Pterosaurs alive in, like, the modern day!

i-1e011b0ae70c18e4d8bce7f33b911eff-Ernest Todd living pterosaur.jpg

One last thing before Tet Zoo closes down for Christmas but, don't worry, this isn't anything I've knocked up specially... due to an unfortunate series of misunderstandings it's something I produced 'by mistake' and have since decided to recycle. Hey, why not. Ironically, I post it just when I'm in the middle of two other pterosaury bits of work (more on those soon). So I never did get to finish the anuran series before Christmas, nor post about that big, personally-relevant publication which has just appeared, nor get through the titan-hawks, monster pigeons and whatnot. And what about all those discoveries reported in the press that have been oh so relevant to Tet Zoo: the new large woolly rat (Mallomys) from New Guinea (here), the rediscovery of the La Palma gallotia lizard Gallotia auaritae, Steve Brusatte and Paul Sereno's new carcharodontosaurid species, and that news on giraffe taxonomy. On that last thing: well, finally. I've been doing my best to remind people that I've been talking about this research since early 2006. And let's just say that I have giraffes on my mind a lot right now - any of you that saw December's issue of BBC Focus magazine might know why.

Anyway: why are we here? MODERN DAY PTEROSAURS, that's why. Yes, while a great many (most?) of you that visit Tet Zoo are highly familiar with the contents of the cryptozoological literature, those of you that aren't might be surprised to learn that unusual winged animals reported from all around the world have been considered by some to possibly be pterosaurs that not only survived beyond the end of the Cretaceous, they also made it all the way to the present. Here, hopefully, is everything you want to know about modern day pterosaurs, but were afraid to ask. Thanks to Mark Witton and Richard Hing for comments on an earlier version of this text, and to Dave Hone for leading me down this path in the first place...

The fossil record convincingly demonstrates that pterosaurs became extinct at the end of the Maastrichtian in the Late Cretaceous (65 million years ago). However, sightings of unusual winged animals around the world have led some people to suggest that pterosaurs might have survived to the present. How realistic are these claims, and can they be taken seriously?

A quick history of modern pterosaurs

Perhaps the earliest 'living pterosaur' account dates to 1856 when, according to the Illustrated London News, a live pterodactyl with a 3 m wingspan emerged alive from within a rock dislodged during the construction of a French railway tunnel. The emergence of live animals from 'within solid rock' was not an unfamiliar idea at the time, as various Victorian reports described the discovery of frogs, toads and other animals within rocks or stones. This story is clearly a hoax: the pterosaur allegedly represented a new species dubbed Pterodactylus anas. Anas means duck; in France (where the pterosaur was allegedly found), a duck is called a canard. Canard is another word for hoax.

i-be1fa0797464e4e885039a0e8fed98da-Rebsamen kongamato.jpg

A great many 19th and 20th century accounts of flying, dragon-type creatures from eastern Africa and elsewhere were collected and published by Bernard Heuvelmans in his 1978 book Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (the pterosaur section of the book was translated into English and published as a series of magazine articles (Heuvelmans 1996a, b)). Heuvelmans (1916-2001), a Belgian zoologist, is best known for essentially pioneering the branch of zoology known as cryptozoology (I previously wrote a bit about him here). More than any other writer, he was responsible for documenting accounts of the kongamato, a winged quasi-reptilian animal best known from Zambia and Zimbabwe and said to attack people and to capsize canoes (kongamato is reported to mean 'boat breaker'). Other accounts describing 'living pterosaurs' come from Madagascar, Namibia, New Zealand, Crete, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam and Texas (Heuvelmans 1978, 1995, Michell & Rickard 1982, Eberhart 2002, Newton 2005). In fact Texas in particular has proved a 'hotspot' for 'living pterosaurs': a flurry of sightings in the late 1970s (suspiciously close in time to the discovery of the Texan azhdarchid pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus) described bat-winged featherless creatures, usually sporting red eyes (Bord & Bord 1981, Newton 2005) [the adjacent picture, showing kongamatos attacking people, is by cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen].

Sanderson and the olitiau

Among the best known of 'living pterosaur' accounts is Ivan T. Sanderson's 1932 encounter with a black flying creature during the Percy Sladen expedition to west Africa. Sanderson (1911-1973) was an experienced naturalist who later published many books on exotic wildlife and its study and capture, but he is perhaps best known today for his interest in mystery animals and the paranormal. While crossing a river in the Assumbo Mountains in Cameroon, Sanderson and his colleague Gerald Russell had to duck into the water to avoid an apparently aggressive animal with membranous wings that twice flew directly at them, chattering its teeth (Heuvelmans 1978, 1995, Shuker 1994, 1995, 2003). To the local people, this creature was the olitiau. Sanderson was unhappy with the fact that some writers later interpreted his creature as a possible pterosaur, and in fact his opinion was that it was a large (and scientifically unknown) bat. Given that Sanderson and Russell both estimated the animal's wingspan to be 4 m, it would be a pretty interesting bat to say the least.

