What is a Ropen? – the Basics

Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Eyewitness’s sketch of a ropen seen in Cuba around 1965

I recently saw a Facebook comment on the group Living Pterosaurs of the World: “What are the Ropens and Pterodactyls?” I made many comments and recommended online resources (including this blog), and recommended my new book, Searching for Ropens and Finding God. But not everybody wants to read a 343-page book about the adventures of searching for giant living pterosaurs and interviewing countless eyewitnesses. Some persons are only a bit curious: What is a ropen?

Consider first the sketch by Patty Carson, above. Notice the apparent lack of feathers and the long head crest. This encounter, around 1965 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was close enough, and long enough, that the eyewitness clearly saw the many small teeth in the open mouth of the creature. Only a few eyewitnesses report teeth. Many report a head crest, but the distinguishing characteristic of ropens is the combination of the lack of feathers and a long tail. Consider the following sketch:

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

Notice that the mouths of these two flying creatures are closed. The eyewitness Eskin Kuhn reported nothing about teeth. I suggest those two ropens had teeth just like in the mouth of the other creature observed at Guantanamo Bay a few years earlier, but teeth were not visible because of closed mouths. The sketches are not identical, but we should not expect two eyewitnesses to remember every detail exactly the same: Human perception is imperfect. Yet the similarities are striking, are they not?

What about sightings outside of Cuba? Consider two encounters in the southwest Pacific, decades ago: near Finschhafen and on Bougainville Island. (Both locations are now in the national boundaries of Papua New Guinea.) Duane Hodgkinson saw a huge “pterodactyl” in 1944 and Brian Hennessy saw a flying creature that was similar in 1971.

Hennessy and Hogdkinson flyiing-creature heads

Choices made by two eyewitnesses

Notice the above two sketches: both heads have long pointed head crests. The top image was chosen by Hennessy; the bottom, by Hodgkinson. This does not prove those flying creatures of the southwest Pacific were the same species as the ones flying in Cuba, but it does suggest a similar type. Neither of these two eyewitnesses in New Guinea saw any sign of feathers, but they each saw a long tail. That is a key with ropens: long tails.

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The ropen of Umboi Island

Do pterosaurs still live? In the 21st Century? Don’t  rush to any conclusion; get the facts, then judge  credibility.

Destination Truth Ropen Episode

Destination Truth was not a religious exercise or spiritual quest. It was a true-like adventure television show . . .

Ropen Pterodactyl American Eyewitness

Garth Guessman (a living-pterosaur investigator and explorer) interviewed Hodgkinson in Montana in 2005. Don’t miss this Youtube video.

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Five Eyewitnesses of Pterosaurs in Cuba

Patty points to a tourist attraction on the island of St. Croix. Each of these four children saw a living pterosaur earlier, in Cuba.

I included these five eyewitnesses in my newly published non-fiction book Searching for Ropens and Finding God. Eskin Kuhn and Patty Carson are given much attention, yet more eyewitnesses are mentioned, including three siblings of Carson.

Patty points to a tourist attraction on the island of St. Croix. Each of these four children saw a living pterosaur earlier, in Cuba.

Patty Carson & her two brothers & a sister, in a posed photo unrelated to ropens

In the above photo, the four children of the Carson family are looking at a tourist attraction on the island of St. Croix, in the Caribbean. But not many years earlier, these four kids, in three separate sighting encounters, saw a large flying creature that was most likely the same species as the two that would be seen in 1971 by the U. S. Marine Eskin Kuhn. (Much has been written about his encounter at Guantanamo Bay.)

The youngest child (on the left, with his chin on the rail) has long since forgotten about the animal, but he was with his sister, Patty, when the two of them encountered what has become known, in recent years, as the “Gitmo pterosaur.” The older two children also saw that apparent species, in two other sightings on other days. But all the sightings, including Eskin Kuhn’s, were at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Gitmo Pterosaur

This may actually be the same species as the one labeled “American Hammerhead Ropen.” The following is an excerpt from the book:

I communicated with another eyewitness, in 2011, by emails and phone, about what I’d eventually call the “Gitmo Pterosaur.” Here is some of what I received from Patty Carson, whose father worked at Guantanamo Bay in the mid-1960’s:

“. . . We lived at the end of the road, last house, by the radio tower. We were walking from the boat yards toward home . . . where it was sandy underfoot, sparse scrub vegetation around four feet tall, smelled like tar from the boatyard and sulfur from the sandy flats.

