I Thought I Saw A Terror Saur! Do Prehistoric Flying Reptiles Still Exist?

Posted by: Karl Shuker on October 7th, 2013

Those iconic winged reptiles of prehistory known as the pterosaurs died out alongside the last dinosaurs over 60 million years ago… didn’t they? Most mainstream zoologists would say that they did. Then again, most mainstream zoologists have probably never heard of the kongamato, the ropen, the duah, or a veritable phalanx of other winged mystery beasts reported from around the world that bear a disconcerting resemblance to those supposedly long-vanished rulers of the ancient skies.

Pterosaur, red engraving

Could these cryptozoological creatures possibly be surviving pterosaurs? Read their histories here, and judge for yourself.

Further details can be found here at my ShukerNature blog.

Karl Shuker About Karl Shuker
My name is Dr Karl P.N. Shuker. I am a zoologist (BSc & PhD), media consultant, and the author of 25 books and hundreds of articles, specialising in cryptozoology and animal mythology. I have a BSc (Honours) degree in pure zoology from the University of Leeds (U.K.), and a PhD in zoology and comparative physiology from the University of Birmingham (U.K.). I have acted jointly as consultant and major contributor to three multi-author volumes on cryptozoology and other mysterious phenomena. I am the Life Sciences Consultant to The Guinness Book of Records/Guinness World Records (Guinness: London, 1997-present day), and was consultant to Monsters (Lorenz Books: London, 2001), as well as a contributor to Mysteries of the Deep (Llewellyn: St Paul, 1998), Guinness Amazing Future (Guinness: London, 1999), The Earth (Channel 4 Books: London, 2000), and Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (Chambers: London, 2007). I appear regularly on television & radio, was a consultant for the Discovery TV series Into the Unknown, and a question setter for the BBC's quiz show Mastermind. I am a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, a Member of the Society of Authors, and the Cryptozoology Consultant for the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ). I have written articles for numerous publications, including Fortean Times, The X Factor, Paranormal Magazine, FATE, Strange Magazine, Prediction, Beyond, Uri Geller's Encounters, Phenomena, Alien Encounters, Wild About Animals, All About Cats, All About Dogs, Cat World, etc. In 2005, I was honoured by the naming of a new species of loriciferan invertebrate after me - Pliciloricus shukeri.

8 Responses to “I Thought I Saw A Terror Saur! Do Prehistoric Flying Reptiles Still Exist?”

  1. NMRNG responds:

    Do they exist? No.

    I can accept that the planet’s oceans are so vast and deep that there are likely still some large vertebrate species we haven’t yet discovered. I can accept that a large North American ape could be intelligent and wary enough to take active steps to avoid contact with humans, but no reptile or bird is that smart. For such an animal to exist in sufficient numbers to have a breeding population, there would have to be a lot more sightings. A pterosaur would be much more visible flying about looking for food or shelter than a land-based animal that can hide in trees and brush.

    What people are seeing are storks or pelicans – either type of bird resembles the pterosaur drawing above. This is a case of misidentification.

  2. cryptokellie responds:

    Aside from being one of the life forms that were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous, pterosaurs were also being out competed in many niches by actual, modern-type birds which had become globally well established by then. The very fact birds survived the KT boundary and that pterosaurs did not, speaks to a fault lying somewhere within their design and function. While successful for eons, pterosaurs were becoming more and more specialized toward the end of their reign with the more general birds, of the time, replacing them in many habitats. In general they were becoming larger and more adapted to scavenging over wider areas than the smaller hunting and more localized birds. Soaring birds, the only true scavenging vertebrates alive today, were not filling those roles in the Cretaceous and moved into them after the pterosaurs were gone.

    As for pterosaurs being alive today…the possibility exists – however feint – that some evolved form could have continued in certain localized environs but, they wouldn’t be anything like the flying reptiles being reported in these cited sightings. I believe that to have survived to the present they would have adapted some of the aspects of their ancestral forms; such as anurognathus, small body size, less wing area leaving the legs and feet unattached to the wing membrane and perhaps the complete loss of the tail. They would be more arboreal than flighted, taking wing only when necessary. They could fill the niche inhabited that the flying squirrels or the marsupial sugar gliders do in other areas. Unfortunately, the pterosaur sightings reported today are of late Jurassic and Cretaceous forms which were highly specialized and in truth would have no chance competing with todays modern raptors. Surviving pterosaurs alive today? Improbable but not impossible.