Ropen and duah

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Rather than being restricted to the 1930s and earlier, sightings of 'living pterosaurs' have continued to the present, with accounts from California and Wyoming continuing through the 1980s and 90s. In Africa, it has been reported that people in parts of Kenya were familiar with the kongamato as recently as 1998. However, in recent years these accounts have very much been overshadowed by an alleged 'living pterosaur' from Papua New Guinea: the ropen. This nocturnal creature is reported to have a 5-7 m wingspan, a long, crested, Pteranodon-like head, an elongate neck, and to be bioluminescent. It is further reported to frequent caves and to feed on rotten human flesh.

While accounts from the 1940s are supposed to describe the ropen, it only became well known after 1999, although British cryptozoologist Karl Shuker was able to track down a sighting from 1994 as well as third-hand accounts from the 1970s (Shuker 2002). Shuker also showed that the giant bioluminescent creature is not termed the ropen, but is in fact the duah. With a wingspan of 1 m or so, the true ropen is far smaller. It differs from the duah in being restricted to the islands around New Guinea, and in having a long tail with a diamond-shaped vane at its tip. It's the latter feature that has led to it being widely likened to the Jurassic pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus (Shuker 2002, 2003).

Evaluating 'living pterosaurs'

At present there is no good reason to think that any of the accounts of 'living pterosaurs' are at all relevant to the study of the real pterosaurs known from the Mesozoic fossil record. Besides the fact that there are no indications from the fossil record that pterosaurs survived beyond the end of the Cretaceous, there is nothing compelling or convincing about any of the accounts.

i-d4c7fd65f43cd505ee1b8b9d9b29f225-Civil War pterosaur 2.jpg

-- Firstly, at least some reports of alleged modern-day pterosaurs are known hoaxes. Several photos purporting to show pterosaurs shot in the USA during the Civil War or earlier feature models [like the adjacent pic] or are modified versions of reconstructions from the popular literature. Notably, much of the propaganda surrounding the ropen (for example) comes from 'young earth creationists' who seem to think that 'living pterosaurs' provide support for their views (see hilarious image below, borrowed from a creationist site. Hey, Eve looks pretty hot). There is little indication that these researchers are intellectually honest when it comes to the 'living pterosaur' sightings they report.

-- Secondly, most accounts are tremendously vague and do not report any of the details we would need to be confident that we are dealing with real animals. The American 'living pterosaur' sightings, for example, generally refer only to large winged creatures, and are often contradictory, variously describing the creatures as having bat-like, ape-like or beaked faces.

i-e055af8fcd1a6c6ee401e28c3130be05-pterosaurs in the garden of eden.jpg

-- Finally, the more detailed accounts that have been interpreted by some as representing 'living pterosaurs' don't really bear much resemblance to pterosaurs as we know them (for accurately reconstructed pterosaurs, see Mark Witton's Quetzalcoatlus pair shown below. From Mark's collection of pterosaur restorations). 'Living pterosaurs' are sometimes described as having long, heavy tails and teeth (note that the pterosaurs from the latest Cretaceous were toothless). They are bat-winged, dark in colour, have a body covered in naked or scaly skin, and are flesh-eating, nocturnal, cave-dwelling horrors. These creatures sound more like imaginary generic winged monsters than the pterosaurs we know as fossils; they also recall the outdated reconstructions that are relatively familiar to the public due to their appearance in films and old books. Some alleged 'living pterosaurs' - like the duah - are improbable dragon-like composites which, again, don't resemble any pterosaurs we know of. Hypothetically, had pterosaurs really survived beyond the Cretaceous, it is possible that they might well have evolved to be quite different from their ancestors but, in the absence of evidence for this, other conclusions are more sensible. What are these 'other conclusions'?

Possible explanations

i-a67f144cc2151af4479f2fe63402d9c5-Mark's sexually dimorphic azhdarchids exacting revenge on baby tyrannosaurs.jpg

At least some 'living pterosaur' accounts probably do report sightings of real animals, and it is most likely that the more sketchy reports describe encounters with large birds including eagles, storks, the shoebill stork, cranes, frigate birds and hornbills. At least some of the American sightings can be explained away in this manner, and in some cases the witnesses displayed an appalling lack of expertise in animal identification: Loren Coleman interviewed a witness in Mexico who, on being shown a drawing of a pterosaur, identified it without hesitation as depicting an eagle. An Argentinean 'pterosaur' shot near Lago Nahuel Huapi during the 1800s was later identified as a steamer duck (Heuvelmans 1978, 1996b). It is also just about possible that some reports from the tropics might describe encounters with large bats, though whether they are anything like Sanderson's remarkable creature from Cameroon remains to be seen.

