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Cryptozoology

Quetzalcoatlus: the evil, pin-headed, toothy nightmare monster that wants to eat your soul

Azhdarchids were mostly large to gigantic, long-skulled Cretaceous pterosaurs, noted for their enormous wingspans (up to 10 m or so in the case of Quetzalcoatlus from the USA and Hatzegopteryx from Romania), elongate necks, and long, stork-like jaws. Tradition would have it that these animals were vulture-like scavengers or water-trawling piscivores, but consideration of everything we know about their wing form, body shape, overall ecomorphology, trace fossil record, palaeoenvironment and so on shows that they were strongly terrestrial animals that most likely foraged quadrupedally in continental environments, reaching down to grab animal and plant prey in a manner analogous to that practised today by marabou storks and ground hornbills (Witton & Naish 2008). Mark Witton and I dub this the ‘terrestrial stalking hypothesis’ and we have more to say on it in a paper currently in review at a major open-access journal.

Demonic Quetzalcoatlus illustrated by Guy Michel in 1979. Read on for details and origins.

Palaeoart memes are those traditions we so frequently see in the history of palaeontological art whereby artists copy the behavioural hypotheses, body shapes, postures and even colour schemes of given animals again and again and again, not because they’re well supported or based on evidence of any sort, but simply because that’s what’s been depicted beforehand. Examples can be seen everywhere, with my favourites including Freaky Giraffoid Barosaurus, black-and-white Phorusrhacos, Scolosaurus the mega-louse, Big Buzzard Teratorn, and…. Demonic Quetzalcoatlus.

By now, it’s reasonably well known to interested people what azhdarchid pterosaurs looked like when alive. The answer: sort of like a cross between a giraffe and a stork, though with all of this being over-ridden by uniquely pterosaurian weirdness; membranous wings supported by giant fingers, a large cranial crest, plantigrade feet, and so on.

David Orr’s brilliant depiction of a Demonic Quetzalcoatlus group squabbling over a dinosaur carcass. In the full image, a Tyrannosaurus is approaching from the far distance.

I first got to know Quetzalcoatlus as a very, very different beast, however. Little known today is that Quetzalcoatlus was depicted as a most peculiar creature in a few books from the 1970s and 80s. As you can see from the images reproduced here (the black-and-white image above is by Guy Michel and appeared in John Gilbert’s 1979 book Dinosaurs Discovered), it was depicted as a short-headed pterosaur with a bony lump on the back of its head, a very flexible neck, and pointed, toothy jaws. Imagined like this, it really looks like some sort of horrific demon. Richard Orr’s painting – shown at the top of this article and adjacent – always makes me think of one of Hieronymus Bosch’s scenes of Hell. Truly, it’s a horrific, terrifying scene (and I don’t mean that as a slight to Orr’s good artwork). Where on earth did this view of Quetzalcoatlus – I call it the Demonic Quetzalcoatlus – come from?

Giovanni Caselli’s 1975 Demon Quetz, the image that started the meme.

Orr’s painting comes from a book written by the unique Dougal Dixon* (Prehistoric Reptiles), and originally published in 1984 (I only have a 1993 edition). It’s obvious from many of the scenes included in the book that Orr had been heavily inspired by Giovanni Caselli’s reconstructions from L. B. Halstead’s The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs, first published in 1975. Sure enough, if we look at Halstead’s book, we see another version of the same creature. Caselli didn’t show the animals in as much detail as Orr or Michel did, but we again see a comparatively short skull and a blunt, knob-like crest at the back of the head. The animals are also shown as being red, just like Orr’s creature. As mentioned above, this is a classic feature of the palaeoart meme: the creatures are given the same livery, just because. Anyway, Caselli’s version came first – but where did it come from?

* More on him soon! I just gave a talk partially devoted to Dixoniana at the 2013 Weird Weekend conference.

The late L. B. Halstead’s The Evolution & Ecology of the Dinosaurs, one of the most influential of dinosaur books when it comes to palaeoart memes. There are two editions, famously differing in how they treat the ‘flippers’ of Compsognathus.

I asked Giovanni Caselli himself back in 2010. When the illustrations for The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs were being produced, Quetzalcoatlus had only just been announced, and hadn’t even been named (evidently, we’re talking about some time between 1972 and 1975). There was thus no idea what it might look like: all that was known was that it was a giant pterosaur that lived inland. Giovanni’s painting was, he told me, a complete exercise in speculation…

“I took some time to find out about this issue. Naturally, since Halstead has been long dead, I had to dig through my archive but only to find that, being the discovery very recent and not yet documented at the time, Halstead told me just to do a small illustration of a huge pterosaur, and I did just that. Any similarity or difference as compared with present-day renditions is purely accidental (as they say in other fields of entertainment).”

How ironic, then, that his conjectural creation became a palaeoart meme that persisted until the 1990s at least (the Richard Orr version was appearing in 1993 editions of Dougal Dixon’s Prehistoric Reptiles).

Bob Hersey’s purple Demonic Quetzalcoatlus, c. 1980. A thing of pure terror.

