I’ve been writing about modern-pterosaur sightings, regarding misidentification potential, for years, with new critics bringing up old objections. Let’s now consider the words of a skeptic who calls himself “Mullerornis.”
“Most pterosaur sightings turned out to be ducks or bats.
“Indeed, many reports fail spectacularly at pterosaur biology. Pterosaurs didn’t had bat-like leathery wings, for starters.”
I have over a hundred sighting reports compiled in a data base that includes many details (wingspan estimate, surety of featherlessness, location of sighting, time of day, presence or absence of tail, etc); it is still expanding, now with year-2012 reports being entered. Let’s consider the skeptic’s remark about ducks, using the data base, since he gives no examples of any particular sightings.
How many sighting reports were kept out of the data base because they “turned out” to have been misidentified ducks? I believe that number is “zero.” How many entries in the data base “turned out” later to have been misidentified ducks? I believe that number is also “zero.” How many reported sightings does this skeptic give to us, that is . . . specific sightings? Zero. The value of his speculation about ducks that look like pterosaurs? You be the judge.
But I found this critic’s addition of “ducks” to the misidentification possibilities interesting. I did communicate, earlier this year, with a man who had a skull of something that appeared to have teeth (he wondered if it might be the remains of a pterosaur). I eventually concluded it was probably the skull of a duck, after careful investigation and many emails between me and the owner of the skull (the photo reminded me of the pseudo-teeth of some ducks). But there was no sighting associated with that skull. In addition, little (if anything) was written about it in cryptozoology blogs. So why did the critic mention “duck?” It must have been something else.
I remembered the nineteenth century newspaper account of a tunnel out of which a strange winged creature was said to have escaped from stone—the French word for “duck” was included in that newspaper article—but that’s irrelevant, for the story was surely a hoax.
I then remembered a sighting in the United States, in which the flying creature dived down to a pond and caught a duck (or other water fowl) in its mouth before flying off with it. But the flying creature that preyed upon that bird was not itself duck-like, so that sighting is also irrelevant. What are we left with, other than the word of a person who calls himself “Mullerornis,” who insinuates that he might know something about some undisclosed sightings in which ducks looked like pterosaurs?
How outdated that generalization! Even the Monsterquest television episode “Flying Monsters” (2009) was caught in that intellectual trap, as the producers attempted to pin “bat” on flying-creature sightings that serious investigators know could not have been from any bats. They included the account of the “pterodactyl” seen by the American World War II soldier Duane Hodgkinson; but they failed to disclose his estimate of the length of the tail on that flying creature: “at least” ten or fifteen feet long. [sighting in Papua New Guinea]
“Mullerornis” gives us no particular sighting report, not even a hint of anything specific. His credibility fails to impress me enough to continue writing about the “bat” misidentification speculation. Read any of my three nonfiction books on modern pterosaurs.
Did Pterosaurs Have Bat-Like Leathery Wings?
The skeptic seems to have made the same mistake that I encountered from a paleontologist with whom I was communicating. Beware of the paleontologist who steps outside his field of expertise to speculate about eyewitness accounts. Let’s look into this.
Most flying creatures larger than butterflies we call “birds.” When an eyewitness of an apparent living pterosaur describes it, the word “bat” sometimes comes out. Closer examination, if the skeptic ”Mullerornis” had looked closer, reveals why an eyewitness would say “bat-like.” The flying creature appeared to have no feathers. That’s it.
In general, when an eyewitness says something like “bat-like,” details in the description make it obvious that the creature was no bat. But the person viewing the apparent pterosaur did not notice details in the bones in the wings and use the word “bat” because of the fanning out of bat “fingers” in the wings. With few, if any, exceptions, the point is this: lack of feathers. We usually associate that with bats, when the subject is flying creatures (larger than butterflies) living today, so large featherless flyers remind us of bats.
When the word “leather” is used by an eyewitness, we need to remember what happened. The person did not examine a flying creature in a laboratory, like a paleontologist would do with a fossil. It was an observation at a distance, for most sightings involved being more than twenty feet away (on occasion, closer). The combination of lack of feathers and a general color similar to leather could easily cause an eyewitness to say “leathery.” The precise nature of pterosaur skin is irrelevant.
It’s that simple. The proclamations of this critic have no foundation.
So who do you call? I hope you’ll contact me, Jonathan Whitcomb. As far as I know, I am the only person on earth who has devoted anything like a full-time effort, over years, to interview eyewitnesses of apparent living pterosaurs and promote the concept that these flying creatures are not extinct . . .
. . . to document, then analyze, eyewitness accounts of living pterosaurs or pterosaur-like creatures and to support expeditions and investigations . . .
