If you thought Jurassic Park was fiction, it might be time to think again. Recent alleged sightings of pterosaurs have caught the attention of the media, but it turns out people have been saying they saw these ancient flying reptiles for a long time. Is this a case of hallucinations, or could pterosaurs really still be flapping around the skies?
- Pterosaurs are an order of flying reptiles that first appeared in the late Triassic period, around 228 million years ago, and are thought to have gone extinct 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. They’re the first vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight — before birds and bats — and some of them were also the largest.
- One species, Hatzegopteryx, had a wingspan of at least 33 feet. The largest flying animal today is the wandering albatross, with a 12-foot wingspan. A big pterosaur isn’t something that would go unnoticed for long.
- However, biologists unanimously agree that pterosaurs went extinct at the same time as non-avian dinosaurs did — in the mass extinction event at the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary, 66 million years ago, when a huge asteroid slammed into Earth and blew out a crater that’s now the Gulf of Mexico.
- Not everyone agrees, though. Every year a handful of people across the US claim to have seen living pterosaurs. These sightings come from all but 12 states — although Texas, North Carolina and California seem to generate a lot of them — and go back many years.
- Raleigh, NC veterinary student Cynthia Lee claims she saw a pterosaur near Raleigh in January 2018, and again in October 2019. Lee says her mother and uncle told her about seeing a similar creature when they were children.
- Other sightings from North Carolina have come from Charlotte, Asheville and Jacksonville. Witnesses all describe animals with the characteristics of pterosaurs — but they don’t all seem to be talking about the same species of pterosaur. Colors, size and tail length all vary.
- There have also been reports of pterosaurs from the UK, with Glamorgan in Wales being a common place for sightings. Stories of “winged serpents” in a Glamorgan forest date back generations.
Biologists say there’s no possibility pterosaurs are still around. They vanished from the fossil record at the same time dinosaurs and many other species did, and nobody’s ever captured one or even found a body. But still, with multiple witnesses claiming to have seen them it’s an intriguing possibility.
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