This just in: Pterosaurs are STILL dead, maybe even more so

Dr. Donald Prothero exposes the myth of the ropen, a pterosaur-like flying animal claimed to have been observed in Papua New Guinea. It has even been suggested it is a self-luminous creature. It’s a story well-known to cryptozoologists (the same stories get recirculated repeatedly to make up for no new evidence to fill a book). Turns out, as in many cryptid tales, it falls apart when you dig into it. And thanks to one crank’s ridiculous Creationist ideas, and his spreading around the same story under pseudonyms, people actually believe this stuff.

Fake Pterosaurs and Sock Puppets

Virtually all discussion of the ropen comes from a single individual, Jonathan Whitcomb!

Whitcomb admitted the deception in July, 2014. The book Searching for Ropens? Self-published by Whitcomb [sic]. is run by Whitcomb, as is Modern is supposedly written by someone named Norman Hungtingdon. “Who is he? It’s me, Jonathan David Whitcomb,” he admitted. The site Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs by Nathaniel Coleman? “That’s also me, and I’m still Jonathan David Whitcomb.” Several sites are maintained by Whitcomb under aliases. In short, it’s a classic case of a typically modern internet phenomenon, sock puppetry, where one individual floods the internet with material using different aliases and email accounts to escape detection (and spam filters). Eventually, it was spread so widely that two paranormal pseudo-documentaries were produced, Destination Truth (on SyFy) and Monster Quest (on the History Channel), all unwittingly based on the obsessions of one individual. Whitcomb admits to his rampant sock puppetry, and doesn’t seem ashamed of the deception…

I’d guess Creationists are nice people but their tactics for deliberately deceiving people to undermine science are seriously deplorable.

Whitcomb, who is not a scientist by any stretch but a Certified Court Videographer, believes the ropen is a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur based on the stories he’s collected. He has done the most to promote the reality of the ropen, self publishing two books on the topic including one that many science-lacking crypto-enthusiasts might see as “authoritative” Searching for the Ropen as well as Live Pterosaurs in America. Obviously,, complete with citations to books of the Bible, would be seen by those who want to know more about the creature they heard about inTime’s Top 10 Famous Mystery monsters


Ropen from Creationist Wiki (by Jonathan Whitcomb of course)

The truth is, nothing biologically resembles a ropen in real life. There are no existing pterosaurs – they absolutely went extinct tens of millions of years ago. There is no evidence for bioluminosity in birds, reptiles, or mammals (with the possible question about barn owls but not confirmed). And reports of pterosaurs (or ropens) have never been verified. As noted in this article, frigate birds in flight may resemble what we think a flying pterosaur looked like.

Prothero notes that Wikipedia deleted its Ropen page since all cited sources are “seemingly from the personal websites of the author of the vanity press Searching for Ropens and Finding God book”. The word “crank” was lavishly used which was appropriate (an eccentric person, especially one who is obsessed by a particular subject or theory). There is no evidence for the ropen, just legend.

Shoddy scholarship, belief-based conclusions, terrible quality evidence, and propagation of errors is rampant in cryptozoology literature which makes the field deserving of the scientific scorn it gets.

CGI ropen from Ropens are not real.

CGI ropen from Ropens are not real.

  30 comments for “This just in: Pterosaurs are STILL dead, maybe even more so

  1. Angela
    November 24, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Very enlightening, especially the focus on the ability of one person to be motivated enough to create something this wide-spread. And not only be unapologetic about it–but proud. At least that is what I read into his statement for why he perpetuated this hoax.

  2. November 24, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Uhmmm, Sharon, just FYI, the ropen in the image isn’t CGI. I photoshopped that one using a seagull as a base. Just as a bit of trivia, the background isn’t Papua New Guinea, as most sites claim, it’s somewhere in Africa, the head of the “ropen” is from a movie still, I don’t recall which, and the tail was drawn on.

  3. Richard Smith
    November 24, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    Well, okay, the Pterosaurs may still be dead, but what about Generallissimo Francisco Franco?

  4. Colonel Tom
    November 24, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Everyone has to have a hobby. At least it wasn’t harmful like the scuzzpuppies trying to get people to buy chlorine dioxide as a health cure, or the global warming denialist. The ability to overwhelm the internet through a dedicated dis-information campaign is extremely unfortunate.

    Is the use of the phrase “sock puppetry” the general term to describe this “search engine overwhelm”?

