Flying Creature Identification

On November 28, 2012, in Sighting in Papua New Guinea, Uncategorized, by Jonathan Whitcomb

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.”

Ducks?

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?

Bats

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.

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Flying Creature

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 . . .

Pterosaur Flying Creatures

. . . to document, then analyze, eyewitness accounts of living pterosaurs or pterosaur-like creatures and to support expeditions and investigations . . .

Pterodactyl Hoax

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.]

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Manta Ray Comes Back to Surface

On November 2, 2012, in philosophy, sighting in North America, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Eighteen months ago I wrote, on this blog, about the “Manta ray and Modern Pterosaur” conjecture. A few days ago, the Manta ray came back to the surface, again attempting to get into the air and to imitate a living pterosaur. Again that poor fish is shot down. We now concentrate on the recent blog post by Dale Drinnon.

I will not link to that post, for it can easily be found by a serious researcher and those who are less serious about diving into the truth may be led astray by the mistakes that are found therein. Now for details.

Sighting in the Philippines

Drinnon’s attention seems to have gotten caught up with my October 23, 2012, post on the blog Live Pterosaur (“Pterosaurs Across the Pacific”), probably because of its brief reference to a fisherman who reported something that he thought was the same or similar to what was observed by the principal eyewitness. Let’s examine critical details about the principle sighting.

  1. We need to understand that my post of October 23rd had a brief excerpt of a sighting report in the Philippines. Drinnon apparently had no knowledge of critical details that could have been found only with serious online research.
  2. Since my October post included a brief reference to a fisherman, Drinnon seems to have seen an opportunity to promote the Manta ray interpretation of pterosaur sightings; but all details about the fisherman are absent, so that’s of little relevance.
  3. The critical sighting details (not in that post) included the following:

“I saw them clearly: the SHAPE, their BAT-LIKE WINGS, a LONG NECK and . . . I dunno if it is a horn behind their heads. They have a long beak.  I even saw their claws between their wings. They don’t have any feathers; their body really looks like a bat. They seldom flap their wings, about  every 3-4 sec.; thats why I knew it is not just a big bat. . . .”

We need to remember that these details were apparently not read by Mr. Drinnon, so I don’t criticize him for being ignorant of them when he wrote his recent post. But in a response to my comment on his post, he revealed “The Philippines sighting in specific lends itself to the Manta ray hypothesis most readily.” In other words, to the best of his knowledge at the time he wrote his recent post, that sighting was the best example  that appeared to fit a misidentification of a Manta ray fish jumping out of the water. Well, we all should now understand that the jumping fish conjecture, for this sighting, is ludicrous when we consider the following critical details:

Long neck, slow flapping, claws

Some sighting reports of apparent living pterosaurs include a description of a long neck. That alone destroys the Manta ray hypothesis for those sightings, including this encounter in the Philippines.

A slow flapping of wings over a period of time also shoots down the jumping fish, including this encounter with a flying creature that flapped its wings only once every three or four seconds or so.

In addition, claws associated with the wings tear apart Mr. Dinnon’s conjecture for this sighting.

In addition, the critical sighting (by the young man who sent me an email a few years ago) seems to have been two living pterosaurs flying over a city, NOT one creature jumping out of the sea.

Religion, Philosophy, and Science

Volumes can be written about origin philosophy as it relates to cryptozoology and Western teachings about the General Theory of Evolution. Drinnon writes little, if anything, on how this relates to reports of modern living pterosaurs (from what I have read of his writings) but too much confidence in standard-model dogmas and assumptions can cause people, even college graduates in science, to be led seriously astray.

Drinnon makes a revealing statement: “Once again, the last Pterosaurs around did not have tails and the biggest Pterosaurs did not have tails.” That seems to me overly simplistic, but it reveals his perspective. Apparently he believes that knowledge gained from paleontologists who examine pterosaur fossils can trump human experience with modern living creatures. If all paleontologists were omnipotent, knowing everything about every subject of science and about everything else, that perspective might be valid. But when consistant human experience contradicts a centuries-old scientific assumption, we need to be reminded of the truth: Humans are human, even highly educated paleontologists. We need to spend more time considering human experiences from around the world and we need to spend less time buried under a pile of dusty bones in a laboratory.

Seriously Astray

How many humans on this planet would see a large Manta ray fish jump out of the sea and become convinced that they had witnessed the flight of a living pterosaur? With all the billions of humans on this planet, countless millions have at least looked out onto a sea or ocean, at least on occasion; some have spent their lives in fishing on large bodies of water. So how many of them have come to believe in living pterosaurs (or dragons) because they had mistaken a fish jumping out of the water for a flying creature? Almost nobody, and among those few NONE of them would be living in modern times and have access to a computer and also send me an email reporting that they had seen a pterosaur flying OVER LAND.

I don’t know why Mr. Drinnon believes that many reports of modern living pterosaurs involve a flight over water or very near the sea. I suspect that reports that have some reference or implication of relevance to the sea attract his attention. The vaste majority of sighting reports that have been sent to me do not involve a flight over a sea or ocean, however. This fact appears to have been overlooked by Mr. Drinnon.

