Truth and Error in Pterosaur Endeavor

Media Coverage Welcome

I am grateful that some news professionals have written and published some details of living-pterosaur investigations. Whether in a prodigious newspaper like the Houston Chronicle or a small weekly community paper like the Antwerp Bee-Argus, I welcome coverage of what my associates and I have done and what eyewitnesses have seen. (See the “Pterosaur Media Center“) I am grateful that Terrence Aym felt a need to write, in a positive way, about the possibility of extant pterosaurs. It’s not easy for news professionals to do that. Thank you, Mr. Aym for that endeavor.

But when serious problems arise in reporting, including the lack of accuracy, I respond; how dearly we need the truth in details!

“Dinosaur Found Alive: Two Species Recorded in Papua New Guinea”

Terrence Aym wrote an article about live-pterosaur investigations, published online on August 12, 2010, by the Salem-News (Pacific Northwest area). Let’s begin with what was reported correctly.

“Determined exploration teams” have indeed sought for evidence to confirm reports of large flying creatures in Papua New Guinea. Mr. Aym mentions two of them: David Woetzel and Jim Blume; he calls them “daring researchers” because they have traveled to remote isolated areas, and I agree with him there. He is correct in mentioning that pterosaurs have been assumed (by scientists in Western countries) to have become extinct by 65 million years ago.

Several other points he has reported with some accuracy; but many serious problems need to be addressed. To begin, the news article starts with “(PAPUA, New Guinea)” and that can be misleading. In traditional news reporting, the body of the article is preceded by the location of the reporter when the story was written. For example, my news releases begin with something like “LONG BEACH, Calif,” because that is where I write my news releases (and almost everything else I write). But Mr. Aym, as far as I know, has never been in Papua New Guinea. In that case, the article should not have started with “(PAPUA, New Guinea).”

Two Species of Pterosaur?

He made the same mistake, in his 2010 article, that was common before the many news releases of recent years, before the ropen expeditions of 2004 and 2006, before the nonfiction books on live pterosaurs. He repeated the same old blunder about the duah” and the ropen, as if those names designate two types of flying creatures.

The islands of the nation of Papua New Guinea (Mr. Aym may have confused the name of the nation with the name of the main island), have many isolated villages, with hundreds of languages. One language uses the word “duwas” for the same basic kind of creature that is called “ropen” by many villagers of Umboi Island. It seems that one or more English-speaking researchers became confused, many years ago, thinking that “duah” is the singular for “duwas” and that it represents a different kind of flying creature than the one that some islanders call “ropen.” Nothing of the kind.

Mr Aym mentions neither “duwas” nor “indava” nor “seklo-bali” nor “wawanar,” names used by natives of various village languages. Countless other names probably could be found by researchers, but my associates and I had limited time and resources during our expeditions in Papua New Guinea. The variety of names reflects the variety of languages, not any variety in characteristics of the flying creatures themselves, the ones described like pterosaurs.

We have noticed two basically-different forms of pterosaur-like flying creatures in Papua New Guinea, but they have no relationship to the word “duah.” (In fact, I suspect there is no such word as “duah,” in any language in that part of the world, that refers to a flying creature.) The two types are long-tailed (we call it “ropen”) and the less-commonly seen short-tailed (perhaps like a Pteranodon).

Frigate Bird or Ropen?

Perhaps the most serious blunder in that 2010 article, however, is in the image of a Frigate bird, an image that has the caption “Amazing amateur daylight video of a ‘Ropen’ (Dimorphodon pterosaur) hunting for fish off a Papua New Guinea beach.” How serious is that blunder!


Flying Frigate bird

Frigate bird close up


Flying Frigate bird

Another Frigate bird, from another angle

The above two photos of oceanic birds have one thing in common: They both show Frigate birds. But the ropen of Papua New Guinea differs greatly in appearance, having a long neck and a long horn-like head crest.

I don’t seen any significant difference betwee the above two common birds and the bird shown on Mr. Aym’s 2010 article. But I have encountered a good number of other persons who have made that same misidentification. Mr. Aym is certainly not alone; but I am grateful that he chose to be different enough to support the revolutionary idea that some species of pterosaurs are still living. He was perfectly correct there.