How Big do Pterosaurs Get?

What’s been going around lately is the subject of just how big modern pterosaurs get. What some people misunderstand is that sightings of modern pterosaurs do not necessarily need to closely coorelate, in size estimates, with sizes known from examining fossils. If we look to the fossils alone for understanding, we would think that any modern pterosaur that had a wingspan over twenty-five feet must be the short-tailed variety, what some cryptozoologists call “Pterodactyloid.” But that is not the case when we look to the details in the eyewitness descriptions, for most of them include a long tail, like what some cryptozoologists call “Rhamphorhynchoid.”

But now to specifics, how big do pterosaurs get?

The Lake Pung Sighting may have involved one of the largest pterosaurs observed in the past century. From a careful examination of Gideon Koro’s testimony, it seems that the ropen that terrified him and his three friends, around 1994, had a wingspan over forty feet.

The “Perth Creature” seen by an Australian couple in 1997 may have had a wingspan as great as fifty feet. The minimum size that they thought it could have been was thirty feet in wingspan.

Biggest Pterosaur

I believe the creature’s flight path was not exactly perpendicular to the road, when it flew over it, from the best of my memory of interviewing the eyewitness, which brings up the possibility that it may have been even longer than thirty feet. It’s hard to find room for much exaggeration in this sighting: The ropen seems to have been close to thirty feet long.

Giant Bat

Sometimes an eyewitness will say “giant bat.” We need not assume the flying creature was literally a bat.

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Smithsonian Proclaims “Ropen Myth”

Brian Switek made some serious errors of judgment in his “Don’t Get Strung Along by the Ropen Myth.” It was the August 16, 2010, posting on the Smithsonian Magazine, online publication. I would now like to comment on some of those errors.

Switek wrote, “Sadly, some people still get duped by the fantastic claims espoused by ‘professional monster hunters’.” I don’t know why he put that phrase into quote marks, for when did any cryptozoologists use that phrase when referring to their expeditions or to their research? That is a small affair, but I see more serious problems with Switek’s writing.

He is correct in pointing out that a publication in Oregon had a seriour error in showing a photograph of a frigate bird while mentioning the ropen of Papua New Guinea. But did Switek dig deeper to investigate the origin of the modern-pterosaur phenomenon? I think he did not.

He failed to even mention key figures in the cryptozoological investigations, including Jonathan Whitcomb, Paul Nation, and Garth Guessman. He also failed to mention key eyewitnesses whose accounts cannot easily be dismissed by any reference to a hoax or misidentification.

Next, he falters with “Then there is the problem of Aym’s sources.” But Switek mentions only two persons: Jim Blume and David Woetzel. Obviously Switek has not researched this subject like he should have, for key figures are missing, important cryptozoologists. Even though the original Oregon publication may have failed to mention those persons, why could not Switek have looked deeper?

Switek says that there is a problem with Aym’s sources. But even if Blume and Woetzel are mistaken in certain ideas about life origins or earth age, what of that? Do we dismiss everything by all scientists who have not been perfect all of their lives? Do we dismiss Galileo’s promotion of a sun-centered system because of the faults in his tidal hypothesis? Has Switek missed this critical point, rejecting all the work of Blume and Woetzel because they have religious beliefs that he despises?

Switek soon reveals the philosophical side of the conflict. He says, “. . . we should have no expectation that a hypothetical, living member of this group would look anything like its prehistoric relatives.” Yet, later he says, “Furthermore, even if a long-tailed pterosaur were found it would do nothing to undercut the science of evolution.” But does he miss a critical point? What about sound scientific reasoning? Those whom he calls “creationists” point to eyewitness evidence for modern pterosaurs that have some resemblance to fossils of pterosaurs. In other words, supporters of Darwin, like Switek, predict that a modern pterosaur would be very different from fossils; supporters of a much younger earth predict that a modern pterosaur would be similar to fossils. The scientific method requires that the discovery of a modern pterosaur would give credibility to one side or the other, depending on how much that creature resembled fossils. But Switek proclaims that this is not what we should conclude. He proclaims that no matter what happens, no matter what evidence turns up, no matter what is discovered, his axioms must not lose any credibility. In other words, Darwin supporters can explain away any evidence in a way to support their assumptions. Switek has just shown us, unwittingly, that Darwinian thinking is unscientific.