Also likely is that many of the accounts of winged nocturnal monsters do not have any basis in zoological reality, but merely reflect folk stories about scary winged things. Cultures all around the world possess their own legends or traditions about amorphous winged creatures, and it is notable that such creatures tend to combine an indecipherable collection of bird-like and bat-like traits. Why such accounts are so pervasive among cultures is an interesting question, but there is no reason to think that it has anything to do with pterosaurs.

Finally, is it possible that people have been inspired to imagine 'living pterosaurs' after seeing genuine pterosaur fossils? A problem here is that only small pterosaurs tend to be preserved as articulated skeletons. Furthermore, a person unfamiliar with pterosaurs would likely only be able to imagine one as a live animal if it had its wing membranes preserved, and this is comparatively very rare (and not associated with any of the places that have generated 'living pterosaur' accounts). It doesn't look likely, then, that pterosaur fossils are anything to do with 'living pterosaur' accounts. In 1928, Swedish palaeontologist Carl Wiman (1867-1944) suggested that African stories about the kongamato might have originated from the palaeontological digs at Tendaguru where, he suggested, local African labourers were shown reconstructions of pterosaurs (Wiman 1928). This is possible, but in fact the African workers who studied the palaeontological literature taken to Tendaguru were hardly naïve enough to think that they were looking at still-living animals (Maier 2003), and are unlikely to have spread misconceptions about the creatures they looked at in the textbooks.

In conclusion, while at least some 'living pterosaur' accounts probably do record encounters with real, living animals, it seems to be misinterpretation and wishful thinking which has resulted in the myth of the post-Cretaceous pterosaur.

Well, that's it. Have a good Christmas - I'll be back here before New Year's Eve, so see you then. And keep an eye also on SV-POW!

Refs - -

Bord, J. & Bord, C. 1981. Alien Animals. Book Club Associates, London.

Eberhart, G. M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (two volumes). ABC Clio, Santa Barbara.

Heuvelmans, B. 1978. Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique. Plon, Paris.

- . 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

- . 1996a. Lingering pterodactyls. Strange Magazine 6, 8-11, 58-60.

- . 1996b. Lingering pterodactyls, Part 2. Strange Magazine 17, 18-21, 56-57.

Maier, G. 2003. African Dinosaurs Unearthed: the Tendaguru Expeditions. Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.

Michell, J. & Rickard, R. J. M. 1982. Living Wonders: Mysteries and Curiosities of the Animal World. Thames and Hudson, London.

Newton, M. 2005. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology. McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N. Carolina) and London.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1994. A belfry of crypto-bats. Fortean Studies 1, 235-245.

- . 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.

- . 2002. Flying grave robbers. Fortean Times 154, 48-49.

- . 2003. The Beasts That Hide From Man. Paraview Press, New York.

Wiman, C. 1928. Ein Gerücht von einem lebenden Flugsaurier. Natur und Museum 58,431-432.


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Holy cow, it's nemoramjet. I love your art. I spent a good chunk of time reading through all of Snaiad. Very interesting, I hope something comes of it.

Darren, I can't help but think the Objective Ministires is a parody site. I had a huge discussion about this with colleagues in Munich and the conclusion was that it is either the most in depth and well done parody ever, or an incredibly worrying serious one.....

As for the general stuff, I do find it disturbing / amazing how so many 'ptero sightings' and fkaes get past even the first glance when people report 10 metre pterosaurs with long, lizard-like tails, leathery wings and big head crests. It's like they combine evey disparate bit of the few pterosaurs they have heard of and a fair few obvious misconceptions and then bung them together.

As a final one, I have a copy of 'Ropens' lent to me by Hemlut Tischlinger. It is not even funny it is so bad.

David and Darren;

Yes, Objective Ministries is most definitely a parody website. Our whole lab got t-shirts!

Thanks Randy! I am glad to finally know.

It was just so detailed. All the extra links to other sub-websites, the level of detail of the text, references wthin it, high quality figures, etc.

The guy really knew his stuff and how to push the right buttons.

H P Lovecraft has quite a few of those nameless amorphous flying beasties with bat-like wings in his stories and the Nazgûl mounts in Lord of the Rings are clearly pterosaur-inspired too. Indeed this whole theme of art imitating (often obsolete) paleontology is quite intriguing.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 23 Dec 2007 #permalink

Hallo Darren, perhaps you already knew it, but in german the word "Ente" which means "duck" is also used to describe a hoax (but I have no idea why). Sometimes it is also called "Zeitungsente" (newspaper-duck) for hoaxes in newspapers.

