River lights of Thailand and Laos

On the Mekong River, the border between Laos and Thailand, a festival attracts thousands of visitors each October. Many people see red glowing objects emerge from the water’s surface, as the mysterious orbs float up and up, only to evaporate or vanish, perhaps a hundred feet or so above the river. This eerie appearance of the Naga Lights has been repeated for centuries. Explanations abound, each with at least one problem.

Giant bioluminescent insects, tracer bullets from military rifles, mystical eggs from a giant snake, methane gas that burns below and above water—each of these explanations has problems. Perhaps most palatable to scientists would be a large insect, for the Mayfly emerges in mass from the surface of rivers and the firefly glows. But a problem seems to emerge with this question: Why would insects emerge from the water like Mayflies, glow like fireflies, and then disperse and stop glowing before they showed signs of mating behavior? Yet other explanations have worse problems.

Tracer bullets never slowly emerge from a river to gently float up over the surface. Mystical eggs of giant snakes never mystify scientists. Methane gas that ignites underwater, floats to the surface, and floats away peacefully in the air (still burning in the form of a ball)—that is hardly a standard demonstration in a chemistry-lab classroom.

I am a living-pterosaur investigator; I encourage researching and searching. I have seen accumulating eyewitness evidence (yes, cryptozoological, not yet zoological) for bioluminescence in modern pterosaurs. Nevertheless, I dare not suggest that baby pterosaurs hatch from underwater eggs. No, I am afraid that the Naga Fireballs of the Mekong River are probably large insects.

Yet the point remains that many insects have probably not yet been classified by Western science, some of them may be bioluminescent, and there is nothing unscientific about the existence of an unclassified bioluminescent non-insect. Of course “modern living bioluminescent Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur” is shocking, but that is what many eyewitness testimonies have proven to me over the past few years.

Jonathan Whitcomb

Author of nonfiction books about reports of living pterosaurs; interviewer of eyewitnesses; occasional explorer.

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