Scientists Find Fossils of Sucker-Footed Bats

Posted on February 5, 2014

Phasmatonycteris phiomensis jawbone


Scientists have found fossils of ancient sucker-footed bats. Sucker-footed bats are only found in Madagascar today. The fossil find indicates the unusual group of bats was once more widespread and evolved in Africa. Researchers discovered fossilized jawbones and teeth of the extinct sucker-footed bats in the Egyptian desert. The two newly named extinct species, Phasmatonycteris phiomensis and P. butleri, date to 30 and 37 million years ago. The half-inch long jawbone of Phasmatonycteris phiomensis is pictured above.

There are two species of sucker-footed bats in Madagascar today, Myzopoda aurita and M. schliemanni. The bats don't cling upside-down to cave ceilings or branches like most other bats. The bats, which have cup-like pads on their wrists and ankles, roost head-up. You can see a photo of sucker-footed bat clinging to a leaf here on National Geographic. Scientists recently demonstrated that the pads on the bats wrists and ankles work using wet adhesion, like a tree frog.

Scientists say Northern Africa was much more tropical when the two extinct species lived. Gregg Gunnell, director of the Duke University Lemur Center's Division of Fossil Primates, says in a Duke release, "The habitat was probably fairly forested, and there was likely a proto-Nile River, a big river that led into the ancient Tethys Ocean."

The scientists say the discovery helps support a theory that most of South America's bats were part of large superfamily, called Noctilionoidea.

Grunner says, "We think that the superfamily originated in Africa and moved eastward as Gondwana was coming apart. These bats migrated to Australia, then actually went through Antarctica and up into South America using an ice-free corridor that connected the three continents until about 26 million years ago."

A research paper about the extinct sucker-footed bats was published here in PLoS One.

Photo: Gregg Gunnell