Living Pterodactyls Haunt Our Skies
by David Hatcher Childress
This article is a bit of a rehash of other items on the site.
Reports of strange flying reptiles, some quite large, have continued well into modern times. As we shall see, reports of pteranodons, dragons, thunderbirds, and other similar monsters, are relatively common. Could the sudden rash of Chupacabras attacks and sightings be related to the occasional rash of pteranodon sightings?
Many of the aspects of the Chupacabras and living pteranodons seem to match. They are both monsters and flesh eaters. Pteranodons may well drink blood and gorge themselves on internal organs, which are easy to eat.
Carrion birds such as vultures and condors eat the exposed softer flesh first, lips, eyes, underbelly, etc. It would seem natural for pteranodons to do this as well.
Admittedly, the Chupacabras' supposed habit of draining all the blood from two small holes on the neck, similar to the familiar vampires of lore, seems more fiction than reality.
In Chile, animals were actually disappearing or being half eaten. Pteranodons are vicious meat eaters with very sharp teeth and claws to rip open victims. They apparently feed at night, much like owls. Their survival in the mountains of northern Mexico and the southern Andes has been theorized for decades by cryptozoologists.
Giant bats, huge super—eagles called "pteratorns" and weird "mothmen" have all been put forward as explanations of these various reports. Now I come forward to state, unequivocably, that I believe these legends and sightings can be attributed to still—living flying dinosaurs-to pterodactyls or, more precisely, pteranodons.We know that these creatures once existed because of the fossil record. Sightings have continued to this day, and legends abound, but where is the physical evidence that these creatures still exist?
One thing that must be first understood is that fossils are anomalous geological artifacts, typically made because of some cataclysm or volcanic disaster. Most animals when they die, naturally or by a predator, simply decay and return to dust.
The point here is that a pterodactyl that died in a desert or jungle or mountain crag 1,000 years ago (or even 10) would not have left a fossil behind for us to prove to us that it had been there.
The second thing that must be understood about these amazing flying animals is that they are nocturnal and live only in extremely remote and uninhabited areas of the earth. Even so, there are literally hundreds of reports of giant birds and flying lizards showing up around the world.
The most amazing pteranodon fossil ever discovered was at Big Bend National Park in Texas. The park was the site of the discovery of the skeleton of a giant pteranodon in 1975. It had a wingspan of 51 feet and is the largest fossil of a flying reptile so far discovered. Other pterodactyls were much smaller and had wingspans from 8 to 20 feet.
Though pteranodons are believed to have become extinct about 65 million years ago, this may not necessarily be the case. Many creatures which lived at that time are still alive, such as crocodiles, turtles, and the famous coelacanth prehistoric fish.
Even the date of the fossil of the giant pteranodon found at Big Bend is in question. Since fossils cannot be dated by any known technical method, their age is guessed at from the geological strata around them, and since the current dating of geological strata is based on the prevailing Uniformitarian theory of slow geological change, the date of many fossils may be radically closer to our own than 65 million years.
Legends of Flying Reptiles
(This "dragon" pictured looks very much like a plant eating dinosaur-click here to read more about it.)
The Chinese have had legends for thousands of years of flying reptiles called dragons, and flying snakes as well- something apparently different. Flying reptile dragon images in China are so prevalent, they can easily be considered amongst the most common of motifs. Are they stylized depictions of real flying animals? The ancient Chinese certainly thought they were.
Similarly, most countries of Europe and the Mediterranean have myths and legends of heroes battling flying reptiles-or dragons. Often depicted as winged snakes or winged alligators, these dragons were a common image as well, and are still used in the crests of royal families.
Did dragons-flying reptiles-pterodactyls-still exist in small numbers, even up to the Middle Ages?
Almost every Indian tribe from Alaska to Tierro del Fuego has legends of a gigantic flying monster so large that, ". . . it darkened the sun." The clapping of these giants' wings created thunder, so they were known as "Thunderbirds."
The Navajo Indians still perform their Thunderbird dance, and tell the legends of the "cliff monster" which lived in a high craggy roost, descending to carry people off to feed to its young.