Since we're listing pterodactyl like beasts in various media, I present Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer. A most unusual beast with her incendiary halitosis.

The civil war photo was staged for a short-lived TV series called Freaky Links, sort of a Gen-X X-Files. I think I was one of maybe a dozen who people who actually saw the show, and I was astounded when I saw the photo show up on crypto websites as an actual document.

The really amazing pterosaur photo is the one that doesn't exist. Apparently, a large number of people (myself included) remember seeing a 19th c. photo of a dozen or so cowboys or hunters holding up a huge (~10 m), recently killed pterosaur against the wall of a barn, reprinted in one of those Time-Life "amazing mysteries" type books in the late 60s or early 70s. People only discovered this shared memory when they started comparing notes and asking about it online. Subsequent searches of all cryptozoological and Fortean popular books have failed to produce any picture even remotely matching the description. Anyone else remember this picture? Because it doesn't exist.... woo-ooo-ooo....

Yes, the 'thunderbird photo' keeps on cropping up here at Tet Zoo for some reason. The late Mark Chorvinsky gave a talk on it some years ago and listed the names of over 200 people who claim to remember seeing it. It is alleged by some to have first appeared in a newspaper known as the Tombstone Epitaph, but searches through all issues of that publication confirm that it was never there... nor was it in Pursuit, Fate or Fortean Times, as has been claimed. The truth of course (I read it on the internet) is that someone from the future has traveled back in time and deleted it from its original source. My own personal take on the image can be seen here.

Many thanks to everyone else for comments. Ok, so Objective: Ministries is a hoax. The problem is that it's too good a hoax, and there must be loads of people who see it and think it's for real. After all, it does link to 'real' pro-creationist sites.. or at least I think it does.

Fun cartoon. Who's the guy? Chorvinsky? The weird thing about the Thunderbird Photo is that I wasn't even aware of the whole controversy until a couple of years ago when I saw the Freaky Links fake on a Fortean website during some late night idle surfing. I then "remembered" the photo I'd seen as a child, and searching for it I turned up the Chorvinsky stuff instead.

Many thanks to everyone else for comments.

Oh. I'll just slink off, then.

Mr. Whitcomb, who frequents the forum as "jdw", now claims that there are pterosaurs in...South Carolina. Considering how many bird enthusiasts there are in this country who seem to be able to spot anything slightly unusual or out of range, that would have to be one heckofa stealthy pterosaur. Well, at least "researchers" won't have to cross oceans to hunt monsters anymore.

If I recall from Lovecraft's letters, his Nightgaunts were based on a childhood nightmare possibly stemming from Gustave Doré's illustrations from Paradise Lost. So I guess they're just bat-like hominids (with horns and no face). And if I recall from Tolkien's letters, he did explicitely state that the nameless Nazgul mounts were "pterodactyls". I'm curious what image he had in mind for them, since he wasn't aware of Quetzalcoatlus when he wrote the books. Too bad the movies just had dragon-ish monsters. Oh, I love it when nerdy interests collide.

And thanks to Darren for the Christmas present.

the adjacent picture, showing kongamatos attacking people

Looks more like the other way around...

but in german the word "Ente" which means "duck" is also used to describe a hoax (but I have no idea why).

Said to come from n. t., non testatum, "not attested", which was apparently printed by some 19th-century newspapers at the end of dubious stories.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 24 Dec 2007 #permalink

Merry Christmas, Darren!

"are flesh-eating, nocturnal, cave-dwelling horrors"

With some recent stuff about the K/T event throwing up enough hot debris to cook anything on the surface, it would only be cave-dwelling pterosaurs that might have survived, so any extant pterosaurs could be cave-dwellers. Not that I've got any expectation, but it would be about the coolest possible thing to find. With all due respect to feathered dinosaurs and even sauropods and their baroque vertebrae, after reading Unwin's pterosaur book, they are my favourite extinct vertebrate. Sigh.

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 24 Dec 2007 #permalink

"Hey, Eve looks pretty hot".
And Adam should look pretty worried given the anatomical region that menacing looking beak is in the vicinity of ;-).

By Cornelius J. McHugh (not verified) on 24 Dec 2007 #permalink

Wow, guys you are lazy. Why not make some photos yourself with Photoshop?

It might be fascinating study, sending them thru internet and watch myths growing around, being attached to other fake photos etc.

Merry Christmas!

BTW - if your Christmas gift was bad, I suggest buying book "How to keep dinosaurs" by Peter Mash. Tons of good dino and pterosaur pictures, lots of fun and sharp social satire. I find use of trained Deinonychus in anti-terrorist operations particularly excellent.

The first picture (Ernest Todd - living pterosaur) looks like a carved model. The animal looks wooden and the wings look like heavy leather.

