Skeptical Responses to Civil War Pteranodon Photo

By modern-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

The dead flying creature seen in the “Pteranodon photograph,” (Ptp) although it may be called a “pterodactyl” by some Americans and a “ropen” by others, could be a pterodactyloid pterosaur, possibly without the long tail that ropens are seen to have.


Controversial photograph of six Civil War soldiers next to the apparent body of a recently deceased giant pterodactyl or pterosaur, maybe a Pteranodon

Figure-1: The photograph “Ptp” declared authentic by Paiva and Whitcomb

The winged creature with a Pteranodon-like head shown in Figure-1—that was officially declared to be a genuine pterosaur by Clifford Paiva* and me, Jonathan Whitcomb, on January 14, 2017. (See “Old Photo of a Pterosaur Declared Genuine“)

*(Clifford Paiva is a missile defense physicist who has examined the Ptp photograph in detail. He shows, in his analysis, that this image is a genuine photo of what it appears to be, and that this is an actual recording of a real animal with these men.)

Criticisms by Skeptics of the Photograph

This post is an answer to a recent Facebook group discussion question: “What has been the response to this photo by those that don’t believe they exist anymore?” Before getting into that, we need to be clear about two similar photographs that are sometimes confused with each other.


Two different "pterodactyl" photos, one authentic and the other a fake in imitation

Figure-2: Compare the recent imitation (credit: Fox TV) with the original (Ptp) photo

The one on the left was created by Haxan Films, producers of The Blair Witch Project, apparently for a “Freakylinks” TV episode on the Fox Network. It’s a promotional photo (credit the image to Fox TV) sometimes called the “yellow shot.”

The photo that we’re examining, however, is the genuine image (Ptp), not the imitation. I will not speculate on the intentions of those who played this trick; I can’t look into their hearts and minds. But the potential results of the confusion are unfortunate, making it more difficult to learn the truth about the original image.

Skeptical Online Publication by Glen Kuban [but see update]

Let’s begin with one of the longest web pages ever published in criticism of investigations of reports of apparent modern pterosaurs: “Living Pterodactyls?” by Glen J. Kuban. This online publication, which may be sometimes referred to by paleontologists, has hundreds of words on top of hundreds of more words. But though the copyright is “2004-2013” (as of January 16, 2017), limited editing has been done since the earlier years. In addition, much of the material is either outdated (even years ago outdated) or irrelevant to the primary research done since 2004. Here is one reply: “Are all Pterosaurs Extinct?”

With about 31 paragraphs written to discredit the possibility of modern pterosaurs, you would think Mr. Kuban would have much to say in criticism of the old Civil War photo. Yet the tiny image of that photo takes up only a little more than one fourth of the page width. And notice how little is said about it:

Figure 4. Civil War “pterosaur”  (widely acknowledged as a hoax)

At first, when I recently looked over “Living Pterodactyls?” I thought this was all that he wrote about the photograph. Then I noticed one-and-a-half sentences at the bottom of a paragraph to the left of the image:

. . . the photo has since been exposed as a hoax–a promotional stunt for a Fox television series. [see update below]

Does that sound familiar? Yes, Mr. Kuban has provided a tiny version of the original photograph (albeit greatly cropped at the top and bottom), but he refers to the newer IMITATION (“yellow shot”) photo with the words, “exposed as a hoax.”

That’s a bit like referring to a photo of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and declaring that it’s evidence that the Civil War did not start with the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

The problem with the hoax photo (yellow shot) is that it was staged, with Civil War reenactors, in fairly close imitation of the original (Ptp) shot, even to the placing of the foot of a “soldier” onto the head of an imitation creature.

Take the Ptp photo shown on Kuban’s page in context. To the left of it, and slightly below, we find nothing about that photo in a 91-word paragraph about an ostrich pelvis that was mistaken for a “pterodactyl skull.” I don’t recall mentioning that blunder in any of my publications, and I’ve surely written more about modern pterosaurs than anyone else in the world. How much better it would have been for Kuban to have ignored that ostrich pelvis and dig a little deeper into the original Civil War “pterodactyl” photo!

As it is, he appears to be completely ignorant that two photographs are involved: one obviously a hoax and the other one shown in miniature on his page. Worse than simply confusing them in his mind, however, he writes about them as if there were only one photograph. How easy for a reader to assume that only one photo is involved!

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not accusing anyone of dishonesty. But “Living Pterodactyls” may be the longest and most frequently accessed one-page online criticism of modern-pterosaur research that has ever been published. And those who use only this skeptical page as a source of information on the subject can be greatly mislead.

Update on April 29, 2017  (by Jonathan Whitcomb)

I communicated with Glen Kuban in March and April of 2017, and he revised his long page [“Living Pterosaurs (Pterodactyls)?”], correcting his mistake in confusing the two photos (Haxan Films Freakylinks hoax versus the Ptp). I am grateful for that. He now shows both photographs and they are much larger than his earlier publishing of Ptp.

I hope that the two of us will continue to have positive communications and continue to make needed revisions and corrections in our writings because of such communication.

Yet I found that Kuban had, while making that correction regarding his confusing two photographs, added many paragraphs that appeared entirely orchestrated to discredit everything that appears to support the possibility of any species of extant pterosaur. Indeed, he seems to have added about twenty paragraphs, and much of that material is about my writings.

He mentioned how little support I have in general and in how little support exists for the idea that Ptp has a genuine image of a modern pterosaur. Yet it seems that Kuban has failed to take into account that he himself may have played a part in that opinion, for his web page “Living Pterosaurs …” had, for years, a statement that the photograph (Ptp) was a hoax for a television series. I don’t imply any intention of deception on his part, nevertheless, what could have been more misleading than that, for all the readers who may have read that part of “Living Pterosaurs …”?

Comment by Loren Coleman

With all the accomplishments in cryptozoology by Loren Coleman, he has not been friendly to the possibility of modern pterosaurs. In one of his web posts, “Civil War Dinos,” he includes both of the photos we’ve examined, correctly revealing the source for the more-recent Haxan image.

But the older photo gets only a two-word conclusion from Coleman: “Verdict: photoshopping.” The first version of Photoshop, however, was created in 1988. The problem with Mr. Coleman’s conclusion is simple: Some people remember seeing that older image in the middle of the 20th century, generally around the 1960’s or 70’s.

In light of the research done by a missile defense physicist, verifying the authenticity of the Ptp photograph, those two words by Loren Coleman are not convincing.


Pteranodon-like head in this genuine image



copyright 2017 Jonathan D. Whitcomb


Genuine Modern Pterosaur in a Photo

On Saturday, January 14, 2017, the missile defense physicist Clifford Paiva and I communicated by phone and mutually agreed that the image herein labeled “Pteranodon Photograph” contains a genuine image of a modern pterosaur . . .

Skeptics of live-pterosaur research

I have admired Jonathan Whitcomb’s Ropen / Pterosaur research for many years. I have posted a few of Jonathan’s offerings from recent years, which includes an article he wrote for Phantoms & Monsters . . .

Pterodactyl Attacks in Canada

Be aware that I have so far found nothing in the book by Paulides (missing persons) that gives any hint that he knew about living-pterosaur investigations when he wrote it.

Ropen – Pterodactyls

Long-tailed featherless ropens are not at all restricted to the southwest Pacific Ocean. It seems that these nocturnal pterosaurs have established themselves on most continents.


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About Jonathan Whitcomb

I'm a passionate investigator of reports of living pterosaurs throughout the world. I explored part of Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea, in 2004, interviewing many natives who had seen the ropen.
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