Reply to “Don’t Get Strung Along by the Ropen Myth”

I submit that this labeling of unnamed persons “hucksters” is inappropriate, implying that the persons soon to be named are in that same category. It also brings up the possibility that Mr. Switek is not the most objective writer to evaluate the work of James Blume and David Woetzel.

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Nineteenth Century Hoax

The hoax I mention is in an 1856 issue of The Illustrated London News, in the article about the pterodactyl that stumbled out of a railway tunnel after a drilling explosion or manual digging. I see little need to examine this old newspaper story, for the details point to a hoax, if I have learned those details correctly. I mention this now because of the writings of Glen Kuban, who seems to take this newspaper joke as if it were evidence that eyewitness accounts in general are hoaxes, or takes it as if it throws suspicion on all reported sightings of modern pterosaurs.

I don’t say that everything that Kuban says about reports of modern pterosaurs is wrong, but that he may do more harm than good by trying to convince people that pterosaurs all became extinct long ago. And one thing he probably does not understand, and this relates to that old London newspaper story, is that nineteenth century newspapers, when they carried joke-articles, may have been influenced by true stories that were not mentioned in the hoax-story articles.

I now refer to American newspaper articles in the nineteenth century, for a possible example, and I use the book Live Pterosaurs in America, in quoting:

Cryptozoology author Chad Arment wrote “The Pterodactyls of Fresno County, California” for the BioFortean Review (November 2006, No. 5). I include a summary of those newspaper accounts here . . .

I cannot prove all the accounts were genuine, for they were recorded secondhand in the early 1890’s. I suggest that at least some eyewitnesses were telling the truth, regardless of the opinions of the news reporters of that time, and that at least some eyewitnesses may have seen a living pterosaur. I do not submit these old reports as indisputable evidence to prove pterosaurs lived in the late nineteenth century; I submit them to dismiss any potential objection that twentieth century and twenty-first century reports of living pterosaurs in California are without historical precedence: Sightings continue.

The point is that when a newspaper in the nineteenth century printed a hoax story, the idea may have come from another newspaper that had printed a genuine story about an extraordinary sighting of a real pterosaur. The hoax articles do not prove or even lead one logically to assume that all articles on that same subject must be hoaxes.

But there’s something else. We need to be careful about extreme positions, and I don’t mean just pterosaur extinction itself, for there have been countless species living at some time in the past. Extreme positions about newspaper stories means blindly taking every one of them as if containing indisputable facts or taking every newspaper story about a pterosaur sighting as if must have been a hoax. Take each story, instead, by itself. If two or more newspaper accounts seem to relate, then take that into account. Just beware of extreme positions, for newspaper reports are human and hoaxers are not yet extinct.

Hoax Explanation for Living Pterosaurs

In 1856, according to The Illustrated London News (newspaper) at the time, men working on a tunnel in France discovered a living pterosaur (by whatever name). In 1890, according to the Tombstone Epitaph (newspaper) at the time, two Arizona ranchers shot a giant flying creature. What do these two accounts have in common? Each is now believed by many to be a hoax. But not all accounts of living pterosaurs can be easily dismissed as hoaxes.

Living Pterosaurs? Not by Glen Kuban

But Whitcomb’s web page does not go nearly far enough in emphasizing the testimonies of Brian Hennessy and Duane Hodgkinson. Glen Kuban’s web page ignores those two witnesses entirely. Hennessy and Hodgkinson witnessed “prehistoric” looking flying creatures in daylight, at fairly close range, with locations being Bougainville Island and the Finschhafen area, respectively, both in New Guinea, which is now the nation of Papua New Guinea.

Marfa Lights up in the Houston Chronicle

Large newspapers, the traditional backbone of major media, rarely publish ideas that contradict basic assumptions of the sociey in which they exist. It was no surprise when the Houston Chronicle’s December 19, 2010, print edition played to the audience with the article “What’s going on in Marfa?” published online on December 16. The subject was Marfa Lights. It played to the assumption that no “dinosaur” could live in Marfa, Texas.

