“Unidentified Flying Creatures” on Monsterquest (Flying Rods)

common video artifact

This is not primarily about living pterosaurs or long-tailed ropens or flying dragons. We now disrobe video artifacts called flying rods, strange-looking objects that are not visible, as such, to the naked eye. Why examine such a subject on the Live Pterosaur blog rather than on a video-technology blog? This post does indirectly relate to modern pterosaurs. The television show Monsterquest may have made an error of judgment in two episodes, one of which was about reports of living pterosaurs.

  • “Unidentified Flying Creatures” (Season 1, Episode 11) examines videotaped “rods,” which some persons believe to be paranormal
  • “Flying Monsters” (Season 3) expedition on New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea (with a pterosaur-expert of a paleontologist)

Before we get into the nature of that error of judgment, and how it is common to both TV episodes, we need to carefully examine the one about “flying rods,” from the first season of Monsterquest.

Video Artifacts Called “Rods”

I was a forensic videographer in 2003, when I started a serious investigation into eyewitness reports of apparent pterosaurs. I understood the basics of NTSC video technology, which technology was still relevant at the time.

Jonathan David Whitcomb, certified legal videographer

Jonathan Whitcomb, certified forensic videographer

Many persons may have both of the following misconceptions about video recording, and even some professional videographers may have a problem with one of them:

  1. Video accurately records appearances of all objects in moments of time
  2. Video often records what the human eye cannot see

Both of those concepts are generally wrong, or at least of limited value, although we can find exceptions. The problem with a paranormal interpretations of flying rods, however, is that it may require assuming we’re dealing with exceptions involving both of the above ideas. Please note:

Beware of putting too much confidence in the strength of a chain of connected assumptions.

common video artifact

“Flying rods” are NOT video recordings of creatures with more than four wings

Before digging more deeply into the apparent mystery of flying rods, let me give examples of images captured by my game camera a few years ago, in Lakewood, California. For information on the sighting that inspired me to put up that deer camera over a storm channel, see Flying Creature in Southern California.

bird sits in front of a game camera over a storm channel on a summer day

#1 Common bird on a fence by a storm channel in Lakewood, California

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Lakewood, California, game-camera photo

#2 What are those horizontal lines on the right?

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photo of a flying humming bird

#3 What is that thing in front of the camera lens?

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Game-camera shot of a flying hummingbird

#4 Now it’s possible to see a hummingbird (Lakewood, California)

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head and beak of a hummingbird

Head and beak of the hummingbird (from #4)

Notice how much easier it can be to discern the hummingbird head when the strange horizontal wing-flap lines are removed: The beak is no longer camouflaged. By the way, the above images, from the game camera in Lakewood, California, are not from a video camera but are still photos. Both kinds of cameras can record anomalies.

Remember misconception #1: “Video accurately records appearances of all objects in moments of time.” Neither photographic stills nor video stills are recordings of instantaneous moments. It always takes time for a number of photons of light to enter the camera lens and make the necessary impression on the recording device. No recording is instantaneous, no matter how fast the device may be, even with the most-high-speed equipment.

Whether we use a still camera or a video camera, when the relative speed of an object is great, in front of the lens, strange recordings can take place. These weird images are not limited to hummingbirds, for some insects flap their wings very rapidly, and that’s where “flying rods” come into view. Insects that are flapping their wings very quickly—they can make for some strange recordings on video, especially when an insect has flown close to the lens of the camera.

Insect Wing Flapping

According to Teacher-Scholastic (“How Insects Fly”):

Large-bodied insects lift off by flapping their wings very rapidly: for bees and flies, about 200 times per second. Some midges and wasps flap their wings up to 1,000 times per second!

What impressive wing-flapping rates! So what would we expect a common video camera to record, when such an insect flies across the field of view, relatively close to the lens? On playback, we should see a flying rod, either straight or curved, with many wing-like appendages on the sides. In fact, that’s what some persons show us while supporting a paranormal interpretation of such images from video footage.

The commonsense interpretation, however, is that those images are recordings of common flying creatures such as insects and birds. Some of those common creatures just flap their wings faster and fly closer to the camera.

Now let’s examine the common error in the two Monsterquest episodes, a fundamental error.

Bias Favoring Popular Imagination

What do these two Monsterquest episodes have in common? The obvious relationship is in the possibility of strange flying creatures, found in both episodes. The less-obvious similarity is found after digging deeper.

