Author Defends “1400 Witnesses of Pterosaurs” Statement

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 23rd, 2009

Live Pterosaurs in America: Sightings of Apparent Pterosaurs in the United States by Jonathan David Whitcomb, was published in July 2009.

Jonathan Whitcomb (above), in response to Cryptomundo’s August 19th posting on his new statements regarding pterosaurs soaring over America, has forwarded the following comment (in italics, at end).

Whitcomb, on his Amazon page, notes: “Unlike Searching for Ropens, Live Pterosaurs in America is a pure cryptozoology book, leaving the evolution-creation controversy to mostly only a part of the appendix. Only a reader who is both sensitive to controversy and opposed to Biblical creation might take limited offense at this limited part of LPA.”

Whitcomb’s current reply to this week’s Cryptomundo posting and nearly 40 comments is given in full below, without edits:

What a lively discussion! I think many of the comments are thoughtful. To get back to Loren’s introduction, I am not closely related to John C. Whitcomb, but very-strange-to-tell: I was the founding editor of the “Coleman World” genealogy newsletter of the 1980’s: Maybe I am related to Loren. Strange!

Let’s get back to the 1400 Americans, the estimate I made of the credible eyewitnesses of living pterosaurs in the United States.

The 1400-estimate does not include those who have obvious mental health issues or a purpose to lie. Those do exist, but not many of them have contacted me for detailed interviewing. It also does not include the more-vague sightings that could be birds.

I’m a relative newcomer to cryptozoology, compared with Loren. Before my expedition in Papua New Guinea (late-2004), I put up a few web pages; almost nobody knew I existed. But that is when I started getting emails and phone calls from Americans who told me that they had seen a live pterosaur. I had not yet written any book or gone on any expedition or been noticed by any “real” cryptozoologist.

To be brief, eyewitnesses kept coming to me from 2004 until the present, one every few weeks or so, mostly Americans. (But before my expedition there were very few, about two, who initiated contact with me.)

These people are usually more afraid of telling people about what they saw than they were afraid of what they saw. And about (very roughly) 2-out-of-3 are afraid that they can no longer have full confidence in their senses.

So only about 25%-40% of what I call credible eyewitnesses of pterosaurs are even capable of talking to anybody about what they saw. And of those who are capable of it, I guess only about 20% maximum actually telephone or email a cryptozoologist. From the responses I have received, I estimate maybe 100, mimimum, have contacted a cryptozoologist about what they have seen (sightings: 1980 to the present). And most of them have found and chosen someone other than me to talk with. That’s how I got “1400.”

And I believe 1400 is a conservative estimate.

Jonathan David Whitcomb

Why not all pterosaurs were huge, they apparently were very visible predators. Also, unlike the sightings being documented as “pterosaurs” that tend to match early reconstructions of leathery-winged pterosaurs, new evidence exists pointing to extinct pterosaurs being covered in fuzz and such, as illustrated. ~ Loren

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

20 Responses to “Author Defends “1400 Witnesses of Pterosaurs” Statement”

  1. MattBille responds:

    Leaving aside the questions about how pterosaurs survived 60M years with no fossil record, this topic sparks the same question I have about thunderbirds – where are the nests? If there’s a breeding population, it can’t just be in one area – these sightings are from all over the country.

    Granted, this is not an insurmountable problem (as it seems to me it is with thunderbirds) because pterosaurs apparently did not build big nests like birds of prey do. A survey of the literature online indicates they either put their eggs in rudimentary nests, or even on bare rock, or possibly buried them alligator-style. Still, no mountain climber anywhere has ever found a nest, or big leathery eggshells?

    And 1,400 witnesses sounds like a lot, but in a nation with millions of birders with cameras, and perhaps 100M people with video cameras and/or camera phones, the evidence for any big flying creature should be a lot better than it is.

    Good discussion follows Darren Naish’s article, “Pterosaurs alive in, like, the modern day!” (December 23, 2007).

  2. cryptidsrus responds:

    I appreciate the response by Whitcomb.

    I have no problem imagining many, many people having seen Pterosaurs over our skies and other skies—
    But 1400 of them?

    Mmm… Maybe, maybe not.

    I do agree that it is probably right it is a “conservative” estimate if it is true.

    What people forget is that NOBODY likes to be ridiculed. So most are going to keep soemthing like this a secret. I’m almost sure a good portion of the US public has seen “weird stuff” sometime in their lives and decided to keep quiet about it without any fanfare.
    Worth pondering about, anyway.