  5. L. Barth.
    November 24, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    The 2 TV shows were based on 1 person’s obsessions? Was it the same guy? I think I’m missing something here. How did sock puppetry lead to producing TV shows?

  6. November 24, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    Oh, Sorry Karl. That came from the monster wiki that said it was CGI so I thought it was from a fake video. What should the credit be?

  7. Ronald H. Pine
    November 24, 2014 at 10:23 PM

    Concerning the giant leathery-winged creature that Ivan T. Sanderson supposedly encountered in West Africa, and wrote about in his 1937 book, Animal Treasure, and which is mentioned in the article written by the Editor, and linked to above, I am convinced that it was simply the subject of a story made up by Sanderson. There is no creature fitting his description of the thing and the supposed frightened reaction of the local tribal people on hearing that Sanderson had viewed such an animal appears preposterous to me. In the same book, Sanderson writes about a lizard that he he had demonstrated produced an eerie, very penetrating, and loud whistle, which it doesn’t, and described viewing the delightful gambols of many forest mice and rats of many species over a single evening’s viewing. As one with a lot of experience with forest mice and rats, I can attest that this story was also made up. Unlike naive, gullible, but, I believe, sincere cryptozoologists, like Heuvelmans, Sanderson, I’m convinced, was a charlatan. When I was a curator at the Smithsonian, J. Edgar Hoover actually believed that the fake “Minnesota Iceman” might consist, at least in part, of a human homicide victim. It could be that this is a fact never before revealed to the skeptical community. He asked us to look into the matter, which John Napier, then a fellow curator with me, took the most time looking into. In the course of the correspondence that I read concerning this matter, it became clear that Sanderson knew the “Iceman” was a fake, although he was still maintaining that it wasn’t. It also became clear that the “Iceman” was partially constructed of decomposing dog tissue, which gave it its odor. This means that the name that had been given to this entity, “Homo pongoides,” is what zoologists specializing in the rules of scientific nomenclature would call a legitimate “junior synonym” of Canis familiaris, the domestic dog.

  8. PagaRoobits
    November 24, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    Obviously the story is utterly ludicrous; but on the other hand, how cool would a glow-in-the-dark pterosaur be? I Want One!!

  9. Ronald H. Pine
    November 24, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    Hmmm. The expression “human homicide” is a bit redundant, isn’t it.

  10. eddi
    November 25, 2014 at 2:08 AM

    During an informal interview, Chevy Chase confirmed Franco was still dead after all these years.

  11. eddi
    November 25, 2014 at 2:15 AM

    Network exec coming off coke bender, “Say, there’s about a dozen guys on different web sites talking about these flying lizard things. Get one of the writers to do a spec script and lets see if we can make some money this time.” Repeat as needed until script gets picked up by equally smashed junior exec vice-prez of programming and rewritten by his boss’s girlfriend, script-doctored by two retired sfi-fi writers who need to pay medical bills and voila; prime time gold.

  12. eddi
    November 25, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    Have you tried the American Museum Of Natural History gift shop? 🙂

  13. busterggi
    November 25, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    Whitcomb claimed years ago that he had gotten w/i a few hundred feet of a ropen rookery, no photos/video/audio of course, and he was using that claim to raise money to return to PNG to cover that last few hundred feet. He doesn’t seem to be working too hard to actually do so.

  14. Bill T.
    November 25, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Well, in their defense, it’s much more profitable, quick and easy to get a piece to the air supported by first-person accounts (they wouldn’t lie and could not be mistaken, so vetting their stories is an unnecessary expense, and they don’t really care if the stories are true, anyway).

    Doing carefully vetted well-researched stories takes time, money and work. Screw that.

  15. November 25, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    No credit necessary. Just thought I’d point out that it is photoshopped, not CGI.

    I allow folks to use all photoshop images from my site without permission. As a result they tend to spread out, and the truth about them gets a bit mangled. Just thought I’d “unmangle” the info on this one.

    You are also welcome to use any images on my site. No credit is necessary. If you’d like a custom photoshop, I’d be glad to do and donate it, just email me with the particulars.

  16. Craig
    November 26, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    What’s with the Discovery and History Channels lately? All these multiple-episode programs about people looking for things that don’t exit…and surprise! They never find it.

  17. November 28, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    I think the idea is that the shows went out chasing what was reported to be some legendary monster, when in reality the “legend” all ties back to one person.