” . . . Suddenly it sat up, as if it had been eating something or resting. The head and upper part of its body [appeared]. . . . right in front of us about thirty feet away. All of us froze for about five seconds, then it leaned to its left and took off with a fwap fwap fwap sound, in a big hurry, more of a scramble, and flew to its left and disappeared behind trees and terrain.”

Also from the book (another excerpt) is a report from Modesto, California:

The man later told me, “I didn’t realize you had dedicated as much time and resources to researching this subject as you have. . . . . Thanks for taking my story seriously. . . . [I’ll] do my best to explain the shape of the head . . . its head would be that of a ‘claw hammer’ only not bent downward. As for the front of its head, well it wasn’t blunt like the front of a claw hammer but rather like the beak of a pelican, without a saggy throat.”

That reminds me of the sightings east of Winder, Georgia, in the summer of 2008, of what I call the “American Hammerhead Ropen,” . . .  Some of these large flying creatures observed across North America should be the same species.

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Nonfiction book by Jonathan Whitcomb: "Searching for Ropens and Finding God" a quest for modern pterosaurs

Searching for Ropens and Finding God – nonfiction true-life adventure, uplifting spiritually, educational, enjoyable

From the Acknowledgements:

What more could we ask of the U.S. Marine Eskin Kuhn and the little girl Patty Carson, two eyewitnesses of “pterodactyls” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the middle of the twentieth century? They carefully observed those flying creatures and later drew detailed sketches that defy any misidentification conjecture that any skeptic might throw at them. Thank you, Eskin; thank you, Patty.

Grateful for Pterosaur Sighting Reports

Duane Hodgkinson, of Livingston, Montana - eyewitness of a giant ropen

This morning I heard of a father who overheard his boy’s conversation with another little boy who had brought over a new pet: a small green turtle. The man’s son was overheard to say, “I wish I had a turtle. All I got is just a dog and a cat and a horse.” How enlightening! We need to be grateful for what we have, rather than dwell only on what we don’t have.

A white horse nibbles grass in a field

Are you wishing for a turtle?

We do not yet have any clear photograph of a living pterosaur, at least not a photo that we have felt comfortable is genuine. We do have many eyewitnesses, however, and for their testimonies we can feel grateful.

Last week we celebrated Veteran’s Day. Let us now observe a different perspective, feeling gratitude from a broader panorama but in a special focus. Consider now the soldiers, the sailors, and the airmen, from whatever nations, who have observed a living pterosaurs and reported the encounters. And may we be grateful, regardless of any lack of photos or lack of official reports, grateful for all those who risk doubt and ridicule by reporting to us those wonderful flying creatures.

Why should military personnel have any special opportunities for encountering modern pterosaurs? They often spend more hours outdoors than most of us. That’s why we should not be surprised that they sometimes report such sightings.

Long-necked bat seen by sailors

Last week I got an email from a biologist who told me about his uncle’s report of a “giant long-necked bat” in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The old veteran once asked his nephew what kind of bat had been killed, in 1944, on the deck of the uncle’s ship.

The sailor was stationed on an American ship that was just a few days from Wake Island. For target practice, they opened fire on a large island.  After about ten minutes, the crew saw what they first assumed was a Japanese plane. Then it flapped its wings and moved its head.

The giant “bat” approached the ship and landed on the deck. Badly injured, it was poked by oars held by some of the sailors. The commanding officer told everybody that it was just a bat and ordered a sailor to kill it and toss it overboard. That sailor was the uncle.

The creature was about the size of a modern-day hang glider and had a long neck like that of a crane bird. The tough hair on the wings felt like cactus needles, and the body of the creature had soft fluffy hair. It had yellow eyes and what appeared like an “elongated parrot beak.”