  3. cryptidsrus responds:

    “Only a reader who is both sensitive to controversy and opposed to Biblical creation might take limited offense at this limited part of LPA.”

    I don’t think many here will QUITE see it that way, Mr. Whitcomb. 🙂
    But I do get what you mean, though.

    Again—thanks for responding, Mr. Whitcomb.

  4. norman-uk responds:

    For me Cryptozoology is about possibilities of exciting creatures being alive and pterosaurs take the biscuit ! A luminescent gnat might catch my attention, if discovered, but not for long. Just look at the pictures above of the giant pterosaur doesn’t it give you a frisson?

    I’m happy and appreciative of Jonathan Whitcomb has/is doing research and am interested in his new insights. I wont be put off by the bits where I might think he is wrong. Nor if he mentions creationism, its his book and his opinion,

    Most of the PT sightings appear to be old. I think the most likely explanation is increasing rarity because of the growth of human populations and planetary exploitation taking away or polluting including by disease, huge and niche slabs of natural environment. While understanding it is probably necessary and for my own good after the credit crunch, I flinch when politicians boast ”we have now resumed economic growth again” and can again watch the little chalk quarry down the road getting huger and huger. How do we still manage to have a komodo dragon ?

    The absence of PT from the fossil record has been quoted as a prime reason for it not being still alive. It surley is, but is it still only a probability of less than 100%. Against that are eyewitness reports, certainly fewer than eyewitness and to me this means there is a chance of PT or there similar descendants being alive and this remaining as an open and interestinq question. A probability maybe in the 80%s

    Mattebille you suggest that the absence of nests points to and absence of both thunderbirds and PT. Sure it does, but not altogether. They could be being naively stumbled upon all the time and if an interested party found one I foresee a rocky road for them after all they are a compromised witness aren’t they? An uninterested party is not likely to find one even if they sat and ate their pack up on it!

    Bad witnesses and problems of description and even apparent illogicalities are all part of the course in this situation, but when I look through the mists I see a possibility not to be ignored of somewhere in some rocky and untrod crags or impossible jungle a Ropen or some such and vive it!

  5. praetorian responds:

    While I also appreciate Mr. Whitcomb’s response, it clearly demonstrated to me that there is no real basis for the 1400 “estimate”. It’s a guess based on how many people he believes go to the trouble of actually reporting a Pterosaur sighting compared to the number that he believes actually see Pterosaurs.

    This offers no insight at all into how many people have actually seen Pterosaurs in North America. It’s a number derived by extrapolating from a number which is itself, in the absence of a well-researched and documented database of sightings, unsubstantiated.

    This is circular reasoning. You can’t prove an unproven (the estimated total number of North American Pterosaur sightings) with another unproven (the number of researched and documented North American Pterosaur sightings).

    A detailed accounting of all the sightings researched and documented by the author would need to be offered before anything could be extrapolated from the data. The numbers Whitcomb provides indicate what we should reasonably expect in terms of the number of documented sightings. He states,

    “Eyewitnesses kept coming to me from 2004 until the present, one every few weeks or so, mostly Americans. (But before my expedition there were very few, about two, who initiated contact with me.)”.

    Generously allowing one sighting reported to Mr. Whitcomb every week for fifty-two weeks (five years) gives us 260 sightings. No estimate he makes has any relevance in the absence of a thorough accounting for the details of each of these sightings and any efforts Mr. Whitcomb has made to investigate them.

    Even if such an accounting were forthcoming, it doesn’t offer a particularly convincing basis for estimating the total number North American Pterosaur sightings (reported plus unreported). The author relies on too many uncertain variables (% of people who are capable of telling someone about their sighting, % of those people who report their sighting to a cryptozoologist, % of those people who chose to report their sighting to a cryptozoologist other than the author.

    Speculation is fine, but it doesn’t amount to much in the absence a factual basis.

  6. DWA responds:

    As someone who considers the evidence for large bipedal apes compelling, to say the least, I still have to agree with Matt Bille that there should be better evidence for these kinds of animals if they’re around.

    Pterosaurs would be in my opinion much more susceptible to multiple-witness sightings (they’re up there, after all). Size and shape set them apart from birds. And hidden nesting sites seem to me at the least problematical. It may be (as I’m convinced it is with, say, the sasquatch) that many people who come across “proof” simply want no part of being the butt of jokes; they say, I know, and that’s enough.

    I just think (subjectively, I admit) that this kind of animal would be easier to document if they still existed.

