Over the years, I sometimes come across the words of a skeptic who asks why, if pterosaurs are still living, we do not see them regularly. I now ask why we ever see them in daylight, for most of them, if not all, seem to be nocturnal. For some sightings, how simple the answer!
Dramatic sighting reports of pterosaurs flying in daylight sometimes give us clues about why flight was in the light of day. The flying creatures were disturbed from sleep and took off into the air as a bird or bat will do when awakened or spooked by potential danger.
Duane Hodgkinson reported that a wild pig ran through the jungle clearing, just before he and his army buddy saw the huge flying creature (that he called “pterodactyl” and that I call “ropen” or “Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur”) ran to get airborne. It was west of Finschhafen, New Guinea, in 1944. The noise of the pig surely frightened that ropen, waking it up, just as the two soldiers were startled by that pig. That sighting was in the middle of the day, but ropens are known to be nocturnal, even glowing with bright bioluminescence, apparently. (See “Expeditions of 2004“)
Brian Hennessy reported that a prehistoric-looking creature flew overhead one day in 1971, as he was in a truck on a mountain road on Bougainville Island, New Guinea. I imagine a truck on a mountain road on a tropical island in 1971, and I can almost hear the noise of the engine. That is probably what woke up that nocturnal ropen on Bougainville Island. (New Guinea is now Papua New Guinea.)
A teenaged girl was gazing out over a cliff with her father, on a summer day in Arkansas, in 1977, as she kicked rocks over the edge. Guess what came flying off that cliff, only about twenty feet below the feet of that teenaged girl. What would wake up a flying creature that was sleeping in daylight on a cliff?
A critical point, missed by critics, is the physical closeness to the flying creature, even when the encounter was years ago. In this case, the two eyewitnesses were only about twenty feet away from the “teradactyl,” when they first saw it flying away from them, in western Arkansas.
Running pigs, noisy trucks, falling rocks—those are not the only distractions that can wake up a nocturnal creature. One lady saw a long-tailed flying creature—obvious pterosaur—fly in front of her car, while she was driving on a country road in Georgia, in 2008, the day after a tropical storm had passed through. If you live in a cave subject to flooding, a tropical storm can ruin your day, in fact people have been known to lose sleep when their houses are being flooded; it could happen to nocturnal creatures that are evicted in daylight.
Fifteen miles of her commute is on a two-lane 55-mph road through woods alternating with pastures . . . The southeastern United States had just been hit by Fay [a serious storm] . . . when PS drove to work on August 27, 2008. . . . an animal suddenly flew from the right, just over the front of her car. Although alone, she yelled, “What the — what — what is that?” . . . Overall, the animal was tan, similar to the light brown of the local deer . . .
We need to keep this Georgia sighting in perspective, however. About two weeks after her first sighting, the lady in Georgia had a second sighting, a smaller flying creature of the same species, in the same general area of countryside and also in the light of morning, flying over the same road. That does not prove the earlier storm was irrelevant, but it may suggest a more complex behavior, perhaps of a mated pair trying to find a suitable place to sleep in daylight.
Mountains and forest in Georgia, U.S.A.:
Although pterosaur sightings are reported across the contiguous 48 states of the USA, the southeast has enough of a similarity of environment to suggest the “pterodactyls” seen in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, may be similar species or even the same species.
In mid-2010, I received the following sighting report:
Large Pterosaur in Florida
“In 1995 I was living in Pensacola Fl. I was having a yard sale, so I was in the driveway at 5 am. I saw this huge bird with bat wings, at least a 20 ft wing span, flying towards me, I just turned and ran screaming into the house. The shadow it threw covered the driveway.”
. . . my 16 year old son and I both saw [something that] resembled a small pterodactyl. Very large wingspan, but the odd thing was it had no discernible feathers. My son saw it better than I as I was driving, albeit slowly. He said it was a leathery-looking skin. Pointed head, diamond shape at the end of the tail. It appeared to me that its legs were kind of pointed backward. Today we saw this thing again about 2 or 3 miles from the original sighting. This time my daughter aged 14 also saw it. The sighting was longer and clearer as well. My son described it as having . . . like bat wings . . . I am also very familiar with turkey vultures and this was nothing like that either. . . .
[Near Winder, Georgia] . . . an animal suddenly flew from the right, just over the front of her car. Although alone, she yelled, “What the — what — what is that?” . . . Overall, the animal was tan, similar to the light brown of the local deer, and the color was uniform. . . . [From her sketch of the creature---she is a talented artist] a ridge runs along the underside of the tail. [The tail is long, with a heart-shaped structure at the end.]
I saw a pterosaur in Clinton, [South Carolina] when I was 15 or 16 while at a soccer camp at Presbyterian College in 1994 or 1995. . . . It was huge, as big as a plane, and looked very similar to the sketch created by Susan Wooten on your website. . . . It was the last day of camp . . . I happened to be on the side lines resting when I saw a huge pterodactyl-looking creature, flying very high in the sky. The strangest thing . . . how slow the wings were flapping and how high it was flying. Several parents who were watching the scrimmages and some of the other players on the sidelines saw the creature too. [We] watched it fly into the clouds and disappear. . . . I remember shouting “that was a pterodactyl!” . . .
The blog Modern Pterosaur gives an overview of the two pterosaur sightings near Winder, Georgia, in 2008. I doubt that the anonymous eyewitness is the only eyewitness of this species of flying creature in Georgia, but she is the only one from Georgia (United States) to have reported anything to me, as of early February, 2011.
Many details can be found in the second edition of my nonfiction book Live Pterosaurs in America, but some quotations from that book may be helpful:
First Pterosaur Sighting
Her first sighting was at 7 a.m., the second, 9 a.m., with both mornings overcast (she felt that significant, for with the sun in her eyes she might not have seen the creatures). Both times she phoned a friend to tell him of her extraordinary experience.
Fifteen miles of her commute is on a two-lane 55-mph road through woods alternating with pastures . . . The southeastern United States had just been hit by Fay [a serious storm] . . . when PS drove to work on August 27, 2008. . . . this weather disturbance may relate to her daylight encounter with an animal I believe to be nocturnal.
. . . an animal suddenly flew from the right, just over the front of her car. Although alone, she yelled, “What the — what — what is that?” . . . Overall, the animal was tan, similar to the light brown of the local deer, and the color was uniform. . . . [From her sketch of the creature---she is a talented artist] a ridge runs along the underside of the tail. [The tail is long, with a heart-shaped structure at the end.]
Second Pterosaur Sighting
Two weeks later . . . the sky was again overcast as she left Winder. Just two miles out of town, however, as she came to a curve at the top of a gently flowing hill, at a little over a hundred yards away, she saw it: the same kind of creature but not the same individual; this one was bigger.
Again she could see a head crest; again, a long tail with a thick ending. . . . The wings “pumped” in a “scooping” manner, as the motion rippled along the body and through the tail. It was the same way with the first creature, reminding PS of some kind of “breast stroke.” She was enthralled . . .
Those two flying creatures might be of a rare species, normally nocturnal but temporarily displaced by a storm, perhaps a pair flying in daylight out of necessity. If they are nocturnal, Georgia certainly has many places for creatures to hide while sleeping in daylight.