is a large, humanoid, flying monster with glowing red eyes and huge, powerful
wings. It strikes fear into the very heart of all those that encounter it. It’s
the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, right? Nope, wrong.
Although it is just about the closest
thing that Britain has to the bizarre
beast made famous in John Keel’s now-classic book, The Mothman Prophecies. Its name is the Owlman.
In 1976 the dense trees surrounding MawnanOldChurch, Cornwall, England became a veritable
magnet for a diabolical beast that was christened the Owlman. The majority of
those that crossed paths with the creature asserted that it was human-like in
both size and design, and possessed a pair of large wings, fiery red eyes,
claws, and exuded an atmosphere of menace. No wonder people make parallels with
It all began during the weekend of Easter
1976, when two young girls, June and Vicky Melling, had an encounter of a truly
nightmarish kind in Mawnan Woods. The girls were on holiday with their parents
when they saw a gigantic, feathery “bird man” hovering over the 13th
It was a story that their father, Don
Melling, angrily shared with a man named Tony “Doc” Shiels. I say “angrily”
because Shiels was a noted, local magician who Melling came to believe had
somehow instigated the whole affair. Or as Shiels, himself, worded it: “…some
trick that had badly frightened his daughters.” Shiels denied any involvement
in the matter whatsoever. But that was only the start of things.
Another one to see the Owlman was Jane
Greenwood, also a young girl. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet, during the summer of
1976 that detailed her own startling encounter: “I am on holiday in Cornwall with my sister and our
mother. I, too, have seen a big bird-thing. It was Sunday morning, and the
place was in the trees near MawnanChurch, above the rocky beach.
It was in the trees standing like a full-grown man, but the legs bent backwards
like a bird’s. It saw us, and quickly jumped up and rose straight up through
the trees. How could it rise up like that?”
year old girls, Sally
Chapman and Barbara Perry, also had the misfortune to have a run-in with the
Owlman in 1976. At around , while camping in the
woods of Mawnan, and as they sat outside of their tent making a pot of tea, the
pair heard a strange hissing noise. On looking around, they saw the infernal
Owlman staring in their direction from a distance of about sixty feet.
Sally said: “It was like a big owl with
pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first I
thought that it was someone dressed-up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I
laughed at it. We both did. Then it went up in the air and we both screamed.
When it went up you could see its feet were like pincers!”
Barbara added: “It’s true. It was horrible,
a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered in grey
feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in
While there were rumors of additional
sightings of the creature in the immediate years that followed, it wasn’t until
the summer of either 1988 or 1989 that the Owlman put in an appearance that can
be documented to a significant degree. In this case, the witness was a young boy,
dubbed “Gavin” by my good friend Jon Downes (who wrote an entire book on the winged
monster, titled The Owlman and Others),
and his then girlfriend, Sally. The beast, Gavin told Jon, was around five feet
in height, had large feet, glowing eyes, and significantly sized wings. It was
a shocking, awe-inspiring encounter that Gavin and Sally never forgot.
As was the case in the immediate post-1976
era, a few reports from the 1990s and 2000s have surfaced. Chiefly, however,
they are from individuals who prefer not to go on the record - something which
has led to understandable suspicions of fakery and hoaxing. But, one could also
make a very good argument that going public about having seen a monstrous
“birdman” in English woodland would not be the wisest move to make.
Today, and getting ever-closer to 40 years
since the original encounters occurred, the matter remains the undeniable controversy
that it was back then. For some researchers, Doc Shiels is the man to blame.
They perceive him as a trickster, a faker and someone not to be trusted. Jon
Downes, however, suggests something else – something with which I concur.
Namely, that Shiels – dubbed the “Wizard of
the Western World” – has profound knowledge of “magic.” And by that, I don’t
mean people pulling rabbits out of hats. We are talking, here, about something
far stranger, something ancient, and something filled with swirling mystery.
In a review of Doc’s excellent book, Monstrum, I noted: “[Doc’s] is a world filled with a deep
understanding of the real nature of magic (chaos and ritualistic), the secrets
of invocation and manifestation, of strange realms just beyond – and that
occasionally interact with – our own, and Trickster-like phenomenon. Doc’s is
also a domain where, when we dare to imagine the fantastic, when we decide to
seek it out, and when we finally accept its reality, we perhaps provide it with
some form of quasi-existence.”