  18. Mark Scurry
    December 1, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    I would disagree very slightly if I may Colonel. Yes in itself it’s not too harmful, but it’s a slippery slope; it leads to more and more superstition, nonsense and foolish thinking. You don’t need to go far to find wonderful online resources for real extinct animals (Tetrapod Zoology is my latest discovery), and they are far more wondrous than any story about a ropen. It helps that those animals existed too of course.

    It’s just a shame to see people waste time and effort on things like this.

  19. December 9, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    That “few hundred feet” rumor is old and has errors. I was well over a kilometer away from Lake Pung, and I never said anything like “ropen rookery.” The skeptic who wrote that was caught up in his own imagination, to some extent.

  20. December 9, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I replied to Prothero’s post. Also, I never said that I had made any hoax. Just follow the link that he fortunately put in his post: It’s MY post, explaining why I had a LEGITIMATE reason to use a pen name. I never intended to deceive anybody.

  21. December 9, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    I began my 11-year investigation in 2013, when, as a forensic videographer, I noticed that videotaped native eyewitnesses on Umboi Island, PNG, had an ABSENCE of superstitious story-details in their reporting what they had personally observed. Then I saw similarities in testimonies from an American and some Australians. Then I explored part of Umboi Island.

  22. December 9, 2014 at 4:09 AM

    I did not alone cause two TV shows. I consulted with both of them but other explorers searched in PNG before and after me. I was never alone.

  23. December 9, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    Why not read what I actually wrote, rather than just repeat accusations?

    I have spent over 10,000 hours in this narrow branch of cryptozoology, over the past eleven years. How long does it take for an online reader to glance at an accusation that I used “deception?” Perhaps less than one minute.

    Let’s “dig into” this accusation: “deliberately deceiving people.”

    For eleven years, I have reported what other people have told me. During that time, I admitted I’ve seen nothing like a live pterosaur myself. I have written over 1,000 blog posts and web pages that support the concept that one or more species of these flying creatures are living: original material, not duplications of paragraphs. I also wrote three books plus one paper in a peer-reviewed journal of science: all on modern pterosaurs.

    Please look deeper.

    I returned from my self-funded expedition in Papua New Guinea, in 2004, admitting that I had seen nothing like a pterosaur. I declared I had not even seen a flying light. Where was I was telling a lie there?

    Yet the “lie” accusations started in about mid-2005, as I recall. When it seemed that my name itself could cause a credibility issue, from libelous comments, including one page with “stupiddinosaurlies” in the URL, I THEN began the temporary use of two pen names online. It would allow some readers to learn about sightings, even if those readers would have rejected them if they had seen my regular name attached.

    Yet MOST of my writings were still under my regular name.

    In other words, the use of those two pseudonyms were the RESULT of falsehoods from my critics (about my supposed intentions of deception), NOT used for any deception.

    Read my book “Searching for Ropens and Finding God” and learn about the 14,333 game-camera photos that I examined from 2012-2013. I had, and still have, all the original photographs. It’s clear: I never saw any pterosaur in any of those many thousands of photos. I published that admission; now where is any dishonesty?

    Beware of online reports whose main point is proclaiming that someone with an unusual opinion has been dishonest. Beware of extreme bulverism: libel.

  24. December 9, 2014 at 5:31 AM

    No. Look deeper: Expeditions from 1994-2006 and I was closer to the end: 2004.

  25. December 9, 2014 at 5:48 AM

    Have you read one of my web pages or one of my blog posts? You have over 1,000 to choose from, and I mean original pages, not duplicates. Why assume the worst for all of those online publications? Beware of these accusations against me: falsehoods.

  26. December 9, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    If you have nothing but eyewitness accounts and never saw any evidence for pterosaurs, why then pursue this dead end and seriously flawed claim that pterosaurs still live or that there is a ropen? Identifying new species is a job for professional zoologists. I find your pursuit and promotion of this claim to be very confusing, then.

  27. December 9, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    Also, please cite your “peer reviewed” paper. Anyone can pay to submit to a “journal”, they solicit papers. And anyone can publish books. So, that really holds little credibility.

  28. spookyparadigm
    December 9, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    Possibly the Creation Research Science Quarterly?

  29. spookyparadigm
    December 9, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Here is there selected freely available articles, which be an interesting dataset

    Whitcomb’s article is not amongst them, but here’s the abstract

  30. December 9, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    Oh puhleeze… I should have guessed.

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