We have living pterosaurs in Alaska. They're big and black, with white heads and yellow beaks. They are often taken to the Pterosaur Treatment Center.

To Mike in Ottowa, sorry to be such a shameless attention whore, but since Darren kind of hinted at it already the genesis of his essay above is for a new pterosaur website we are putting together with some other ptero guys. Hopefully it will be up in the new year (ish).

In the meantime, to keep you entertained I have various pterosuar-y based comments here at my mini-blog with more on the way.

Sorry to hijack your comments Darren, but hey, good pterosaur science must be speared around!

So I suppose photosynthetic pterosaurs are too much to hold out hope for.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 24 Dec 2007 #permalink

I understand your skeptism for living pterosaurs, since you come from the viewpoint that they all died out 65 million years ago. I also agree with you that there are misidentifications and hoaxes. However, I must say that as a cryptozoology researcher, there have been times when people have seen living pterosaurs. For example, recently I interviewed three missionaries who described several pterosaurs they had seen in New Britian Island, near New Guinea. I found no reason to believe they they didn't see anything less than living pterosaurs. The Coelacanth is not the only "living fossil."

Phillip O'Donnell
Cryptozoology Researcher

So can we take it as definitive now that Adam and Eve were blond-haired caucasians?

Oh my god, Phil found his way to this site...
Okay, for all who don´t know Phil should know that he is a 14 year old YEC who has no idea about dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, as well as paleontology, biologoy or zoology, but he is very eager to prove the existance of living dinosaurs, because he thinks that they would disprove evolution. He has in general the habit to avoid answers if he is challenged in any way or disproven (as usual). He is even not to shy to make relations between evolution and racism. I think you need not more information about him.

I found no reason to believe they they didn't see anything less than living pterosaurs.

Please elaborate.

The Coelacanth is not the only "living fossil."

Erm... of course it isn't. Firstly, there are two species of coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae from the Comoros and Latimeria menadoensis from Indonesia -- the latter, the raja laut, was discovered in 1998, surely you didn't miss it?). Secondly, you know full well about the two species of tuatara, the ginkgo, Metasequoia, Neopilina and so on... don't you?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 27 Dec 2007 #permalink

David, walk away quietly and keep eye contact at all times!
Oh no!Run!RUUUUNNNN!!!!!

Please don't start making personal comments. I have read Phil's book 'Dinosaurs dead or alive?' and frankly disagree with the great majority of it. He is young, and it is very obvious in the book. The book is also dominated by a Young Earth Creationist agenda, but then to be fair he is very open about that, and most authors have personal agendas which they are not always so open about. Sorry Phil, but while admire your effort I could not recommend your book. Whether you agree with Phil or not there is no call for making negative personal comments.

There are many organisms little changed from fossil forms - so if that is one's definition of living fossil then clearly there are very many of them.

As for whether the continued existence of pterosaurs would have any impact on evolutionary theory, I suspect the answer is virtually none as both evolutionary and creationist thinking could accomodate this without too much difficulty (as indeed could other viewpoints).

The existence of pterosaurs today would of course be wonderful, but unfortunately I think the evidence is woefully lacking. I have read 'Searching for Ropens', a curious book which I managed to enjoy despite feeling that the author was being incredibly naive and disagreeing with his personal agenda. The evidence he records, much of it based on eye-witness testimony, is tantalising rather than convincing. There does seem to be some evidence that currently lacks an explanation, but this seemed to me rather inconsistent and neither compelling or even substantial. Much of it seems to be explicable in terms of known organisms misidentified; large storks, herons and even cormorants can do quite impressive pterodactyl impressions!

I would really love to be proven wrong, but currently the weight of evidence is not in favour of the continued existence of pterosaurs.

By Mark Lees (not verified) on 28 Dec 2007 #permalink

David, not to mention Trigonia, Lingula, Limulus, Wollemia, Araucaria, and more.

When I was a lad all the dinosaurs were extinct. Now everyone knows that birds are just a bunch of aberrant theropods that's all changed.

By David Godfrey (not verified) on 28 Dec 2007 #permalink

As for whether the continued existence of pterosaurs would have any impact on evolutionary theory, I suspect the answer is virtually none as both evolutionary and creationist thinking could accomodate this without too much difficulty (as indeed could other viewpoints).


By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Dec 2007 #permalink

Now, a Silurian pterosaur, that would be a problem!

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Dec 2007 #permalink

Why o why do 'creationist cryptozoologists' think that sightings reported by anonymous missionaries in some way help their case? Yeah, as if missionaries are the most trusted of all sources. Anonymous ones even more so. Also, as long as cryptozoology stays associated with creationists it will remain a laughing stock, not taken seriously.