Perhaps Doc, in a decidedly strange way,
really did play a role in the formation of the Owlman legend. But, such was the
allure of the beast it quickly stepped out of the world of imagination and
story-telling, and right into the heart of the real world. And on that last
point, be careful what you wish for, lest you unleash into our reality a
monster that has no intention of returning to that domain from which it was
originally created, imagined, or invoked…
Professor Challenger, who with the two
local Indians was in the van of the party, stopped suddenly and pointed
excitedly to the right. As he did so we saw, at the distance of a mile or so,
something which appeared to be a huge gray bird flap slowly up from the ground
and skim smoothly off, flying very low and straight, until it was lost among
you see it?” cried Challenger, in exultation. “Summerlee, did you see it?”
colleague was staring at the spot where the creature had disappeared. “What do
you claim that it was?” he asked.
the best of my belief, a pterodactyl.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World,
Chapter 8; 1912)1
from movie…1,000,000 Years BC)
hard to imagine a scene of dinosaurs without great Pterosaurs soaring overhead.
It used to be thought that they were mere gliders, incapable of flapping their
vast wings for sustained flight. They were envisioned hanging upside-down from
cliff faces, like bats, and dropping into a gliding swoop. But it is now the
consensus that the smaller ones flew as well as birds, and the truly huge ones,
such as Pteranodon (with a 27-ft
wingspan) and Quetzalcoatlus (with a
wingspan of forty feet!) could take off as easily as a kite into a light
breeze, and soar aloft for days, scarcely moving their mighty wings, much like
albatrosses. Evidence has emerged that some of them migrated across entire
oceans to reach their nesting grounds.
first vertebrates to evolve true flight, Pterosaurs
(“winged lizards”) were flying reptiles with their front limbs modified into
wings of webbed skin like the wings of bats. Since the wing is supported by an
enormously elongated little finger, they are also called Pterodactyls (“wing-finger”). They were furry, evidently
warm-blooded, with large and sophisticated brains. They ruled the Mesozoic
skies from 228-65 million years ago. In the terminology of Medieval Dragonlore,
they would be called Wyverns.
Fig. 1. Pteranodon.
The Wyvern (or Wivern) is a kind of flying serpentine Dragon with bat-like wings,
two avian hind legs with eagle talons, and a long barbed tail. Basically, it is
a Pterosaur, like ramphorhynchus.
Variants include the Sea-Wyvern,
which has a fish-like tail. Wyverns have been described as the largest form of
Dragon, able to prey on such huge creatures as elephants and rhinos. In
Heraldry, the Wyvern symbolizes war, pestilence, envy and viciousness. The
default coloration of a Heraldic Wyvern is green with a red chest, belly and
Fig. 2. Heraldic
Pterosaurs still alive?
they are supposed to have been extinct for 65 million years, sightings of
apparent living Pterosaurs are still reported from time to time.
(or Snollygoster)was a
Pterosaur-like beast said to inhabit the Blue Ridge Mountains
near Braddock Heights, Maryland,
USA. The first German
settlers in the 1730s were terrorized by a monster they called Schnellgeiste (“quick spirit”). It was
described as half-reptile, half-bird, with a metallic beak and razor-sharp
teeth. It swooped silently from the sky to carry off its victims and suck their
blood. Seven-pointed stars to keep the Snallygaster at bay can still be seen
painted on local barns.
Fig. 3. Snallygaster
In The Illustrated London News (Feb.
9, 1856, page 166) it was reported that workmen cutting a tunnel for a railway
line, between Saint-Dizier and Nancy,
in France, were
blasting through Jurassic limestone when a bizarre winged creature tumbled out
of a cavity. It fluttered its wings, made a hoarse croaking noise, and dropped
dead. According to the workers, the creature had oily black leathery skin, a
3.22-meter wingspan (10-ft 7-in), four long legs with “crooked talons,” joined
by a membrane. The size of “a large goose,” it had a long neck, and a mouth
full of sharp teeth. The body was brought to Gray, where, a paleontology
student identified the animal as a Pterodactyl
anas [“wing-fingered duck”—a non-existent species]2
This incredible story is simply a hoax. At
the time, many exquisite fossils were being extracted from Bavaria’s
Solnhofen Limestone (which would later yield the famed Archaeopteryx).
Each of these discoveries was triumphantly announced by German paleontologists.