Two “Pterodactyls” in Cuba in 1971

Eskin Kuhn was on a break, one sunny day, during his military assignment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when the U.S. Marine saw two strange flying creatures near the coast. Soon after the sighting, he sketched what he had seen, opening himself up to decades of occasional ridicule and occasional praise. I am grateful for his bravery in telling the truth about what he encountered, even though his testimony has mostly been ignored by those who should have taken notice.

Finschhafen, New Guinea sighting in 1944

So much has been written about this encounter that it needs no great explanation here. Be aware that Garth Guessman and I have found this World War II veteran to be highly credible. We believe that he really did see a living pterosaur in that jungle clearing in 1944.

Ropen off the coast of Indonesia?

In June of 2008, H. (anonymous) was flying a small twin-engined plane with his co-pilot, B.; both are former navy  pilots. They were mostly finished with the 700-mile flight from Broome, Australia, to Bali, Indonesia when H. saw what he at first assumed was another airplane flying in a head-on collision course.

Quoting from an upcoming nonfiction book

From the upcoming third edition of Searching for Ropens and Finding God, an eyewitness tells us about his sighting of three flying creatures in Texas, in the 1970’s, and about his encounter with a school teacher who was trying to teach the class about dinosaur extinctions.

The first one appeared to be trying to avoid the other two. The eyewitness told me, “I kept thinking that I could make out long tails.” It may have been some time after the encounter in the classroom, between the boy and his teacher, when he concluded that one female pterosaur had been chased by two males. I don’t know, I saw nothing. I have encountered, over the past ten years, skeptics who appear to outnumber eyewitnesses. I’ve learned how desperately some eyewitnesses have tried to avoid getting shot down by scoffers. I know something of pain, although I may have felt the sting less deeply than eyewitnesses who have spoken out. I have a suggestion.

You cannot soar higher than hot air. That’s what pushes you up above those tied to the ground. The moment you fold up your wings to avoid the blast of hot air—that’s when you begin to sink toward their level. If you have seen something like a living pterosaur, and you feel crazy telling anybody, tell me about it. If crazy is how you must feel, at least you’ll feel at home with me.

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Duane Hodgkinson, of Livingston, Montana - eyewitness of a giant ropen

Eyewitness Duane Hodgkinson

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Woodpeckers, Flintstones, and Long-Tailed Pterosaurs

Perosaur Sketch by Eskin Kuhn

Reply to a Post by Dale A. Drinnon: “Cuban Pterosaurs?”

How far some skeptics will go to find a non-pterosaur explanation for pterosaur sightings! Featherless long-tailed flying creatures with long bony head crests are not misidentifications of woodpeckers, but there is more. Dale Drinnon has made some apparently accurate generalizations about the two main groups of those featherless pterosaurs; unfortunately he looked no deeper. It’s true that many fossils can be divided into “basal” and Pterodactyloid types:

  1. long-tailed ones without a head crest
  2. short-tailed ones with a head crest

But that is a generalization, and real progress in science often requires careful examination of exceptions. In this case, there is a long-tailed pterosaur, known from fossils, that did indeed have a head crest, contrary to the general assumption proclaimed as if universal by Mr. Drinnon.

Even more to the point, that particular species was reported still living just a few centuries ago: non-extinct. John Goertzen wrote a paper for the 1998 International Conference on Creation, held in Geneva, Pennsylvania. The name of that scientific paper is “The Rhamphorhynchoid Pterosaur Scaphognathus crassirostris: A ‘Living Fossil’ Until the 17th Century.”

I will not quote from it here, but the point is simple: One species, known from fossils, had both a long tail and a head crest, and if one exception existed, one long-tailed pterosaur with a head crest, living a few centuries ago in the Eastern Hemisphere, why should we be shocked at another exception, a long-tailed “pterodactyl” with a head crest, living a few decades ago in Cuba?

At least one investigator seems to have found significant evidence that the Scaphognathus crassirostris lived up until the 1600’s in and around the Mediterranean. Many eyewitness have seen long-tailed pterosaurs with head crests in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in various parts of the world; I’ve interviewed many of them myself. Eyewitnesses continue to accumulate, so I suggest that Mr. Drinnon get used to this concept.

