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This is a submission for the Anatomically Correct Series

Gargoyles are a staple of Gothic architecture and I've decided to give these creatures the time of day. Gargoyles are closely related to Nyctalus lasiopterus. Some characteristics of Gargoyles include:

  • are 143.2cm (4.7ft) tall
  • are nocturnal
  • are Tetrapods
  • both males and females have hollow horns but males do have larger one
  • have large bat like wings
  • can fly
  • have bat like ears
  • have a long tail (optional)
  • are some what bulky (optional)
  • often perch themselves on ledges (optional)
  • commonly live in cathedrals (optional)

Given these characteristics, could such a creature realistically exist and what evolutionary pressures would lead to them?

NOTE: magic does not exist in my story

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    $\begingroup$ Do you want it to be six limbed (arms, legs, wings)? That's going to be much harder to arrive at than a 4 limbed critter, at least on Earth (or world similar enough to Earth that it might as well be Earth.) $\endgroup$ – Gene Feb 12 at 0:10
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I answered your previous question about mothman with an owl, and I will answer this with a bat. Along with this the ears have become sort of conical shapes, which resemble horns. there could be little flaps of the ears which still look like the original ears. As said before, Quetzalcoatlus could fly and it was larger. Because of the square cube law it can have smaller wings proportionately, and therefore does not need to be awkwardly long winged. I am assuming you want arms as well as wings, and that will be harder to accomplish. Possibly the thumb could become a display organ, growing in size. the larger thumb eventually is used to catch prey, and the legs adapt more for walking better, now relieved from their duties as insect catchers. The creatures eventually move into eating other smaller bats, and get bigger to take larger prey. They eventually start eating birds and some fruit bats. By this point they are perching upright.

there you have it. a tetrapod with bat wings, arms, seemingly horns, bat ears, humanish sized, are fairly bulky and look like the stereotypical gargoyle. so mothman is an owl and gargoyles are bats.

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Most of those can work together well enough, except for "can fly" and "somewhat bulky". The bigger your gargoyles are, the more fragile they're likely to be.

Powered flight is hard. It is energetically expensive, and as a result requires strong tradeoffs to make the amount of energy required for a particular creature to fly low enough to be attainable. In real-world flying creatures that has usually meant shedding mass in the body (like birds' bones being hollow, using uric acid rather than urea to excrete waste nitrogen to avoid needing lots of water to dissolve it in, and lots of others).

Those tradeoffs don't work so well with bulk. Bulk is heavy and usually not very aerodynamic, meaning it would take more power to get into and stay in the air. More power generally means more muscle, and muscle is heavy, so it adds more bulk, requiring more power, and so on.

That may not ruin the creatures for your story. If they only need pseudo-flight (basically gliding), or only need to be in the air for short periods and don't need to get far above where they started, then the bulk might work out. But if you want them to soar through the skies, or fly from the ground to the top of a Gothic cathedral, then the bulk is going to be really hard to work around.

The rest of the features don't seem like they would be impossible, or even unusual.


The question of "what evolutionary pressures would lead to them" is really, really, really broad. The answer would be "any that lead to that outcome", which probably isn't very satisfying.

You could start with a Nyctalus lasiopterus, and then simply have them get bigger, grow longer tails, and so on, but looking for an evolutionary reason for each specific feature is probably not worth doing. "Mate selection" is fair enough as an answer that can lead to profound changes over long periods of time, especially when you don't have to rely on unpredictable factors to actually produce the changes you want.

Figuring out what ecological niche the gargoyles exist in might be helpful if you don't want to handwave away all of the details, but there is no real limit to the possibilities that can be imagined when we're not constrained by actual events.

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    $\begingroup$ If gargoyles evolved as gliding cliff-dwelling ambush predators (drop, kill, climb, repeat) it would explain the rocky colouration, pseudo flight and need for bulk. It would also explain why they favour urban environments now. Like pigeons. Just with more teeth. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 11 at 22:48

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