Pterosaur Tail Vane Orientation

On June 29, 2012, in sighting in North America, by Jonathan Whitcomb

How is the Rhamphorhynchoid tail vane oriented, horizontally or vertically? According to at least a couple of key eyewitnesses, it is horizontal. Patty Carson was sure of this in the “dinosaur” or “pterodactyl” she had observed in Cuba in 1965; an anonymous eyewitness in Lakewood, California, was sure of this in the “dragon” she had observed on June 19, 2012, at mid-day. Both of these persons had a close encounter in clear daylight.

showing tail vane orientation of a long-tailed pterosaur

This silhouette of a Sordes Pilosus shows how the tail flange (or “tail vane”) can be seen easily, looking up at the bottom or down at the top of the flying creature. It can help the pterosaur control the pitch of flight, assuming this orientation is typical among all Rhamphorhynchoids, and not just in the ones observed in southeast Cuba and in Lakewood, California.

David M. Unwin, in the book The Pterosaurs From Deep Time, mentions the positioning of the tail vane, proclaiming it as verticle, because of its slightly asymmetrical shape, if I understand correctly [page 123, second paragraph]. But observations of living pterosaurs should take precidence over conjectures from examining fossils: The tail flange is horizontal.

Pterosaur Tail Vane Misidentification

If the eyewitness had never before seen a flamingo, yes it could be misidentified as such, especially if the person was concentrating on the feet of that bird, for it may resemble a Rhamphorhynchoid (long-tailed pterosaur) tail vane.

Ropen in Southern California

On June 19, 2012, over a storm drain in Lakewood, California, in clear daylight at about noon, a long-tailed featherless creature sat on a telephone line . . . [At first] she estimated the wingspan at five and a half feet. [She later acknowledged that it could have been larger.]

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