The cutaneous lipid composition of bat wing and tail membranes: A case of convergent evolution with birds

Miriam Ben-Hamo, Agustí Muñoz-Garcia, Paloma Larrain, Berry Pinshow, Carmi Korine, Joseph B. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The water vapour permeability barrier of mammals and birds resides in the stratum corneum (SC), the outermost layer of the epidermis. The molar ratio and molecular arrangement of lipid classes in the SC determine the integrity of this barrier. Increased chain length and polarity of ceramides, the most abundant lipid class in mammalian SC, contribute to tighter packing and thus to reduced cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL). However, tighter lipid packing also causes low SC hydration, making it brittle, whereas high hydration softens the skin at the cost of increasing CEWL. Cerebrosides are not present in the mammalian SC; their pathological accumulation occurs in Gaucher's disease, which leads to a dramatic increase in CEWL. However, cerebrosides occur normally in the SC of birds. We tested the hypothesis that cerebrosides are also present in the SC of bats, because they are probably necessary to confer pliability to the skin, a quality needed for flight. We examined the SC lipid composition of four sympatric bat species and found that, as in birds, their SC has substantial cerebroside contents, not associated with a pathological state, indicating convergent evolution between bats and birds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160636
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1833
StatePublished - 29 Jun 2016


  • Aves
  • Chiroptera
  • Skin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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