Are bats related to humans?

Do bats descend from birds?

Flying eccentrics among mammals

Bats are classified as a subordinate of the bats. After the extinct pterosaurs and birds, the bats are the youngest group of vertebrates in tribal history to have acquired the ability to actively fly.

Brown long-eared - Photo: Klaus Krahn

Bats are classified as a subordinate of the bats. After the extinct pterosaurs and birds, the bats are the youngest group of vertebrates in tribal history to have acquired the ability to actively fly. While there are other mammal species that can move through the air, unlike them, bats can also gain height when they fly.


With around 1100 species, bats are the most species-rich order of mammals after rodents. They are distributed almost worldwide, only missing in the polar regions and on remote islands. On some islands (e.g. New Zealand) they were the only mammals until the arrival of humans. The scientific name is derived from the Greek and means "hand winged".

It is difficult to determine the position of bats in the mammalian family tree. In many cases, they are considered to be close relatives of the giant gliders and monkeys, but recent research results put them in the closer relationship of the cloven-toed ungulates and whales, odd-toed ungulates and predators.


Unclear about the ancestors of the bats

The history of the development of bats is only very sparsely documented by fossil finds. The oldest finds include genera from 40 to 55 million years ago, the early and middle Eocene. These early representatives are already very similar in their physique to today's bats. The only differences are in details such as the presence of finger claws and a long, free tail (which is, however, also found in today's mouse-tailed bats). These animals are also likely to have already been able to echo.

In contrast to other groups of mammals that are difficult to classify, such as whales, the fossil record has so far provided no evidence of transitional forms. Consequently, the conditions that led to the evolution of flapping flight in bats are unclear. John Speakman, professor of zoology at the University of Aberdeen, reconstructs the evolution of bats in such a way that these animals were initially diurnal and only began to catch prey at night under the pressure of birds of prey. Echolocation developed in parallel. The question of the possible ancestors of bats has been the subject of intense debate since the 1970s


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