Non-Primate Intelligence;
An Alternate Evolutionary Path

©By James K. Hoffman 11/19/1990  


Every school child has been taught about the dinosaurs and their extinction and the evolution of man. Natural selection is then discussed in properly abstract terms, with few clear examples given. The little children are merely told that "things happen" to "improve" on the original species and this "improved species" carries on. It is the rare child who asks, "What made us what we are today ?" And it is the truly exceptional child which asks, "What would have happened if Man had evolved from something besides a Monkey?" Well, what would have happened?  

Evolutionary Options

Roughly 1,100 million years ago the first forms of proto-life appeared on Earth. 550 million years ago life had differentiated into two main groups; vertebrates and invertebrates (Koenigswald, 1976). Over the next several hundred million years these primitive creatures adapted to their environments by way of natural selection and diversified into thousands of different species. One of the largest, and most universally dominant, species of several million years ago were the Dinosaurs. They ranged in size from the size of a chicken to that of a fair sized house, were lizards, and were primarily active during the day (Jerlson, et al.). Another group of creatures slowly developed from some of the smaller of these reptiles and came to dominate the night (Koenigawald, 1976). They were what eventually would become mammals. These proto-mammals are the forerunners of most of the modern animal kingdom, including Man.
From what were essentially land-dwelling bony fish a small, nocturnal, tree-dwelling shrew-like class of mammals called the Prosimians eventually developed (Koenigswald, 1976). It was from these small insectivores that the various families of primates, including Man, evolved (Koenigswald, 1976). These Prosimians needed greater hearing and better night vision and the processing centers to interpret and integrate this improved sensory information. Jerlson (1976, b) refers to this as the "principle of proper mass", which simply means that the amount of brain mass is directly related to the amount of processing required for any given activity. At some point during Cretaceous period the large reptiles died out and the previously nocturnal mammals had the opportunity to take over the day-niche previously occupied by the Dinosaurs (Jerlson, et al.; Koenigswald, 1976). Sometime later, a number of the Prosimians climbed down out of the trees and became plains dwellers (Koenigswald, 1976). These were the first man-like apes and Manís earliest ancestors.
But, how is it that "intelligent" life evolved from Prosimians instead of some other early mammal? There were many different kinds of these nocturnal, primitive, warm-blooded animals which could have spawned creatures of our intelligence, for instance; rodents, primitive predators, or bats.  

Chiroptera as Progenitor of Intelligence

The Chiroptera family, commonly known by the name "bats", has been around for approximately 50 million years and has remained relatively unchanged in all that time (Tuttle, 1988). They are well known for their nocturnal habits and their rodent-like appearance. They are, of course, mammals and for all of these reasons seem to be an acceptable alternative to the Prosimians as a progenitor of human-like intelligence. But, letís take a closer look at the batís qualifications.
Aside from the surface characteristics there are a number of more specific aspects of the batís physiology and habits which make it an excellent candidate for evolution into a higher form of intelligent life. To start with, bats have a highly developed central nervous system (Henson, 1970). This is hardly surprising when one considers how complicated a process it must be to interpret incoming echolocation Information. It is theorized that we use the information which our senses bring us to create a model of the "real" world around us (Jerlson, 1985). It is hard then for us, as mainly visual creatures, to truly comprehend echolocation as a method of information gathering. Kellogg (1961) has done considerable work with porpoises trying to gather information on just this subject. He discovered that porpoises can use echolocation to not only locate food-fish, but distinguish between food-fish and other fish. He also found that they could navigate around a net made from 1/8-inch wire and avoid clear barriers (Kellogg, 1961). It is hardly surprising to find that the bat, which is considerably smaller than the porpoise, can detect things as fine as human hair (Tuttle, 1988). The difference between the bat and the porpoise Is that the bat uses a typically mammalian auditory system, similar to our own, to receive the high-frequency signals which are used in echolocation (Fenton, 1985). All this should require a considerable amount of neural matter to interpret and mold into a "world-model" (Jerlson, et al.). And, in fact, the brain centers thought to involve the reception, interpretation, and integration of auditory data is generally well developed in bats (Henson, 1970). If encephalization is used as a measure of the relative intelligence of animals (Jerison, et al.), then the bat, with its highly developed brain (Henson, 1970), is already well on its way to a higher evolutionary stage.
Besides having a highly developed nervous system, the bat has some other criterion which indicate that the bat is a reasonable candidate for a more advanced evolution. To start with, bats are one of the most populous and wide spread of all mammals (Fenton, 1985; Tuttle, 1988). They are also believed to have shared a common shrew-like ancestor with primates, and thus man (Tuttle, 1988). It is not hard then to imagine that had things gone just a little differently several million years ago that the dominant form of "intelligent" life on Earth might be considerably different than what it is today.    

