Inferring echolocation in ancient bats

Nancy B. Simmons
Kevin L. Seymour
Jörg Habersetzer


Laryngeal echolocation, used by most living bats to form images of their surroundings and to detect and capture flying prey1,2, is considered to be a key innovation for the evolutionary success of bats2,3, and palaeontologists have long sought osteological correlates of echolocation that can be used to infer the behaviour of fossil bats4,5,6,7. Veselka et al.8 argued that the most reliable trait indicating echolocation capabilities in bats is an articulation between the stylohyal bone (part of the hyoid apparatus that supports the throat and larynx) and the tympanic bone, which forms the floor of the middle ear. They examined the oldest and most primitive known bat, Onychonycteris finneyi (early Eocene, USA4), and argued that it showed evidence of this stylohyal–tympanic articulation, from which they concluded that O. finneyi may have been capable of echolocation. We disagree with their interpretation of key fossil data and instead argue that O. finneyi was probably not an echolocating bat.