  7. cryptidsrus responds:


    I tend to agree with you.
    Like I said, 1400 sightings is a bit too much for me. Although I don’t PERSONALLY doubt that some of those are “real.” But that’s me. It may be that Whitcomb is “inflating” the “statistics” to bolster his case. Could be. Like you said (and I’ve said, too) many don’t want tp be the Butt of Jokes. So they keep their mouths shut.

    I once read a non-scientific, “paranormal” explanation that these Pterosaurs may be “interdimensional” and can weave in and out of our “dimension.” That would be a possible explanation of why they are not seen more often. Ok…

    But I understand that that lies somewhat outside the paramaters of this blog. So I won’t won’t really go into it.

    But I do agree, DWA, that a non-ambiguous, recorded sighting and a BODY would be the “clincher.” Don’t think that will happen within our lifetimes, to be honest. Just being “realistic.” 🙂

  8. gavinf responds:

    First things first. I am a big fan of Mr Bille’s two books. Now to Mr Bille’s point. I’m not sure lack of visual evidence is truly that compelling. I know I have the tendency, and I am quite sure others do as well, to ignore the big picture. By that I mean I go to work each day, see the same sights, but don’t really see them. Most persons would see a large bird, or flying animal, and possibly ignore it, if they looked up in the sky at all. They might think, hey, I wonder what that was, and ignore it.

    Also, climbers not finding a nest or egg doesn’t discourage me. Climbers probably climb similar routes or the same mountains so as to reach certain goals. I just think that is not enough to say no.

    Still, the idea of Pterosaurs vs Thunderbirds, I’d have to go with true birds.

  9. MattBille responds:

    Gavin, thanks for the comment on my books.
    This exchange brings to mind the problem of estimating how many things are actually happening in the world vs. how many are reported. This is speculated about a lot with sasquatch tracks. There are a thousand-plus known track events, and we can assume a decent proportion of those occurring close to civilization are reported or documented in some manner. How about those further out? Everyone agrees some tracks have been spotted in isolated areas where people rarely tread. Whether these are made by sasquatches or by unusually dedicated (or deranged) pranksters, it is also unarguable that some of these must exist where no witness ever comes across them. But how many? One for every reported event? A thousand?

    What I’m wondering is whether anyone has done a study on animal populations estimated from footprints vs. those counted by intensive ground/air surveys. I’m thinking about bears, since they are big, leave readily apparent tracks on most surfaces, and are studied heavily by game management agencies in the U.S. Has anyone ever done the type of study that says “there were X number of bear track sightings in the last year, which turned out to correspond to an actual population of XX bears in the area” ?

  10. norman-uk responds:

    Mr whitcombe
    With respect, I find your figures a bit confusing, you state a 100 people have contacted cryptozoologists from 1980 to about 2008, which at 5% of actual sightings would equate to 500. Does the figure for additional no of estimated reports 900 actual reports 180, come from additional reports made to you since 2004? Perhaps what you need is a ”Drake equation”. this made the scientific community comfortable for many years and did act as some sort of base for research I assume.
    DWA I find the average person doesnt look up much and a pterosaur can be any size and as say, a Californian Condor can be mistaken for a Thunderbird or a Pterosaur then they can be mistaken for a Californian Condor. A lot of people who look at birds often make arbitrary guesses about what they are, for example a lot of hawks look like sparrow hawks so nearly every hawk becomes a sparrow hawk when it probably could be something a rarer. Thus expectation is relevent, would you really expect to see a pterosaur and what would you do if you did? With hind sight, probably change your mind I should think.
    Perhaps that small percent of those that see pterosaurs and have some confidence, form that percent who report it and brave the ridicule. Not to be forgotten is that birds appearance can change, as in a bunch of crows when one minute an individual may appear large then small.
    Hopefully Mr Whitcomb and others can provide some sort of framework which will encourage more research, such as likely nesting sites, Mexico? Then has anybody looked for pterosaur hair?

  11. DWA responds:

    norman-uk: not that I can argue with what you’re saying. After all, the sasquatch isn’t proven, and I’m pretty much in the tank for the compelling nature of that evidence.

    It’s just that I would expect this to get …well, the kind of attention the sasquatch and yeti have gotten, from the same kind of people, if the evidence had the same frequency and coherence, and it kind of makes me suspicious that it doesn’t seem to have.

    I guess my subjective take – subject as always to better acquaintance with the evidence – is that it’s much easier for a cryptid to stay low to the ground if it doesn’t have to fly for a living.

