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Archive for the ‘pterosaurs’ Category

Only a couple of days after my last blog about the differences between pterosaur-like flying creatures reported today and what scientists have learned about the actual, prehistoric birds, a new witness came forth. This sighting took place in 2008, about twenty miles north of San Jose, California. It occurred in daylight at close range, and the witness had time for a good look at something that is not supposed to be! In the witness’ own words:

Hello Linda,

I’m delighted to have come across your website. Here’s my report of a sighting of what I believe was a pterosaur in 2008. My sighting was a little different than the drawings in the article you posted, “Pterosaurs or Terror-Sores.”

On or about Sept. 3, 2008, on a clear, sunny day around 11 a.m., I was driving North on Hwy. 680 between Fremont and Pleasanton, California. Just at the Hwy. 84 off-ramp, I looked up when something large caught my eye and what I saw was a small Pterosaur flying about 30 ft. above my car. Talk about “driver distraction!” It flew directly over me (perpendicular to my direction), heading East toward Livermore. The reason I can estimate its distance from me, is that it appeared to be about 10 feet above the top of the traffic cam located at the Hwy. 680/84 junction which I was approaching at that moment.

The creature looked very similar to the paintings of the “Ropen” of Indonesia. I would estimate it had about a 3-5 ft. wingspan. It was light tan, all leathery skin, and the most astonishing thing was that it had no feathers! I could see the wrinkles & texture of its skin moving over its bones as it flew. The eyes were very large, round eyes, and it appeared to be young, or at least I had that impression because of its size and some of its features, like the tail and the bump on the back of its head were not as developed as those depicted of adult Ropen/Pterosaurs. I thought it probably flew at night because of the size of its eyes, which were perfectly round and HUGE – much, much larger than an Owl’s, for example. The eyes probably took up 40%+ of its cranial-facial area. As my rational mind was striving to take this all in, I wondered why it was flying in daylight, though it did not seem to be alarmed by anything.

The wings were triangular, slightly rounded at the tips, but I did not see any “hands” attached to the wings as these creatures are sometimes portrayed. The back of its triangular-shaped head came to a rounded point, jutting out a few inches. Its tail was not much more than a pointed “stump.” It had a fairly broad triangular-shaped beak that was longer than the “bump” at the back of its head, perhaps about 10-12 inches. Again, I was surprised at the breadth of its beak because it differed from drawings I’ve seen in books. But this was no Pelican, Bat, nor anything else I’ve ever seen flying through the sky. It had no feathers. As it flew, it’s clawed feet hung down slightly, from its body positioned more toward the middle of its underside (i.e., they were not positioned at the back of the body under the tail, nor were they attached to the wings). Its large claws were slightly curled and facing backwards. I thought it looked a bit clumsy as it flew, in that its feet and legs were not tucked up tight against the body during flight like birds, they were just dangling down. I recall there were 3 visible “toes.”

I was so shocked, but also felt awe and excitement and wanted to pull over to watch it. But, alas, I had to force myself to take my eyes off of it and mind the driving. It would have been a dangerous place to stop on that busy freeway, let alone to get out of the car, and by the time I could have pulled over, the hills would have blocked the view in the direction it was flying, and of course it would be far away by then. I witnessed this creature for 6 – 8 seconds before I had to tear my gaze away, but that was enough time to absolutely know I was looking at something very, very strange — something I had only seen in books about dinosaurs.

I have a keen interest and curiosity about nature and the nature of reality, cryptozoology, metaphysics, and spirituality. Some would consider me a good observer. This experience felt like a privilege to have been a witness to a secret aspect of our natural world. Perhaps I somehow briefly interfaced with another dimension, but it was as real and 3rd dimensional as any other animal. I told a couple of family members about it and most of them do not believe me — but I know what I saw. It’s exciting and validating to read that more sightings of similar creatures are emerging in many locations.

Thank you for your great blog. I’m sure to be a frequent visitor.

Sincerely,
Kris

[Also see this article for ROPEN, the flying cryptid mentioned by Kris]

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PterosaurQuetzalcoatlus

Quetzalquatlus image via Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus

 

The past week’s tragic event at the Disney World lagoon had me thinking of the witness in American Monsters who told of being stalked by a bipedal, throwback-looking alligator over a couple of years.