  3. Goodfoot responds:

    Like Mothman was a Sandhill Crane, right? If you will look up their range, the easternmost of their range is roughly 500 miles west of Point Pleasant. Please DO look it up, will you? No one would mistake the head of a Sandhill Crane for something the size of a humanoid head. A Sandhill Crane’s head is at most about 4 inches wide.

    You try WAY too hard, NMRNG. And fail badly. I have zero proof of living pterosaurs, but tales abound of sightings in West Texas, which is exactly the sort of place one might expect they might could still exist.

    I don’t have enough to believe or disbelieve it, but I pay very close attention to sighting reports of all kinds. And I believe there’s a chance, based on reports, that it could be true.

  4. NMRNG responds:

    I try too hard??? Having more than an ounce of common sense means my ideas are failures to you, Goodfoot? At what point on the spectrum between sasquatch, Nessie, remnant dinosaurs, and the tooth fairy do you start getting skeptical? I’m guessing you’re somewhere between the Great Pumpkin and the Easter Bunny on that scale.

    I would have thought that someone coming here open-minded but asking the challenging questions that the Believers want to avoid would be viewed as a person who is seeking to strengthen the credibility of those who are interested in and research cryptids, but it appears not. It seems that there are a core of ignorantly arrogant old timers on this site who like to scream “Jabronies!!!” at the certain hoaxes and obviously improbable claims, but then accept hook, line and sinker every shred of potentially plausible evidence without tolerating debate on the issue. I think the irony of the situation will go over the heads of people like GoodFoot, but these self-proclaimed “sensible Believers” are engaging in the same sort of dismissive attitudes and tactics as the close-minded scientists and academics, the ones scoffing at the idea of cryptozoology, who they despise so much.

    Goodfoot, I’ve read a number of your comments here and it is clear that you view yourself as some sort of clever curmudgeon. However, aside from joining in on slamming the hoaxes perpetrated by clowns with an 80 IQ, you don’t seem to ever have anything intelligent or thoughtful to say – you simply function in some degree of perpetual negative attack mode. Perhaps you should try to figure out what is going wrong with your life and fix the root of that problem, rather than get a petty ego boost getting snarky with people here on this website.

  5. NMRNG responds:

    Incidentally, I’ve never once commented on the Mothman and haven’t researched into it enough to assert an opinion on the likelihood of its existence, so Goodfoot, to the extent that you were implying that I’ve said anything about it, you fail at that.

    But you also fail as to geography and the range of the Sandhill Crane. I have Sandhill Cranes in my backyard at least once a month and I see them probably 5-6 days a week within 3 miles of my house – since the spring, I rarely go more than a day without spotting two or three of them in fields on my way in to work. I punched in Point Pleasant, WV into MapQuest and I appear to live about 325 to 350 miles west of where the Mothman was sighted.

    I then did a bit a further research, and found that the eastern population of Greater Sandhill Cranes winters in eastern Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida and flies north in the spring to nest in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, southwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba. So Point Pleasant appears to be someplace on the eastern edge, or at the very least rather close to it (maybe 50-100 miles, not 500) of the crane migratory path.

  6. NMRNG responds:

    One other thing that makes me convinced that the vast majority of sightings of alleged pterosaurs are misidentification with birds is the rather extreme difficulty in gauging accurately the size of a bird in flight.

    There have been a number of posts here purporting to show photos of a “black panther” and there was a MonsterQuest episode on that cryptid. Most of those photos were of nothing more than a black-colored American Shorthair – a domestic housecat. Shown in a field with few significant reference points against which to compare the size of the animal, it is not difficult to overestimate the cat’s size. Hell, people did that for 60 years with the Surgeon’s Photo of Nessie, until someone bothered to notice how small the allege lake monster was in comparison to the size of the waves in the background.

