May 8, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Bat Evolution? Still Looking


Evidence for Bat Evolution? Still Looking After All These Years

Smithsonian Magazine Attempts to Explain Away the Problem

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The headline of a new Smithsonian magazine article tells it all: “Why Bats Are One of Evolution’s Greatest Puzzles. Paleontologists seek the ancestors that could explain how bats became the only flying mammals.”[1] Bats have been in the news much lately because they are the main suspect in the spread of many zoonotic diseases into humans, including Ebola and the COVID-19 virus.

I have been writing about many of evolutionists’ greatest puzzles for over a half-century, producing close to 1,500 publications. Now this puzzle has been added to my long list of evolutionary puzzles I have written about, including the evolution of just about every animal on planet Earth. The bat puzzle is a major problem for evolution because bats, unlike any other known life form, are unique as flying mammals. Just about every distinctive trait of bats is unique – so unique that it has been difficult for taxonomists to classify them. They are the only flying mammal. A flying squirrel only glides; it cannot fly. They not only fly like a bird, but walk like a penguin, and use radar (echolocation) like whales and dolphins. They can be very nasty and will bite to defend themselves. Most mammals (cats, dogs, bears, deer, sheep and all primates) are cute, or at least not ugly, but bats have a reputation of being one of the ugliest mammals alive. Most bats are nocturnal, and thus we don’t see bats very often because they usually fly around only at night. They hang out in dark attics, caves, and hollow trees during daylight hours.

Flying foxes are among the largest bats.

Bat Uniqueness Baffles Taxonomists

As late as 1748, bats were classified as birds. Then, afterwards, the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, classified them as primates. Other taxonomists classified them as rats. Using molecular evidence, more recent evolutionists have decided that bats are more closely related to cetferungulates (even-toed ungulates, i.e. such as pigs, cows, deer, horses, elephants, and rhinoceros) instead of primates.[2] In the end, they are such unique animals that scientists have placed them in a group all of their own, ‘Chiroptera’, which means ‘hand-wing’ creatures. They have been inserted within the superorder Laurasiatheria, along with whales and hoofed animals. What a motley group of dissimilar animals!

Taxonomists, using their rules of classification, cannot get bats to fit comfortably anywhere. One has to wonder where they will be classified in the future. After rodents, Chiroptera have the largest number of species. There are “more than a thousand species of bat ranging from the one-inch-long Kitti’s hog-nosed bat to the enormous, three-pound giant golden-crowned flying fox.”[3] Evolutionists believe “bats are the only mammals to have evolved powered flight, and they’ve been flapping around for tens of millions of years.”[4] This means there must be many millions of evolutionary ancestors and, if only one-hundredth of one percent of the many trillions of early bat precursors were fossilized, some must exist. But, as is well documented, not one plausible transitional form has ever been found. Not one!

The problem is not the fossil record. Billions of fossils have been found, but the fact is that none of the existing fossils support any theory of bat evolution. Many excellent well-preserved fossils of bats exist dated by evolutionists all the way back to the Eocene. All of them, as far as chiropterologists (specialists in bats) can tell, all are modern bats. As a result, chiropterologists are unconstrained by the fossil record. Consequently, many conflicting theories of bat evolution now exist. Because of a lack of fossil evidence for their evolution, their entire evolutionary history “has been obscured by controversial phylogenetic [evolutionary-origin] hypothesis.”[5]

Where Did Bats Come From?

One theory is that bats first evolved in North America from some small placental mammal.[6]  The reasoning is that since the bones in a bat’s wing are very similar to mammal hand bones, bats must have evolved from some shrew-like animal that could glide from tree to the ground as flying squirrels do today.[7] The current theory is that the ancestor of bats was a small quadrupedal mammal with limb morphology similar to that of mice.[8]  As leading bat fossil expert Professor Carroll concluded, though, “the fossil record does not provide evidence of the transition” from “small placental mammals” to bats.[9]

Others argue from anatomical evidence that bats evolved from either primates, flying lemurs, or even tree shrews.[10] Another claim is that bats and phenacolemers (flightless mouse-sized animals) share a common ancestor with bats.[11] Based on molecular evidence, professor Teeling concluded, “living bats last shared a common ancestor at, or just after, the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.”[12]  University of Chicago Biologist Van Valen wrote almost 40 years ago that it is difficult to go beyond hypothesizing bat origins because bats “have no Archaeopteryx as of yet”, meaning a specific fossil they can point to as evidence of their evolution.[13]  He then speculates on some possible evolutionary histories of bats, stressing the tentative nature and problems with all existing speculations.  His concerns are still fully valid today, if not more so.

