Bats, better by the dozen

Analysis probes the evolutionary drivers behind flying mammals.

A dozen bat skulls, showing multiple shapes and sizes.


The 1300 species of bat found around the world show extreme variation in shape and size, ranging from tiny microbats to fruit bats the size of small dogs.

Skull appearance, too, varies wildly in features such as snout length and jaw length.

Now, research conducted by biologists Jessica Arbour, Abigail Curtis, and Sharlene Santana, all from the University of Washington, US, has revealed the evolutionary pressures that have driven the process.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists reveal that overwhelmingly the demands of echo-location have driven the development of bat skull shape for tens of millions of years.

“Our study sought to address a major question about the evolution of diversity in the bat skull: What explains the large number of differences that we see in skull shape?” says Santana.

“We found that echolocation is a major – and ancient – contributor to skull shape. Diet is also important, but generally more recent.”

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