Big animals make big news. Earlier this year headlines were dominated for days by the unveiling of what may be the largest dinosaur ever, and this week fossil fans are abuzz with news of two new horned dinosaurs that debuted on the same day. Such giants are so enormous, in fact, that they often overshadow other news about prehistory. For example, an unusual early bat found in Egypt's western desert.
American Museum of Natural History zoologist Nancy Simmons and colleagues have named the 37-million-year-old bat Aegyptonycteris knightae. For the moment, there's not much of it to look at. All that's known is part of an upper jaw with two molars. The story of prehistoric mammals is largely one told in enamel and tooth cusps, though, so this find was not only enough to identify Aegyptonycteris as an early bat, but as a flapping beast that dined on a different menu than its relatives.
Up until now, Simmons and coauthors write, the earliest bats were thought to be "animalivorous." The size and some toothy details of Aegyptonycteris, however, hint that this bat was an omnivore. This would been one of the first bats to munch plants as well as insects and little animals, kicking off a dietary option still enjoyed by the greater spear-nosed bat and others today.
Name: Aegyptonycteris knightae
Meaning: Aegyptonycteris means "Egyptian bat", while knightae honors American Museum of Natural History Scientific Publications editor Mary Knight.
Age: Eocene, about 37 million years old.
Where in the world?: Fayum Depression, Egypt.
What sort of critter?: A bat belonging to a new group called the Aegyptonycteridae.
Size: Unknown, but estimated to be as large as some of today's biggest bats. "Aegyptonycteris knightae is a large bat by any measure," the researchers write.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: Part of the right upper jaw with two molars.
Simmons, N., Seiffert, E., Gunnell, G. 2016. A new family of large omnivorous bats (Mammalia, Chiroptera) from the Late Eocene of the Fayum Depression, Egypt, with comments on use of the name "Eochiroptera." American Museum Novitates. 3857: 1-43
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