Pterosaur Hoax or Genuine?

By the modern-pterosaur nonfiction author Jonathan Whitcomb

The following two questions are obviously irrelevant to extant-pterosaur research:

  • Has anyone ever created any hoax?
  • Has anyone ever misidentified anything?

Less obvious but mostly irrelevant to my investigations are the following questions:

  • Has anyone ever created a hoax photo that looked like it had a modern pterosaur?
  • Has anyone ever seen a non-pterosaur but thought it was one?

I mention the first one here because some skeptics have published examples of hoaxes as if that is evidence that any photograph that would show an apparent modern pterosaur is also a hoax. Photographs that prove meteors fall out of the sky are not evidence that no airplane has ever experienced an onboard fire during a flight, no matter how much one of them, at night, could resemble the other.

We’ll not go into confirmation bias or belief perseverance here, for I’ve written extensively on that elsewhere. We’ll not cover misidentification possibilities here, but we’ll look at hoax potential in an old photograph of an apparent Pteranodon.

The apparent Civil-War-era photograph called “Ptp”

In January of 2017, the physicist Cliff Paiva and I agreed that the old photograph now called Ptp has a genuine image of a modern pterosaur. Since January, we have found additional evidence for its authenticity, which is what should be expected for something that is genuine rather than a hoax.


The old photograph Ptp has been declared genuine by two scientists

The old photograph has been confirmed with much evidence for authenticity


Do not confuse this photo with one that was made to imitate it. The Haxan Films Freakylinks TV-show hoax image is a completely different photo.

Partial list of evidences that the photograph is old

  1. A tree branch under the beak is used to keep the man’s shoe motionless
  2. Another prop is seen, apparently to support the left wing
  3. The equipment worn by the soldiers is too realistic for most Civil War reenactors
  4. People remember seeing this photograph in a book in the mid-20th century

Partial list of evidences that it is a modern pterosaur

  1. Both wings are folded in a way consistent with some pterosaurs (wing inversion)
  2. The wings have both apparent biological-general-symmetry and differences in detail
  3. The scientist Clifford Paiva has found apparent blood effusion areas on the animal
  4. The neck curve is consistent with what would be expected of some pterosaurs
  5. The neck shows apparent muscle structure
  6. Although the wings show some interesting structure, it has no feathers
  7. The shoulders have lit/shade details consistent with a real animal (not Photoshop)
  8. Some of the head has structures correlating with what is known about a Pteranodon

Partial list of evidences Photoshop was not used in placing soldier-images onto a photograph

  1. With five of the six men, there’s absolutely no reason to paste their images onto a background of trees. Digital image-manipulation software (like Photoshop) would not be used by a hoaxer to do that kind of pasting
  2. With the sixth soldier (in front of the animal) his shoe on the beak castes a shadow consistent with other shadows seen on the animal
  3. The lighting is consistent from one soldier to another (darkness of shirts, etc)
  4. Pixel-widths of belt buckles and buttons are consistent with apparent distance between soldier and camera, with the apparent front soldier actually closest to the camera

Partial responses to criticisms by skeptics regarding potential Photoshop use

  1. The soldier on the far left is probably holding onto the ramrod of his rifle
  2. Soldier on the far right does NOT have a “halo” (it’s the tree-branch background)
  3. The shirts of the soldiers SHOULD be darker than the sunlit background



Confirmation bias and a photo of a modern pterosaur

Wampp has said, “his own approach and arguments seem to entail large doses of [confirmation bias],” when referring to me, yet he gives no explanation or example of it. I will do so, although he may not like it, for it points in a completely different direction from what he tries to portray in bampp.


Live Pterodactyl

Live pterosaurs? Says who? Well, the eyewitnesses. Sightings have been reported by not only natives but by Australians and Americans; not only at night but in daylight; not only by those who believed they would see a live pterosaurs but by those just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time . . .


About Jonathan Whitcomb

First page of the scientific paper“Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific” (in a peer-reviewed journal of science) . . .


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The American Civil War Ptp Pterosaur Photo

By the modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

What a controversy this old photograph seems to be stirring up! I’m talking about the photo with six soldiers standing over what appears to be a recently shot Pteranodon, what many Americans would call “pterodactyl.”