The Haida natives of the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia believe that some Thunderbirds were so large that they could literally pick up small whales from the sea. Much of their art and woodcarving depicts exactly such a capture by a Thunderbird.
Some South American Indians believed that the bird was constantly at war with the powers living beneath the sea, particularly a horned serpent, and that it tore open large trees in search of a giant grub which was its favorite food.
It has been suggested that the Thunderbird is in fact a living fossil-a pteranodon. Though few in number, especially these days, pterosaurs may have survived in small numbers in remote desert and mountain areas. Though it seems incredible, as I have stated, reports of "giant birds" and pteranodons continue to this day from around the world.
Pterodactyls in South America
Persistent legends and stories abound in South America of giant winged creatures. These stories have been told since before the Conquistadors arrived, and some seem to be based on far more recent sightings.
The following article appeared in a magazine called The Zoologist in July, 1868, dateline Copiapo, Chile, April 1868:
"Yesterday, at about five o'clock in the afternoon when the daily labours in this mine were over, and all the workmen were together awaiting their supper, we saw coming through the air, from the side of the ternera a gigantic bird, which at first sight we took for one of the clouds then partially darkening the atmosphere, supposing it to have been separated from the rest by the wind.
Its course was from north—west to south—east; its flight was rapid and in a straight line. As it was passing a short distance above our heads we could mark the strange formation of its body.
Its immense wings were clothed with something resembling the thick and stout bristles of a boar, while on its body, elongated like that of a serpent, we could only see brilliant scales which clashed together with metallic sound as the strange animal turned its body in its flight."
Also in South America, a Mr. J. Harrison of Liverpool said that when he was navigating an estuary of the Amazon in 1947 called Manuos, he and others observed from the boat's deck a flight of five huge birds passing overhead and down the river in a V—formation. But they were no ordinary birds, said Mr. Harrison in a letter:
"The wingspan must have been at least twelve feet from tip to tip. They were brown in colour like brown leather, with no visible signs of feathers. The head was flat on top, with a long beak and a long neck. The wings were ribbed." He said that the creatures "were just like those large prehistoric birds."
A similar incident in South America was published in 1992 by the Australian weekly magazine People. In this encounter, a small commuter aircraft nearly crashed into a giant flying lizard over the mountain jungles of Brazil.
A U.S. anthropologist named Dr. George Biles was supposedly aboard the plane of 24 passengers and was quoted as saying, "This was a classic case of a white pterodactyl with a giant wingspan.
Of course, I've heard the rumors for many years that these prehistoric creatures still roamed the Amazon. But I was skeptical like everybody else. But that wasn't an airplane or a UFO flying beside us. It was a pterodactyl."
The People story says that the pterodactyl was flying alongside the plane as it was preparing to land and that the pilot veered away to avoid colliding with the "giant bird."
A stewardess named Maya Cabon is quoted as saying, "Here was this giant monster flying right next to the plane. He was only a few feet away from the window-and he looked right at me.
I thought we were all going to die." No actual size is given in the story, and tales like this start becoming suspect when the pilot is quoted as saying ". . . he was coming straight at us and he was mighty big!". . .
The Feathered Serpent
In the mythology and religion of Central America there is the very real tradition of Quetzalcoatl, of the Feathered Serpent (While Quetzalcoatl was a man, or series of men, he was named after the "feathered serpent.").
Was there such an animal at one time-a flying reptile? Biologists say yes, pterosaurs or pteranodons, but they have been extinct for millions of years. Or have they? And could they be one possible explanation for some of the Chupacabras sightings?
Film of a pterodactyl flying over the Yucatan was widely viewed in the early 1970s, according to famous cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in his book, Mysterious America.
Carvings of what appear to be pteranodons can be found in Mayan ruins at Tajin, located in northeastern Vera Cruz state in Mexico.
Under the title "Serpent—Bird of the Mayans," Science Digest published a brief article in its November, 1968 issue on the subject of a pteranodon being possibly carved into a wall at the pyramid of Tajin.
Says the article, "An ancient Mayan relief sculpture of a peculiar bird with reptilian characteristics has been discovered in Totonacapan, in northeastern section of Veracruz, Mexico.
