New Giant Fossil Bat

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 5th, 2008

new giant bat

Reconstruction of Witwatia schlosseri, a new species of very large bat from the Fayum district of Egypt. (Credit: Drawing by Bonnie Miljour)

In a recent issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists report on the discovery of six new bat species dating to around 35 million years ago, which sheds new light on the early evolution of bats.

It took over 25 years of fieldwork to collect the 33 specimens that form the basis of the new study. “That translates to a little over one specimen per year – a lot of effort for a single fossil,” said Erik Seiffert, a paleontologist at Stony Brook University. “But it shows just how important patience and long term field programs are to science. Our long-term commitment to field work certainly paid off in this case.” Among the new species is “a giant among bats; though weighing in at less than a half-pound, it is one of the largest fossil bats ever discovered,” said Greg Gunnell, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.


19 Responses to “New Giant Fossil Bat”

  1. mystery_man responds:

    This is cool news. Bats are really quite fascinating creatures that have taken a unique evolutionary route among mammals and there are some interesting adaptations to be seen. Many fruit eating bats are also quite important for facilitating pollination and distributing seeds through their guano. It’s a shame that they are so feared and misunderstood by so many. The popular misconceptions and revulsion of bats really make it hard to raise awareness in people about how unique and important they are. Anyway, these are some interesting fossil finds!

  2. mystery_man responds:

    Incidentally, I really do not know much about the sizes of fossil bats, but as far as living bats go, the flying foxes are much larger than the half pound stated here. The Giant golden-crowned flying fox is said to be the largest bat in the world and it weighs in at up to 3 pounds, with a wind span of up to five feet. Talk about a giant! Some of these species are so large in fact, that it makes me seriously wonder if bats, particularly large species such as the flying foxes, could be behind Ropen or even pterodactyl sightings. They can certainly be strange, surprising and spooky looking under the right circumstances, especially when seen by someone not accustomed to them, and their size is large enough for me to think it is plausible. I think it is a valid speculation.

  3. Saint Vitus responds:

    Is this new fossil bat considered a type of flying fox, or just a regular bat?

  4. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great find, Loren and everybody!!!

  5. kittenz responds:

    I think, altough the article does not specifically say so, that this bat is of the suborder Microchiroptera (echo-locating bats), of the order Chiroptera (bats). A half-pound bat would be a giant among the Microchiroptera.

    Fruit bats are grouped in another suborder, Megachiroptera. There is a wide range of sizes among Megachiropteran bats, from a few ounces to about four pounds for some of the largest species.

  6. kittenz responds:

    mystery_man,

    I also think that very large bats are behind the legends of several cryptids.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    Saint Vitus- Flying foxes ARE bats. I’m not sure what you mean by “just a regular bat”. Perhaps you mean an echo-locating species that most people imagine when they think of bats, but even though the large fruit eating bats and flying foxes don’t use echo-location, they are still bats all the same.

    Kittenz- I think you are right in that the article probably means echo-locating bats from the suborder Microchiroptera rather than the very big fruit eating bats and flying foxes of the suborder Megachiroptera. That would explain why these new ones are explained as being such giants. At first I thought maybe that was a typo, because the fruit bats and flying foxes are so much larger than that, but thinking about it your way makes perfect sense as that would be a large size for the Microchiroptera suborder. When people think of bats, they typically think of the smaller echo-locating bats, without realizing there is more to it than that. For instance The suborder Megachiroptera has two of the largest species of bats there are, the golden crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus), and the Giant Philippine fruit bat (Pteropus vampyros lanensis). They are fascinating creatures, but I’ll tell you they gave the creeps to a a class that I took on a field trip to the zoo not too long ago. They had never seen bats so big before and I had to keep emphasizing how these particular bats only eat fruit and nectar because all of them were convinced they were ravenous predators, which they aren’t at all. I think some of my students still don’t believe me. All they usually want to do is see the “cuddly” animals like the Panda and lesser pandas, but personally I like the bats, amphibian, and reptile areas (much to their horror) 🙂

    It just underscores what I said about human misunderstanding concerning bats. A lot of people imagine that they all descend from the skies to suck the blood from animals or attack people, when in fact most of them are either insectivores or fruit eaters.

