Living Pterosaurs in England

By the modern-pterosaur researcher Jonathan Whitcomb

My investigation, over the past fourteen years, of reports of apparent living pterosaurs verifies what other researchers have learned: These extraordinary flying creatures are nocturnal, at least most of them and for most of the time. Let’s now look at one of those apparent exceptions.

Pterosaur Sighting in Shropshire, England

This is not a rumor I found on the internet or a third-hand account related to me by one of my cryptozoology associates. The lady sent me an email, just last week, and here is a small part of what she said (I’ve made some changes in punctuation, etc):

First let me introduce myself, my name is _____. I am a mother of four and I am 32 years old. I live in Britain on the Welsh border in an area called Whitchurch, Shropshire. I may now add that I am in the best of health mentally, I do not take any form of narcotics nor prescription pills and I do not drink. . . .

With that out the way, I will now tell you what I have seen and the reason as to why I have contacted you. Two weeks ago . .  [mid-morning] I went into the garden to play with my cat, a usual occurrence for me as I love my cats. Anyway, we live near a wildlife reserve which has an abundance of birds and wildlife, including eagles and hawks, heron, geese, swans etc. its usual for them to fly overhead and I see them flying . . .

I saw two pterodactyls, side by side, flying past the tree. . . . [with at least one of them she noticed] a giant-sized beak and the wings had no feathers. . . . [The two flying creatures were] grey in colour . . .

She was stunned. After devoting some time to research all the birds she could find, birds in England and elsewhere, apparently nothing seemed to fit what she had seen. But the most impressive difference, to her, was the sound of the screech of the two apparent pterosaurs that had flown through that area of Shropshire in September of 2017. No bird call was close to that sound.

I suggest that these two flying creatures may be related to the ropen of Papua New Guinea: a large Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur. Like the ropen, the two seen in daylight in Shropshire may actually be mostly nocturnal. Perhaps they were disturbed in daylight and so flew into the air when they would normally be sleeping.

landscape photo - Shropshire, England

A lovely rural area of Shropshire, England

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Other “Pterodactyl” Sightings in England

The blog post linked above appears to have been published online before October 21 of 2012. I’ll summarize two of those reports of apparent pterosaurs:

Near the town of Glossop, Paul Bennet  saw something like a bird, but it had leathery
wings. He mentioned the word pterodactyl in his 1982 report.  At about the same time, Jean Scofield reported, from about 35 miles to the north, in the town of Yeadon, a huge “bird” and estimated the wingspan to be about ten feet.

Could These Flying Creatures be From Africa (Kongamato)?

I can see how some cryptozoologists might speculate that these “pterodactyls,” what some would call “dinosaur birds,” are like the kongamato of Africa and might even be from that continent. I would suspect, however, that such speculation would include the assumption that large flying creatures like these could not have been living in England for centuries without being discovered by scientists. That’s another subject entirely.

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Live pterosaur in Africa

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 noticed, on the roof of his uncle’s house, a strange winged creature. It was about four to five feet tall as it perched, and only about ten feet from a light bulb . . .

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Discovery of a 19th Century Living Pterosaur

In January of 2017, the physicist Clifford Paiva and I talked by phone and agreed that the photograph now called “Ptp” has an authentic image of a modern pterosaur.

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Living pterosaur on Umboi Island

. . . our investigations of apparent nocturnal Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea! . . . Gideon Koro related how he was terrified at the sight of the giant ropen that flew over Lake Pung (around 1994). He and his friends were only children (or in their early teens) when they had climbed up to the crater lake on Siasi (Umboi) Island, Papua New Guinea.

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Dinosaur Birds

The pterosaur is known by several names in the United States: “dinosaur bird,” “flying dinosaur,” and perhaps the most popular “pterodactyl.” In Papua New Guinea, it is known by many names: “ropen,” “duwas,” “indava,” and “kor.” But what shocks many Americans and Europeans are eyewitness reports that these supposedly “ancient” and “extinct” flying creatures are alive . . .