The French railway-tunnel pterodactyl of 1856 is finally getting its obituary, albeit The Illustrated London News has no such obituary. [The report appears to have been a hoax.]
On occasion, an eyewitness will use the following to report or to use a search engine: “I saw a giant bat.” Susan Wooten, years ago, mentioned a huge bat-like flying creature, when she first reported to me her sighting. In fact, she said, “It looked as big as any car . . . NO feathers, not like a huge crane or egret, but like a humongous bat.” But her sketch of the creature shows us something more like a long-tailed pterosaur:
When Wooten first reported to me her sighting in South Carolina, I took note that she included, “NO feathers.”
In San Antonio, Texas, around 1986, two eyewitnesses were shocked at the flying creature they encountered one night. “We noticed something flying around across the road . . . 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 . . .
Dracula-Like Flying Creature
In Brownsville, Texas, around 1996, another eyewitness, a twelve-year-old girl, encountered something terrifying one morning, in back of her house (from the third edition of the nonfiction book Live Pterosaurs in America):
Next door, in the neighbor’s backyard, was what she first thought was a tall man; but he was about as tall as the house, too tall. He was “draped in a long black coat or cape,” facing away from her. “Dracula” came to mind as [the girl] tried to understand what she was looking at. The “man” turned, and revealed a face that terrified the child: It was non-human.
Slowing the creature . . . unwrapped its bat-like wings, dark leathery wings. The girl had never seen anything remotely like them. Her mind still raced for an explanation, something that would make sense of what see was watching. A large bird, maybe? No, it was nothing like that: too big, and without feathers. The girl was frozen in fear . . . With big black eyes, it stared at her, and began to walk towards her. . . . “Pterodactyl” came into her mind, although it seemed a crazy idea. . . .
Also reported in that book, Peter Beach, a biology professor, encountered glowing flying creatures at a river in the northwestern United States:
I think the Rhamphorhynchoids, if that is what they were, were feeding on the nighthawks [nocturnal birds] as the nighthawks were feeding on the flying insects. Bats were also common, but they were fast, made sharp turns, and were relatively small.”
The Hodgkinson sighting alone, perhaps the most important pterosaur sighting in history, repudiates the “giant bat” misidentification explanation. Note the following points, taken from my scientific paper “Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific,” . . .
Almost all of the researchers who have studied these accounts for years believe that these creatures are live pterosaurs. Most of the eyewitness accounts include a description of a long tail; some include a structure they have seen at the end of the tail: like a Rhamphorhynchoid tail flange.
Spaulding Family Heritage (genealogy booklet)
Edward took his family from “James Citie,” probably because of the hostility of the Indians. They came to Massachusetts . . .
The 1997 pterosaur sighting by a couple taking a walk in Perth, Australia, is known to many cryptozoologists. Less known, maybe almost unknown, is the sighting by a lady, five years later, very near that same neighborhood in Perth. In October of 2007, the lady sent me an email, informing me of the sighting.
Perth is far below the tropical climate zone in Australia, so the presence of any Flying Fox fruit bat is highly unlikely. That said, misidentification involving a fruit bat has been practically eliminated by the long tail described by the couple who saw the flying creature in 1997.
. . . one night . . . I looked out of my window which is at the back of the house. . . . I saw a huge shadow glide over [the house behind us]. It was at least 4 [meter] in wingspan and distinctly had a head. . . . there was no noise. Naturally I was freaked out.
[The 1997 Perth Creature] I would estimate that at this time it was about a quarter mile north of us and quite high. . . Within a minute or so it had reached our position and was about 250 or 300 feet above us and slightly inland. The area was moderately well lit and I saw that it seemed to be a light reddish-tan color. It did not appear to be covered with feathers but had a leathery texture. Soon after it passed us it flew over a more brightly lit sports area which highlighted even more the leathery appearance also bringing more detail to view. The wings were the most definite leathery feature, they were shaped in a triangular arch, similar to a very elongated shark fin, The body also still appeared leathery, though textured as though possibly covered with fine hair or small scales, the distance preventing any finer observation other than that it was slightly different texture than the wings . . .
When the Umboi native Jonah Jim was interviewed by Garth Guessman and David Woetzel, in 2004, he was shown a page of silhouettes of various species of birds, bats, and pterosaurs. From those thirty-four images, Jonah Jim chose number thirteen, which was of a Sordes Pilosus, a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur. In addition, he saw that the flying creature was glowing, and he estimated the tail length at two-and-a-half to three meters (8-9 feet long), eliminating the bat-misidentification idea.