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Why a Hoax Does not Explain Sightings

Again the subject of a hoax or hoaxes has come up in regard to accounts of modern pterosaurs. There seems to be no end of refutations for the “hoax hypothesis,” as it has been called. Statistics from years of eyewitness sighting reports disprove any generalized hoax explanation, for the degree of certainty in descriptions of featherlessness (if “featherlessness” is a word) fly in the face of those skeptics who use the word “hoax.”

But that is not exactly the direction I wish to take at present. I say we need to look at some of the key eyewitnesses of modern pterosaurs, look into why they might or might not play a hoax. First, we look at the psychologist Brian Hennessy.

In 1971, perhaps before Hennessy had a degree in psychology, I don’t know, he was on Bougainville Island, which is now part of the nation of Papua New Guinea. In his own words:

Our truck had stopped on our downward journey from the top of the range to the coast way below. The sound was amplified by the road-cutting into the mountain. That is, there was bare red/orange clay, rather than the surrounding jungle. I can’t remember why our vehicle had stopped. Maybe we had to wait for another vehicle to pass us. I don’t know. But I can still hear that slow flapping sound in the stillness of an early tropical morn, on the road from Panguna down to loloho on Bougainville Island in 1971.

When I looked up, trying to see what was making this sound, i saw a very unusual creature. Firstly, it was very big (wingspan at least 2 metres, probably more…possibly much , much more). I can’t remember the exact distance estimate that this creature was from me…let’s say about 50 metres above.

It was black or dark brown. I had never seen anything like it before. It certainly looked prehistoric, in that it did not look like any other bird that I have seen before or since. Why prehistoric? Well, maybe my memory has been influenced by the intervening years, but I recall seeing this creature with a longish narrow tail…almost like a counterweight that a kangaroo has, although not as large.

The body seemed to be quite narrow. However, the head was disproportionately large compared to the body (no feathers in sight). The wingspan was large. The head had no ‘normal’ beak. Rather there seemed to be (and this is difficult to describe) a kind of beak that was indistinguishable from the head, and the head seemed to continue this ‘point’ at the back of the head.

I’ll explain why I have brought up this particular sighting. When Hennessy reported his experience, in 2006, he was a professional psychologist. I believe that he still is. But why would he agree to have his real name be used in cryptozoology literature, if he was playing a hoax? It would likely come back to haunt him in his profession.

A skeptic might say that reporting a live pterosaur could come back to haunt you. But Hennessy did not say that he had observed a live pterosaur. He simply described it. He did not say that there could not have been any feather on that creature. He simply told us that he saw no sign of any feather. He was not trying to convince everybody that he had observed a modern pterosaur, but he was simply reported his observation. He was obviously not playing a hoax.

Second, we look at Paul Nation, a cryptozoologist-explorer, who explored in Papua New Guinea at least four times. If he had any desire to play a hoax, why has he said nothing about personally observing anything like any pterosaur? He tries to let people know about the possibility of the existence of modern pterosaurs, so why has he not lied and said that he did see a pterosaur? Surely it is because he is honest and simply reports what eyewitnesses have told him and what he personally observed in distant flying lights. That brings us to the final point: Honest people do not play pterosaur hoaxes.

No Hoax With Pterosaur Sightings

Evelyn Cheesman was a biologist who searched for insects and small animals in remote areas, including New Guinea, in the 1920′s and 1930′s. In fact, some of her discoveries put her name to some of those creatures, including Lipinia cheesmanae—a skink (lizard), and Litoria cheesmani—a treefrog.

Cheesman’s successes in biology are worthy of praise, but what about her observations of strange flying lights? They resemble the strange flying lights observed by Paul Nation, miles south of where Cheesman saw them. She was no cryptozoologist and was surely not playing a hoax when she wrote about her observations in her book The Two Roads of Papua.

Other eyewitnesses could be mentioned, but the point is that a generalized hoax hypothesis cannot touch all of the sighting reports, therefore any critic who wishes to be thorough must find some other explanation or admit the possibility of modern pterosaurs.