Flintstones Cartoons in Detail

Before getting into the woodpecker interpretation of pterosaur sightings in Cuba, consider what Drinnon has declared in his post “Cuban Pterosaurs.”

The mixed-trait Pterosaurs do not exist in Paleontology but they DO occur commonly in popular cartoons such as The Flintstones in the 1960s.

We have already seen that some pterosaurs with what Drinnon calls “mixed-trait” characteristics do indeed exist in paleontology. Now let’s look at the Flintstones, with an eye for any appearance of a pterosaur with that combination of long tail and head crest.

The standard opening of at least some of those cartoons includes a couple of dinosaurs but no pterosaurs.

Season #1, episode #18 has a large bird with feathers, nothing suggesting a pterosaur.

“A Man Called Flintstone,” Part One, at 01:31 (one minute and thirty-one seconds from the beginning), has a pterosaur in the mid-ground WITH NO TAIL. At 1:37, that same flying creature appears much clearer because it’s much closer, filling most of the vertical and about half of the horizontal portion of the screen, again with NO TAIL. I scanned the fifteen minutes of Part One, without seeing any other pterosaur.

I then looked at Season #3, episode #14 (“Dial ‘S’ For Suspicion,” Part 1). At 5:20 a bird with feathers has a beak that is used as a letter opener; the bird has no head crest and no tail and nothing that would suggest it is anything other than a bird with feathers. At 8:00, Fred uses the beak of a small bird as a writing tool; that bird has a small head crest that appears like it is feathered; the tail also appears like the tail of feathered birds, in fact at 8:11 the tail is seen more clearly and it is definitely a feathered bird tail, nothing like any tail of any pterosaur. At 10:26, a writing-tool bird appears with even more obvious feathers on both head and tail, even more obviously a bird. At 11:39 that same feathered bird appears, with that same appearance.

Now consider an episode that was aired on October 1, 1961, “The Rock Quarry Story.” I saw nothing in the first ten minutes of that episode that had any flying creature of any kind.

What about season #3, episode #6, “Here’s Snow in Your Eyes,” Part One? I also did a quick scan of that episode (on Youtube, like the others). I saw no flying creature at all.

In no Flintstones cartoon did I see anything remotely like what the skeptic declares exists. I have no desire to continue scanning through those old animations, but I see another problem with the Flintstones conjecture.

Another Flintstones-Cartoon Problem

Mr. Drinnon has brought up those cartoons as one possible source of the idea of long-tailed pterosaurs with head crests, and he said, about the eyewitness reports, “they are reporting accurate portrayals of fantasies.” I suggest Mr. Drinnon has allowed his own imagination to run away with his reasoning, concerning the Flintstones cartoons.

Even if those characteristics of a “mixed-trait” pterosaur were portrayed commonly in those cartoons, that would not likely cause two separate eyewitnesses to report those details in large flying creatures at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1965 and in 1971; Drinnon fails to provide any clear reason why that strange mental image-transport would happen.

Think about this: Have you ever read about or heard about anything in a Flintstones cartoon coming up in anything like a hallucination or confirmed misidentification, with two eyewitnesses of something similar that was seen in the same location?

To be more precise, have you ever seen anything in your neighborhood park that looked like something from a Flintstones cartoon? Did that encounter cause you to report that thing as if it were real? Did you later learn that somebody else had seen that same Flintstones image in that same park and also reported it as a real object? How ridiculous! Cartoons do not cause two eyewitnesses to see something that appears very similar but that is far different from what was actually there.

I find it astonishing that somebody would suggest such an idea while declaring that other persons, namely eyewitnesses, have been involved in a fantasy. I declare that the Flintstones conjecture is a fantasy.

Knocking on Wood for Woodpeckers

Drinnon pins far too much weight onto the wings of a bird. His post includes a link to the Wikipedia page “Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker,” where it says that this bird is (or was, if extinct) “smaller” than the American Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Now let’s leave Wikipedia and go back to Drinnon’s post.

