Those antique photos of real dragons aren't real, sadly

Last month, X user @CMDRVALTHOR posted a collection of antique photos (above and below) depicting "extinct dragons of North America" accompanied by dapper men in old-timey clothing. That post has received 728,000 views and the images on their own have been widely shared as real. And why not? All it takes to suspend your disbelief is, um, ignoring the note in the corner crediting @the_ai_experiment on Instagram.

In any case, the virality was enough that Snopes felt the need to debunk them:

Multiple conspiracies surrounding extinct dragons and dragon bones have also spread on TikTok, including a false claim that scientists successfully cloned dragons in Beijing (these AI-generated images received more than 8.9 million views, as of this writing).

The original creator of the sepia images in question, @the_ai_experiment, also posted them on TikTok in May 2023, receiving more than 19.2 million views. Although the account does not have a disclaimer in its bio, the account's handle itself confirms that the images were AI-generated.

The whole story reminds me of the legendary 19th century photograph of the Thunderbird, a massive bird reportedly found in Tombstone, Arizona.