Jose Diaz—Bolio, a Mexican archaeologist—journalist responsible for the discovery, says there is evidence that the serpent—bird sculpture, located in the ruins of Tajin, is not merely the product of Mayan flights of fancy, but a realistic representation of an animal that lived during the period of the ancient Mayans- 1,000 to 5,000 years ago.
"If indeed such serpent—birds were contemporary with the ancient Mayan culture, the relief sculpture represents a startling evolutionary oddity. Animals with such characteristics are believed to have disappeared 130 million years ago. The acrhaeornis and the archaeopteryx, to which the sculpture bears a vague resemblance, were flying reptiles that became extinct during the Mesozoic age of dinosaurs.
"And since man did not appear, according to current geological charts, until about one million years ago, there appears to be a 129—million—year discrepancy. The twain (Mayan and serpent bird) never should have met. But Jose Diaz—Bolio is continuing his investigation, and he says that he knows of the existence of a serpent—bird skull that may hold a clue to the mystery once it has been identified."
The idea that the "feathered serpent" of the Mayas was a real animal has been a popular subject over the years. The concept that the Mayan feathered serpent was a long—necked flying reptile was used in the 1946 film The Flying Serpent starring George Zucco (featured in the Adventures Unlimited video Dinosaurs Alive!) and more recently in the 1982 David Carradine film Q-The Winged Serpent.
The "Q" stands for the Mayan word Quetzalcoatl, or "feathered serpent." While these grade—B movies have made little impact on audiences, they do show that the idea of flying serpents- also called pteranodons-are a popular belief along the Mexican border.
The Lost Pterodactyl Photo
According to the Fortean investigator John Keel, more than 20 people have written to him claiming to have seen a photo of a dead pterodactyl nailed to the side of a building in Tombstone, Arizona. Keel claims that he has seen this photo, too, but no one can remember where!
In his column "Beyond the Known" in the March 1991 issue of Fate magazine, Keel discusses this intriguing photograph at length. He also quotes from a letter from the son of a Pennsylvania man named Robert Lyman who had written numerous articles and books about the weird and the unknown. Lyman wrote about Thunderbirds in one of his books entitled Amazing Indeed:
"About 1900, two prospectors shot and carried into Tombstone, Arizona, one of these birds. When nailed against the wall of the Tombstone Epitaph building its wingspread measured 36 feet. A photograph showed six men standing under the bird with outstretched arms touching. One of them said: 'Shucks, there is no such bird, never was and never will be.'
I saw that picture in a daily paper. Many other persons remember seeing it. No one has been able to find it in recent years. Two copies were at Hammersley Fork only a few years ago. One burned in a home. The other was taken away by strangers.". . .
"Officer, There's a Pterodactyl in My Backyard!"
That there were sightings of pterodactyls in the 1800s, I have no doubt. In fact the sightings in the Sonora Desert continue to this day. In the early months of 1976, a rash of "flying reptile" sightings were reported in the Rio Grande River Valley along the Mexican—American border.
One of the first encounters was in the early hours of December 26, 1975 when a rancher named Joe Suárez discovered that a goat he had tied up in a corral in Raymondville, Texas (about 30 miles north of the Rio Grande in southeastern Texas), had been ripped to pieces and partially eaten by some unknown assailant.
The goat had been mauled from the right side and was lying in a pool of blood with the heart and lungs missing with the snout bitten away. The blood was still wet and warm when police officers examined the carcass.
They could find no footprints around the goat and concluded that a flying creature of unknown origin had caused the death.
Then, in the same town, on January 14, 1976 at about 10:30 in the evening on the north side of Raymondville, a young man named Armando Grimaldo was sitting in the backyard of his mother—in—law's house when he was attacked by a strange winged creature.
"As I was turning to go look over on the other side of the house," said Armando to the Raymondville press, "I felt something grab me, something with big claws. I looked back and saw it and started running. I've never been scared of nothing before but this time I really was. That was the most scared I've ever been in my whole life."
This strange flying attacker had dived out of the sky-and it was something Grimaldo described as being about six feet tall with a wingspread he estimated as being from ten to twelve feet. Its skin was blackish—brown, leathery and featherless. It had huge red eyes.
