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.
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]. Ropens.com is run by Whitcomb, as is LivePterosaur.com. Modern Pterosaur.com is supposedly written by someone named Norman Hungtingdon. “Who is he? It’s me, Jonathan David Whitcomb,” he admitted. The site Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs Alive.com 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, ropens.com, 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
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.