Chiroptera Sapiens

An Alternate Genesis.

There are a number of theories on how Man developed supplanting the Dinosaurs as the dominant form of life on Earth. Most of these theories involve the severe reduction of jungle, forest, and other types of vegetation. It is theorized that this not only killed off the Dinosaurs, who couldnít compete any longer, but drove Manís earliest ancestors out of the trees and onto the plains (Koenigswald, 1976). But, what if this deforestation never occurred? Considering what has already been revealed about the batís qualifications it is not hard to imagine that they could have evolved a higher intelligence and adapted in a pattern similar to Manís to better exploit their environment. But what might they be like? [Authorís Note: The socloblological principles of C.J. Lumsden and E.O. Vilson which are outlined in Promethean Fire have been applied through out the following sections of this paper. ]

Chiroptera Sapiens, In Detail

Physical Appearance.

Chiroptera Sapiens is an anthropoid standing roughly four feet (1.22 meters) tall and weighing 95 pounds (43 kilograms). C. Sapiens is almost completely covered with fine hair much like that of a monkey. This hair can range in color from dark brown to gray to pale cream. C. Sapiens is slightly stooped much like primitive Man (Koenigswald, 1976). C. Sapiens has long fingers and a well developed opposable thumb, all of which end in sharp claws. C. Sapiens retains a vestigial wing flap running from the hand down the arm to the waist. The ears of C. Sapiens project outward and forward for better audio reception. The female of the species has two mammaries.


C. Sapiens are capable of living in all but the most extreme polar and desert regions, like their smaller cousins, the bats (Tuttle, 1988). They make their "roosts" In a variety of places including trees, caves, and abandoned animal warrens. The construction Involved In adapting these roosts to the requirements of the particular "tribe" or "flock" of C. Sapiens varies with the individual roost site. The more advanced tribes dwell near the shore of large lakes and oceans finding more natural resources available for easy exploitation. The remainder of this paper will focus on one particular tribe of C. Sapiens which roost in trees in the subtropical zone near the seashore and refer to themselves as The Fisher People. The Fisher People build thatch "huts" In the trees with "doors" which open down and must be entered by way of a hanging rope ladder.

Feeding Habits.

C. Sapiens are omnivorous in the truest sense of the word. Like their smaller cousins, the bat, various tribes eat a combination of insects, fruit, fish, and even small to medium sized mammals (Fenton, 1985; Tuttle, 1988). All C. Sapiens are primarily nocturnal.
The Fisher People use both nets and spears to fish much like primitive Human cultures do. While men do the fishing, and occasionally employ their methods at hunting small game, the women gather insects in large woven baskets. The Fisher People also cultivate small orchards of various kinds of their most commonly eaten fruit. Both men and women work in the orchards. The Fisher People have also been known to ferment fruit and wild grain into a strong, fruity beer and a thin wine.

Mating Habits.

C. Sapiens organize by way of one of two mating systems. They either form harems or by use of the lek system. In the lek system the males gather in a central area or hut and wait for the females to come within ear shot. At this point the males begin to sing a "mating-song" which is broadcast and perceived in both the Human audible and supersonic levels (Penton, 1985). The female then chooses a male with whom she leaves the lek and copulates. He is no longer a part of the process and child rearing is primarily a task of the female (Penton, 1985). If the child is male, when he is deemed of age, he is sent to the male hut for the completion of his education. It should be noted that tribes which use this system of mating behavior rarely are more advanced than the hunter-gatherer stage.
The Fisher People use the harem system. The usual number of "wives" ranges from one to five, with rare exceptions. Of course, The Fisher People do not believe in having more wives than can be cared for in a reasonable manner. It should be noted that the more wives one has, the higher oneís prestige in the eyes of The Fisher People.