The tunnel in question was through limestone of similar age to the Solnhofen
beds, so some French wags decided to do the Germans one better.3
Pterodactylus on ground
In Feb.-Mar. 1909, residents of Braddock
Heights, Maryland (previous
haunt of the legendary Snallygaster) reported sightings of a creature with
“enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the
center of its forehead.” It screeched “like a locomotive whistle.” The
Smithsonian Institute offered a reward for the hide, and President Theodore
Roosevelt considered postponing an African safari to personally hunt for the
beast. But after the initial flurry, nothing more was heard of it.
From late 1975 through early 1976, people
along the lower Rio Grande valley
between Texas and Mexico
reported a wave of “big bird” sightings. The avian anomalies were described as
impossibly huge, with membranous wings like bats, and often cat-like faces.
In January 1976, two sisters, Libby and
Deanie Ford, saw a large strange “bird” standing by a pond outside of Brownsville,
Texas. They said it was as tall as a
person, all black, with a face like a cat. Later, they identified it from a
book as being a pteranodon. Given
their description, this seems like a very odd identification indeed; a
pteranodon’s head looks like a pickax, not a cat! Here is an example from a
1965 sighting by Patty Carson at Guantanomo Bay,
Fig. 5. Gitmo Pteranodon.
Pterosaurs in the Old West
of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion animation movies was Valley of the Gwangi (1969), featuring a lost valley in Mexico
where prehistoric animals still thrive. Some of the most dramatic scenes
feature a Pteranodon which attacks mounted cowboys, who then capture it. This
may have been inspired by a remarkable petroglyph (rock painting) of an
apparent pterosaur, painted high on a cliff face, directly under a cave, near
Fig. 6. Pterosaur petroglyph near Thompson, Utah.
April of 1890, two cowboys in Arizona
allegedly killed an enormous bird-like creature with smooth skin and
featherless leathery wings like a bat. Its head resembled that of an alligator.
They said they had come upon it in the desert, and it was apparently sick or
wounded. The animal managed to take off and fly about half a mile before
sinking to the ground again, where the cowboys finished it off with rifles.
McClure was a young man living in Lordsburg, New
Mexico in 1910 when the two cowboys came to town,
telling of their encounter 20 years earlier. 60 years later, in a letter to the
Summer 1970 issue of Old West Magazine, McClure
recalled their description of the creature: “Its eyes were like saucers; its two legs
and feet up at the front part of its body were the size of those of a horse;
its hide was leathery, instead of feathery. It lit on the ground once at a safe
distance from the two cowboys, but it took to the air again soon afterwards
only to come down again a second time...”4
Fig. 7. Cowboy wrestling Pteranodon, from Valley of the Gwangi.
According to the account published in the April
26, 1890 edition of Arizona’s Tombstone Epitaph, the cowboys paced off
the dimensions of their monster as an astonishing 92-ft long, with a wingspan
of 160-ft! The cowboys cut off a wingtip and took it into the town of Tombstone.
Plans were made to skin the creature for a museum, but nothing further was ever
But another version of the story is that they
dragged the entire carcass back to town, where it was pinned, wings
outstretched, across the entire side of a barn. This time, its wingspan was
said to be “only” 20-30 ft. This account—supposedly with a photo—was reprinted in 1969, but no one now seems to
be able to track down a copy, and the hunt for the elusive photo has itself
become a cryptozoological quest. Here is a photo I came across which may or may
not be the one:
Fig. 8. Pterosaur
supposedly shot in the late 1800s.
A more recent sighting in the American
West occurred southwest of San Antonio, Texas,
in January 1976. Three schoolteachers were driving to work when a large flying
creature swooped low over the highway at about the height of the phone poles.
It cast a shadow across the width of the road, and by that the women estimated
its wingspan as 15-20 ft. They said they could see the bones of the bat-like
wings through the grey membrane that covered them. Later, at school, they pored
through encyclopedias and found a picture of what they had seen. It was a pteranodon. This story was reported in
the San Antonio Light, Feb. 26, 1976.6
intriguing photo purports to show a dead Pterosaur surrounded by Civil
War soldiers, but no further information on it seems to be available:
Fig. 9. Photo of
trophy pterosaur during Civil War.
South American Pterosaurs
Legends of giant flying creatures in South America
predate the arrival of the Conquistadores, and continue into modern times.
