Bats are the only mammals that have evolved powered flight, and they’ve been doing it for for tens of millions of years.
Bats are one of my favorite animals because I love Halloween and they creep everyone out, even though they're just big eyed goobers who mostly eat plants and are generally pretty cute.
How can you not love this face?
Bats have been in the news a lot these day. Though it hasn't been confirmed, they're generally thought to be the place where the COVID 19 virus originated and they're derogatorily referred to as "flying rodents."
Still, they're pretty fascinating creatures. Bats are the only mammals to have evolved the ability to fly on their own power. Bats first appear in the fossil record around 50 million years back and their remains have been found in different locations around the world, from Wyoming to Australia. They have changed in the generations since they evolved. Earlier bats had more fingers than their modern cousins, and the earliest bats didn't have the anatomy required to ecolocate. But the question that still baffles zoologists remain; where did bats evolve from and how did they evolve?
“The short answer is, we don’t know why there is a missing record of ten million years,” says University of Birmingham paleontologist Emily Brown.
Early bats’ choice of dwelling may have been a barrier to their preservation. “It’s previously been suggested that early bats may have predominantly lived in forested environments, which do not have very good preservation potential,” Brown says. Her survey found that the fossil record of modern bats that live in forests and jungles is largely incomplete, probably for the same reason.
Because bats have tiny bones that are easily destroyed over time, of the bat remains on the record are teeth. More complete skeletal structures are found in the sediment around bodies of water, which would keep them away from scavengers and preserved better.
Based on some observations of Onychonycteris, one of the oldest and most complete specimens of prehistoric bats, it's believed that the missing link in evolution between land based mammals and the modern bat is something similar to a flying squirrel, something with a large membrane that can glide but cannot fly on its own power. They likely evolved after hopping from tree to tree.
The quest continues to find samples to add to the foster record. In the meantime, make friends with one of these adorable little winged nightmares.