Grimaldo was terrified. He screamed and tried to run but tripped and fell face first into the dirt. As he struggled up to continue running for his mother—in—law's house, the beast's claws continued to attempt to grasp him securely, tearing his clothes, which were now virtually ripped to shreds.
He managed to dive under a bush and the attacking animal, now breathing heavily, flew away into the sky.
Grimaldo then crashed into the house, collapsing on the floor, muttering "pájaro" (Spanish for bird) over and over again. He was taken to the hospital, treated for shock and minor wounds, and released.
Blazing Red Eyes
A short time later, in nearby Brownsville, on the Rio Grande, a similar creature slammed into the mobile home of Alverico Guajardo on the outskirts of town. Alverico went outside his trailer to investigate the crash into his house.
When he noticed a large animal next to the crash site, he got into his station wagon and turned the lights on to see the creature, which he later described as "something from another planet."
As soon as the lights hit it, the thing rose up and glared at him with blazing red eyes. Alverico, paralyzed with fear, could only stare back at the creature whose long, batlike wings were wrapped around its shoulders.
All the while it was making a "horrible—sounding noise in its throat." Finally, after two or three minutes of staring into the headlights of the station wagon, it backed away to a dirt road a few feet behind it and disappeared in the darkness.
These were just the first of a number of bizarre encounters with seemingly prehistoric "birds." Also in January of 1976, two sisters, Libby and Deany Ford, spotted a huge and strange "big black bird" by a pond near Brownsville.
The creature was as tall as they were and had a "face like a bat." They later identified it out of a book of prehistoric animals as a pteranodon.
The San Antonio Light newspaper reported on February 26, 1976, that three local school teachers were driving to work on an isolated road to the south of the city on February 24 when they saw an enormous bird sweeping low over cars on the road.
It had a wingspan of 15-20 feet and leathery wings. It did not so much fly, as glide. They said that it was flying so low that when it swooped over the cars its shadow covered the entire road.
As the three watched this huge flying creature, they saw another flying creature off in the distance circling a herd of cattle. It looked, they thought, like an "oversized seagull." They later scanned encyclopedias at their school, and identified the creature as a pteranodon.
The sightings of flying reptiles over Texas subsided for a while, but then on September 14, 1982, James Thompson, an ambulance technician from Harlingen, saw a "birdlike object" pass over Highway 100 at a distance of 150 feet or more above the pavement. The time was 3:55 in the morning, and this huge flying creature was obviously a night hunter.
"I expected him to land like a model airplane," Thompson told the Valley Morning Star, the local Rio Grande newspaper. "That's what I thought he was, but he flapped his wings enough to get above the grass.
It had a black or grayish rough texture. It wasn't feathers. I'm quite sure it was a hide—type covering. I just watched him fly away." It was as the others had described the same flying creature: a "pterodactyl—like bird."
Diving "Big Bird"?
Fortean writers Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark made extensive investigations of the "Big Bird" sightings in Texas and later published their results in the book Creatures of the Goblin World.
They chronicle all of the above incidents, and a number of others. They even obtained fecal matter from what was thought to be a pterodactyl. Although they report that the fecal matter was being analyzed, they do not give the results.
Coleman and Clark also tell the strange story of James Rowe, a retired Corpus Christi newsman, who recalled the story of a man who ran a grocery store along Corpus Christi Beach. The unnamed man was fishing along the Nueces River before the Wesley Seale Dam was built (1958) when something grabbed his hook and took off downstream.
The thing almost took all of his line before he got it turned around, then it headed upstream just as far. "He fought it and fought. Then finally the thing just climbed out of the water on a sandbar across the river from where he was standing. It was this creature with fur and feathers and it just took the hook out of its mouth. Then it climbed up a tree.
"The fellow had a pistol in his tackle box, so he took it out and started to shoot at the animal. Then as he took aim, the thing just flew away."
While this may sound like a Texas tall tale, it is curious to note here that tales of the Kongamato in Zaire/Congo/Angola also mention that the animal goes underwater and can fly as well, similar to loons, grebes, pelicans and other birds. It sounds bizarre, but then, why would people make up this unusual bit of information concerning these "monsters"?