As it happened, he sent me an email message not about these ancient reptiles but about the flying creatures generally termed Pterosaurs that seem to be reported more and more often around the US in modern times, especially in Texas and Pennsylvania. As a student in the fields of paleontology and zoology, he noticed some major differences in the way these creatures are usually described by witnesses, and the actual characteristics scientists scientists now ascribe to some of them–fuzzy skin filaments, odd beaks, bright colors, etc.–as research has progressed over time. I asked his permission to post this as a guest blog and he agreed.

Please note, as he states below, that he’s not trying to contradict what any witnesses have reported. After all, he has seen something quite unusual, himself! He’s just intrigued by the fact that Jurassic-era flyers were probably quite distinct from the leathery, pointy-winged creatures reported today. I think it’s a question worth pondering. Here it is in almost its entirety:

Hello Linda, it’s me again and thankfully despite all the mayhem going on here in central Florida; another hostile encounter with any part-time bipedal reptiles hasn’t been on the list. I’m aware it’s still there as ever so often I’ll still hear sounds off in the river system or come across areas where all the animal life is gone (including me soon after realizing it).

 

I was rereading your books, great work by the way, and one of the things that struck me across them and other cryptozoological archives I ended up digging through trying to find if anyone had seen anything similar to the “Gator Man” was these Pterosaur reports. Pterosaurs are something of my forte in paleontology, enough I was actually planning on writing my doctoral thesis on the group should the opportunity arise in the years to come. However as I was reading many of these sightings of large, very unbird-like flying creatures is that many of them doesn’t actually match the science we know behind the animals. There are exceptions, but the majority does leave me raising an eyebrow.

 

Now science has gotten things wrong about Pterosaurs since we knew of the group. If you want an idea of how outlandish it was in the first years, in the 1784 when the first species was described by Cosimo Alessandro Collini, he thought he was looking at some sort of giant, reptilian penguin and that the wings were giant paddles that linked the wrist and ankles. It wasn’t until the 1830s that the swimming interpretation was finally overridden by correctly classifying them as winged, flying reptiles. However as more and more species were classified and more and more very good fossils, including numerous impressions showing us both the epidermis and wing shape, we’ve gotten a lot better at distinguishing what was what.

Pterosaurs_Buckland_1836 (Drawing of pterosaurs by English naturalist William Buckland (1784-1856) in 1831. Buckland imagined pterosaurs hanging on cliffs.1831 (public domain)Wellnhofer, P.; 2009: A short history of pterosaur research, Zitteliana 29, pp 7-19) — Wikimedia Commons notes this as an inaccurate image due to the wing structure depicted)

The thing that makes me skeptical of many of these Pterosaur reports being exactly what they are said to be is that many of them match the pop culture representation of the group. You’re typical pop culture Pterosaur is something of an amalgamation of various Pterosaur species and birds.

 

They’ve got

-Long pointed, straight beak and backwards crest of Pteranodon longiceps
-Rhamphorhynchus muensteri
styled teeth and long, arrowhead tipped tail

-Walk in a bipedal manner like birds

-Are devoid of any filament epidermis and are either scaly or just blank skin

-Use their feet for grasping

-Are either quite tall standing up, man sized, or size of a coyote

-Have pointy wingtips

The problem is there isn’t a single species of the entire Order that fits more than one of those indicators. Since Pteranodonis the genus most people are familiar with (Pterodactyl[us] was a sea gull sized individual species, not the name of the group; just to clarify), I’ll do a quick comparison.

 

Pteranodon had

-An upwards curving beak with variable crests. Only the males of one of the two species have the “spike back” crest pop culture uses, the males of the other species had a fan shape. The females of both species had barely any, or no crest at all. It was also completely toothless, the name “Pteranodon” literally means “Wings without Teeth”.

-An incredibly short tail

-A covering of fur-like pycnofibers on the chest, back, neck, and face.

-Round tips to the wings (all large Pterosaurs did)

-Grasped with the mouth like a pelican or heron. Their feet were built for walking like some larger birds and couldn’t articulate like a bird of prey’s can.