Interviewing eyewitnesses of apparent living pterosaurs, over the past five years, I know that a hoax (or a number of hoaxes) could not have produced the answers they have given me. While writing my book (“Live Pterosaurs in America”), I saw that the data accumulated from descriptions of apparent pterosaurs in the United States showed characteristics not to be expected from a hoax or hoaxes.
Setting aside Marfa Lights, for the moment, let’s consider where this all started: reports of living pterosaurs in the southwest Pacific, especially in Papua New Guinea. For those unfamiliar with that beginning of the investigations, glowing “dinosaurs” flying over southwest Texas can threaten some persons’ sense of security in their feelings about reality. We need to take this revolutionary idea (of pterosaurs living in the United States) in perspective; we need to know about reports from Papua New Guinea, and what is accurate and what is not.
I have researched the subject of living pterosaurs for seven and a half years, not just reading what others have written: I spent two weeks on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea, in 2004, interviewing eyewitnesses of the ropen. But even before my expedition I interviewed eyewitnesses of pterosaurs or apparent pterosaurs. Other cryptozoologists came before me and after me, interviewing (in Papua New Guinea) natives who had seen large flying creatures or the lights attributed to them.
Some of what is repeated on web pages and in blogs is outdated, mistakes from earlier researchers. Let’s start with that.
Let’s consider an old mistake. To the best of my knowledge, there is no word “duah,” in any language in Papua New Guinea that refers to any flying creature. “Duah” probably comes from a misunderstanding by an English speaking researcher: “Duwas” is a word for a flying creature; it is not the plural of “duah,” and in fact “duah,” in Tok Pisin means “door.” (irrelevant to any flying creature) There is no such thing as a flying creature, real or unreal, called by natives, “duah.”
There is no scientific or well-documented classification system for large flying cryptids in the southwest Pacific, at least not enough for some of the things making the rounds online (like the “duah” is smaller than the ropen). Even the most knowledgable of living-pterosaur investigators is mostly ignorant of details regarding which types live in which areas. The idea that “duah” is a small species and “ropen” is a large species is ridiculous. I have also seen the reverse idea about size, but that idea is also ridiculous. Part of the problem comes from language diversity.
Americans sometimes forget about language complexities in some countries. In Papua New Guinea, different isolated human settlements have different languages. Words for large flying creatures vary considerably in this country. On Umboi Island, at least where I interviewed natives, the word is “ropen.” In other nearby areas (perhaps including part of Umboi), the word is “duwas.” On smaller islands to the southeast the word is “wawanar.” To the north, the word is “kor.” Near the city of Wau, on the mainland, the word is “seklo-bali.” A few mountain ranges to the west of that, the word is “indava.”
Another old mistake still repeated relates to misidentification. There is no bat in the southwest Pacific that has a tail that could be estimated to be “at least ten to fifteen feet” long. There is no bat, with a wingspan of over ten feet, that glows brightly. There is no bat (having a mouth “like a crocodile”) that can terrify a group of natives while that bat flies over a lake in the brightness of mid-day. Bat misidentification is ridiculous when we consider the important eyewitness evidences.
Here is a more-recent mistake: “This phenomenon—called the ‘Ropen light’—was observed at length and videotaped by researcher David Woetzel.” This appears to be a complex error, but let’s look at the simple side first. David Woetzel and Garth Guessman explored parts of Umboi Island in 2004, a fews weeks after my expedition. Woetzel witnessed the ropen light as it flew behind a mountain near Lake Pung; he had no time to grab his camera, so nothing was photographed or videotaped. Two years later, Paul Nation explored a different part of Papua New Guinea and videotaped what I proclaim is important historic footage of two indava lights. Somebody may have confused those two expeditions; that is the simple explanation. The more complex possibility is that somebody may have learned about a more recent expedition by Woetzel, one that was in a country other than Papua New Guinea (a secret location); there may have been video recorded there, but it is too secret for me to be informed about that, at least as of early January, 2011. Some people assume Woetzel had returned to Papua New Guinea; he did not.
I recently came across a blog post that included, “. . . the general consensus amongst orthodox zoologists that the creatures don’t exist . . .” I have no knowledge of anything like any “general consensus” of zoologists (regarding the possibility of extant pterosaurs), for the subject does not yet seem to have become debated much among them. A few paleontologists have carelessly dismissed living-pterosaur investigations, but those have been only a few. I suspect that many, if not most, zoology professors have not even heard or read about recent living-pterosaur investigations, and those who know about them have mostly given them little attention, surely not enough attention for them to come to any “consensus.”
With all that said, investigating reports of living pterosaurs is still a branch of cryptozoology, not a branch of science.