  8. CamperGuy responds:

    MM… “They can certainly be strange, surprising and spooky looking under the right circumstances”

    I think you nailed why bats scare some people. They do their business at night, when people are more easily alarmed.

    I had no idea a species of bat could have a 5′ wingspan. Something like that could easily startle someone.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    Camperguy- Oh yeah, some species of flying foxes can have wingspans of five feet or sometimes even bigger. Not ALL species within this suborder are large, as Kittenz said some can be only a few ounces, but the big ones are really big. They could most certainly startle someone who wasn’t prepared to see them, and I imagine even some who were. Luckily they are herbivorous and eat only fruit or nectar.

    I’m wondering if these fossil bats, if they indeed are an ancient species of echo-locating bat, can give some insight into the evolution of this capability. It is interesting to me that species in the suborder of Microchiroptera have developed echo-location to adapt to their lifestyle of hunting insects and navigating cave systems, whereas almost all flying foxes have developed keen eyesight and sense of smell instead. I believe there is only one species of flying fox (from Egypt if I remember correctly, can’t recall the species name) that uses echolocation. To see more about how and when echo-location evolved in these prehistoric species would be very interesting to me. Maybe these fossils can provide more information in that respect.

  10. Saint Vitus responds:

    mystery man-I am well aware that flying foxes are bats. By “regular bat”, I was referring to the Microchiroptera that you and kittenz mentioned, I couldn’t think of he scientific name, though.

  11. kittenz responds:

    lol mystery_man,

    All of the Megachiroptera that we know about are herbivores! Wouldn’t a big carnivorous flying fox-type bat be something, though!

    Actually I believe that they very well might exist. I think of Ivan T. Sanderson’s ahool and of the tribe which he said had a word that meant specifically “hacked by an ahool”. The description of the ahool sounds like it could be an enormous bat – as tall as a toddler. Even the Mothman – many of the descriptions of the Mothman sound like they could be describing a giant bat (though I personally think a giant owl would be more likely, especially since the largest bats are found in tropical or subtropical regions).

    There’s a lot of tropical rainforest that is still relatively unexplored. That giant carnivorous bat just may be out there!

  12. HOOSIERHUNTER responds:

    I’m certainly no expert by a long shot, but I know small bats flap their wings quickly and constantly. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one glide. Do fruit bats exhibit this trait? Most of the pterosaur reports that I’ve read talk about creatures that glide more than flap their wings.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    Hoosierhunter- There are species of flying foxes that can glide and soar to save energy during foraging flights. Interestingly, it is the diurnal species (yes, not all bats are nocturnal) that exhibit this trait, which means they are the ones that are most likely to be sighted. Considering that some large bats do have the ability to soar and also happen to be ones active during the day, this suggests to me that some flying cryptid sightings could be linked to bats.

    Kittenz- I suppose it is possible there could be a carnivorous flying fox type bat out there, but it would be unusual since this hasn’t been seen before in any of the known large species of bats. It would be a pretty remarkable discovery!

  14. Mnynames responds:

    I think giant bat is the best bet for a description of the Ahool, and certainly more plausible than Pterosaurs as an explanation for ANY cryptid sighting. I personally believe Thunderbirds are being mistaken for Pterosaurs in North America, although some have offered up Giant Bats as an explanation for them as well. This is not too implausible, as there are traditions of very large bats in South America, along with some associations with a Bat-like deity in their folklore and mythology. I want to say they might go by the name Camazotz, or Camazotl…something like that.

    There is also a report of a “Flying Cat” from Punch Mehali, India. Killed in 1868 and exhibited at a meeting of the Bombay Asiatic Society, it was about 18 inches in length and purportedly feline. It was almost certainly a bat, but as its discoverer was quite certain that it was not a Flying Fox bat, it could possibly represent a new, undiscovered species.