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New Mexico and Texas

Wild animals pay no attention to human borders, unless a fence hinders them. But fences are generally ignored by animals that fly, so what’s the difference between New Mexico and Texas? Western Texas in particular should not seem much different from New Mexico, to flying animals. I find reports of “pterodactyls” in these areas interesting.

From the book Live Pterosaurs in America:

“I live in central N.M.. Fourteen years ago, in [Socorro], N.M., me and a close friend, who now has a masters in biology, were hiking during the midday sun at [a] box canyon and something blocked the sun for a moment. We both looked up to see what did that and saw a large flying animal.

“It had a 20-30 foot wingspan and was about the same length long. It had a long tail with [a] seeming spike at the end. Its head was very pterodactyl shape with a fluted back pointy head. It glided at about 700 feet in a westward direction. . . . we watched it glide . . . and land somewhere on the southern expanse of Magdalena Mountains.”

The fact that the two eyewitnesses saw this creature in the middle of the day does not necessarily mean that it was not nocturnal. When an animal that is normally active at night is disturbed during the day, it can well become temporarily active.

Although most sightings of reported pterosaurs in Texas are not with estimated wingspans as large as this one in New Mexico, size does come into play, sometimes, in attracting the attention of eyewitnesses.

Sightings in Texas

A lady and her brother, in San Antonia one evening in 1986, saw something flying around across the road, a little above the phone lines. “It would go one direction, turn, and swoop back. The shape was wrong for any large bird of the area, and the size was much too large to be any bat . . .”

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“Pterodactyl Expert”

I sometimes refer to postings on the blog Pterosaur Eyewitness, and I now tackle the controversy in “Jonathan Whitcomb: Pterodactyl Expert.” I will not get into any of the controversy on religion. Actually the subject of religion is not covered in depth, but that is what apparently elicited the critical comments on the original cryptozoology.com forum.

Regarding the fossils of pterosaurs, Whitcomb is nothing like a paleontologist. He probably could not tell the species of a fossil of one if he dug it up himself. He is a cryptozoologist who interviews eyewitnesses of what many call “pterodactyls,” which is simply the name many non-paleontologists use for “pterosaur.” He searches for the eyewitnesses who think that they have seen modern pterosaurs, and he tries to figure out if they misidentified a bird or a bat or if they saw what they think that they did.

Popular Paleontology

Within the popular concepts of paleontology, Whitcomb’s writings about modern pterosaurs appear ridiculous. In that sense, he could not possibly be an expert on pterosaurs. But the original title for the cryptozoology.com discussion was “Jonathan Whitcomb: Pterodactyl Expert.” The word “pterodactyl,” in this sense, refers to the layman’s expression, not the paleontologist’s. Since common people report seeing modern “pterodactyls,” and cryptozoologists like Whitcomb interview them and believe most of those common eyewitnesses, Whitcomb is an expert. But of course that is in the sense that modern pterosaurs could be living among humans.

So what does all this boil down to? If all pterosaurs (AKA pterodactyls) are extinct, nobody whose experiences are confined to eyewitnesses can be an expert, even if he writes books on the subject, like Whitcomb has done. But if even just one of the eyewitnesses has actually seen a modern pterosaur, then Whitcomb is an expert, having interviewed perhaps more eyewitnesses than any other cryptozoologist. Of course with all that said, the existence of modern pterosaurs does not necessarily mean that all of his ideas are correct.

Pterodactyl Expert?

But is there such a thing as a pterodactyl expert? The subject came up recently online.

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Head of a Pterosaur

The following blog post, “Pterosaur Head,” shows two survey pages given to the eyewitness Duane Hodgkinson, in regard to the length of the head crest of his “pterodactyl.” Other examples could be cited. Those images given to Hodgkinson may have been very unlike the head of the creature he saw in 1944. More instructive is the sketch drawn by the eyewitness Patty Carson, showing details on the head crest of the pterosaur she saw in Cuba in 1965. I say “pterosaur” because there is no reasonable doubt in regard to misidentification potential.