Image of an actual modern pterosaur in an old photograph

The proclaimed-genuine photograph “Ptp” has an apparent Pteranodon


Don’t confuse this photo with the Haxan Films Freakylinks TV-show hoax photo, which had apparent Civil War reenactors. It’s an obvious imitation of the older Ptp, but the fake photo had men who were only dressed to look like Civil War soldiers.

It’s not surprising that I (Jonathan Whitcomb) and the physicist Clifford Paiva should take the heat in this controversy, for we may have been the only persons in the United States who have proclaimed openly, after deeply analyzing it, that Ptp is genuine, and that this photo has an obvious image of a recently-living pterosaur, yes a modern “pterodactyl,” although this particular animal appears to have been recently shot dead.

Confirmation Bias

This is a tendency to interpret information or experience in a way that confirms one’s preexisting opinions. It’s related to belief perseverance, but there’s a difference. Let’s look at some examples.

Example of C. B.

Americans, and other Westerners, have been indoctrinated for generations, trained in the 19th century idea of universal extinctions of basic types of life, in particular dinosaurs and pterosaurs. When Americans see something in Ptp that looks unusual to them, like in the way one or more soldiers are standing or in the way one soldier’s shoe is on the beak of the apparent animal, they allow that to turn them away in disbelief, thinking that they have found evidence that the animal itself is a hoax of some kind. That is confirmation bias.

Example of Belief Perseverance

A few years ago, a cryptozoologist (we’ll call him AD) offered his interpretation of the identity of a flying creature that was seen by a man in the Philippines. The eyewitness report included the statement that the man, who had seen the animal, later went to some fishermen who told him of their own experiences with the animal.

AD came to the conclusion that the sighting was of a fish jumping out of the water. I then informed AD that he had only seen part of the report. The other part of the testimony, the part that AD had not yet read, was that the creature seen by the original eyewitness was seen flying over a city, not over water.

Yet AD continued to proclaim his belief that it was a fish jumping out of water, because the part of the report that he had first read included a reference to the eyewitness going to fishermen to get more information. That is belief perseverance.

Over a period of years, some people have seen hoax photos with Civil War soldiers or apparent soldiers, and they’re standing near what looks like a dead pterosaur or a dead dinosaur. Those who have seen one or more of those fake photos will assume, when they see Ptp, that it must also be a hoax. They have already concluded that any photo that shows anything like that must be fake. When they read that Paiva and I proclaim that Ptp has a genuine image of a real pterosaur, and that we have evidence for it, they might hold onto their original opinion, even after seeing the evidence. That is belief perseverance.

Can Believers in Extant Pterosaurs Have a Bias?

Theoretically, my associates and I certainly have the capacity to fall into confirmation bias or belief perseverance. Since about 2004, however, I have seen much less of this kind of problem with supporters of living-pterosaur investigations than our critics would imagine.



Confirmation Bias and Modern Pterosaurs

I don’t know if the Ptp photograph was from Vicksburg in 1864; that appears to be just an online rumor. But Clifford Paiva and I have examined evidence that it was recorded before about the year 1870, according to the photographic practice of using props to keep people motionless.

Answering skeptical comments about the Civil War pterodactyl photograph

Two similar photos exist, both showing a similar scene, although the newer one is a known hoax, created for the Freakylinks television series that was on the Fox Network from 2000-2001. [but the older photograph appears to have a genuine animal in it, although the Pteranodon interpretation is controversial]

Photo with American Civil War soldiers

But what could I do about that old photo, as a young man; what could I do but wonder? As a teenager, I had occasional daydreams of exploring a remote jungle, searching for creatures not yet discovered by the Western world. But I came to think of those daydreams as idle distractions.

Quest for Discovering Living Pterosaurs

When in human history has one person always been wrong? And when one pearl is found in the mud of an old oyster bed, expect another.

Civil War Flying-Creature Photo

That does not prove that the older (Ptp) photograph is genuine or that the producers of Freakylinks (Haxan Films) were involved in a conspiracy, as some persons may have suggested. But some persons have declared that they remember the Ptp photo in a book around the 1960’s. That was many years before Photoshop was developed.