    In the air, it is much easier to misjudge size, as there are typically are no nearby or helpful reference points. Is it a cryptid with a 12′ wingspan at 300′ height or a bird with a 5-6′ wingspan flying 150′ off the ground? California Condors have not infrequently been spotted at altitude and confused with airplanes, which have at least triple to quadruple the wingspan of a condor.

    I myself have significantly underestimated the size of Sandhill Cranes’ wingspans when observing them in flight. I know they are a tall bird – I’ve seen them walk near 3′ rose bushes in my yard and they are nearly a foot taller. Yet when I’ve seen them in flight (dozens of times too, I might add), I would have estimated their wingspan was in the 4′ to 5′ range. Their actual wingspan is in the 6′ to 7′ range, so my estimate may have been off by as much as 75%.

    Another factor that makes a large bird like a crane, stork, pelican, or even a somewhat smaller Great Blue Heron seem larger than they actually are is how slowly they fly. These large birds flap their wings at half or less of the numbers of flaps compared to other relatively larger birds one commonly sees, such as a Canada goose or a crow. The slower wing beats seem somewhat prehistoric and they resemble what one would assume a pterosaur would look like in flight.

    Jeff Meldrum has a diagram in his Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, showing the profile of a standing bear versus a sketch of the typically reported sasquatch, and I thought that comparison was one of the very most convincing illustrations in the entire book. The narrow shoulders of a bear look much different than the very broad shoulders one typically hears reported in a sasquatch sighting and the comparative illustration shows how dissimilar the two large mammals appear. I think the odds of confusing a standing and walking bear with a sasquatch to be rather lower than the popular perception. In contrast, the body shapes, lack of reference points and slow flight of a larger bird could easily be confused with that of a pterosaur.

    Let’s also consider the number of pterosaurs that would be needed to establish a breeding population – it would have to number in the several hundreds, at least. There should have been enough that we would have more reports, not just a few historical and a few modern day ones. By 1987, wildlife biologists knew where every single last wild California Condor lived and captured all 22 of them to establish a breeding population in zoos where, free from risk of predation, accidental falls from a nest, and starvation, their numbers have swollen to 435, about 60% of which have been reintroduced into the wild. How is it that we have known for many decades where the very tiny number of condors live, but no one has ever known of where even a single nest of a larger, presumably similar carrion-feeding pterosaur may be found? Does that sound at all plausible, that this species can simply hide itself so easily and completely? I know West Texas is sparsely populated, but there are an awful lot of hunters and ranchers who move around periodically through that area who must surely have seen some signs of nesting if there were any.

    Show me conclusive proof of a 21st century pterosaur and I’ll admit I’m wrong. Until them, I think it is simply wishful thinking to equate one of these incidents involving misidentification of a bird with the continued existence of a flying dinosaur.

  7. cryptokellie responds:

    Remember, Pterosaurs were flying reptiles, in their own group, and not in any way…dinosaurs.

    In fact, until fossil evidence is discovered to suggest otherwise, there were no flying dinosaurs and no marine dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were wholly terrestrial.

  8. corrick responds:


    Wonderful stuff. cryptokellie you as well. Critical thinking on this site is in short supply. My thanks to you both.

    Little to add about existing pterosaurs to NMRNG’s spot on comments.

    But about sandhill cranes and Mothman, I will add that vagrant sandhill cranes are not uncommon to eastern Ohio and West Virginia and were observed there during the Mothman “flap.” And been identified in PA, NY and naturally NJ. (Jersey Devil!) They mate for life. Those two “red eyes” caught in the headlights? A sandhill crane pair standing close together or a six-foot tall, six-limbed vertebrate? Your choice.

    As for any speculation on unknown “giant birds,” pterosaurs or not, existing in North America? About less than zero. As Matt Bille pointed out a number of years ago, there is an army of avid birdwatchers out there that absolutely dwarfs the number of bigfoot enthusiasts. With as much passion and definitely as much hi-tech gear. But there are no known accounts of sightings from them of unknown giant birds. Or any unexplained large nests.

    Almost anything in the ocean is possible, but the existence of any undiscovered large bird like a pterosaur or even a teratornis is not responsible science. But very useful to sell books and grab TV eyeball ratings. And T-shirts.

    Good stuff by Karl though. And as always as original sources as possible.

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