Indeed, some of these were surely an inspiration to Arthur Conan Doyle for
setting the locale of his “Lost World” in Venezuela. In April of 1868,
mine workers in Copiapo, Chile, were preparing for supper when they sighted “a gigantic bird, which at first we took for
one of the clouds then partially darkening the atmosphere, supposing it to have
been separated from the rest by the wind.” As it flew over their heads,
they could see that its immense wings were not feathered, but webbed in skin
like those of a bat. This story was reported in the July, 1968 issue of The Zoologist.7
In February of 1947, Mr. J. Harrison of Liverpool, England, was navigating an estuary of the Amazon when he and
others observed a flight of five huge “birds” flying down the river in a V
formation. In an unpublished letter to the Fortean
Times,Harrison said: “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…just like those
large prehistoric birds.”8 Here is the drawing he enclosed with his letter:
Fig. 10. J. Harrison’s drawing of a
“prehistoric bird” he saw over the Amazon in 1947
And in 1992, the Australian weekly
magazine People reported a close
encounter between a small commuter airplane and a huge flying reptile over the
mountains of Brazil.
The creature appeared alongside as the plane was preparing to land, and the
pilot had to veer away to avoid a collision. Stewardess Maya Cabon said: “Here was this giant monster flying right
next to the plane. He was only a few feet from the window—and he looked right
at me. I thought we were all going to die.” U.S.
anthropologist Dr. George Biles, one of the 24 passengers aboard, elaborated: “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.”9
From swampy regions of Zambia,
and Kenya come
reports of Kongamato(“Overwhelmer
of Boats”). Numerous reported sightings of these large, leathery-winged flying
creatures have led cryptozoologists to speculate that there may be a relic
population of Pterodactylsstill living in Africa.
They are colored black or red, and are named for their proclivity of capsizing
canoes. Frank H. Mellon, in his In
Witchbound Africa (1923),10
described them as smooth-skinned, with toothy beaks and wingspans of 4-7 ft.
Another witness said the wings made a loud thunderous noise when flapped. When
they are shown pictures of pterosaurs, all witnesses immediately identify them
as Kongamoto. It is far more likely, however, that these creatures are actually
Hammerhead Bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus), Africa’s
largest bat species. They are dark gray with black wings spanning three feet,
and have elongated, dog-like snouts.
In 1925, southern Rhodesia produced
reports of a Kongamato attack on a man in a swamp, and reports issued from
Africa in 1928, 1942, the 1950s, up through modern times, including a colleague
of cryptozoologist Roy Mackal’s who saw one in 1988.11
Fig. 11. Kongamato
attack, by William M. Rebsamen
the same or another gigantic black pterodactyl-like creature was encountered in
1932 in the AssumboMountains
of the African Cameroons by zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson and naturalist Gerald
Russell in 1932. As they were crossing a river, it dived at them, then flew
away. Apparently the size of an eagle, it had “pointed white teeth set about
their own width apart from each other” and “Dracula-like wings.” They saw it
again that evening. Locals called the creature Olitiau. Sanderson later
speculated that the beast was probably an exceptionally large specimen of the Hammerhead
Bat. But there’s a huge gap between the 3-ft wingspan of the Hammerhead, and
the 12-ft span Sanderson estimated for the Olitiau!
Fig. 12. Olitiau.
Guiafairois a great grey flying creature reported
from West Africa, where it hides in caves and hollow
trees during the day, emerging only at night. It has clawed feet and a
human-like head. Cryptozoologists speculate that it may be an unknown species
of giant bat, or another example of the Hammerhead Bat.
Fig. 13. Guiafairo
by Ian Daniels
flying predators have also been reported in Papua
New Guinea. Called Duah, they have a 24-foot
leathery wingspan, a long, toothless beak and a large head crest, precisely
matching the image of a Pteranodon.
Likewise, they are oceanic fish-eaters, though there are reports of vicious and
fatal attacks on humans.
