“Giant” extinct bats require perspective.

A couple of "very large" bats: And do you know what they're thinking about? They're thinking about watching you when you're asleep, and maybe climbing into your hair.
A couple of "very large" bats: And do you know what they're thinking about? They're thinking about watching you when you're asleep, and maybe climbing into your hair.Courtesy robotbreeder
A recent issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology reports the discovery of half a dozen new (that is to say extinct) species of “giant” fossilized bats in Africa. The bats date from the Eocene, about 35 million years ago, and will no doubt shed great light on bat evolution. For instance, it has been thought that the northern hemisphere was the site of most bat evolution—that bat species went through the greatest diversification only after reaching the northern hemisphere—and now it seems that bats evolved into their modern forms in Africa before dispersing across the world.

The six new fossils are some of the most recent products of more than 25 years of fieldwork in Africa, and the largest of them would have weighed just less than half a pound in life; it was a “giant.”

The discovery and associated press release leads me to a single, important conclusion: people toss around the term “giant” way too freely. I realize that it’s something of a relative term (too be fair, the paleontologist said that the fossil was a “giant among bats”), but I think things have simply gone too far. Nothing that weighs less than half a pound is “giant” (unless it’s, like, a paperclip. That would be a pretty big paperclip), and some guidelines need to be set forth. I propose the following as a starting point, and I would appreciate additional points from readers.

1)Objects that are normally small (equal to or lesser than a 30 pound bag of dog food), to obtain the descriptor of “giant,” must be equal to in size or larger than a dog. Which dog? My brother’s dog, Morgan.

2)Objects normally of normal size (“normal size” being defined as a mass differing from my own by no more than forty pounds) may be called “giant” only if they exceed said forty pounds, or are of a “normal” mass, but are physically large enough to make me uncomfortable.

3)For food items to be accurately termed “giant” they must be at least twice their normal size, and potentially pose a physical threat to nearby humans. For example, while I might be able to choke on a normal sized hamburger in the course of chewing and swallowing, a truly “giant” hamburger would have to pose a suffocation risk while still outside of my mouth. A food item like a pancake, which could cause suffocation at its normal size, would then have to be large enough to, say, weigh a body down to the point where the victim could no longer reach another source of food or water (obviously a dangerous situation).

4)For monsters, a creature must be large enough to cause significant structural damage to a building of no less than three stories. So something like Bigfoot, while certainly still “big,” is not technically “giant.” At least not until it obtains demolition tools—who would argue with it then?

“Giant” rules aside, I’m still not sure that this Eocene fossil quite qualifies, even as a “giant among bats.” Flying Foxes, for instance, can achieve a wingspan of nearly six feet, and weigh up to a kilogram. Even though this wouldn’t place the Flying Foxes in the category of “giant” according to my rules (see guideline #1—giant fruit bats remain smaller than Morgan), they certainly blow the fossil bats out of the water. Or out of the sky. Or out of the dirt, I guess.

This may seem like a petty concern to raise, but I only do it for the good of society. When something really giant shows up (and something will—watch Godzilla if you don’t believe me), we’ll need some potent adjectives to deal with it. What we’re doing now is like abusing antibiotics. Potentially worse.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

koallainfestation37's picture
koallainfestation37 says:

bats are cool
and thus, so is batman

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:49am
shanee's picture
shanee says:

OMG!! giant distinct bats..thats really creepy! i cant imagine a big bat just flying around me thats really nasty...

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:51am
Candice_318's picture
Candice_318 says:

But the question is can they "crank dat batman"?

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posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 9:54am
nelson.robin's picture
nelson.robin says:

oh ma god i didn't know that bats could be so ugly lol...

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:05am
zephyr's picture
zephyr says:

i like batman better...........and what the heck is "cracking that batman"

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:07am
Candice_318's picture
Candice_318 says:

It's a dance look it up on youtube kid

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posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:09am
DangYo's picture
DangYo says:

30 pounds or less
I would so wrestle with one...

Nd it's crank dat batman not cracking that batman...

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:10am
flinch619's picture
flinch619 says:

there are bats that live under our neighbors deck. i wonder how big they get


posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:12am
Andy Korman's picture
Andy Korman says:

you should capture one and then do weird experiments to it. nothing nasty. of course jeez yall some nasty folks. or you can keep it as a pet.

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:14am
Jefflemus00's picture
Jefflemus00 says:

Do these "giants" suck blood? lol

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:28am

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