The above stories aside, other tales were taken more seriously, even by the police. Unlike most of the others, one incident took place in daylight hours on January 1, 1976, near Harlingen, Texas. Two children, Tracey Lawson, 11, and her cousin Jackie Davies, 14, were playing in the Lawsons' backyard while their parents slept off the excesses of New Year's Eve. The two children were playing in a large backyard that faced a plowed field five miles south of Harlingen along Ed Carey Road.
Suddenly, Tracey noticed something standing a hundred yards away. Dashing inside, she picked up a pair of binoculars and returned to focus on a "horrible—looking" huge black bird.
She described it as over five feet tall with big, dark red eyes, with wings bunched up at its shoulders, which were three feet wide. Its face was grey in color and "gorilla—like."
It had a beak, however, that was sharp, thick, and at least six inches long. The head was bald. On one occasion during the sighting the thing made a loud, shrill "eeeee" sound.
The children were amazed and frightened. The creature suddenly disappeared, apparently flying low over a quarry or "borrow pit" along an irrigation canal, and then reappeared on the northeast corner of the property, its head poking above a small clump of trees.
The children, more and more frightened, went inside the house and stayed. Later, the parents were disinclined to believe the story they were told upon awakening, but the next day Jackie's stepfather, Tom Waldon, went to the Lawson property to look for tracks to satisfy his stepson. To his surprise, he found several three—toed tracks from some unknown creature.
The first three tracks were close to the fence behind the house. The fourth print was 20 yards out into the field, and the fifth 20 yards beyond that. The tracks were three—toed, eight inches across, square at the head, and were pressed an inch and a half into the hard ground. Later, after the police and Stan Lawson arrived, the entire group examined the prints and decided that the children had been telling the bizarre truth.
Stan Lawson, who weighed 170 pounds, pressed his own foot down alongside the bird print and found it made practically no impression. "That thing must have been pretty heavy," he said later.
Coleman and Clark also mention that Stan Lawson had noticed something strange about their dog's behavior. All day it cowered inside the doghouse leaving it only once, at suppertime, when Lawson went to feed it and it bolted through the door into the main house.
It had to be dragged back outside. And that night, around 10:00, Lawson heard something like large wings scraping across his bedroom window screen, but he saw nothing. In the morning he found that the screen was torn.
One puzzling part of the information is the frequent report that these strange, flying creatures have a face like a gorilla, monkey or a man. Even with a beak, it seems to have a short, flat face, rather than a long narrow pointed head as we typically associate with pterodactyls.
However, some pteranodons had short, flat faces, and some had no beak whatsoever. For instance, a pterosaur known as the Anurognathus had a stubby face and sharp teeth; the Batrachognathus had a flat face, forward claws and extremely sharp teeth. Such a creature was perfectly suited for eating a goat, or even a larger animal. It would also have the appearance of a gorilla with a beak. . . .
Remote Nests in the Desert?
It seems likely that if Thunderbirds/pterodactyls live in this day and age, they must be nesting in some pretty remote and probably mountainous area. The most likely area for any concentration of flying lizards still surviving would have to be in the Sonora Desert in Mexico, just south of Arizona and New Mexico.
From this area it would be quite possible for pterodactyls to still live largely undisturbed and unseen by civilization.
Mexico's Sierra Madre Oriental, only 200 miles east of the Rio Grande sightings, is one of the least explored regions of North America. Flying reptiles or huge birds could still live in such a region, especially if they were mainly nocturnal.
Creatures of the Goblin World, Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, 1978, Clark Publications, Chicago.
Lost Cities of North &Central America, David Hatcher Childress, 1994, Adventures Unlimited Press, Kempton, IL.
Megagods, Jim Woodman, 1987, Pocket Books, New York. The Mothman Prophecies, John Keel, 1975, Signet Books, New York.
Mysterious America, Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, 1983, Faber &Faber, Boston.
Mystery in Acambaro, Charles Hapgood, 2000, Adventures Unlimited Press, Kempton, IL.