Fig. 14. Duah by
Pterodactyl-like creature has been reported from the jungles of New
Guinea since the 1950s. The Ropen
(“Demon Flyer”) lives in caves along the islands of New
Britain and Umboi, and flies only at night. It has
leathery wings spanning 3-4 ft, a narrow, tooth-filled beak, a head crest,
webbed feet, and a long tail culminating in a diamond-shaped flange. It is said
to feast on decaying flesh, harassing funerals to attack the corpse. The
description of the tail sounds uncannily like a Rhamphorynchus, believed to have been extinct for 65 million years,
but they didn’t have head crests. I have personally visited several of those
islands, climbed their cliffs, and explored their caves. Alas, I found no
pterodactyls, only fruit bats.
is virtually certain that these New Guinea sightings are all of large fruit
bats, most likely the Bismark Flying Fox (Pteropus
neohibernicus), with a wingspan of 5.5-6 ft. Recognized by science as the
world’s largest living species of bat, it is native to New Guinea and the
Fig. 16. Bismark Flying Fox (photo by Michael Pitts)
is a fascinating eyewitness account of a sighting of living Pterosaurs in Cuba in March
of 1971. The witness was a Marine named Eskin Kuhn, who reports:
was a beautiful, clear Summer day. I was looking in the direction of the ocean
when I saw an incredible sight. It mesmerized me!
saw 2 Pterosaurs flying together at low altitude, perhaps 100 feet, very close
in range from where I was standing, so that I had a perfectly clear view of
rhythm of their large wings was very graceful, slow; and yet they were flying
and not merely gliding, like turkey vultures do here in Ohio.
rate of their wings was more like that of crows, perhaps a little slower; but
very graceful. The structure and the texture of the wings appeared to be very
similar to that of bats: particularly in that the struts of the wings emanated
from a "hand" as fingers would; except that a couple of the fingers
were short (as for grasping) and the other ran out to the tip of the wing,
others back to the trailing edge of the wing to stretch the wing membrane as a
Fig. 17. Eskin
Kuhn's Pterosaur drawing from life.
Pterosaurs I saw had the short hind legs attached to the rearwardmost part of
the wing, and they had a long tail trailing behind with a tuft of hair at the
head was disproportionately large, with a long crest at the back, long bill,
long neck with a crook in it. The chest of the creatures was similarly
prominent, protruding forward like the prow of an old ship.
vertebrae of their backs was noticeable, mostly between the shoulders. I would
estimate their wingspan to be roughly 10 feet.12
The excellent drawing Eskin Kuhn
made of the creatures he saw strongly matches images of a great blue heron in
flight, with its neck crooked and its long legs trailing straight out and
together. The “tuft”-tipped tail of Kuhn’s drawing accords with the webbed feet
of the heron. And the heron even has a backward-sweeping crest of feathers on
its head which resembles the crest of a Pteranodon as Kuhn drew it.
Fig. 18. Great Blue
Heron in flight
Hsigo— (or Hsiao) These Chinese creatures are exactly like the flying monkeys
from The Wizard of Oz. They have
apelike bodies with a dog’s tail, a birdlike head, a human face, and
wings—though they are not described as wearing bellhop uniforms! They
are probably based on fruit bats, or “flying foxes,” of India,
These monkey-size bats are not related to the other insectivorous bats, but are
genetically closer to primates, and thus really are a kind of “Flying Monkey.”
Fig. 19. Hsigo
Reported from Java and Vietnam,
these are giant bats of an unidentified species. Named for their cry, they are
said to be the size of a year-old child, dark grey, with a head like a monkey.
These would certainly seem to be large fruit bats. The Ahool, however, is said
to be a fish-eater which, if true, would mean it has to be something else.
Fig. 20. Mauritian
flying fox in flight (photo by Gregory Guida)
Alan— Mischievous half-human, half-bird
creatures from the forests of the Philippines.
With extended fingers on their backwards-facing feet and stubby toes on their
hands, they spend much of their time hanging upside down from trees. They are
often very helpful toward humans and have served as foster parents to several
legendary heroes whom they found lost in the forest as babies. This
description, and the locale, strongly suggest a large fruit bat, such as the
Malayan Flying Fox.
Fig. 21. Flying fox
hanging upside down
(“Men with wings”) Predatory nocturnal flying primates from the obscure
Indonesian island of Ceram—the
second largest island in the Moluccas group. The natives
of Ceram describe these soaring simians as approximately
five feet tall, with black leathery wings, blood-red skin, and a long thin
tail. Emitting a “mournful wail,” they are said to abduct infants and small
children. During the day they retreat into a network of caves in an extinct
This description, and the locale, strongly suggests a giant fruit bat—probably,
again, the Malayan Flying Fox.