  12. jdwhitcomb responds:

    Loren: I think I understand your comment: “unlike the sightings being documented as “pterosaurs” that tend to match early reconstructions of leathery-winged pterosaurs, new evidence exists pointing to extinct pterosaurs being covered in fuzz and such.”

    Did you know that the living-pterosaurs investigations that started in the mid-1990’s were in Papua New Guinea? Some reports were of large flying creatures that were covered with hair. The Woetzel-Guessman expedition of 2004 (a few weeks after my own expedition) involved detailed questionnaires, the main one being two pages long. There was also a silhouette page: 34 images of birds, bats, and pterosaurs. See here.

    Only two eyewitnesses who had good-enough sightings to see wing-shape–those two both chose the Sordes Pilosus out of the 34 images. And “Pilosus” is Latin: “hairy.”

    It is true that some eyewitnesses that my associates and I deem credible mention leathery skin. But keep in mind that from more than a few feet away, most human skin appears hairless. The typical distance between a human eyewitness and an obvious apparent pterosaur is, I believe, the distance that makes human skin appear hairless, although we know that human arms, legs, etc, are hardly hairless when unshaven.

    But there’s something else: Some people have less hair than others, even though we are all of the same species. It seems quite possible that some pterosaur species may have less hair than others. If I’m not mistaken, it is only SOME of the fossils that show evidence for hair or something hair-like. Is that right?

  13. jdwhitcomb responds:

    Re MattBille: “how pterosaurs survived 60M years with no fossil record”

    How would a paleontologist react to a newly discovered fossil of a pterosaur? That gives us a clue. The discovery of a pterosaur fossil, according to standard practice if I am not mistaken, causes that stratum to be dated according to the standard concept of when that creature lived. In other words, if a 5000-year-old fossil of a pterosaur were discovered tomorrow, the soil it was found in would be dated at millions of years old. What paleontologist would dare to suggest that the fossil was only thousands of years old?

    Never mind how that stratum was dated prior to the discovery; a pterosaur fossil could reset whatever opinions paleontologists had previously had about how old the soil was.

    For details, here and here.

  14. jdwhitcomb responds:

    MattBille: “1,400 witnesses sounds like a lot . . . cameras”

    1400 is actually my conservative estimate. Remember we are not dealing with millions of persons with cameras this year but 1400+ persons within the past 29+ years. Many of the sightings seem to be brief, some lasting just a few seconds. One teenager was going fishing, probably without a camera; two young adults were standing outside their house, mesmerized by what they saw and probably not thinking about leaving to get a camera; one man was on his front porch when a creature flew by too fast for him to get a camera (he knew it would be gone before he got back outside). So how many of those 1400+ (1980 to 2008) had a camera that they quickly got ready and accurately aimed and successfully shuttered when the creature was in clear view. I woud guess zero.

    Am I wrong because of biased speculation? Consider my experience: I was a professional legal videographer years ago. One day I had just crossed a street with an attorney-client. We were about to videotape an accident scene. With camcorder in hand, I saw a truck that had stopped just yards away from me; it had a carnival display that I found might make a great still image on one of my web pages. While thinking about turning on my camcorder, the signal light turned green and the truck drove away. I did not have time to both think and shoot video.

    In Papua New Guinea, in 1944, Duane Hodgkinson and his army buddy had one of the most famous ropen sightings on record. After the creature flew away, it returned to fly over the same clearing. After it flew away the second time, the men remembered that they were carrying a military camera.

    It can happen.

  15. praetorian responds:

    I’m not at all hostile to the idea of living Pterosaurs, Thunderbirds, ect. I also accept that many more things are witnessed than photographed. It always seemed likely to me, for example, that many fisherman here in the Northeast have probably seen “sea serpents” but never reported it. Why would they? Most of them don’t carry a camera and without proof what would they have to gain by telling anyone, except for a questionable reputation?

    My problem here isn’t Mr. Whitcomb’s premise, it’s his fuzzy math and circular reasoning. It’s fine to speculate, but to suggest that in the absence of real data simple speculation is somehow something more than simple speculation is poor practice for a researcher. It makes what may otherwise be a thoughtful inquiry seem silly.

  16. jdwhitcomb responds:

    To norman-uk

    7% of 1400 comes to a number (100) that is in the neighborhood of how many credible eyewitnesses I believe have reported obviously apparent pterosaurs to cryptozoologists or those who were acting as cryptozoologists during the interviews.

    You mentioned something related to misidentification. That comes up a lot. Speculating on generalities seems worthless when we can look at the specific sightings. In particular, many bird and bat species can be eliminated when the apparent pterosaur is extremely large. And the large size is sometimes based on comparison with objects of known size.