Paul Glynn reminded me that there’s another version out there: Bob Hersey’s purple Quetzalcoatlus from David Norman’s 1980 Spotter’s Guide to Dinosaurs & Other Prehistoric Animals (Norman 1980). I show it here. Hersey’s purple version is very obviously based on Caselli’s painting, and I’m 99% certain that the other Demonic Quetzalcoatlus images out there are based on his painting too. Another appears in Usborne’s 1977 Children’s Encyclopedia of Prehistoric Life, written by Anne McCord but with Halstead providing expert advice (McCord 1977). This time round, the artist was at least original enough to make the animal brown, not reddish.

A Demonic Quetzalcoatlus skeleton!

It gets better: I give you an actual skeleton of a real Demonic Quetzalcoatlus! Well, a published drawing of one, anyway. Just like the animals depicted in those various sources discussed above, this skeleton shows all the characteristic features of its meme: it has a long neck (made up of many small vertebrae, and hence presumably quite flexible*), a relatively short skull, a lump-like, posteriorly projecting crest at the back of its head and small, pointed teeth. Wow. I bet you had no idea that such a skeleton had ever been found.

It hadn’t, of course. The artist (Chris Forsey) must have been asked to “do a Quetzalcoatlus skeleton”, and must have invented what you see here. I presume that Forsey looked at the Demonic Quetzalcoatlus renditions produced by Gilbert, Orr and those other artists, the hypothetical skeleton you see here being the result. I don’t know this, of course: as you’ll no doubt have noticed, this palaeoart meme stuff involves an awful lot of guesswork, some or all of which might be erroneous. But the similarity between this alleged Quetzalcoatlus and the horrendous reddish demons we looked at above is striking, and unlikely to be coincidental. Forsey’s version was first published in 1986 – the book is called The Day of the Dinosaurs (Stidworthy 1986) – and republished in 1999.

* A marked contrast to the real azhdarchid neck, with its lower number of long, cylindrical vertebrae and reduced flexibility (Witton & Naish 2008).

Even the most complete of the real Quetzalcoatlus specimens is nowhere near complete as the skeleton shown in Forsey’s sketch. But I wondered if the look and pose of Forsey’s Demonic Quetzalcoatlus skeleton was based on a real specimen, perhaps of one of the substantially smaller, Solnhofen pterosaurs. Tipped off by Pete Buchholz (him again), I realised that it’s copied directly from a Pterodactylus skeleton that features on p. 10 of Peter Wellnhofer’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs (Wellnhofer 1991). And the funny thing is – that skeleton is the very first skeleton illustrated in the book. The broken wing finger makes this 100% certain.

More accurate renditions of Quetzalcoatlus – this time with a long, toothless rostrum – were appearing in the literature by the end of the 1970s. This sketch appeared in a 1977 article by Wann Langston.

By 1977, Wann Langston was illustrating Quetzalcoatlus as the long-snouted pterosaur that it really was, and copious artwork depicting Quetzalcoatlus more accurately appeared throughout the 80s, 90s and into modern times (for especially up-to-date azhdarchids, I point of course to Mark Witton’s excellent 2013 volume Pterosaurs). One of the great frustrations of azhdarchid research is that good anatomical information on Quetzalcoatlus has never been published: there’s a paper on the cranial remains of Quetzalcoatlus sp., one of the smaller of the three azhdarchids (Vremir et al. 2013) known from the Texan Javelina Formation (Kellner & Langston 1996), but good data on Q. northropi, the giant Javelina azhdarchid, is very thin on the ground; this despite the fact that the animal was first reported during the 1970s (Lawson 1975). Wann Langston – the palaeontologist who was supposed to be describing Q. northropi – died earlier this year, and right now it’s unsure what, if anything, is going to happen. Science does march on, but sometimes the march is more of a slow crawl…

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Cryptozoology

Bigfoots attacked tourists in the Ozark National Park, Arkansas

Fort Smith native Ellen (not her real name) tells us a thrilling and frightening encounter with Bigfoot in the Ozark National Park – outside Campbell Cemetery on Tuesday night. According to Ellen, she and her husband Robert decided to find a secluded place to live a couple of days far from civilization and even so that numerous tourists were many miles away.

Therefore, they chose the area of ​​the old abandoned Campbell cemetery, where no one had wandered in for about a hundred years. And now, according to Ellen, she and her husband heard something like an animal growl, permeating the air and coming from somewhere in the thicket. After a few minutes, the growl intensified and seemed to be closer.

“It sounded like some hefty creature had found its lunch,” says Ellen.

However, what slightly frightened Ellen was that their dogs, which always bark at the approach of predators, suddenly shrunk, huddled near the tent and began to whine. Then Ellen and Robert, in order to somehow cheer up the dogs, got out of the tent and also began to growl. But the joke failed.

In response to their voices, the growl from the thicket became really aggressive and began to spread around, from which Ellen and Robert realized that there were at least two creatures. Ellen did not even think about some “Bigfoot” and assumed either large wolves, or even bears, when suddenly hefty sticks and stones flew into the tent.