Fig. 22. Malayan
Night-Flyers— Flying humanoids with bat-like wings, sighted by three
U.S. Marines in 1969, near Da Nang, South
Vietnam. According to the soldiers’ report,
three naked, hair-covered, feminine figures, all approximately five feet in
height, flew over their post in the dead of night. The Marines claimed they
could hear the flapping of their leathery black wings. These were certainly
Malayan Flying Foxes, of which the females (which have two thoracic breasts
like humans) can have wingspans of six feet, although they weigh only up to
Fig. 23. Vietnamese
Night-Flyer by Tam Songdog
Sassabonsum is a huge evil fruit bat
in the folklore of Ghana,
West Africa. With red hair, hooked wings, and
backwards-pointing feet, it swoops upon people and carries them off at the
bidding of the Mmoatia, or pygmy sorcerers. As with the Kongamoto, Olititau and
Guiafairo, this is probably the Hammerhead Bat.
Fig. 24. Hammerhead
In his 1972 book, Investigating the Unexplained, Ivan Sanderson suggested another
possible identification for these oversized bat-like creatures; that they may represent
a hitherto-unknown enormous species of microbat
(Microchiroptera), commonly referred
to as “insectivorous bats,” “echolocating bats,” “small bats,” or “true
In contrast to the doglike snouts of
fruit bats, or megabats (Megachiroptera), microbats have the flattened monkey-like faces described
as characteristic of all the above “flying monkeys.” While most of them are
insectivorous, some of the larger species hunt birds, lizards, frogs, or
even fish—behavior that is often mentioned in regard to these cryptic creatures,
and does not occur among any of the megabats. Even vampire microbats exist,
though only, as far as is known, in South America.
Fig. 25. Microbat
to native witnesses, when Ahools are seen on the ground, or perched like a bird
on a tree branch, they fold their wings at their sides like a bird, as do all
microbats. Megabats, on the other hand, wrap their wings around their bodies
like a cloak. Ahools are also said to be able to stand upright on two legs, and
in doing so their feet point backwards. Again, only microbats can stand erect
(though they seldom do so); megabats can stand only on all fours, or hang
upside down from tree branches. But it is true that the hind feet of all bats
difficulty with this hypothesis is that microbats are well-named. They are all quite
tiny, with the largest, the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), attaining
a wingspan of only 13 inches. A microbat with a 6-12 foot wingspan seems like
an incredible stretch, with nothing in between. However, I have had personal
experience which may help put this matter into perspective, so to speak.
night when we were lying outside watching a meteor shower, a pale ghostly shape
swooped down out of the sky, circled our blanket, and
then soared off. In the light of our candle, it seemed huge—at least a three-foot
wingspan! Even though we knew it had to be a bat, we all agreed that our first
impression was of a pterodactyl! So I immediately went to my library and looked
up local bats, and lo and behold, there it was: a Pallid Bat (Antrozous
pallidus). They eat ground-dwelling crickets and scorpions, so they swoop
rather than flitter.
Fig. 26. Pallid Bat
But the thing is—they have a wingspan of
no more than 12 inches. So how come it appeared so immensely large to us? Well,
as I explained in my article on Sea Serpents, in the sky, as in the open ocean,
there is no objective basis of
comparison against which to measure an object. A creature flying overhead
could, for all you know, be three feet above, and have a 3-foot wingspan. Or it
could be ten feet above and have a 10-foot wingspan. Especially at night, there
is no way to know. So, like the fisherman whose catch got away, we declare for
the largest size. The pallid bat is nearly white on the underside, and it reflected
so much illumination from the candle that it appeared to be much larger than it
Fig. 27. Distance perspective
diagram by OZ
In addition, as I also mentioned in the
Sea Serpent chapter, there is the factor of the automatic “zoom lens” mode that
our brain goes into when we see something highly alarming. This evolutionarily
adaptive mechanism creates an exaggeration of size in our mind’s eye, just as
it does in a camera when we use the zoom lens. And thus are creatures of
ordinary size transformed into giants.
As much as I would love to know that
somewhere on Earth, pterodactyls still ride the skies, I’m afraid I will just
have to settle for extra-large bats.
Pterosaurs in the movies
Pterosaurs and Wyverns have been featured
in many movies, in both prehistoric settings of the “Lost World” genre, and as flying
Dragons. Pterosaurs are routinely included among dinosaurs, although there have
been a few films where they appear in modern times—often hatching in the heart
of a volcano from long-dormant eggs. As pterosaurs really were ancient “flying
dragons,” it is perfectly reasonable that the appearance of some film dragons
should be based on their anatomy, rather than on the less-justifiable model in
which two bat-like wings are affixed to the body of a quadrupedal reptile.