    One sighting involved estimating the length of the creature by the width of the road it flew over at low altitude (30 feet).

    The Hodgkinson sighting of 1944 is close to ideal for estimating the giant size of a “pterodactyl.” Two men were in a small clearing; on the opposite side of the clearing was the creature taking off into the air. There were no obstructions to their view. Hodgkinson was raised on a family farm: He knew about sizes of fields and sizes of objects in fields. He was quite capable of estimating size: The creature was close to the size as a Piper-Tri-Pacer airplane.

  17. norman-uk responds:

    Sorry JD,
    I made a mistake entering 5% instead of 20%, which was I thought the figure you gave. This would need a reported sightings base of 280 of course. But whatever the figure, I think its a brave soul who would let it be known they had seen a pterosaur and your estimate could therefore be near the truth.
    Someone might like to do some research into percentage reports as Mattebille suggests. There must be many areas where it might be useful. Im sure there are figure on reporting crime for example, so it wouldnt be a new science.
    I think it likely that there would be a lot more of the smaller pterosaurs about which would as I suggest, can commonly be mistaken for modern birds or bats. Mostly people dwell on the other side of the coin where modern birds or bats may be mistaken for pterosaurs methinks. That is the point I was trying to make.
    It seems a bit surprising that all pterosaurs would disappear at the same time. I wonder what the explanation for this would be? The apparent absence from the fossil record is indicative but not conclusive. Bearing in mind your point about a self fulfilling prophecy.
    Did you see ”Monster Hunter” where Josh Gates recorded anomolous lights in some jungle? Unfortunately I cannot remember where it was , as I havn’t taken his entertainment first programmes too seriously, perhaps I should!
    Thank you for opening my mind up about this subject and wish you success in your further research. You deserve it. Now what we need is a body or a bit of one!

  18. jdwhitcomb responds:

    fuzzy math and circular reasoning

    By “circular reasoning,” do you mean that I assume pterosaurs are still living and use that assumption to calculate (with some speculative percentages) a number of eyewitnesses, and then I use that number as evidence for living pterosaurs? Is that what you mean? That would sound like circular reasoning, indeed, . . . if that’s what had happened.

    There seems to be a misunderstanding, for I don’t remember giving out the number 1400 as an evidence that pterosaurs are still living. It is simply a very rough estimate of the number of Americans who have become very personally involved with this over the past three decades: personally observing obvious apparent live pterosaurs.

    The trauma of becoming an eyewitness of a living pterosaur deserves attention. I mention it in the opening page of my new book; I mention it on web pages; I repeat: This kind of cryptid sighting scares eyewitnesses in a way that Big Foot does not. Many persons have come to doubt their own sanity, to varying degrees. Our society has not allowed anyone to see and report, opening, the sighting of a dinosaur or pterosaur.

    “1400” in the press release demonstrates that many Americans have become involved in a shocking experience that they have struggled with. It is a number to impress us with its human meaning. A few hundred or a few thousand traumatized Americans who have to decide what to do about their experience–that is the main point. But still I believe “1400” is more useful than total ignorance of any idea of any quantity.

    I could have been sure to hit the mark by saying, “700-7000.” Maybe I should have included that somewhere in the press release. but 1400 I got it from specific testimonies, and specific percentages that were estimated from what information was given to me by eyewitnesses, including those who were standing next to others who never filed any report. “1400” may be offensive to mathematicians, but that is what we have.

    What is the alternative? What if I make no press release: Can we allow the American public to believe that the well-known newspaper report of three eyewitnesses in Texas is the extent of American eyewitnesses of pterosaurs? Or that one or two cowboys in Arizona, in the late 1800’s, make up the majority of American eyewitnesses? That is probably what many Americans think when the subject of eyewitnesses of pterosaurs comes up.

    I believe that “it is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.” When we start advocating the investigation of these reports, then more eyewitnesses will come forward and we will have more data to calculate things more accurately.

    Please consider the eyewitnesses who have no religious point to make, no philosophy to prove, no evolution to disprove. Consider the eyewitnesses who simply want to be heard with an open mind.

  19. chupachups responds:

    … and why would anyone be opposed to “biblical creation” being in a “science” book? /sarcasm>

  20. valst responds:

    Interesting analysis of UFO’s over lake Erie as glowing pterosaurs: Bioluminescent Pterosaurs Over Lake Erie-And Elsewhere?

    The original Story Here: UFOs Over Lake Erie?

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