcomb
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010b. Living Pterosaurs in Africa? Web article at: http://www.livingpterosaur.com/blog/2010/02/20/living-pterosaurs-in-africa/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010c (posted April 17, 2010). Eyewitness Brian Hennessy. Web article at: http://www.livingpterosaur.com/blog/2010/04/17/eyewitness-brian-hennessy/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010d (posted Feb. 17, 2010). Strange Rhamphorhynchoid. Web page at: http://www.livepterosaur.com/LP_Blog/archives/240#comments
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010e (posted Dec. 22). Science and Marfa Lights. Web page at: http://www.modernpterosaur.com/?p=286
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2010f, Marfa Lights and Min Mins. Web page at: http://www.livingpterosaurs.com/blog/?p=77
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, 2011c. Living Pterosaurs at Guantanamo Bay, Web article at: http://www.live-pterosaur.com/Prodigy/cuba_pterosaur/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2011d. More on the 1965 Sighting in Cuba, posted Aug. 29, 2011. Web article at: http://www.modernpterosaur.com/?p=937
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2011e. More on Pterosaurs in Cuba. Web article at: http://www.modernpterosaur.com/?p=990
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2011f. Winged Dragons and Modern "Pterodactyls." Web article at: http://www.objectiveness.com/dragons-1/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2012. Kongamato: Africa has Cryptids. Web article at: http://www.live-pterosaur.com/Prodigy/Africa/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2013a. Pterosaur Seen by Gideo Koro. You Tube video at: https://youtu.be/zDrivk4SfFA
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2013b. Gideon was Terrified by the Ropen: Gideon Interview, 2004. On Pterosaurs Still Living Website, at: http://www.laattorneyvideo.com/nonlegal/pterosaurs/boy/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2014. Searching for Ropens and Finding God. 4th Edition, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 360 pages.
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2014b. Can Ropens Hide in Caves? Web article at: http://www.modernpterosaur.com/?p=1993
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2015a. New to the Public: Sightings Data for USA. Web posting at: http://www.livepterosaur.com/living pterosaur_Blog/archives/7718
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2015b. Introduction to an Apparent Modern Pterosaur, web article at: http://www.ropen.us/ropen-wiki/ Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2015c. Are Modern Pterosaurs "Pseudo-Dragons?". Web article (posted Jan. 2015) at: http://www.livingpterosaur.com/blog/2010/04/17/eyewitness-brian-hennessy/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2016. "Dinosaurs Living With Humans" Website article at: http://www.knowablenews.com/dinosaurs_and_pterosaurs/?p=933
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2017b. "Is the Civil War Photograph a Trick?" Web article at www.applaud-health/pterosaur-fossils/2017/07/
Whitcomb, Jonathan, 2017c, Modern Pterosaurs, Human Encounters with Living "Pterodactyls". 116 pages Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (April 2, 2017).
Witton, M. P. and Naish, D. 2013. Azhdarchid pterosaurs: water-trawling pelican mimics or "terrestrial stalkers? Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Web version at: http://markwitton-com.blogspot.com/2013/10/azhdarchid-pterosaurs-terrestrial.html
Woetzel, David, 1999-2017. Dinosaurs in History. Web article at: http://www.genesispark.com/exhibits/evidence/historical/dragons/
Woetzel, David, 2006. "The Fiery Flying Serpent," Creation Research Society Quarterly, Volume 42, March 2006
Woetzel, David, 2017. Email communication, April 24 - 26, 2017.
Zell-Revenheart, 2013. Living Pterosaurs. Web article at: http://newpagebooks.blogspot.com/2013/10/creature-of-month-living-pterosaurs-by.html
April-May 2017, Expanded discussion of several topics; new discussion of "Ptp" photo
12-5-2010. Added Figure numbers and John G. illustrations.
10-2006. Added link to Stephen Meyers article on inca stones
03-2005, Expanded references