Bias in favor of one extreme or another—paranormal or commonplace explanation—that’s not the common problem. In the first-season episode “Unidentified Flying Creatures,” both extremes are given attention, ending with a wishy-washy appeal to each viewer to make a personal choice of preference; in the third-season episode “Flying Monsters,” both extremes are also given attention, ending with a ridiculous conclusion: Eyewitness accounts of giant flying creatures (at least some of which reportedly glow), including unidentified flying creatures that can carry away humans—those unclassified apparent gigantic animals relate to a tiny bat that one of the explorers was shown to hold in his hand. But the drum roll in the music background failed to convince many viewers that catching that tiny bat answered all questions about reports of giant flying creatures.

Now to the point about a similar bias in both television episodes of Monsterquest: They both give preference to popular imagination over human experience.

In the “flying rods” first-season episode, undue credit is given to the opinions of those who imagine an other-worldly cause of the strange images. What about the humans who were present at the time of the video recordings? They noticed nothing unusual, although some of them were aware of common birds and insects flying around at the time. Why assume that the flying rods were invisible to those humans? Why not consider that nothing unusual was flying around, just birds and insects?

In the “Flying Monsters” third-season episode, undue credit is given to the opinions of those who image universal extinctions of all species of pterosaurs. What about humans who witness living pterosaurs? In Searching for Ropens and Finding God, it says, “Trust one eyewitness of a plane crash over the imaginations of a hundred professors who’ve agreed how that kind of plane should fly.” Keeping within that symbolism, we should reject the proclamation of a hundred professors who believe that the plane could not possibly crash, and we should accept the eyewitnesses who saw the crash. By so doing, we can see clearly enough to recognize the smoke from the crash and rush to the scene, with hope of rescuing survivors.

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Monsterquest versus Destination Truth

Regarding searching for the ropen with an open mind, Destination Truth wins easily against Monsterquest. Josh Gates interviewed a number of native eyewitnesses, one of them twice.

Unidentified Flying Creatures and Missing Persons

People go missing for a number of reasons. The following relates to some of the strangest cases, with an explanation that may shock many and appear unbelievable to others.

Sightings of Live Pterosaurs

Many of the eyewitness reports come from the Southwest Pacific,  including Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Indonesia; but some  come from Africa, South America, North America, and Europe.

Pterosaur Sighting in Texas

How common is a long tail on a modern pterosaur! Of the 128 more-credible sighting reports compiled at the end of 2012, 41% reported a long tail. That’s a lot, considering some eyewitnesses concentrate on the head or wings and don’t remember for sure if there was a long tail. Also significant is how few report the absence of a long tail: only 2%. That makes a 20-to-1 ratio in favor of long tails.

Fiery Flying Serpent of the Bible

Was the deadly “fiery flying serpent” of the Bible related to the modern ropen? That’s a difficult question, but it’s worthy of consideration.

UFC – Unidentified Flying Creature

Concerning the disappearance of eight-year-old Dennis Johnson, in Yellowstone National Park in 1966, a newspaper quoted one of the searchers: “It was nearly as if he had been snatched from the face of the earth.” Others have made similar statements about strange disappearances.

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On the Light Side; Apologies to Emily Dickinson

Ropen, the thing without feathers - no offense to Emily Dickinson

As we learn more about the behaviors of modern living pterosaurs, from eyewitness reports, we learn more and more about the darker side to some of these flying creatures. To those who love birds: beware of ropens.

Ropen, the thing without feathers - no offense to Emily Dickinson

 

“Not Everybody Embraces a Live Pterodactyl,” by Jonathan David Whitcomb

Ropen, the thing without feathers,

That sleeps inside a hole,

And eats the bats and perching birds,

And never stops at all . . .

Is it better not to know?

[I had originally put it “is better not to know,” referring to getting too close to a ropen. I always believe we need to know about these wonderful flying creatures of the night.]

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nonfiction by Whitcomb - "Searching for Ropens and Finding God" - supporting the Bible regarding the fiery flying serpent (pterosaur)

Searching for Ropens and Finding God – True stories of courage

Why are Some Living Pterosaurs Huge?

Perosaur Sketch by Eskin Kuhn

Actually relatively few modern pterosaurs grow to become as large as the largest of those flying creatures known from fossils. At least some species probably continue to grow as long as they live, making the giant ones rare, for many things can cause an organism to die; remember the greatest risk one faces in old age: death. Statistics make it clear that pterosaur sightings, at least the more credible reports, show a steady range of wingspan estimates, with a slight drop off in the flying creatures appearing to have a wingspan greater than about thirty feet. Let’s examine that idea first.

Why do so many sightings involve giant pterosaurs?

