For years debate has raged amongst bat researchers as to whether or not bats were really just “flying rodents…” <--(NOT TRUE). At age 6 Ben was in the World of Darkness at the Bronx Zoo when he heard a mother tell her young children this totally incorrect animal fact. As bats were his favorite animal, he became angry and marched up to the mother and informed her that she was totally wrong, told her to “read the signs if she didn’t know the facts” and then filled her in on a few million years of evolutionary history <--(TRUE). In fact many scientists believe that fruit bats, may actually be more closely related to human ancestors than rodents. The woman took it well, in that she did not hit Benny.
Does this limestone make me look fat?
Anecdotal stories about Benny’s long lost intellectually-promising childhood aside, researchers have finally answered an old evolutionary debate: did bats evolve the echolocation before or after the ability to fly? The answer has come in the form of a 52 million year old fossil found in Wyoming recently covered in that tabloid rag, the journal Nature. This fossil clearly shows a bat skull and throat that were not capable of using echolocation to hunt delicious moths. While it might seem obvious to some that the ability to fly would precede the development of the ability to hunt delicious moths, it should be noted that some types of shrews, believed to be a bat ancestor, hunt using echolocation. While fruit bats and insect eating bats are believed to have developed independently, this specimen appears to be the “missing link” for the latter group between lowly ground dweller and maligned sonic sky rat.
The bat, dubbed Onychonycteris, had a wingspan of about 12 inches. It had stubby but broad wings suggesting it might have alternated between flapping and gliding. We should note that our amateur competition, Carl Zimmer, briefly covered this a couple of days ago. Not much of a journalist, but you gotta give him an A for effort.