This infuriated Robert and assuming that some hooligans were hiding in the bushes, Robert gave the command to the dogs to teach the offenders a lesson.

“It was the biggest mistake of our life,” says Ellen and begins to cry.

According to her, when the dogs disappeared into the thickets from there, at first the sounds of a struggle were heard, then one of the dogs uttered such a monstrous cry that Ellen had never heard anything like it in her life. After that, everyone began to howl, whine and scream, and pieces of dogs flew towards the tent.

At first, Ellen and Robert thought that these were big stones again, but when they saw that a dog torn in half had been thrown at them, they came into indescribable horror and, leaving everything, rushed to run. Ellen and Robert went to the police first.

The police found a tent and equipment, but there were no pieces of dogs there, so the couple announced that they were crazy. However, friends told Ellen that something similar happened in the national park last month and we just reported about it.

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Cryptozoology

What aliens are doing at Loch Ness

What connects aliens to the Scottish lake monster? And why did many eyewitnesses say that a mysterious force prevented them from taking photos or videos of this monster? There are no answers to these questions yet.

Loch Ness, located in Scotland, is primarily famous for its mysterious monster, nicknamed Nessie, which according to various theories is either a huge eel, or a seal, or a prehistoric dinosaur. In turn, some associate the appearance of Nessie with the activities of aliens, and not from scratch.

It is true that strange lights or disc-shaped UFOs are regularly seen over Loch Ness, but there is also an eyewitness story about how aliens landed on the shore of the lake. This happened on August 14, 1971, when the eyewitness Jan Ove Sudberg (now deceased) was 23 years old. Early in the morning, between about 8:30 and 9:30 am, he was on the shores of Loch Ness in the Foyers Bay area.

Suddenly he stumbled upon something amazing and it was not a monster. Sudberg saw a clearing ahead, on which stood an unusual large object, shaped like a huge cigar. It was about 10 meters long, and at the top there was something like a cockpit. Near the object were “pilots” – humanoid creatures.

There were three of them and they were dressed in tight suits, similar to diving. When they entered the object and the object then rose high into the air, then Sudberg realized that he was observing aliens. As the ship gained altitude, it began to slowly fly over the hills towards the nearby Loch More Lake.

The story doesn’t end there. Sudberg was not a Scotsman, he came to Loch Ness as a tourist and flew back to his native Sweden shortly after seeing the aliens. And there a new stage in this strange story began. In Sudberg’s house, unusual phenomena began to occur, a poltergeist, he began to receive mysterious phone calls, and later even Men in Black came to him.

Soon Sudberg contacted the British researcher of anomalous phenomena, Ted Holiday, and told him his story. He also complained to him that he could not photograph UFOs and aliens in the photo, although he had a camera with him. He felt as if some force paralyzed his will and did not allow him to do it.

It is curious that Holiday later repeatedly encountered a similar phenomenon from Nessie’s eyewitnesses. All of them, when they saw the monster in the lake, for some unknown reason, either could not photograph it, or tried, but they did not succeed.

He also found out that much earlier eyewitnesses of Nessie faced this phenomenon. On November 12, 1933, eyewitness Hugh Gray captured a photograph of Nessie, which is considered the first 100% authentic photograph of the Loch Ness Monster.

Gray’s photo shows something serpentine floating in the water. However, few people know that when Gray saw this creature in the lake, he took as many as five pictures before it went under water.

However, only one out of five photographs showed the monster, the rest of the negatives for some reason turned out to be empty.

The conclusion seems to be obvious: the monster in Loch Ness is more than just a large eel, it has some powers to protect it, and in some way it is connected with UFOs and aliens.

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Cryptozoology

A Briton captured on camera a creature similar to the Loch Ness monster

A resident of British Southampton Steve Challis, during a vacation in Scotland last year, photographed a creature in a lake that looks similar to the famous Loch Ness monster, reports the Daily Record.

Photos were taken during a trip to an excursion to Arkart Castle on the shores of the famous lake. A man photographed the opposite shore when he noticed a ripple in the water. He took some pictures, and then the creature itself appeared out of the water for a moment. 

After that, it disappeared and did not appear again. As a result, the camera recorded the animal in only one frame, which Challis discovered a few months later, when he looked at the quarantine pictures taken during the trip because of the coronavirus.

After the Briton shared a strange picture on the Internet, users suggested that it was the famous Loch Ness monster. However, the photographer does not share this opinion. He does not believe in the monster and believes that the creature he shot was simply a big fish or seal.

Interest in the photograph was expressed by blogger and expert on Nessie Roland Watson, but he suggests that the picture taken by Challis was edited in Photoshop. Challis claims that the photograph is genuine. He drew attention to the fact that the shot he made was completely different from those snapshots of monsters that the network abounds in. At the same time, he is still convinced that he shot just a big fish.

The story of the Nessie creature from the Scottish Loch Ness attracts many tourists who want to see it with their own eyes. According to eyewitnesses, the mythical monster from the urban legend has a long neck and a huge torso. Nessie’s existence is not proven.

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