Gitmo Pterosaur sketched by eyewitness Patty Carson

The is no doubt about the basic nature of this structure at the back of the head of this pterosaur. It cannot be a snake hanging out of the creature’s mouth. We do not need to imagine what the eyewitness meant by what she said about this head crest. Who cares about the word or words she used to describe it? She has provided us with a clear sketch of the head and head crest.

More on the 1965 Sighting in Cuba

. . . in Patty Carson’s testimony . . . “It had little teeth, a LOT of them.” Well, Rhamphorhynchoids had teeth and long tails, generally, and the Gitmo pterosaur does as well, even though Eskin Kuhn did not see any teeth in the mouths of the two that he saw. That does make sense. Carson saw a winged creature on the ground, and she thought it had been eating or resting just before it stood up to look at her and her brother; she saw teeth in a mouth that was slightly open. Kuhn saw two winged creatures flying with their mouths closed; he saw no teeth.

Marfa Lights in Texas

But eyewitnesses who have been brave enough to report a living pterosaur themselves live in various statesof the U.S.A., including various parts of Texas and in New Mexico. Many of these sightings resemble those in Papua New Guinea: feather-less flying creatures with head crests and long tails

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Validity of Sightings at Night

A recent post on the “Live Pterosaur” blog was about the credibility of sightings at night. I will not quote much of that post here, but I would like to add more ammunition, more eyewitness sightings.

Two Eyewitnesses See Two Pterosaurs in Florida

According to the nonfiction book Live Pterosaurs in America, a man in Florida saw, in 2008, at about 2:30 a.m., two small pterosaurs flying over houses in the neighborhood. The man’s friend also saw the creatures that had no feathers, a pointed beak, and a “long pointed thing protruding from the back of its head.”

What is not mentioned in that post is that the first flying creature was illuminated by a flood light, making it clearly visible at a close distance.

“Pterdactyl Attacks”

Regarding the report mentioned in the above link, why believe that modern pterosaurs were involved in these attacks? For one thing, birds and bats don’t usually attack people at night. For another, the pterosaurs that attack people in British Columbia do not always kill people. Some victims survive to tell other people about the attacks. The closeness of the encounters, involving attacks, goes without saying, and closeness means the person being attacked gets a close view of the attacker.

San Antonio, Texas, Pterosaur at Night

I quote from the book Live Pterosaurs in America:

“One evening, I was outside my apartment building . . . talking to my brother. . . . We were very used to the normal nightly activities of the area. We knew what the local birds and bats looked like . . . My dad and I had, on several occasions, noticed bats flying right near our heads . . . Neither my brother or I was prone to being scared by anything outside at night. This night was different. We noticed something flying around across the road from where we were . . . the creature was flying just above the phone lines. It would go one direction, turn, and swoop back. The shape was wrong for any large bird of the area, and the size was much too large to be any bat I have ever seen (I have seen a flying fox in a zoo, too, once with wings spread). The wingspan was huge, anywhere from 6-10 feet across. We watched the thing for maybe twenty minutes or so . . .

This sighting in San Antonio is important, for two eyewitnesses, familiar with local birds and bats, realized that a flying creature was too much unlike any bird or bat. I sense that this sighting may not have as high a credibility as other sightings at night, but should be considered more than zero credibility, when taken in context with the many other sightings of modern pterosaurs, in Texas and out, in the night and in the daytime.

Flying Creature of the Night

I recall part of a comment from a critic, some years ago, ridiculing the credibility of eyewitnesses who “misidentify” birds or bats at night. But he was only tossing out a generalization, assuming that all reported sightings (those encounters that serious invesigators publicize) all fit neatly into his mental image of a dark landscape where people imagine that birds and bats are pterosaurs. Science thrives on details of human experience, so let’s examine particular sightings.

The above blog post mentions night sightings in Sudan, Africa, in San Diego, California, and in Ohio. More could be said about more sightings in other areas of the world.

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Marfa Lights Intelligence

Have I talked too much about Marfa Lights? Maybe, but not recently. I would like to extrapolate on the blog post “Marfa Lights Explanation.” Regarding intelligence, why would people dismiss it and search through the scuffy landscape of southwest Texas, figuratively speaking, for an explanation devoid of any intelligent creature? It’s because of hesitancy to suggest a creature that is unclassified in science, at least not yet classified.

