Saturday, August 20, 2011

Can Flamingos be Misidentified?

Is it possible for somebody to see a flying flamingo and misidentify it for a pterosaur? If the eyewitness had never before seen a flamingo, yes it could be misidentified as such, especially if the person was concentrating on the feet of that bird, for it may resemble a Rhamphorhynchoid (long-tailed pterosaur) tail vane. For somebody who had seen a flamingo, however, such a misidentification is unlikely.

But the Gitmo pterosaur seen by the U.S. Marine Eskin Kuhn, in 1971, and by Patty Carson, in 1965, is nothing like any flamingo. Their encounters, both of which were at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, deserve attention.

While Kuhn was observing the two pterosaurs, he concentrated on details, so that he could sketch them accurately (he is a talented artist), including "the bony vertebrae of the back that were clearly defined." Other details that he told me include the following:
. . . the bony crest at the back of the head that had a scythe-like shape instead of a pick-like shape; the long strands of hair in a tuft at the end of the tail (a brush.., not flesh covered as the rest)... and that detail has become muted by the many copies of the drawing . . .
In Kuhn's sketch, the length of the head dwarfs the length of the neck. In a flamingo, the opposite is true, and to a greater degree: A flamingo's neck makes the head look extremely short. That alone makes this case for the Gitmo Pterosaur.

Now to the sighting by Patty Carson. She told me, "The skin was a leathery, brownish reddish color. It had little teeth, a LOT of them." She examined the sketch drawn by Kuhn and told me that it was of the same creature that she had seen, even though she offered some minor-adjustment suggestions ("the proportions of the head are very good, and the body and the hind legs are exactly as I remember."). Obviously Patty Carson did not see a flamingo with leathery skin and teeth.

The point? We must not let flamingo legs and feet distract us from the obvious differences between those feathered birds and the featherless Gitmo Pterosaur.