Readers in the UK might be aware of Primeval, an ITV drama series featuring a time portal that connects the present day with the past. The main premise of the series seems to be that various animals from the past – including a pareiasaur, a gorgonopsian, dodos, a mosasaur, pterosaurs and some giant arthropods – wander through the portal and get into various japes and scrapes in the present. I’ve cleverly managed to miss the entire series, so I’m not exactly the best person in the world to be talking about it. But due in part to the fact that I’m currently horribly ill, Will and I were in watching TV this afternoon (we’d been out earlier, looking at dead baby squirrels), and I caught part of a ‘behind the scenes’ TV programme that featured the latest creature to star in the series: a mysterious entity known only as ‘future predator’. In its overall look and style of quadrupedal movement, ‘future predator’ looked something like a giant flightless bat, and this is where I really got quite interested…
You might say that none of this is relevant to the sort of stuff I should be writing about on Tetrapod Zoology. Or, given that I cannot hide the fact that speculative zoology certainly holds my interest, you could say that… speculative zoology goes mainstream. ‘Future predator’ is a human-sized, short-tailed quadruped with particularly long, slim forelimbs and a short head that sports long sharp teeth. According to ITV’s page about the species (here), future predator ‘… is equipped with an incredibly sensitive sonar navigation system – an improvement on that used by the bats of today. It is also incredibly fast, and capable of springing from surface to surface with apparently little effort. However, perhaps the most scary feature of this animal is that it possesses human-like intelligence’. Hmm. Most of its head is covered with two inflated lobes that recall either the two hemispheres of a brain or the immense eyes of a fly, and the animal’s eyes are strongly reduced and it appears blind.
Incredibly swift and agile, it was shown running, leaping and climbing, and many of its actions appeared to be based on those of vampire bats. As you might recall from previous posts on vampires, these are among the most terrestrial of all bats, and way exceed other bats in how fast and agile they can be on the ground. When it turned out – predictably perhaps – that future predator hunted using sound, the bat identification was pretty much clinched for me. Sure enough, we learn from a DNA sample left behind by the animal that it’s apparently some sort of evolved future bat, and such is confirmed by the programme makers on the Primeval website (go here) [adjacent image from the Primeval blog].
It also seems that the programme makers liked the idea of either rodents or bats evolving into something big and important in the future, presumably because they are the pre-eminent mammalian groups today in terms of distribution and numbers. Of course this isn’t the first time giant flightless predatory future bats have made an appearance as you’ll doubtless already know: Dougal Dixon’s Night stalker Manambulus perhorridus is one of the most popular beasts in the entire pantheon of After Man (Dixon 1981). A bipedal predator 1.5 m tall, night stalkers run in packs through the forests of Batavia in the Pacific Ocean, over-powering mammal and reptile prey. Intriguingly, they walk on their hands, their prehensile feet hanging over their shoulders. This is echoed by Sebulba [image below] and the rest of his species (the dug), the pod-racer from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. This similarity might be a coincidence, but might not.
Besides night stalkers, Batavia is also populated by pinniped-mimicking surfbats, the predatory arboreal shalloth, and the Flooer Florifacies mirabila. The latter is a largely sedentary, insectivorous, flightless bat that grows large fragrant ear and nose flaps that mimic flower petals. Flooers sit among flowers, attracting insects and eating them. That’s pretty similar to one of the rhinogradentians, the Miraculous flower-faced snouter Cephalanthus thaumasios (Stumpke 1957), and when I first learnt of the Flooer I assumed that Dougal had been inspired by Cephalanthus. I asked him about this a few years ago, and he explained that, when writing After Man, he had been completely unaware of Stumpke’s work on the rhinogradentians. The two creatures really had ‘evolved’ in parallel. Of course, I have a lot more to say about rhinogradentians, but all that will follow soon.
So far as we know, flightlessness has yet to evolve in bats; the usual thinking on this being that it might not be possible for bats to lose flight given that they have tight fore- and hindlimb linkage due to their wing membranes. I don’t buy that for several reasons. Anyway, the bats usually noted as being ‘closest to evolving flightlessness’ (whatever that means) are the mystacinids, a group currently endemic to New Zealand but previously of wider distribution. They’re fascinating animals for a host of reasons and I have an article on them (actually, an old one that I’m in the process of updating) in preparation.
Two more things before I go and cook dinner. Firstly, the movie 300 premieres on March 22nd (the coming Thursday). This is the film that explains my several recent references to war rhinos, and I have an article ready to go on this subject that I’ll publish on that day. Secondly, on March 23rd I’m leaving for the Big cats in Britain conference, and I will definitely be blogging about whatever happens at the meeting. I’m now going to do the unthinkable. My financial situation is – still – a joke. If (a) you think you might particularly value whatever thoughts I’m going to communicate via the blog on the subject of British big cats and (b) you have such a thing as spare money, then please assist if you can by making a donation, however small. Thanks in advance. I realised today how cool it would be if I could advertise the first ever blog-sponsored conference attendance. Well, I thought I may as well ask and see what happens…
Refs – –
Dixon, D. 1981. After Man: A Zoology of the Future. Granada, London.
Stumpke, H. 1967. The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.