As Black writes, “Bats pop up in the fossil record around 50 million years ago during a time known as the Eocene. Paleontologists have recovered remains ranging from teeth and bits of jaw to stunning full skeletons in places as far-flung as Wyoming, Paris, Australia and India’s Vastan Mine.”[14]

Darwinists’ major excuse for the total lack of fossil evidence for bat evolution concerns the fact that bats have small, light skeletons that do not preserve well. In fact, for some bats, such as the golden-crowned flying fox, which can weigh up to three pounds, no evidence of its evolution has ever been found. Actually, the “earliest-known bats are represented by excellent fossil material, including virtually complete skeletons of Icaronycteris index from the early Eocene [allegedly 50 million years before present] of western Wyoming and Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon from the middle Eocene [45 million years before present] ‘Grube Messel’ of Western Germany.”[15] The oldest fossil bats, which have been dated by evolutionists at around 54 million years, are not “dramatically different from living bats,” but rather they are in most ways indistinguishable from modern bats.[16]

The Big Problem is the Origin of Flight

Evolutionists assume that flight in higher animals evolved not just once, but four times in all of history—once in insects, once in pterosaurs, once in birds, and once in bats.[17]  In a similar way, they assume that echolocation, because of its high level of complexity, could have “evolved only once in bats.”[18] This is a concern to evolutionists because “bats’ evolutionary success is in large part” due to “their power of flight.”[19] Because the evolution of flight is recognized as very improbable, a single origin of flight in bats has been postulated.[20] Although all bats are capable of true powered flight, some can only glide like raptors.[21] Those with powered flight fly exceptionally well, as anyone knows who has watched them dart about in the twilight hours. They are not blind as folklore assumes, but can dodge obstacles with their echolocation in complete darkness. The big question, as is obvious from the documents reviewed above, is that the fossil record of bats shows abrupt appearance. Paleontologists have uncovered some

50-million-year-old bat specimens [that] are already recognizable as bats, so where did they come [evolve] from? When, where, why and how the first bats become airborne is another mystery buried by Deep Time.[22]

Now Comes the Smithsonian’s Excuses for No Fossil Record

The first excuse the Smithsonian article makes for the lack of fossil evidence for bat evolution is hope that fossils will be found some day:

For decades, anatomists and zoologists were confounded by the origin of whales. Then, at the end of the 20th century, a wealth of fossil finds provided a detailed outline of how hoofed land mammals became the sea’s largest swimmers.[23]

That is simply not true. The origin of whales still confounds scientists, and the fossils discovered do little to tell the story of evolution; instead, they only confound it. An article in The Guardian states: “Australian researchers have produced new evidence disputing a popular theory of whale evolution proffered by scientists from Charles Darwin onwards.”[24]

The second excuse is like the first: “Birds presented a similar problem, with their origin from an unknown reptile ancestor stumping experts until some new ideas about the “terrible lizards” and amazing fossil finds proved that birds are living dinosaurs.”[25] But again, there are big problems with bird evolution stories. The best that can be said is that it is controversial. One press release from the University of Oregon remarked: “Study challenges bird-from-dinosaur theory of evolution – was it the other way around?”[26] The review of that 2010 study, which is still accurate today, wrote that the research

published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides yet more evidence that birds did not descend from ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs, experts say, and continues to challenge decades of accepted theories about the evolution of flight. The research is well done and consistent with a string of studies in recent years that pose increasing challenge to the birds-from-dinosaurs theory, said John Ruben, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University who authored a commentary in PNAS on the new research…. The weight of the evidence is now suggesting that not only did birds not descend from dinosaurs, Ruben said, but that some species now believed to be dinosaurs may have descended from birds.[27]

In his article correction Ruben added, “When interpreting the paleobiology of long extinct taxa, new fossils, and reinterpretations of well-known fossils, sharply at odds with conventional wisdom never seem to cease popping up.” [28]

The third excuse is more hope: “Until recently, turtles presented an odd case similar to that of bats; the shelled reptiles seemed to appear out of nowhere in the fossil record. During the past two decades, experts have identified new species of transitional turtles and revised their opinions of already-known species to explain how turtles got their shells.” Once again, this is very misleading. The problem of where turtles got their shells still exists. As one leading researcher, Hans Sues, of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, noted, “The mystery of how the turtle got its shell has been a long-standing question in evolutionary biology.”[29] The fossil in one claimed fossil of a turtle precursor had no evidence of a shell.[30] All the researchers found was a tiny eight-inch-long reptile in very poor condition that had a partial fusing of the dorsal ribs similar to the fusing ribs in humans which, except in humans the bottom one or two free-floating ribs are also fused to form the sternum. This structure is not even close to a turtle shell bottom, as was claimed.