Drinnon appears to try to connect a “Giant Hornbill” with a ropen with a “20 foot wingspan.” In the very next sentence, he refers to a “known giant bird,” and in the sentence after that, he says that bird is the “Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker.” But immediately after that sentence we see that link to Wikipedia, that page that tells us that the Cuban variety (or species) is slightly smaller than the American woodpecker.

I don’t know where he gets the wingspan of “20 foot” for a “ropen.” If he refers to the two “pterodactyls” observed by Eskin Kuhn in 1971, that wingspan appears too large; if he refers to the larger ropens reported in Papua New Guinea, that wingspan appears too small. Drinnon gives no explanation for why he mentioned the number twenty.

But regardless of the existence or non-existence of a giant Hornbill bird with a wingspan of twenty feet, that size has no relevance to Ivory-billed woodpeckers, Cuban or American, presently extinct or not.

Pterosaur Eyewitness Eskin Kuhn

For eastern Cuba, in and around Guantanamo Bay at least, we have two shotguns for shooting down woodpeckers. The first eyewitness who came forward with a report of a living “pterodactyl” in eastern Cuba was U.S. Marine Eskin C. Kuhn. Here is the sketch that he drew within minutes of his encounter with two huge flying creatures:

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

I know that a camera in his hands could have provided a more objective image of those two flying creatures observed by that U.S. Marine in 1971. But Mr. Kuhn put his artistic talents to good use, and it seems very unlikely to me that he would have been greatly mistaken in many ways. But he was not alone. Another shotgun obliterates the woodpecker conjecture.

Pterosaur Eyewitness Patty Carson

Eskin Kuhn reported his sighting of two “pterodactyls” decades ago, with his sketch. Patty Carson saw what appears to have been the same species of flying creature, about six years earlier. She immediately reported the encounter to her father on the base of Guantanamo Bay, but none of the adults believed her, so she stopped telling people about it.

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Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Patty Carson saw this creature in the same area of Cuba, around 1965

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Patty Carson saw one “dinosaur,” compared with the two “pterodactyls” seen by Eskin Kuhn, and she was a child at the time, walking home with her younger brother, but Kuhn was an adult. But notwithstanding differences in descriptions, significant resemblances in the two reports are striking.

Carson sent me an email in April of 2011, soon after she had googled “Pterodactyl in Cuba” and found Kuhn’s sighting report. We had extensive email interview sessions through mid-2011, and she drew a sketch of the creature she had seen. Fortunately she too is a talented artist.

One critical point about Patty’s report is this: She is sure of the many small teeth in the mouth of the flying creature. And woodpeckers, no matter how large, and whether extinct or not, have no teeth.

Misidentification Possibility, in Conclusion

We always need to be alert to the possibility of a misidentification when we first encounter a sighting report of an apparent pterosaur. But this two-sighting case at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the mid-twentieth century, appears unlikely to ever be seriously challenged with any misidentification conjecture, be it a giant woodpecker or any other bird, with teeth or without. This two-sighting case for living pterosaurs in eastern Cuba is just too tight for a woodpecker to squeeze into, notwithstanding how strange some persons may think it is to have a long-tailed head-crested pterosaur living in modern times.

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Live Pterosaurs Versus Extinct Woodpeckers

According to Huntington, eyewitness accounts of featherless flying creatures with head crests and long tails, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not from the imaginations of persons who had watched too many Flintstones cartoons. He suggests that the most modern insights into pterosaur fossils allow for the possibility that a large long-tailed pterosaur species with a head crest might very well have lived, and might still be living.

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California Ropens – Are They Woodpeckers?

I am actually grateful that one skeptic brought up a woodpecker interpretation for sightings of apparent pterosaurs on the west coast of the United States . . . sort of. It kicked me off my comfortable couch, to search for more information about woodpeckers and other birds, and to learn about pterosaurs that perch and birds that do not perch.

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Pterosaurs not Extinct

Live “pterodactyls?” In the United States? Many scientists have long assumed all pterosaurs died millions of years ago. Now take a whirlwind tour of many years of investigations in cryptozoology, and prepare for a shock: At least two species of pterosaurs have survived, uncommon, not so much rare as widely, thinly distributed.

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