  15. Mnynames responds:

    Also, a thought occurs to me- How would we know that some fossil species were capable of echo-locating? Might some Pterosaurs have possessed this ability?

    Another thought- If another mass extinction were to strike the Earth, and most bird species go extinct, might bats (Providing they DO survive) grow to much more massive size as they expand into the now empty niches vacated by the birds? Or does scientific consensus contend that they are small due to some biological limitation, such as the spiricles of insects not being scalable to large sizes?

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Mnynames- Thought I would try to answer some of your questions.

    First of all, you asked how we know fossil bats had echolocation. The answer is that there are bony ears parts that are found on all bats with echolocation and it is these that provide the evidence in fossils that a bat demonstrated this ability. Interestingly enough, there was a long standing debate about which bats developed first, flight or echolocation. Recent research seems to answer that question and shows that bats developed flight before the ability to echo-locate. This was determined by studying the extremely well preserved fossils of a specimen from the species called Onychonycteris finneyi, one of the most primitive forms of Chiroptera, which could fly but did not have echo-location. How did they know this? Because of the absence of those bony parts of the ear needed for echo-location.

    Second, you asked if there is some physical size limit imposed on bats. Well, one thing that I can say is that their size would not be limited for the same reasons insect size is. Insects or other arthropods have a limited size due to several factors that are not a problem for mammals. First, their particular methods of breathing become inefficient at larger sizes. Second, and an even bigger challenge, is the fact that they have exoskeletons. Muscle strength is a basically factor of the muscle’s cross-section, or width. So as the exoskeleton grows in three dimensions, the muscles only grow in two. Simply, the exoskeleton gets heavy faster than the muscle strength to support it can keep up. Aquatic arthropods can get larger because the water helps support them. Mammals don’t have that problem, so in my opinion the things keeping the sizes of bats where they are don’t have to do with physiological limits so much as it has to do with their niche, adaptations, availability of food resources, amount of competition from other animals, metabolism, predation, and the like. These are all factors than can contribute to how large or small a species of animal evolves to be.

    Anyway, I hope that is helpful!

  17. mystery_man responds:

    Of course, even mammals have certain size limitations. I doubt a bat would get as big as, say, an elephant, because that sort of size requires drastic adaptations for bone thickness to support the increasing weight of the body, as well as overall skeletal structure and internal organs. Again, aquatic mammals can get so huge because of the support water gives them. There can be advantages to going this route, but there are disadvantages as well, so if the bats are well suited to their present niches I doubt there would be any strong selection towards the major changes they would need for gaining huge sizes like that.

  18. Mnynames responds:

    Mystery Man, your comments are always insightful, and I appreciate you taking the time to make them. My thoughts were pretty much in line with this, but I didn’t know the specifics. Your second comment is more along the lines I was inquiring about regarding bat sizes. Oddly enough, there was just a show on the National Geographic Channel on Pterosaurs, and based on what I watched I think it’s safe that Pterosaurs didn’t echo-locate, because as rare as Pterosaur fossils are, there are some exceptionally well-preserved examples, so I would assume the echo-locating bone mechanisms would be quite visible if they existed.

    It also may have answered my question about bat limitations, as it mentioned that almost all bats lack protection from the sun, and would quickly sunburn if exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time, hence one reason for their nocturnal habits (Or a result of them). That right there would put pressure on them to remain small enough to be able to find cover during the day.

    I guess they were more a “what do we know about why we know what we know” kind of questions I was asking, which are always good to ask from time to time.

  19. mystery_man responds:

    Mnynames- Yes indeed, those kinds of questions are very important. I enjoy your comments too. I know you have said you worked at an aquarium and you have good scientific knowledge, so it is a pleasure to teach what I know and talk about these things with you. It is good to share what we know with each other. I’m glad you found this information helpful! 🙂




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