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Fostering Close Observations: Exploring Bat Anatomy through Scientific Illustrations

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This post was written by Lesley Anderson, 2021-2022 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.

What are these creatures? Are they from another planet or from someone’s nightmares? They’re really illustrations of bats, created by Ernst Haeckel and Adolf Giltsch around the turn of the 20th century. Examining even one of these drawings reveals just how fantasy-like bat faces can be. Showing students one of the faces can spark a lively conversation about what organism students are observing.

To encourage close observation, crop individual faces, share with students, and organize a jigsaw discussion with small groups to examine the similarities and differences between these individuals. Encourage students to look closely and pay attention to details. Support students in making predictions about what species they are observing to sum up their thinking.

Detail from illustration showing bats.
Illustration shows bats.
Chiroptera. – Fledertiere. Illustration shows bats.


Detail from illustration showing bats.
Portrait of Prof. Ernst Haeckel
Prof. Ernst Haeckel of Jena, bacteriologist

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a German zoologist and embryologist who believed that ontogeny, the study of the development of an organism, was the key to understanding Darwinism and evolution. Much less is documented about Adolf Giltsch (1852-1911), the lithographer who converted Haeckel’s sketches into prints in Kunstformen der Natur (English: Art Forms in Nature). The page featured here is just one of many in the set of illustrations that provides a wonderful perspective of the natural world according to Ernst Haeckel.

Direct students to create their own scientific illustrations after examining the bat drawings. Encourage them to look closely and pay attention to details as they create their own drawings.

Students may also become interested in the phylogenetic history of bats and the order chiroptera. Share the illustrations of Georges Cuvier to spark a discussion about the similarities and differences between the bat morphology from these two scientific illustrators. Using their observation skills, students can discuss attributes such as wings, hair, and large ears to determine where bats should fall on the phylogenetic tree and which species they are more closely related to and which have evolved convergently. Students may also investigate how bat ear size is related to their navigation technique, echolocation.

How would you use Ernst Haeckel’s scientific illustrations in your classroom?

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  1. Excellent!

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