By B. Paschmann (not verified) on 28 Dec 2007 #permalink

I don't believe you have all your information right. For example I'm not 14, I'm 16 years old. You also say that I avoid questions from skeptics. I usally don't respond to the skeptics when I am outnumbered 15 to 1! I should also mention that I personally called a skeptic twice and debated for over an hour.


You came to European website. Here in Europe, Darwin is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Late Pope John Paul II said that "evolution is more than theory" and many times praised science as a way to improve human condition.

For example I'm not 14, I'm 16 years old.

Well - that makes all the difference then!!! I hope you can convince someone that missionaries on New Britain really did see "nothing less than living pterosaurs". Creationists are of course allowed to say what they want, but they have to understand that the rest of us are not going to just accept their bizarre views (which are not just bad science but bad religion as well).

Re: #21 "I found no reason to believe they they didn't see anything less than living pterosaurs".

I do - it's called Ockham's razor and is the very foundation of science.

Your first assumption *must* be that these sightings represent common animals that have been mistaken - a commmon problem at the best of times, but especially so with those who are neither biologists nor palaeontologists without field experience. This is most parsimonious explanation.

The next most likely scenario is that they represent species new to science, but still part of extant clades (birds and bats). Only when you have eleminated all these possibilities (and eyewitness testimony from non-biologists does not count) can you even begin to give credence to the idea that pterosaurs have survived an extra 65 million years without a single trace in the fossil or extant record.

That is how science operates and if you do not stick to it, you will be rightly ignored.

You also say that I avoid questions from skeptics. I usally don't respond to the skeptics when I am outnumbered 15 to 1!

You will always be outnumbered at least 15 to 1. So what? Darwin was outnumbered several thousand to 1 -- if I only count his biologist colleagues! -- when he published his book, and it took a few decades till all of his colleagues were convinced. Being outnumbered is not a reason -- not even a bad reason; it's not a reason at all! -- to refuse answering questions.

Do you know what it means "to defend a Ph.D. thesis"?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 29 Dec 2007 #permalink

Oh dear it appears that our favourite YEC Lil Phil has arrived into the real world after previously inhabiting

I won't add any more than what Sordes has already said, anyone who ever frequents will know what to expect from Phil the Dino Boy.

My only hope is that now he has found Darren's blog, he might continue to come here and actually learn something new, instead of just cut and pasting from Creationist sites.

I won't hold out much hope though. I have tried to help Phil numerous times in the past, by pointing out errors and known hoaxes, that he has on his website, that he has used as evidence of living dinosaurs.

I still await a reply, and the hoaxes are still on his website as evidence.

Oh well...........I tried

(I'm also known as McHaggis on

By Shaun Stevens (not verified) on 31 Dec 2007 #permalink

Why are all the wackos from Oregon?

Forget living pteros, I'd settle to see a recently DEAD one. Never have, though, have we?

By Mr. Cannon (not verified) on 31 Dec 2007 #permalink

Your note about Ivan Sanderson's supposed encounter in Cameroon reminded me of this (unsourced) comment on Wikipedia. If it is true, it would seem that Dr. Sanderson wasn't above making stuff up in order to sell more copies of his books. I should also note that comments about him made by James Randi seem to support this. It certainly would explain some of his colorful claims.

As for the Thunderbird photo, it's been suggested that the image that sparked most of (if not all) the memories of it was either from a "Ripley's Believe Tt or Not" comic or from an illustration in "The Lost World."

Personally, I've always suspected that pictures of captured birds with large wingspans and photographs of things that could seem like giant birds due to hazy memories (captured manta rays, bearskins, etc.) are largely to blame for it. Here's what probably is yet another hoaxed photograph. Does anyone with that issue of Strange Magazine have any input on the matter?

[from Darren: I had to modify the links you inserted to get them to work. You need to put speech marks ("like this") around the url, don't bother with 'no follow'. Thanks.]

[from Darren again: sorry, some of the urls you provided still don't work.]

By Atomic Mystery… (not verified) on 01 Jan 2008 #permalink

Mr. Cannon: Only subaquatic varieties, which in the literature are always mistaken for giant squid.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 01 Jan 2008 #permalink

Ooh! Something large and blurry just flew past the window! It was a pterosaur! Swear to Bokonan! I'm gonna go outside right now and photograph it!


Okay, well, it was just a red-tailed hawk. But that doesn't mean that living pterosaurs DON'T exist somewhere! You can't disprove that which has not been found! Unicorns! Bigfeet! Cthulhu! They're all real!!!

"Wow, guys you are lazy. Why not make some photos yourself with Photoshop?"

Actually, Jerzy, a great example of why is on A poster there, name of finbar, decided to illustrate how easy it is to fake photos these days, and photo shopped an image of a bat, with a bird's head, etc, and then tweaked it to be similar to pterodactyloids like, well, _Pterodactylus_.