That’s a better question, for the giant ones are indeed rare. What do I mean? Put yourself in the following situation, and let’s say that you are unaware of reports of living pterosaurs. Walk out your front door to your car as something flies over your house. Whatever that something is, let us say it’s over a hundred feet high and between the size of a sparrow and a crow. Would you look up to see what kind of bird it is? Why bother?

Now keep everything the same except the size: The flying creature has a wingspan of twenty feet. Even at 150 feet above your house, it could very well catch the corner of your eye and perhaps change your life, as you turn your head. Our subconscious has a way of telling us when something is odd.

The point? Modern pterosaurs with wingspans greater than large birds catch the attention of eyewitnesses, even though those larger ones are nocturnal and relatively rare. When one of them takes off into the air in daylight, for whatever reason, how easy we can take notice! That shocking appearance might also increase an eyewitness’s desire to report the sighting to me, increasing the number of giant flying creatures in my reports.

If we could take a census of all modern pterosaurs, of all species now living, I would not be shocked to learn that less than 1% of them have wingspans over twenty feet. Take that in the context of the late-2012 analysis of the 128 most credible sighting reports: Of those estimating wingspans, 26% of the estimates were over twenty feet. But I would guess the actual number of animals (of that size) at much closer to 1% of the total population.

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Perosaur Sketch by Eskin Kuhn
Kuhn saw two pterosaurs in Cuba, in 1971

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Pterosaur Sightings and Photos

Direct eyewitness testimony of a pterosaur sighting is essential, even if we have to wait many years for photographic evidence.

Was it a Giant Prehistoric Bird?

. . . why is that word  used by some eyewitnesses: “bird?” That word comes to mind because birds commonly fly overhead, during the daylight when we notice things in the sky, far more commonly than we notice bats.

Live Pterosaurs and Science

What can we conclude from the evenness of the data on wingspan estimates? No significant number of hoaxes were involved, for expectations regarding pterosaur size would have made one or two peaks; there is no significant peak anywhere that would suggest such a thing.

Beliz Pterosaur [Update: misidentified Frigate Bird]

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing an eyewitness of a possible pterosaur that had flown over the coast of Belize (Central America) in 2006. Actually, Vito Kobliha and another eyewitness saw three long-tailed flying creatures. The apparent pterosaurs were high and rather far off, but Kobliha had the impression that they were not ordinary birds.

Videotaping three apparent living pterosaurs with a professional camera—that set this sighting apart from other sightings. I hope to have a copy of his video soon, so that I can analyze the footage.

Bat Misidentification Shot Down

Featherless flying creatures with long tails are unlikely to be misidentified bats. No bat known to science (officially classified that is) has a long tail, at least not to my knowledge. We need to look at the obvious interpretation first, not blindly hold onto dogma by insisting on some kind of misidentification.

That does not mean I will not be looking at the possibility of a misidentified bird, when I view the video footage from Belize. I will scrutinize the video carefully and compare the three flying objects with images of birds that fly in Belize and that have long legs that are held behind them during flight.

From the above-linked web site on the pterosaur in Cuba:

Mr. Kuhn had assumed that the two long-tailed pterosaurs he observed were exceptional cases and that short tails were what would be expected of modern living pterosaurs. That was before his 2010 interview with cryptozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb. Most sightings do involve long tails.

Misidentification Possibility for a Model Pterodactyl

Regarding the sighting in southwest Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in 2006:

There is no mechanical model, of a pterosaur, that catches and eats ducks or rats. Let me explain with reference to this apparent pterosaur in Pennsylvania, quoting from both the Live Pterosaur blog mentioned and the source for that posting on that blog.

“The wing span appeared to be at least six feet . . . you could clearly make out a long ‘horn’ or ‘cone’ type protrusion coming out of the back of its skull, which was at the end of an elongated neck . . . This ‘bird’ also seemed to have a long tail . . . As it was almost directly over us we all agreed we couldn’t see feathers anywhere and my student Carrie said ‘It looks like pterodactyl . . .  doesn’t it?’ . . . There are always ducks in that water as well as rats and other things. When she came back . . . she said it had taken off, Carrie said it was in the water splashing and eating or grabbing something in its mouth.”

Model Pterosaur Misidentification in Belize?

Three factors discourage this interpretation (mechanical model of a pterosaur) for the 2006 Belize sighting. This Central American country is a somewhat unlikely place for somebody to fly a mechanical model of a pterosaur. More telling, perhaps, is that three of them were flying together and at high altitude, at least high for models. No, this is not a reasonable interpretation, this misidentified flying model idea.

[Update: on examining the video footage, it was an obvious Frigate Bird. Sorry for the false alarm with this post. JDW]