A quarter of all mammal species are bats!

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I don’t know: no sooner do I start to think I might be doing OK at this taxonomy thing, than someone comes along and knocks me right back down to peg one (to mix my metaphors.)

On Monday, I was able to spot the error in Kevin Z’s WTF without even thinking about it1 (Echinoderms are not a subset of Insecta; they’re a phylum all their own, and while I can never keep up with whether Insecta is a class or a sub-phylum this week, I do know for sure that it doesn’t contain an entire other phylum. Oh, and it’s not even like Insecta is a subset of Echinodermata; it’s part of Arthropoda)

So there I was, feeling pretty good about myself, when Carl Zimmer comes along and (amidst an entirely fascinating article) hits me with something I never expected: one quarter of all mammal species are accounted for by bats!

That’s staggering. I had no idea they were so successful or so diverse. I’d always thought of them as being slightly odd outliers on the graph of mammal survival strategies; I mean, stretching your arms out hugely and flapping around using sonar to catch insects is just so far from what you expect mammals to do that it didn’t even occur to me that a significant proportion of them might be doing it anyway.

Obviously a quarter of all species is not even remotely the same thing as a quarter of all individuals, but still — how did I not know this? I guess I just haven’t been paying attention.

  1. Well, obviously not entirely without thinking about it. []

2 Responses to “A quarter of all mammal species are bats!”

  1. Kevin Z

    That is very interesting, but when you think about how many mammals there are, it won’t take very long before you’re at a quarter ;p

    But I would have thought rodents would have the highest species richness. Of course, bats are essentially flying rodents.

  2. Will

    Not very long at all, as it turns out. None of the sources I looked at seem to agree, but it sounds like there’s about 1,000 species of bat, out of maybe 5-6,000 species of mammal.

    Your rodent hunch is spot on as well; they have roughly twice the number of species as bats, which means between the two orders, they account for well over half of all mammalian species — and, I’d be prepared to bet, significantly more than half the total mammalian population. They’re doing pretty well for vertebrates. ;)