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Kongamato of Africa

Introduction to reports of living pterosaurs in Africa

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Flying Creature

You have seen a flying creature unlike any bird or bat. It’s more like a pterosaur but alive, a “flying dinosaur.” What do you do?

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Pterosaur Size

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.

Wingspan Sizes

To properly understand the great range of estimates and the overall evenness, I suggest considering the following perspective:

  1. Several species of pterosaurs live in various parts of the world (maybe different sizes)
  2. Eyewitnesses have various abilities at estimating wingspans
  3. Conditions during sightings may cause various estimate errors
  4. Some sightings may be of juvenile pterosaurs
  5. In at least one species, individuals may grow throughout their life spans

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Estimated wingspans of living pterosaurs from sighting reports through 2012

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. The overall range is enormous, from less than two feet to over forty feet, with no statistical outlier.

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Statistics on Sightings of Pterosaurs

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.

Pterosaur Wingspan

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.]

Pterosaur Behavior

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 . . .”

Kongamato in Africa

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.

Kongamato in Africa

Could the kongamato of Africa be related to the fiery flying serpent of the Old Testament in the Bible? Both flying creatures are said to have attacked people. This deserves a closer examination, but for now let’s examine a more recent sighting.

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. A common house in Sudan (at least in his area at that time) was one-level and made of mud. He was carrying a tray of food from one house to another when he noticed, on the roof of his uncle’s house, 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. The boy had a clear view of the creature.

After the boy had stared at it for about five seconds, the flying creature stretched its wings for about three seconds. The boy could see the “bone structure” in the wings, “like if you ever seen a bat’s wing.” The long-tailed creature then took to the air, flying just about the boy’s head, causing him to drop the metal tray, which noise frightened the creature, and it flew away into the night.

Kongamato Cryptid

The kongamato eyewitness reports should be examined in context with other sightings. . . . the Gitmo Pterosaur, with a long tail but no feathers, may be related [to the kongamato], notwithstanding the Atlantic Ocean separates Cuba from Africa. The ropen of Papua New Guinea, also with a long tail but no feathers, may also be related, notwithstanding the Indian Ocean separates the southwest Pacific from Africa.

Of course, the “Gitmo Pterosaur,” the kongamato, and the ropen need not be identical species to be significantly related, but it seems that all three are modern living pterosaurs.

Kongamato Pterodactyl of Africa

. . . a much-feared animal called “kongamato,” said to live in the Jiundu swamps in the north-west corner of No. Rhodesia near the frontier of the Bengian Congo and Angola. . . . The natives told him that it was a bird, but not exactly a bird, more like a lizard with wings of skin like a bat’s . . . the beast’s wingspan was between four and seven feet . . . it had no feathers at all . . . its beak was full of teeth. . . . he showed the natives pictures . . . They immediately [pointed out] the Pterodactyl, excitedly muttering “kongamato!”

Kongamato Cryptid

For years, the kongamato of Africa (literally “overturner of canoes”) has been known as a cryptid that resembles, in at least some reports, a surviving pterosaur. Of course not every creature that overturns a canoe on a river in Africa needs to be an “overturner of canoes;” the hippopatomus and crocodile can do that. Of course not every flying thing that frightens natives in Africa needs to be a modern pterosaur; but featherless flying creatures with very long tails resemble Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs far more than they resemble any classified bird or bat.

The kongamato eyewitness reports should be examined in context with other sightings. For example, the Gitmo Pterosaur, with a long tail but no feathers, may be related, notwithstanding the Atlantic Ocean separates Cuba from Africa. The ropen of Papua New Guinea, also with a long tail but no feathers, may also be related, notwithstanding the Indian Ocean separates the southwest Pacific from Africa. Similarities in the descriptions of flying creatures should not cause us to question the credibility of eyewitnesses. How much better to question Western dogma about pterosaur extinction!

