May 20, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

Can a Dinosaur Have Bat-Like Wings?

Calling an Animal a Dinosaur Does Not Make It One

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

A new fossil discovered in northeastern China recently was described by Reuters as a “feathered dinosaur a bit bigger than a blue jay that possessed bat-like wings [which] represents a remarkable but short-lived detour in the evolution of flight and the advent of birds.”[1] A 3-D reconstruction, completed at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China on May 8, 2019 shows it flew with bat-like membranous wings. The Jurassic Period dinosaur Ambopteryx, (meaning “both wings”) longibrachium (meaning “long arm”) looks nothing like a dinosaur, so why call it a dinosaur?

Artwork from the Reuters article

Ambopteryx was not a bird, either, because its wings were “made of skin supported by a long, pointed wrist bone, dramatically different from the distinctive feathered wings of birds.”[2] The reconstruction by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology, as well as the description made by a careful examination of the fossil, makes it look almost identical to an extinct bat. They want it to look like a dinosaur because evolutionists consider it additional evidence of the so-called “feathered dinosaurs” discovered recently. They think this one adds evidence supporting their theory that dinosaurs evolved into birds. The bat discovered is presented as evidence of an “alternate evolutionary path for airborne dinosaurs.[3] In short, the bat is called a dinosaur, and not a bat, because the scenario that it evolved from a theropod dinosaur on its way to evolving into a modern bat supports Darwinism.

The scientific reports explain aviation pioneers, like birds and bats, dabbled with various experimental flying machines and, like Orville and Wilbur Wright, after lots of trial and error failure finally got it right and were able to fly successfully. Likewise, Dunham writes, “there was an analogous period of flight experimentation among dinosaurs before small feathered ones evolved into the first birds about 150 million [Darwin] years ago.”[4] The scientific report in Nature added that this fossil demonstrates, “close to the origin of flight, dinosaurs closely related to birds were experimenting with a diversity of wing structures…. membranous wings—a flight apparatus that was previously unknown among theropods but that is used by both the pterosaur and bat lineages.”[5] The Nature report humbly admitted this just-so-story “was not universally accepted.

So, the paleontologists report, evolution was experimenting” like the Wright Brothers until they figured out the details of flight, such as wing warp and the Bernoulli effect. Likewise, dinosaurs “experimented”  until they successfully accomplished flight and were on their way to becoming birds. [Did they do this on purpose, using intelligent design?] This is absurd. Evolution cannot think, experiment, plan ahead or design. In the words of  Professor Gander: “Evolution cannot get ‘hung up’ on one type of design, or one type of solution to a given survival problem…. So it could never ‘plan ahead,’ even if such planning could produce a really good design…. Say evolution wanted to produce a nice, clear, well-formed lens… evolution must take steps [and as a result of trial and error]…  organisms may evolve organs that can appear rather poorly designed in retrospect.”[6]

Another issue is that, unlike any known bird, “Ambopteryx had membranous wings resembling pterosaurs, flying reptiles that appeared roughly 230 million [Darwin] years ago, and bats, flying mammals that appeared roughly 50 million [Darwin] years ago.”[7] So why call it a dinosaur? In spite of this problem, evolution forces ancient animals to appear to be a link to something more advanced. Clearly defined anatomy-based categories exist for both “bird” and “dinosaur,” but evolution requires a bird-to-dinosaur transition, and since Ambopteryx bat is very old, it must be some sort of transition to something else and more research will hopefully tell us exactly what it evolved into.[8] So for now we will call it a dinosaur, even though it is nothing like any dinosaur we have ever seen. Riley Black remarked that “dinosaurs and non-dinosaurs are often indiscriminately intermingled without much thought to the fact that the word dinosaur doesn’t apply to just anything…. Dinosaurs are their own discrete group, in other words, joined to all the rest of their family through their common ancestry and identified through the traits of their hips that have been maintained from the Triassic to the present.”[9]