Such is the faith of evolutionists. Their faith is so great that their question is not if the link will be found, but when. They know it must exist, so they simply hope it will turn up some day. The fact is, “we don’t know why there is a missing record of ten million years,” says University of Birmingham paleontologist Emily Brown.[31]

The next answer the Smithsonian article proposes to prove bat evolution, not by evidence, but by lack of evidence, is called the “dog ate my homework syndrome.” One example is

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.”[32]

This excuse doesn’t cut it. Judging by the extensive record of extant species, bats live all over the world in many habitats except in very cold regions. There should have been ample opportunities for them to fossilize over tens of millions of years. In addition, teeth and tooth fragments make up most of the bat fossil record—not bones.[33] The teeth and fragments tell the same story: namely, no evidence of evolution. Many well-preserved fossils of bats do exist, dated by evolutionists all the way back to the Eocene. These also tell the same story: no evidence of evolution.[34]

Well-preserved bat, Onychonycteris from Fossil Butte National Monument. Wyoming. It looks like a modern bat. (Wiki Commons)


[1] Black, Riley. Why Bats Are One of Evolution’s Greatest Puzzles. Paleontologists seek the ancestors that could explain how bats became the only flying mammals. Smithsonian Magazine, April 21, 2020.
[2] Lin, Yu-Hsin and David Penny. “Implications for Bat Evolution from Two New Complete Mitochondrial Genomes.” Molecular Biological Evolution 18(4):684-688, p. 687, 2001.
[3] Black, R., 2020.
[4] Black, R., 2020.
[5] Teeling, Emma C., et al., “A Molecular Phylogeny for Bats Illuminates Biogeography and the Fossil Record.” Science 307:580-583, p. 581, 2005.
[6] Carroll, Robert L. Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Paleobiology Series, Book 2), p. 277, 1998.
[7] Williams, Kim and Rob Mies. Understanding Bats: Discovering the secret lives of these gentle mammals. Marietta, OH: Pardson Corporation/Bird Watcher’s Digest Press, 1996, p. 2.
[8] Sears, Karen E., et al., “Development of Bat Flight: Morphologic and Molecular Evolution of Bat Wing Digits.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103(17):6581-6586, 2006, p. 6581.
[9] Carroll, 1998, p. 277.
[10] Lin, Y., and D. Penny, 2001.
[11] Hamrick, Mark W., Burt A. Rosenman, and Jason A. Brush.  “Phalangeal Morphology of the Paromomyidae: The Evidence for Gliding Behavior Reconsidered.”  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 109(3):397-413, 1 July 1999.
[12] Simmons, Nancy B. “An Eocene Big Bang for Bats.” Science 307:527-528, 2005, p. 527.
[13] Van Valen, Leigh. “The Evolution of Bats.” Evolutionary Theory 4(3):103-121., 1979, p. 103.
[14] Black, R., 2020.
[15] Novacek, Michael. “Evidence for Echolocation in the Oldest Known Bats.” Nature 315:140-141, 1985,  p. 140.
[16] Perkins, Sid. “Learning to Listen: How Some Vertebrates Evolved Biological Sonar.”  Science News 167:314-316, 2005, p. 314.
[17] Carroll, 1998, p. 277.
[18] Simmons, 2005, p. 527.
[19] Wimsatt, William A. “Bats.” Scientific American 197(5):105-114, November 1957, p. 106.
[20] Teeling, et al., 2005, p. 581.
[21] Williams and Mies, 1996, p. 2.
[22] Black, R., 2020.
[23] Black, R., 2020.
[24] Wahlquist, Calla. Australian scientists dispute Darwin’s theory about whale’s teeth. The Guardian, 29 August 2017 ; See also RSR’s List of Evidence Against Whale Evolution, 2015.
[25] Black, R., 2020.
[26] Ruben, John; “Study challenges bird-from-dinosaur theory of evolution – was it the other way around?”, Oregon State University Newsroom, February 8, 2010.
[27] Ruben, J., 2010.
[28] Ruben, John. Paleobiology and the origins of avian flight. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(7): 2733-2734. Correction due to a printer’s error,107(13):6118, 30 March 2010b.
[30] “Key Link in Turtle Evolution Discovered.”, 2015.
[31] Black, R., 2020.
[32] Black, R., 2020.
[33] Black, R., 2020.
[34] Black, R., 2020.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including 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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Categories: Fossils, Mammals

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