Dinosaur Bird

The Houston Chronicle dismissed the possibility that any “dinosaur” is now flying in Texas, ending their newspaper article with, “I encourage Mr. Whitcomb to come to Marfa and spend six months there before he says anything more about dinosaurs.” The problem with that “encouragement” is simple: My press release that sparked the Houston Chronicle article said nothing about dinosaurs; it mentioned the possibility that Marfa Lights are caused by bioluminescent flying predators and that maybe those creatures are like the ropen of Papua New Guinea, which is believed by some to be a live pterosaur.

Flying Creature

But “giant bat” is not really a reasonable explanation. In Papua New Guinea, the Flying Fox fruit bat is large, it is true; but that bat is huge only in comparison with most of the bats. The “ropen” is much larger, with some of the reports suggesting a wingspan greater than twenty-five feet. No fruit bat has a wingspan much greater than six feet at the very most. And the ropen is said to eat fish on reefs at night. It uses its bioluminescence to attract the fish. Also telling is the tail of the ropen. According to the World War II veteran Duane Hodgkinson, the creature he saw had a tail “at least 10-15 feet” long.

Perhaps the long-tailed featherless flying creature (called “kongamato” in Africa) is not as large as its counterpart in Papua New Guinea, but it certainly resembles a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur more than any bat or bird known to Western science.

Lions, Pterodactyls, and the Marfa Ghost Lights

Creatures of habit—those include predators like the African lion, and that big cat now bridges the canyon separating flying ghost lights and modern pterodactyls. I know that appears to fly in the face of reason, but please consider the nocturnal hunting habit of the African lion, then we’ll examine how habits of Marfa Lights may relate to live pterosaurs.

On a night when a lion pride hunts—maybe every night somewhere in Africa—the prey can be as big as an elephant; but let’s assume the prey is smaller and confined to a particular area for at least several nights, let’s say because of a need for some small animals to stay close to water in a drought. Would not a successful hunt, by hungry lions on a particular night, compel those lions to return to the same area the next night? If they had ever hunted successfully in the same area, two nights in succession, of course it would. But if a particular area gives no reward on one night, the lions could move quite some distance away on the next night, returning to the first area perhaps later in the year, assuming the lions have a large territory.

How are nocturnal Marfa Lights (in particular the CE mystery lights described by James Bunnell in his book Hunting Marfa Lights) like creatures of habit? In the limited area where Bunnell’s cameras record them, they usually remain absent for many weeks, sometimes many months, before returning. If one or more of the cameras records them on a Monday, for example, they will not be seen on the following Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday . . . But the exceptions, those nights in which they do not stay away for many days or weeks or months, are astonishing, for sometimes the cameras record them on successive nights, and sometimes at about the same time of night.

Take the nights of July 14th and 15th, 2006. On the 14th, the lights appeared at 38 minutes after sunset; on the 15th, 37 minutes. How appropriate for a group of nocturnal predators having successful hunting! In fact, it’s easy to imagine those predators being so anxious on the second night that they arrived at the same general area a minute earlier.

Could those two nights have been just a fluke? Bunnell’s methodical record keeping reveals other pairs of nights that support the bioluminescent-flying-predators hypothesis. Those consecutive nights are rare compared with the usual individual nights that are separated by weeks or months of no camera recordings. But they also show an unusual propensity for appearances at about the same general time of night, uncommon for nights that are not consecutive.

Other circumstantial evidences support the bioluminescent-predator hypothesis. Bunnell’s cameras, on May 8, 2003, recorded a relatively straight and level flight of a CE-III ML: It was an eleven-mile Marfa Light flight. A bioluminescent flying creature, albeit unclassified in Western biology, can be imagined performing that flight, but it’s more difficult to imagine for some unknown or speculative atmospheric energy force. The triangulation by the cameras demonstrated that light flew above the ground, over the desert bushes, not on the ground, not on any road or highway.