David Peters

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Jeholopterus with fly swatter
Jeholopterus ningchengensis, an accurate depiction by a paleontologist
I remember that for my first talk at a scientific meeting, I had to follow Mr. Peters' talk on a vampire pterosaur with a fly swatter on its head. Everyone remembers that talk, no one remembers mine. It was also the only talk at the conference picked up by my hometown paper.
—Brian Andres, paleontologist[1]

David Peters (c. 1955–)[1] is essentially what happens when someone tries to be a paleontologist, but the only thing they know how to use is Photoshop and a good deal of spite towards people pointing out why they are wrong. Starting off in a more or less promising career during the 1990s, where he illustrated children's books about prehistoric life, David Peters went off the rail somewhere in the early 2000s,[2] when his highly dubious non-peer-reviewed meeting abstract about the pterosaur Jeholopterus was published, the abstract claimed that there was a bizarre bipedal creature with frills and a long tail as well as vampiric fangs.[3][4] A few more deranged illustrations of pterosaurs as mohawk lizards later and it became clear that he was insane.

As of 2012 he began to operate a site called ReptileEvolution.com. Cropping highly on Google searches, several actual paleontologists have seen fit to warn off onlookers.[1][2][5][6]

Why he's infamous[edit]

David Peters simply put disregards functional paleontology. On the best days, he looks at fossil pictures and interprets the squashed remains as accurate. On several occasions he straight up uses Photoshop and makes up drawings.[2] Combined with his surreal choice for colour markers, this results in frankly creepy diatribes on things that aren't there.[2]

Peters's primary technique for justifying his unorthodox interpretations of fossils is what he calls Digital Graphic Segregation using Photoshop.[2][5] It's a sort of digital-pareidolia because it is not confirmed by other techniques (e.g., CT-scanning or UV light) and is not used by any paleontologists.[5]

As noted above, he is infamous for his depictions of pterosaurs as aberrant bipedal creatures with back frills and erect tails. He disregards several studies in recent years demonstrating pterosaurs to be quadrupedal, furry flyers in favour of bird-lizard hybrids.

His phylogenetic work leaves a lot to be desired as well. He has built what he calls the "large reptile tree" (a cladogram), which is basically the result of ignoring all types of established synapomorphies in favour of randomly pairing things together.[5] Paleontologist Darren Naish, has said that Peters has failed to even understand cladograms.[5]

Starting with the comments section on the Tetrapod Zoology article, his behaviour is noted as being more erratic and unpleasant, which has not endeared him to the paleontological community at large.[5]

Peters has at least twice compared his current exclusion from professional scientific discourse to racial segregation, a false analogy akin to Godwin's Law.[1][7]


As of 2016 Peters appears to have started focusing more on mammals over his preferred reptiles, possibly in response to a speculative post on volaticothere eutriconodonts.[8] The results are just a wacky, not in the least because they're all defined in relation to hippos:[9]

  • Volaticotherium is a marsupial (note: one of the earliest explorations into the mammal realm, lending credence to the above speculation).[12]
  • "Odontocetes are are decendents of tenerecs

Some of Peters' controversial art[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


Quality artistic work[edit]

  • Giants of Land, Sea & Air, Past & Present by David Peters (1986) Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0394978056.
  • A Gallery of Dinosaurs & Other Early Reptiles by David Peters (1989) Knopf Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0394899822.
  • From the Beginning: the Story of Human Evolution by David Peters (1991) Morrow Junior Books. ISBN 0688094767.
  • Strange Creatures by David Peters (1992) William Morrow. ISBN 0688101550.
  • Raptors! The Nastiest Dinosaurs by Don Lessem & David Peters (1996) Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316879290.
  • Supergiants! The Biggest Dinosaurs by Don Lessem & David Peters (1997) Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316521183.

Dubious paleontology publications[edit]

Synopses available at:[4]

  • "Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods" by David Peters (2000) Ichnos 7:11-41.
  • "A redescription of four prolacertiform genera and implications for pterosaur phylogenesis" by David Peters (2000) Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106: 293-336.
  • "A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing — with a twist" by David Peters (2002) Historical Biology 15: 277-301.
  • "The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures" by David Peters (2003) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23(3):87. Meeting abstract
  • "Suction Feeding in Triassic Protorosaur?" by David Peters et al. (2005) Science 308:1112-1113. Letter
  • "The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. Flugsaurier" by David Peters (2007) The Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting, Munich.
  • "A Reinterpretation of Pteroid Articulation in Pterosaurs — Short Communication" by David Peters (2009) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(4):1327–1330.
  • "In defence of parallel interphalangeal lines" by David Peters (2010) Historical Biology 22(4):437-442.
  • "A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification" by David Peters (2011) Ichnos 18(2):114-141.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Why Paleontologists Get Riled Up Over This 'Heretical' Pterosaur Concept Art: The forms David Peters draws are often wildly at odds with our traditional understanding of pterosaur physiology. by Graham Templeton (Jun 12 2015, 6:30am) Vice.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 The Strange Journey of David Peters by Nima (May 14, 2011) The Paleo King.
  3. "The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures" by David Peters (2003) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23(3):87. Abstracts of Papers Sixty-Third Annual Meeting Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Science Museum of Minnesota St. Paul, Minnesota October 15-18, 2003.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Published papers and abstracts along with a synopsis of each ReptileEvolution.com (archived from July 10, 2018).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com by Darren Naish (July 3, 2012) Scientific American.
  6. http://tetzoo.com/blog/2020/7/23/the-david-peters-problem
  7. Re: No substitute for seeing a specimen: Hone blog email to Peters from Mike Taylor, quoting Peters (9 May 2010 09:41:35 +0100) Dinosaur Mailing List, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
  8. Could the “flying beasts” have actually flown? by Carlos Albuquerque (September 23, 2016) Ichthyoconodon.
  9. Hippopotamus ReptileEvolution.com (archived from September 23, 2018).
  10. David Peters Sucks: A True Story by pteresies (April 13, 2018) Tumblr.
  11. Hyaenodon ReptileEvolution.com (archived from June 1, 2019).
  12. Volaticotherium ReptileEvolution.com (archived from June 1, 2019).