Of course, C. Sapiens uses echolocation as their primary learning sense like their smaller cousins, the bats. As previously stated, it is difficult for us, as primarily visual creatures, to fully understand how C. Sapiens perceives the world.
Relatively little research has been done on just how the world is perceived by sonar using creatures. However, a good deal of research has been done on the actual mechanics of echolocation. Some of the best research has been done by W. N. Kellogg (1961), and was done on porpoises. He found that porpoises could perform quite a few complicated behaviors relying solely on their sonar. These tasks included identifying food-fish, avoiding nets and clear barriers of various kinds, and navigating through a patterned obstacle course (Kellogg, 1961). In fact, the porpoises even seemed to swim in patterns which suggested game-play while navigating the maze (Kellogg, 1961).
Bats, however, are a slightly different matter. They use several kinds of calls including clicks, "barks", and the squeal with which most of us are familiar (Fenton, 1985). Most of these are modulated frequency calls (Fenton, 1985). That means that the call begins at one frequency, usually a high one, and slides into another, usually a lower one (Fenton, 1985). In general, the steeper the change, the shorter the time, and the softer the call, the more accurate the information received (Fenton, 1985). It must be assumed that the relative capabilities of bats and porpoises are the same since they use such a similar system of echolocation.
For all of the above reasons, we are required to try and describe the way C. Sapiens perceives the world with our own visually oriented language. The obvious limit of echolocation is that colors cannot be "seen". However, at a range up to 50 meters, C. Sapiens can "see" relative densities well enough to tell the difference between rock, wood, flesh, and water. Also, shapes as small as six inches can be detected at this range. The best analogy for the way C. Sapiens perceives the world is the way a "pin-impression" sculpture, such as the one found in the Sharper Image Catalog, works. That is, the "image" is "seen" as a smoothed-out shape which has virtually no "texture". Density, then, is "seen" as a kind of "thickness" or impression of weight or bulk.
Underwater echolocation works almost exactly like a porpoiseís sonar. Seeing from air into water is a slightly different matter. Perception of objects in water is a matter of distinguishing between the density of the object and the density of the water. Therefore, "seeing" with sonar into water is something like looking at fruit suspended in Jell-O.
It should also be noted that C. Sapiens respond to sounds produced by sources other than C. Sapiens themselves which exist within the environment.

Secondary Senses.

C. Sapiens has four other senses which are very similar to those in Humans. Their tactile sense works exactly like ours. C. Sapiens have a somewhat more developed sense of smell and taste than Humans do, which works much like their cousins, the bats (Fenton, 1985).
C. Sapiens have a slightly different visual system, however. As they are nocturnal, C. Sapiens have a higher concentration of cone cells in their retina, like most bats (Penton, 1985). This, of course means that their vision, which is used primarily at night, is black and white (Dworetzky, 1988; Jerlson, 1976). Their sense of sight is otherwise well developed, comparable to our sense of hearing.

Cultural Notes On The Fisher People.

The Fisher People are one of the most advanced tribes of Chiroptera Sapiens. They have achieved a level of technology such that they no longer need to wander like nomads. They make a rather good grade of pottery which is used for a variety of tasks. They have compound tools including spears, bows and arrows, and looms of good quality. They use a kind of wild flax to spin thread and subsequently weave a high quality cloth which is used for a variety of things, but most notably clothing.
The Fisher People wear a kind of wraparound loincloth/ kilt apparatus much like what many Polynesian Islanders wear, with the women wearing a wraparound halter as well. They also wear simple sandals like traditional Japanese geta. On ceremonial occasions, the appropriate tribe members wear a kind of oversized, open-sided vest which may be decorated with intricately carved pieces of shell and wood.
The Fisher People govern themselves by way of a tribal council which is made up of the five most prominent and respected men of the village. Each of these men may have any number of "advisors" who influence their decisions. One man is elected by the council as a spokesperson and is called the Headman. This council makes decisions which effect the entire tribe such as who will be traded with, who will be made war upon, and also settles disputes within the tribe.
The Fisher People are animists. That is, they believe that everything which is important has a spirit. That means people, fish, trees, rocks, the sky, and the sun all have spirits, with a Great Spirit presiding over them all. This practice makes the tribeís shaman a very important person. He often serves on the council, at least in an advisory capacity, and is present at all major events in the ritual life of The Fisher People. He very often does not marry, but does not necessarily remain celibate.
The Fisher People are great believers in personal honor, much like many Asian feel about "face". In regards to this, The Fisher People uphold a strict duelling code. This is used quite often to decide a personal disagreement between two adult males. The duel is usually fought with either clubs, or spiked clubs, depending on the seriousness of the dispute.  


We have taken a look at an alternative to Human/Primate development. Bats have been shown to be a viable option for this alternate evolutionary path. And a postulated "intelligent" form of life based on these premises has been presented. It is entirely possible that this world may yet see the development of this species, Chiroptera Sapiens. And if not here, perhaps they will develop on another planet much like Earth in some other solar system far from our own. Perhaps they are already out there.


The author would like to thank Charles Blaich, Ph.D. for his helpful comments and suggestions which spurred this project to life and, through its completion, kept the ball rolling.
The author would also like to thank Scott Landley for his help in providing an Illustration of Chiroptera Sapiens for this paper. [Update: When this paper was originally written, I had not yet seen the illustration. The illustration I did get, right before I was to hand in the paper, was nothing like what I had described to the artist. That was my first experience working with an "art department".]



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