Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Wings over North Carolina

Rounding out Paleontology Week is a story courtesy of my friend and long-time loyal reader of Skeptophilia, the brilliant novelist Tyler Tork (whose new book The Deep End is a must-read for anyone who likes speculative fiction and magical realism).  And, I might add, it is completely on-brand for 2020.

So today we have: pterodactyl sightings are on the increase in the United States.

Pteranodon by Heinrich Harder (1916)  {Image is in the Public Domain]

Myself, I would have thought that one pterodactyl sighting would be an increase given that the number of currently-living pterodactyls is zero, but apparently I'm incorrect.  Evidently North Carolina is a hotspot of pterodactyl activity, where people are seeing big flying things with crests and a diamond-shaped rudder on the tail.  This sounds to me like my favorite pterodactyloid, Rhamphorhynchus:

[Image is in the Public Domain]

Now, I hasten to add that I don't really believe there are pterodactyls flying around Charlotte.  To me, there's the same problem with this as with all the Bigfoot claims; lots of anecdotal stories of sightings, and not a single unequivocal piece of hard evidence.  You'd think if these things were still around, someone would have run across a body or a skull or something.  Or even a fossil of one that isn't older than 66 million years.

But that doesn't stop the true believers.  Over at the sight (of course there's a website called "") you can read dozens of eyewitness accounts.  And much to my surprise, my home state of New York is not far behind North Carolina, according to this map:

So I think I better keep my eyes open.  Although even with my fairly lousy eyesight, it's hard to imagine how I could miss something that (according to one witness) "had an enormous pointed beak, and a pointed top of its head...  The wingspan was probably about 5-6 feet wide with bony wing structure ending in points (almost like sails) and what looked like small claws on the middle of wing."

Anyhow, after reading this article I made the mistake of looking at the "comments" section.  (This is, in fact, always a mistake.)  The comments seemed to be half "of course pterodactyls are still alive, I've seen one" and half "whatever you've been smoking, can I have some?"  But my favorite comment was from the woman who wrote (spelling and grammar are as written): "Wit all the ice melting.  Who knows what was frozen.  Or.  Wilderness caves where anything could hide."

So here we have yet another downside of global climate change; thawing out all the pterodactyls who have been encased in ice in the frozen wasteland of North Carolina for 66 million years.

In any case, if you had "pterodactyls" on your 2020 Apocalypse Bingo Card, you can check that box off.  And frankly, I'd take pterodactyls over murder hornets.  Have you ever seen a photograph of one of those things?  They are huge, and have a stinger like a fucking harpoon.  So I say: bring on the pterodactyls.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation of the week is by the brilliant Dutch animal behaviorist Frans de Waal, whose work with capuchin monkeys and chimps has elucidated not only their behavior, but the origins of a lot of our own.  (For a taste of his work, watch the brilliant TED talk he did called "Moral Behavior in Animals.")

In his book Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, de Waal looks at this topic in more detail, telling riveting stories about the emotions animals experience, and showing that their inner world is more like ours than we usually realize.  Our feelings of love, hate, jealousy, empathy, disgust, fear, and joy are not unique to humans, but have their roots in our distant ancestry -- and are shared by many, if not most, mammalian species.

If you're interested in animal behavior, Mama's Last Hug is a must-read.  In it, you'll find out that non-human animals have a rich emotional life, and one that resembles our own to a startling degree.  In looking at other animals, we are holding up a mirror to ourselves.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. Far as I know, all of the flying crptids reported from Pennsylvania, are big birds, ie; "Thunderbirds." Supposedly late surviving Teratorns.