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Pterodactyl Photograph With Civil War Soldiers

By the living-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

Answering skeptical comments and criticisms of a direct interpretation of a photograph that some persons report remembering from the middle of the 20th century, long before Photoshop digital imaging processing was generally available.


On January 14, 2017, the physicist Clifford Paiva and the cryptozoologist Jonathan D. Whitcomb jointly proclaimed that the old photograph herein labeled “Ptp” contains a genuine image of an actual modern pterosaur. Some Americans and other Westerners call these “prehistoric” featherless flying creatures “pterodactyls.”


Image of an actual modern pterosaur in an old photograph

Figure-1: The original “Ptp” photograph that was declared genuine in early 2017

Two similar photos exist, both showing a similar scene, although the newer one is a known hoax, created for the Freakylinks television series that was on the Fox Network from 2000-2001. The newer one can be recognized by the heavyset appearance of the Civil War reenactors and by the canvass-like appearance of the fake flying creature. The Ptp photo shown in Figure-1, however, has an animal with a head suggesting a Pteranodon.

We’ll now examine only the Ptp photograph.

A Small Portion of the Evidence for Authenticity

The following is not the most important evidence, in my opinion, that supports the declaration that Ptp has a genuine image of a modern pterosaur, but it is the kind of evidence that some persons appear to value. For some skeptics, however, the apparent lack of such evidence in earlier online writings on the subject—that may appear to suggest that this kind of evidence does not exist. It does exist; we’ll cover some of it here.

I’ve spoken with the missile defense physicist Clifford Paiva on more than one occasion during the past six days, enlightening conversations to say the least. He has done considerable study of this photograph, finding things that I had never thought of before. Let’s consider some of them, with some of the images he has analyzed.

1) Vertical Eye Pupil and Solar Shadow Zones

Paiva's analysis of solar shadow zones and a vertical pupil

Figure-2: The “Reptilian Eye” image is not from Ptp but is an example

First, take note of the eye on the apparent Pteranodon, but not the eye surrounded by green in the upper right, for that’s for comparison. Highly magnified, we see that it has a vertical pupil. That is hardly something that a typical hoaxer would have thought about trying to create on a model of a constructed pterosaur.

And even if a group of persons were working together to create a hoax model and one of them thought of that detail, why would they go to so much trouble to actually construct a simulated cat-like (and crocodile-like) eye slit? In the photograph, it’s almost invisible without great magnification. How much easier it would be to just make an indentation in the head and call it a closed eye!

Mr. Paiva has also pointed out the consistency in the shadows under the soldier’s boot and in and around the apparent Pteranodon. This indicates that this is a photograph of an actual man with his boot on the beak of something like a Pteranodon. In other words, it is unlike what we would expect of a Photoshop hoax, even if the photograph were recorded in recent years. By the way, a number of persons have reported seeing this photo in a book or magazine around the 1950’s or 1960’s. That correlates with the above evidence that this was not a Photoshop hoax with a paste-on soldier image.

2) Inverted wings

Mr. Paiva pointed out something that I never previously considered. The wings, or a portion of the wings, are inverted or twisted around. The lighter colored area of both wings is actually the underside of them, if they had not been twisted around after the animal died. What hoaxer would have thought of that? It correlates quite well with what scientists now know about the wings of some pterosaurs.

3) Hump Where the Neck Connects to the Body

And what hoaxer would have thought to take much trouble to make a hump at the base of the neck? That correlates with the anatomy of some pterosaurs.

Other Evidences for the Authenticity of the “Civil War Pterodactyl” Photo

In my own investigation of Ptp, I have found significant evidence that the image of an apparent pterosaur is actually just that: It was a modern pterosaur, possibly recently deceased and possibly related to a Pteranodon. But that needs to be covered elsewhere.



Old Civil War Pteranodon Photograph

The physicist Clifford Paiva and the cryptozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb jointly agreed that an old photograph (“Ptp”) contains an image of an actual modern pterosaur. Neither of them are declaring that this is a ropen (long-tailed) or that it must be a Pteranodon.

Civil War Pterosaur Shots

Includes both photographs, one of which is a known hoax and the older one being imitated by the hoax.

Pterosaur Sighting in South Carolina

Ropen sighting by Susan Wooten


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