Setting aside fossils, how big are the wingspans of live pterosaurs? 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, remarkable for several reasons.
To properly understand the great range of estimates and the overall evenness, I suggest considering the following perspective:
- Several species of pterosaurs live in various parts of the world (maybe different sizes)
- Eyewitnesses have various abilities at estimating wingspans
- Conditions during sightings may cause various estimate errors
- Some sightings may be of juvenile pterosaurs
- In at least one species, individuals may grow throughout their life spans
Seventy-four sighting reports included numeric wingspan estimates
Graph of Pterosaur Wingspan Estimates
The graph above shows 74 wingspan estimates (out of 128 sighting reports), with the vertical showing the number of sightings and the horizontal showing the size estimates. What is remarkable? Note the following:
- Hoaxers could not have had any major influence if they had emphasized giant sizes, for the wingspan estimates show a fairly gradual decline in numbers of sightings as the wingspan increases, beginning with a size similar to that of large birds.
- Hoaxers could also not have had any major influence if they had emphasized scientific knowledge of Rhamphorhynchoid fossil sizes, for the wingspan estimates peak at around 6-11 feet, which is too big for such a hoax concept.
- The graph shows a general decline which is perfectly consistent with what my associate Garth Guessman and I have believed concerning the physical growth of modern pterosaurs: They continue to grow as they get older (like crocodilians).
- The overall range is enormous, from less than two feet to over forty feet, with no statistical outlier.
Out of all the sightings, about 24% involved the observation of a head crest. Only 2% of the eyewitnesses specifically mentioned the absence of a head crest.
I found that the larger data now available supports the earlier conclusion that a hoax or hoaxes played no significant part in the reports. [This conclusion is supported by data gather later, from sighting reports received in 2012.]
I interviewed a young man who reported a long-tailed flying creature . . . on a hot summer day in Antwerp, Ohio. . . . “It was huge. . . . About 4.5 ft tall, 10 ft from head to end of tail. Long skinny tail with a spade about 3-4 [inches] from end of tail. It had a wing span of I would say 8-10 ft. . . . catching sparrows . . .”
A few years ago, a man from Africa sent me an email about his encounter one night in July of 1988, when he was a boy in Sudan. . . . [He saw] a strange winged creature. It was about four to five feet tall as it perched, and only about ten feet from a light bulb that illuminated the patio.