We've seen it appear on a bunch of different websites, including creationist ones, with elaborate stories where housewives tell of finding this creature being brought in by the cat, etc.

So we kind of stopped promoting the idea of photo-editting, to stop muddying the waters (and to stop giving the creationists fuel for their inanities).

By Marcus Good (not verified) on 05 Jan 2008 #permalink

Unlike most of you guys, I do believe that it is possible the existence of living pterosaurs. If you're a palaeontologist, you must know pterosaur bones are very fragile and don't fossialize well. However, I'm not in Phillip's side, because living pterosaurs are so different from Cretaceous ones that they must had evolved a lot, so it would confirm evolution rather than disprove it. Of all cryptids that resemble prehistoric animals, Kongamato and Ropen are the most likely to exist, as dinosaurs and plesiosaurs would find more trouble to survive into the Cenezoic. I already said what I think, and I would like someone to coment on my coment. Have a nice day.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 05 Jan 2008 #permalink

Carlos - science arrives at conclusions by examining evidence. The evidence, such as it is, for 'living pterosaurs' comes entirely from eyewitness accounts and anecdotes. Rather than accepting the idea that these accounts and anecdotes demonstrate the survival of a group of animals thought extinct for 65 million years, the sensible conclusion is that the accounts and anecdotes are erroneous, can be disregarded, or represent sightings of non-pterosaurian animals.

From a palaeontological perspective, the idea that a group of large vertebrates might persist for 65 million years without leaving any fossils is ludicrous and would be unprecedented. And, by the way, it's not as if multiple pterosaurs of diverse different types were thriving right up to the end of the Upper Cretaceous: just the opposite.

As I said, pterosaur bones don't become fossils that easily, and in fact pterosaurs may had been very diverse in late Cretaceous, but we simply don't know. And, although I highly doubt a creature like Nyctosaurus had any chance to survive, maybe an Azdarchid had. But, in any case, I do agree that not all pterosaur cryptids are real; the thunderbird, for example, is something completly unlikely to exist. However, at Ropen seems to be plausible.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 06 Jan 2008 #permalink

As I said, pterosaur bones don't become fossils that easily

That's true, but we'd still expect them in places like Messel. Leaving no fossils in the last 65 Million years is simply not an option.

Besides, imagine what kind of distance an azhdarchid would -- and likely would need -- to cover in a day. And then such animals are supposed to be confined to little patches in a rainforest?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 06 Jan 2008 #permalink

And? There's little if any fossils of tuataras from the Cenezoic. And you forgot that most creatures supposed to be living pterosaurs are pretty small, with wingspans no bigger than 3m or so. But, in any case, I simply believe that at least ropen exists, and it may or may not be a pterosaur.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 06 Jan 2008 #permalink

Mysterious guy - read my paper on pterosaur size - by the end of the Cretaceous they were a) very large in size, and b) very small in number, pretty much the opposite of what you claim. The smallest ones at the KT boundary were more like 5m across, and this is not a small flying animal. These are easy to spot! Even a creature with a 3 m wingspan would be very very obvious in the modern world.

Pterosaurs do make for poor fossils, but we have thousands of specimens over a hundred and fifty million years of time dating back 240 million years, so they are no too bad. Pterosaurs lived in environments where they were likely to be preserved - along lake shores, above the sea etc. and don't try to claim we miss terrestrial environments - the Jehol suggests otherwise.

By Dave Hone (not verified) on 07 Jan 2008 #permalink

The tuatara example isn't really applicable. They are currently small animals with low diversity and a very restricted range. In contrast, while pterosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous were not diverse, they were very widespread.

By Dave Godfrey (not verified) on 07 Jan 2008 #permalink

Plus note that there are Cenozoic proto-tuatara fossils. They haven't yet been properly described but have been mentioned here and there. I was expecting someone to say 'coelacanths!', but that's also bogus as their bones are small and hard to identify, they're genuinely cryptic marine animals, plus there are now Cenozoic coelacanths anyway!

And? There's little if any fossils of tuataras from the Cen[o}zoic.

Looks like the tuataras have been confined to New Zealand throughout the Cenozoic. The only terrestrial pre-Pleistocene rocks from NZ are Miocene in age, were only recently discovered, and... contain tuatara fossils.

And you forgot that most creatures supposed to be living pterosaurs are pretty small, with wingspans no bigger than 3m or so.

Every single bird and bat in Messel and Geiseltal and the Green River Formation is smaller than that. Messel is even full of fossil insects.

There are now Cenozoic coelacanth fossils? From where?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 08 Jan 2008 #permalink

1.I would never compare a pterosaur to a coelecanth

2.Since there was a mass extinction at end of Cretaceous. So it is possible pterosaurs did the same as modern birds: while they became extinct elsewhere, they probably survived in a place such as the South Pole (and later migrated to warmer regions). And, except for some small mammals, there's not a lot of fossils from Antartica.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

There are now Cenozoic coelacanth fossils? From where?

