Why do I Believe in Live Pterosaurs?

Sometimes I get a question like, “Have you ever seen a living pterosaur?” (No I haven’t, at least through January 14, 2013.) I believe a more useful question, for all of us, is “Why do you believe in live pterosaurs?” It seems like a simple question; but a reasonable answer from me—that requires considerable explaining. I’ll try to keep it reasonably short.

Extinction Indoctrination

Over many years, I have learned for myself that in my own United States of America we are bombarded, from before kindergarten to after college, by declarations of dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, and I have also learned that the universal extinction dogma is not based on scientific testing: It’s only an assumption.

But when I have gotten into a prolonged discussion with a paleontologist, it usually results in some kind of admission, from the fossil expert, that it is possible that an extant species of pterosaur may still be around somewhere; nevertheless paleontologists in general will consider it extremely unlikely and leave the subject with no desire to investigate the eyewitness reports I have received.

How rare is the person in a Western society who believes in pterosaur extinct because of objective evaluation of two points of view! The New Britain short-tailed pterosaur, that flies in daylight in the interior of that island, could be more common.

Most non-scientists assume that all of those flying creatures are extinct because the idea is so commonly proclaimed, as if it were a scientific fact beyond doubt.

Most scientists may believe it because it is a long-standing tradition, with apparently nobody ever contradicting universal pterosaur extinction. Off hand, I know of only one scientist who has approached this subject objectively, but because he chose to believe in the literal interpretation of eyewitness reports, skeptics then assumed he was biased in his choice; some of his writings have therefore been under a pen name.

To the point, there is no scientific test for determining pterosaur extinction. (In fact there’s no scientific test for determining the extinction for any species.)

That means the idea that all species of pterosaurs are extinct, all types that have ever lived on this planet are no longer living—that idea is so extreme that it requires extreme evidence to justify generations of proclamations about extinction. No such extreme evidence has come forward.

Eyewitnesses of Pterosaurs

Modern reports of apparent pterosaurs are similar to ancient reports of flying dragons, with a critical difference: Cryptozoologists like myself (we are extremely rare) interview eyewitnesses with questions that test whether or not an actual pterosaur was observed; in ancient history, even the most objective investigators had limited knowledge of pterosaur fossils, at least compared with modern cryptozoologists who specialize in pterosaurs.

Before the close of 2012, I added more eyewitness reports to the compilation of credible reports that had been analyzed the previous year. I then analyzed the data, which came from 128 sightings from around the world. Three independent factors eliminated any potential contamination from hoaxes, with clear indications that hoaxes could not have played any significant part (few if any hoaxes were involved).

How were those sighting reports chosen? Each one I deemed likely to have been an observation of an extant pterosaur, at least more likely than not. That brings up the subject of probability.

Probability of Modern Pterosaurs

I believe beyond any reasonable doubt that some pterosaurs live in this wonderful world of ours. If I were a member of a jury in a criminal case, and had that same surety of belief, when called upon to pronounce a sentence that would result in taking the life of the accused I would not hesitate in casting my vote. That requires an explanation.

Part of the explanation, for the sake of those who prefer something more tangible than my feelings, relates to probability. The 128 sighting reports I chose because each one I deemed to be at least 51% likely to have been from observing a living pterosaur. For simplicity, what does that say for all 128 sightings? If each one was judged only 50% likely to have been a living pterosaur, what is the probability that none of them were from living pterosaurs? Practically zero.

What if a hundred of the sightings were thrown out? With 28 sightings, each with a 50% chance of being a pterosaur, what’s the chance that not one of those 28 was a sighting of a living pterosaur? Not even one chance in 100 million. That’s basic mathematics (1/2 to the power of 28).

I realize that a skeptic may declare that I am biased and incapable of making a reasonable estimate of probabilities of a sighting being from an actual pterosaur. But what if I am so biased that my 50% estimate for each sighting is actually only 5%, that an objective estimate would make it a 95% probability that a report was from some cause other than a pterosaur? Even with that extreme manipulation of my estimates, the probability that not one of the 128 reports were from any real pterosaur would be less than one chance in 500 . . . horrible odds for universal extinction of pterosaurs.

But the 50%  and 5% individual-estimates are for simplicity. I actually believe some of the sighting reports to be more than 90% probable to have been from living pterosaurs. The 1944 sighting by Duane Hodgkinson (mainland New Guinea) is one example. If all but the 8 most likely reports were eliminated, the probability that none of those 8 came from an encounter with an extant pterosaur would still be quite remote (and how could any objective scientist completely reject those 120 less-conclusive reports?).

Sample of Part of the Data

The following image shows only a small part of the data that was collected from the 128 sighting reports:

The first 24 pterosaur sighting reports, with details like probability of feathers, long tail (y/n), head crest, color, tail straight, tail flange, weather, etc

Click on the above image to see details on what information was gathered (shown in part)


Modern Flying Dragons

“If we pursue the history of the investigation of pterosaurs . . . there is a natural link in our minds with the myths and legends of dragons.” [from the paleontology book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs, by Peter Wellnhofer]


Pterosaur Size

Since late 2003, I have examined many eyewitness reports of these flying creatures, and the latest compilation of data gives us a remarkable insight into wingspan estimates . . .