-Strictly quadrupedal aside from very brief instances. Their hips weren’t built properly to walk upright. One of the whole reasons Pterosaurs got bigger than birds if they used both their arms and legs to vault themselves off the ground, thus giving them a bigger starting lift.

-Actually pretty short, both due to posture and short legs. A very large male Pteranodon of either of the two species would barely come up to the average man’s hips if it held a natural posture. And the females were significantly smaller.

 

Now there were other Pterosaurs that match up a bit better with some reports. Ludodactylus sibbicki closely resembled a smaller Pteranodon with both a crest and teeth, but had a very stout snout that looked more like a Gharial crocodilian’s snout or a gar fish’s head than a beak. Other species like the enormous Quetzalcoatlus northropi  were far larger thanPteranodon and with their arms being much longer than their legs, could be mistaken for being bipeds if standing up straight and one didn’t get a good look at the limbs. But the problem with Quetz is it is almost ludicrously tall, taller than a giraffe, has almost no crest (and the one is does have doesn’t point backwards), and has a enormous head and toothless beak.

To my knowledge, there are no large Pterosaurs known with long tails. Long tails were a trait of early members of the group and were practically unheard of by the time of the Cretaceous. Plainly put, the image I see in a lot of Pterosaur sightings closely matches a creature of pop culture, a mixture of Pterosaur species along with modern birds and fantasy dragons, which seems to have never existed. In fact the two things I saw pop up the most, point wings and scaly bodies, are about as unheard of in the group as they are in mammals. In life, Pterosaurs would have looked like some kind of bizarre fusion of a bat and a bird.

 

This isn’t me calling these eye witnesses liars. I’ve seen inexplicable stuff myself and I doubt I’d have the right to call foul on these people. They’re seeing something alright for there to be so many. I just wanted to know two things from you as a researcher.

1. Have any of them speculated about anything else what they saw might have been? Giant bat? Odd looking bird? Something mythological?

2. Have any of the people who’ve come to you about these reports described anything that seems to match the more accurate representation of what these animals looked like? Something akin to what I’ve described in looks or behavior?

If you want to know a sort of inside joke among some in paleontology, we often refer to inaccurate pop culture representations and cryptozoology reports of Pterosaurs as “Terror-Sores”. Both from them being unrealistically monstrous and how much of a sore headache they give any expert who looks at the darn things!

 

Two notes I will make real quick though.

1. There is one species of Pterosaur that somewhat resembles your pop culture image. Harpactognathus gentryii, a large Jurassic Pterosaur from the USA that did have a reasonably large wingspan (roughly 4 meters at max), a long tail, and a short crest. The problem with this creature being the species reported is it’s from the Jurassic and represents a lineage of Pterosaurs that largely died out by the Cretaceous period. We have thousands of fossils of Pterosaurs from the later period and not one of them looks anything like Harpactognathus. By the Cretaceous, the primary type of Pterosaur was the short tailed, toothless, large bodied lineage such a Pteranodon. So if Harpactognathus or anything like it had any decedents, we’d have seen them in the Cretaceous record somewhere because the archive of Cretaceous Pterosaurs is so good. Additionally, the species still lacks the reported pointed wings (flying with such is aerodynamically impossible by the way), has even more pycnofiber fuzz than Pteranodon, and would have been just as incapable of bipedal walking or perching. It’s also still smaller than many reported giant “Pterosaurs”

2. If you want to give an easy way for any folks reading to remember that Pterosaurs and Dinosaurs aren’t one and the same, here’s a comparison. Dogs and elephants are members of the same mammal family, Placentals. But a dog is not an elephant and an elephant is not a dog. Pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and crocodiles are all members of the same reptile family, Archosaurs; but aren’t the same thing.

 Thanks to the “Gator Man eyewitness” for this thoughtful letter! To answer his two questions very quickly, some witnesses have speculated that they might be seeing a dragon or a Native American Thunderbird, but most are at a loss to explain what they saw. To answer the second question, I think that there probably are some who have seen creatures closer to what he has described as the real appearance of pterosaurs, but that they may be found in the books of other researchers who specialize in the topic and have more examples. (I’m looking for help from readers here rather than delay posting while I make a lengthy search)
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