Excellent examples of such “Wyvern” dragons appear in Dragonslayer (1981) and Dragon
(Radon in Japan)
is a well-known fictional Pterosaur, introduced in Rodan, a 1956 movie
from Toho Studios, which created the Godzilla series. Like Godzilla, Rodan was
also modeled after a real prehistoric reptile. The Japanese name Radon is a contraction of “pteranodon”
and also suggests radiation. Radon is referred to as Rodan in the U.S.,
possibly to avoid confusion with the atomic element Radon. He was initially
portrayed as an enemy of Godzilla, but they later became allies against more
Fig. 28. Rodan
Here are a number of films featuring living
Pterosaurs, Wyverns, and Bat-monsters—omitting those which take place during
the Mesozoic Age, or on other planets. The commentary is by Seth Tyrssen:
Lost World (silent -1925) This is the original version of the famous story,
and it still holds its own today. The then-new art of stop-motion animation
brought a variety of prehistoric beasties to life, including some very
life-like “flying lizards.” King Kong
(1933) saw the art of stop-motion animation carried to new heights, and one of
its best scenes shows the great ape battling a pteranodon at his mountain
retreat, as the hapless heroine Fay Wray looks on…screaming, of course. Rodan (1956) was one of Eijii
Tsubaraya’s early works. Japanese animation, as seen in this and a whole slew
of Godzilla movies, will never win any awards for realism, but Rodan (like all
the others) is amusing because it’s so bad, it’s good. Rodan appears to be a
basic pteranodon, more or less. The Land
Unknown (1957) and The Lost World
(1960) join the ranks of several other bad remakes. One Million Years BC (1966) is actually
a remake of the earlier 1,000,000 BC but
featured Raquel Welch in her first major role. The pterosaurs and other
monsters are credibly done. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) featured the work of
Ray Harryhausen, and in spite of a silly premise, is actually quite good. Harryhausen’s
realistic Allosaurus shares space with some well-done pterosaurs, and even an
Eohippus, the first tiny horse. The Land
That Time Forgot (1974) is more notable for lovely Caroline Munroe than for
its creatures, clearly not up to the standards set by Harryhausen, but that was
probably due to the obviously low budget. Dragonslayer
(1981) gave us the first really impressive dragon since Disney’s animated
“Sleeping Beauty,” complete with an engrossing plot.
Fig. 29. Vermithrax Perjorative, from movie Dragonslayer
In The Lost World (1992), John Rhys-Davies
and David Warner are wonderful, as the philosophically sparring Professors
Challenger and Summerlee, respectively. Though the story was seriously altered
for “political correctness,” it’s a tolerable version, with tolerable–though
not great–critter-animation. Jurassic
Park II: the Lost World (1997) Like its predecessor, this one had
pterosaurs that looked incredibly real. The special effects folks really did
their homework on these films. Jurassic
Park III (2001) continues the excellent standards set by the first two
films, with a whole host of realistic creatures. The Lost World (BBC-TV, 2001) At last, a worthy remake! Bob Hoskins
(of “Roger Rabbit” fame) is teamed with James Fox, and a wide variety of
well-done dinos. In this one, his pterosaur escapes into London,
never to be seen again. One of the few remakes worth watching. Dinotopia (TV, 2004) was a beautiful
miniseries based on the exquisitely-illustrated books by James Gurney. Lord of the Rings: The TwoTowers(2002) and Lord of the
Rings: Return of the King (2003) magnificently capture Tolkien’s
fantasy-world, with striking realism. The “pterosaurs” in this case are more
dragon-like, as they carry the dread Nazgul warriors on their backs. Dragon Storm (TV, 2004) has John
Rhys-Davies as a rather nasty and treacherous king; the dragons are well done,
and carry a lame plot fairly well. King
Kong (2005), directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, is, if possible, even better than the
original. Infinitely better than the sorry attempt years earlier, that brought
Jessica Lange to stardom. Its excellence extends to the dino-critters of all
types. Pterodactyl (TV-2005) was a
brutal made-for-TV production involving a flock of unkillable man-eating
pteranodons hatching today in a remote mountain wilderness and hunting down
students and military commandos. The critters were quite realistic, even if the
Fig. 30. Pteranodon
attack, from Pterodactyl (2005).
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Mark A., “The Mystery Of The Thunderbird,” Fortean
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