One major trait of dinosaurs is they are egg-laying reptiles. I was unable to find any evidence that Ambopteryx bats were egg-laying reptiles. Conversely, bats are nocturnal mammals, not reptiles, usually frugivorous or insectivorous that possess wings formed from four elongated digits of the forelimb covered by a cutaneous membrane. They have good vision but often rely on echolocation and give birth to their young which they breast feed. Another example of attempting to fit the Ambopteryx discovery into an evolutionary scenario is the claim that, although “Ambopteryx longibrachium was likely a glider, the fossil is helping scientists discover how dinosaurs first took to the skies.[10]  In a Darwinian trance, Black speculates,

in the depths of the Jurassic, feathered dinosaurs started to take to the air. Clawed arms that had evolved to snatch and catch began to take on a new aerodynamic role, and feather-coated limbs began flapping as the earliest avian dinosaurs overcame gravity to leave the surface of the Earth behind. But not all fluffy saurians launched into the air the same way. An unexpected discovery from China reveals an enigmatic family of dinosaurs with bat-like wings… The dinosaur’s wings were more like those of bats, which wouldn’t evolve for more than 100 million [Darwin] years, or like the leathery wings of contemporary flying reptiles called pterosaurs.

So, this dinosaur is said to have evolved into bats? This find was not speculation by amateurs, but written up in the most prestigious science journal Nature by leading researchers claiming that “Powered flight evolved independently in vertebrates in the pterosaurs, birds and bats, each of which has a different configuration of the bony elements and epidermal structures that form the wings.” That hints that the Ambopteryx find may be actually have been the precursor of modern bats as this paper has concluded, and not a dinosaur evolving into a bird as other authors imply.[11]

Even the National Geographic called it a “New species of bat-wing dinosaur,” and repeated the claim that the bat was “a bizarre predator: a tiny dinosaur that glided from tree to tree with leathery, bat-like wings. The newfound fossil, … is just the …  first dinosaur ever found with bat-like wings.[12] The study author, Min Wang, added “it shows that some dinosaurs evolved very different structures to become volant,” meaning capable of some form of flight.

Conclusion: The Bare Facts

The simplest story of the find is it is more evidence that the living world contains an enormous amount of variety, and this is just another example. Fully one in five mammals living on earth today is a bat—the only mammal kind containing more species than rodents.[13]  Bats exist in an extraordinary diversity of lifestyles and morphologies.  The oldest known complete fossil bat is a Icaronycteris dated by Neo-Darwinists back to the Eocene, over 50 million years ago.  Since then, their evolution has been “near stagnation.”[14]

In other words the first bat was a bat, not something evolving into a bat. Unfortunately, instead of letting the evidence speak for itself, the Darwin-tinted glasses distort reality. What clearly appears to be another example of an extinct bat is interpreted as a dinosaur evolving into something else. The evidence testifies to the fact that bats have always been bats, and Ambopteryx appears to be one of the many existing kinds of bats.


[1] Dunham, Will. 2019.  Bat-winged dinosaur was intriguing detour in evolution of flight. Science News, May 8.

[2] Dunham, 2019.

[3] Black, Riley. 2019. Newly discovered bat-like dinosaur reveals the intricacies of prehistoric flight.

[4] Dunham, 2019.

[5] Black, 2019.

[6] Gander, Eric. M. 2004. On Our Minds: How Evolutionary Psychology Is Reshaping the Nature versus Nurture Debate. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[7] Dunham, 2019.

[8] Sloan, C. 1999. “Feathers for T. rex?” National Geographic, 196 (5): 99-103.

[9] Black, Riley. 2017. What Makes a Dinosaur a Dinosaur? December 8.

[10] Black, Riley. 2019.

[11] Wang, Min. 2019. A new Jurassic scansoriopterygid and the loss of membranous wings in theropod dinosaurs. Nature. 569:256-259, May 8.

[12] Greshko, Michael. 2019. New species of bat-wing dinosaur discovered.

[13] Sears, Karen, et al., 2006; Sears, Karen E., Richard R. Behringer, John J. Rasweiler IV, and Lee A. Niswander,  2006.  “Development of Bat Flight: Morphologic and Molecular Evolution of Bat Wing Digits.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 103(17):6581-6586, p. 6581.

[14] Van Valen, Leigh. 1979. “The Evolution of Bats.”  Evolutionary Theory, 4(3):103-121, p. 110.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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