Intelligent ghost lights, even when we use “ghost lights” loosely, can put us out on a limb. Almost nobody wants to jump onto that bandwagon or jump onto the back of a giant pterodactyl that might bite off ones head. College professors, in particular, feel vulnerable should they suggest intelligent modern pterosaurs are glowing at night in southwest Texas. Those professors could not easily take an accusation that they had taken something that makes them feel that they themselves are glowing, as well as imagining glowing pterosaurs.

But what other zoological species have intelligence enough to hunt as a group? Lions are not the best examples, especially when a younger lion messes up the pride’s hunt. But some whales display wonderful techniques, including blowing patterns of bubbles that trap fish, allowing the prey to be caught much more efficiently.

The nocturnal predators that create some of the Marfa Lights in Texas might not be closely related to anything that left us pterosaur fossils. That means that we cannot disprove or even discredit the bioluminescent-predator explanation of Marfa Lights by examining pterosaur fossils. Perhaps those modern flying creatures, pterosaurs or not, are more intelligent than the ones that have left us fossils. Not much do we know for sure except that some of those flying lights around Marfa certainly appear to suggest intelligent direction. Nocturnal flying predators is one obvious explanation.

Do Pterosaurs Eat Bats?

I do know of a large bat in Europe, a species that catches some birds in flight, at night. But a pterosaur catching a bat is still highly likely, based upon a number of indirect evidences.

Explaining Marfa Lights

“Why are ML-III not usually seen for many nights in a row? Why are they absent for so many nights in a row? Why do they keep coming back after a few weeks of absence? This is exactly what we would expect of large predators that cover large areas.”

An Explanation for Marfa Lights

. . . On May 7th and 8th, 2003, extraordinary events were photographed [by James Bunnell). On the first night, lights appeared between 9:00 and 10:40. The first light was too brief for Bunnell to photograph, but two more appeared at about the same location. I was intrigued at Bunnell’s description of how those two lights behaved, for it seemed consistent with my hypothesis that Marfa Lights are made by flying predators with extreme bioluminescence, like the ropen of the southwest Pacific but used for a different purpose: to attract insects that attract the Big Brown Bat.

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“Pterodactyl Attacks”

The Pterosaur Eyewitness blog recently had a post titled “Pterodactyl Attacks and Human Deaths.” For me, it brings to mind native accounts from Papua New Guinea, but this is far closer to home, in British Columbia, Canada. For many years, there have been reports of people being attacked in Africa and in Papua New Guinea. I have only recently noticed this news about flying creatures attacking people in British Columbia at night. For the moment, I have little to add except to recommend this post I have mentioned and to quote from it.

I hope that no pterosaur was responsible for any of the human deaths in British Columbia, Canada, along the 500-mile stretch of highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert, but I also hope that all attacks from irresponsible humans, against innocent human victims, will cease, and that this world will become a paradise in which death itself will cease. Notwithstanding all our hopes for the future, however, we now face a present danger, a warning from Gerald McIsaac, author of Bird From Hell, who believes that “most of the hitchhikers [on this highway at night] who disappear have been killed by this animal. It is also my opinion that many of the people who have disappeared have not been reported.”

I said I had little to add but I retract that. In Papua New Guinea, deep in the mainland, in 2006, Paul Nation, from Texas, was searching for the flying creature that natives in Tawa Village call “indava.” He learned that those natives remember a time when the indava would fly down on Tawa and carry away a pig or a child. Attacks on natives and their pigs stopped when the natives learned to make a lot of noise when they heard the indavas coming; since then they have had little if any problems from indava attacks. Paul Nation believes the indava is the same kind or a similar kind of pterosaur as the ropen.

In the northern islands of Papua New Guinea, the natives call the ropen “kor.” It was said to have attacked Japanese soldiers during World War II. The Japanese retaliated, sending a ship’s bombardment onto one or more of the caves where the kor lived.

Other examples could be given from Africa, but I think this is cause enough, because of potential attacks from nocturnal flying creatures, for people in British Columbia to be careful when they are out at night.

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