Flight Over the Sea

Let’s consider now an exception, apparent pterosaurs flying over a sea.

In 2009, on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas cruise ship, a lady and her daughter witnessed two “flourescent birds” that looked like “flying dinosaurs.” They flew over the sea but could not have been jumping Manta rays, for they flew back and forth for fifteen minutes. That would be too much of a leap of fish. Even the largest and jumpingest Manta ray could not stay in the air for more than about two seconds.

Gitmo Pterosaur of Cuba - eyewitness and artist Patty Carson

“Gitmo Pterosaur” seen by Patty Carson in Cuba in 1965

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Pterosaurs Look Unlike Manta Rays

Many details repudiate the Manta ray misidentification interpretation: head, head crest, neck, leg-like structures, feet-like structures, tail vane (Rhamphorhynchoid-like). . . . But now we get to more serious problems with the fish idea. . . .

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How do oceanic Manta rays relate to modern pterosaurs? They don’t, really, but a lack of clear thinking might almost make it seem like a relationship exists, at least according to the writings of Dale Drinnon.

On the blog Frontiers of Zoology, in the March 3, 2011 post, “Ropens, Pterosaurian Sightings And Manta Rays,” he says, “It is a quite consistent feature that the sightings take place along the shoreline or on islands, or actually out at sea and seen from boats or airplanes, and ordinarily for only a few seconds.” He immediately gives two examples: the sightings of Duane Hodgkinson (1944) and Brian Hennessy (1971). But he soon changes the subject, leaving the assumption that those two sightings in Papua New Guinea may have come from misidentification of an oceanic Manta ray fish, which sometimes jumps out of the water before crashing back into the sea. But many problems jump out from this idea.

If Drinnon had searched more deeply, researching those two sightings and using more clear thinking, perhaps he would have left them out of his post. Hodgkinson and his army buddy, in 1944, were nowhere near the seashore, when they stopped in a small jungle clearing well inland from Finschhafen, New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea). The giant creature took off from the ground, soon flying over the trees. No Manta ray was involved.

When Brian Hennessy saw the large featherless flying creature on Bougainville Island, he was nowhere near the sea; he was up on a mountain road. In addition, the creature was described like a pterosaur, not like any kind of fish flying over a mountain. The head was described like that of a pterosaur with a head crest, not like any part of a Manta ray.

Dinnion changes the subject by insisting that eyewitnesses should not see anything like what has been reported for living pterosaurs. In other words, he has a particular opinion about what a modern pterosaur should look like and eyewitnesses describe something different. But, to play with Shakespeare’s words, there may be more things in heaven and earth, Drinnon, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

He says that the eyewitness descriptions are “exactly as represented in 1960s dinosaur movies and animated cartoons,” as if eyewitnesses have been improperly influenced by those things. But even if those cartoons do significantly resemble what eyewitnesses described, which I doubt, most sightings in Papua New Guinea are by natives who have never seen any cartoon. It seems to me that Mr. Dinnion has been improperly influenced by his own imagination. He should have done more research and used clear thinking, before assuming eyewitnesses of modern pterosaurs must all be wrong.

Kongamato of Africa (stingray is related to Manta ray)

. . . describes it as living along certain rivers, and very dangerous, often attacking small boats, and anybody who disturbed the creature. They are typically described as either red or black in color, with a wingspan of 4 to 7 feet. Members of the local Kaonde tribe identified it as similar to a pterodactyl after being shown a picture . . .

Let’s keep our imaginations in check (those trying to imagine some misidentification explanation for obvious pterosaurs), even if it means allowing for the possibility of an officially undiscovered flying creature, even a living pterosaur.

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The “misidentified model pterodactyl” suggestion is not the most popular criticism from critics, but it does come up. My recent post on misidentification (March 11, 2011) included a section about model pterodactyls. I feel this deserves more attention, for those flying mechanical models are said to be impressive machines; I have seen a couple of videos of their flights and I’m impressed. Notwithstanding such impressions, I have encountered many eyewitness reports from around the world, including very remote areas, and a typical eyewitness is not “impressed” by a living pterosaur but absolutely stunned.

Consider particular sightings.

A Real Pterosaur in Pennsylvania

Mechanical pterodactyl models do not eat.

In 2006 myself and two of my students were standing outside of my karate school. My school was located on route 119 . . . In Southwest Greensburg [Pennsylvania] . . . I noticed a large black bird in the sky. . . . I observed it for about two minutes as it flew towards us very slowly . . .

This “bird” also seemed to have a long tail . . . As it was almost directly over us we all agreed we couldn’t see feathers anywhere and my student Carrie said “It looks like pterodactyl . . .  doesn’t it?”

It flew over top us and landed in the water behind the school. . . . We could here it splashing around, and Carrie ran around the building to see it. There are always ducks in that water as well as rats and other things. When she came back, . . . Carrie said it was in the water splashing and eating or grabbing something in its mouth.

Yes indeed, mechanical models do not eat. (Read more about the pterosaur in Pennsylvania.)

