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    The fossil bats of Messel


    Messel near Darmstadt, Germany, is one of the most important sites for fossil † bats. At Messel, about 45 million years ago, a lake surrounded by a subtropical rainforest was present. Thick layers of clay were deposited in poorly oxygenated water. Animals that died near or in the lake sank to the bottom where they were quickly covered with mud. Not only the skeletons were preserved, but sometimes even the stomach content and "impressions" of the skin.

    Reconstruction of the Messel lake.

    The bat † collection

    The Messel † collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences contains more than 30 specimens of bats, all belonging to the suborder of the Microchiroptera.

    Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon: skeleton with skin impression

    The little Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon had a body weight of about 7 gram and a wing span of 25 cm. Based on the morphology of its wings it appears that it could fly slowly and agily and was a good glider as well. These bats hunted above the shores and the water surface of the lake. Trichoptera were their main diet; remains of these insects were discovered in their stomach. While the bats were hunting they were probably killed by toxic gases that emanated from the lake.

    Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon: skeleton with skin impression.

    Palaeochiropteryx spiegeli

    Palaeochiropteryx spiegeli weighed more or less 12 gram. The shape of its wings resemble those of P. tupaiodon. P. spiegeli hunted in the open air but could not glide.

    Palaeochiropteryx spiegeli: skeleton with skin impression.

    Hassianycteris messelensis

    Hassianycteris messelensis weighed around 35 gram and had a wing span of 40 cm. The wings were long and slender and the tail was partly free. These bats could fly fast and high. Above the tree canopy they hunted beetles, locusts, bees, wasps, butterflies and moths.


    The inner ear of the bats from Messel does have characteristics indicating that they possessed a primitive echolocation system. About 35 million years ago the families to which the bat species of Messel belong, became extinct.


    Behnke, C.; Eikamp, H. & Zollweg, M.,†1986,†Die Grube Messel.,†Goldschneck-Verlag, 168p.

    Schaal, S. & Ziegler, W. (Eds.),†1988,†Messel: ein Schaufenster in die Geschichte der Erde und des Lebens.,†Senckenberg-Buch 64, Kramer Verlag, 315p.

    Wolf, H.W.,†1988,†Schštze in Schiefer. Faszinierende Fossilien aus der Grube Messel.,†Westermann Verlag, 114 p.