A Palaeocene fossil from Sweden and an unnamed taxon from the Miocene of Israel have been published (Ørvig 1986, Goldsmith & Yanai-Inbar 1997). Having said that... I've asked around and nobody seems to know anything further about the coelacanth from Israel (the authors said that it was particularly close to Latimeria. Their use of the term 'coelacanthid' is worrying; there's no such name). Indeed a coelacanth paper from last year didn't mention it when referring to the youngest known coelacanths in the fossil record.

'A mysterious guy': you are allowed to believe what you want, but you need to understand that your speculations are far beyond what is supportable based on evidence. Evidence is the stuff we need if we want to do science. Furthermore, all the evidence we do have strongly contradicts what you propose.

Refs - -

Goldsmith, N. F. & Yanai-Inbar, I. 1997. Coelacanthid in Israel's Early Miocene? Latimeria tests Schaeffer's theory. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 17 (supp. 3), 49A.

Ørvig, T. 1986. A vertebrate bone from the Swedish Paleocene. Geologiska Föreningens i Stockholm Förhandlingar 108, 139-141.

I'm not trying to make everybody believe that there's living pterosaurs out there; I was just giving arguments based on my current knowledge about flying reptiles. Although I have to admit that the "South Pole theory" is completly silly.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

So Cenozoic coelacanths have been known since 1986... what other discoveries might be lurking in journals without an impact factor...

And, except for some small mammals, there's not a lot of fossils from Antar[c]tica.

Wrong. The Eocene of Seymour Island has yielded a fairly impressive fauna with mammals of all sizes and a very large phorusrhacid.

"South Pole theory"

That's not a theory, it's a speculation. Learn what these terms mean.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

I hate to be a bastard, but Mysterious Guy you do seem to be determined to accept that pterosaurs are alive. I pointed out the flaws in you last argument and you came up with a new one, and now it has happened again. You must take these comments on board.

At the risk of being arrogant, people like Darren and myself know *a lot* about pterosaurs (and a fair amount about evolution, ecology and extinction) and yet you seem happy to speculate wildly and then claim its just 'based on yuo knowledge'. Do you really think that we (and here I unclude a few dozen pterosaur researchers, plus the last 100 years of science) would not have though of this at some point? I don't want to be cruel to you specifically, but as I said above in this thread and in my blog it is very frustrating that the fringe crypto people seem happy to just bulldoze through scicne will ill concieved comments and wild specualtions and jsut claim they are trying to help out with new theories etc.

Don't do it. Or at least pose it as a question "is this possible?", "did pterosaurs do this?", not "I think this must have happened".

By Dave Hone (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

I guess your right.

By a mysterious guy (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

Maybe the 'thunderbird photo' spuriously 'remembered' by so many independent witnesses, is a collective precognition of a future discovery? Something that will be so celebrated at that time, the focus of such intense world attention through the media, that humanity's vivid perception of it has been relayed backwards through time as an impression of it's image into receptive brains (ie those people already thinking of something sufficiently similar)?
(Refs: Dunne, J.W., An Experiment with Time, 1927; Clarke, A.C., Childhood's End, 1953).

Incidentally, in the above picture, Adam and particularly Eve look to me like members of the B-52's. A very excellent band.

By Graham King (not verified) on 26 Oct 2008 #permalink

I've never seen a reason to ascribe Sanderson's sighting to a reptile.
Yes, a 4m span, which Sanderson always insisted was a close estimate, would be heck of a bat, but he and his companions were startled, and, if you take off 1m for that, a 3m-span bat, compared to the known 1.8m flying foxes, would be the world's largest bat species, but not an unbelievable one.
Besides, what is more likely - a giant bat for which we have yet to find any ancestral fossils, or a pterosaur whose very large group of species all vanish simultaneously from the fossil record over 60M years ago? An undiscovered member of a clade known to exist today is less of a reach.

[from Darren: sorry, delayed by spam filter]

Hello, Darren! I would hope by now you have heard about My blogs asserting the 20-foot-wingspan Ropens to be sightings of manta rays, freshwater stingrays being the original Kongamatos (they are water monsters that upset canoes), discussions with Phillip O'Donnell on Pterosaurian sightings, giant hornbill reports and all the rest. I'll send some links here.………………

And then the current one:…

I just posted the info on a Ropen site where the author branded me the worst kind of skeptic for my viewpoint (ME??)including my statements about basic pterosaurian anatomy being in contradiction to the reports,. and so I thought I should at least give you equal time on that.

Best Wishes, Dale D.