Glowing Pterosaurs

Mechanical pterodactyl models do not glow.

The lady told me, “The minute I stepped onto the balcony, I knew exactly what she wanted me to see. Off in the distance were two very, very large, pink/orange flourescent birds flying behind each other. They looked like the flying dinosaurs, I forget what they are called. They would fly towards the ship, then back out to sea, then fly together in tandum then make a sharp right, away from the ship and disappear into the night. Then they would return. We witnessed this activity for about fifteen minutes.” (recent sighting in the Caribbean)

On the subject of glowing pterosaurs, what about the kor of northern Papua New Guinea, or the ropen of Umboi Island, or the indava deep in the mainland? Each name, whether or not of the same species, refers to a large flying animal described like a pterosaur, and each is said to glow and to eat: often fish or clam, sometimes animal or human. A mechanical pterodactyl might be made to light up, as it flew in a civilized part of the world; but no mechanical model would use its glow to help it catch fish in a remote tropical wilderness.

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Misidentification Possibilities in General

On March 11, 2011, in Sighting in Papua New Guinea, by Jonathan Whitcomb

Besides the possibility of Frigate Bird misidentification, what else do critics suggest? Perhaps the oldest misidentification suggestion, for reports of living pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea, has been “Flying Fox fruit bat.” It seems to satisfy reports of large featherless flying creatures in the southwest Pacific, but there are problems with “misidentified bat.”

Fruit Bats or Pterosaurs?

Look at the details in eyewitness accounts, for details often shoot down the misidentified-fruit-bat conjecture. A long tail mocks that interpretation, as does fish-eating and hanging right-side-up on a tree trunk. A giant size may also shoot down the Flying Fox, especially when the wingspan is estimated at over twenty feet. In addition, that long horn at the back of the head—that indicates a non-fruit-bat, for that bat has nothing like that pterosaur-like appendage.

Duane Hodgkinson, on the mainland of New Guinea in 1944, and his army buddy saw a giant flying creature take off into the air. Why “giant?” For one thing, Hodgkinson estimated the length of the tail to be “at least ten or fifteen feet.” (The Flying Fox fruit bat has almost no tail.) In addition, the wingspan appeared to be close to thirty feet, far too large to be any bat. It now appears obvious that this World War II veteran had witnessed the rare daylight-flight of a giant ropen.

Misidentified Tail

Some critics suggest that descriptions of a long tail come from a bird’s feet, held back while flying. Consider details in the eyewitness testimonies. Hodgkinson first saw his “pterodactyl” when it was running to get airborne. The feet of a bird cannot appear to be running and held back straight at the same time.

Another problem with “misidentified tail” is this: Many eyewitnesses are sure about the lack of any feathers on what they saw. Birds have feathers, even those birds that may appear to have a long tail when their feet are held back in flight.

And what about overall size? One eyewitness described the length of the flying creature he saw: close to the width of the road on which he was driving. His estimate was probably not far wrong, for the creature was flying low as it crossed that road. I later measured that road myself: close to thirty feet. No bird has feet long enough to make its total length anywhere near thirty feet.

Misidentified Bird

One or two critics, at least, have suggested that eyewitnesses exaggerate size because of fear or surprise. A couple of problems jump out at me there. For one, why would a bird cause anyone to be surprised or fearful enough to think that they had seen a “pterodactyl?” In Hodgkinson’s case, he first thought that he was watching a bird, for it was flapping its wings. Only later, after he had considered the details on that flying creature and its extraordinary size, did Hodgkinson think “pterodactyl.”

Some eyewitnesses have no fear, for the flying creature is far away, at least when they first notice it. Obviously fear does not cause any misidentification when there is no fear.

Some Youtube viewers may have taken a Frigate bird for a ropen, but that is irrelevant to the many sightings of flying creatures that are obviously not Frigate birds. For those who still may doubt, consider these characteristics of the ropen and its behavior: glowing brightly at night, carrying away the recently-buried body of an adult human, appearing in clear daylight with a wingspan of at least twenty-two feet, carrying giant clams up into the interior of Umboi Island (clam shells over fifty pounds). The ropen is no misidentified Frigate bird.

Misidentified Mechanical Model

Some critics suggest a mechanical model caused an eyewitness to believe in a living pterosaur. Under scrutiny, this breaks down. How could Hodgkinson have seen a model pterodactyl in that remote jungle wilderness in 1944? And how could that model, flying years later but in that same area, pick up an adult human and carry the victim away to be eaten?

For recent sightings of pterosaurs, in the United States, how do model pterodactyls fly without any sound and behave like living giant pterosaurs? Why do so many eyewitnesses mention the graceful flights? Those characteristics need to be addressed, not dismissed or ignored. And why, when some eyewitnesses have shown no fear, do critics fear the obvious: modern living pterosaurs?

Overall Desciptions

When several thing each suggest a living Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur, suggestions of a misidentified bird, bat, or model evaporate. The problem is not that all eyewitnesses misidentify a non-pterosaur: Critics misidentify pterosaur sightings for anything and everything else that they can imagine.

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