A group of scientists, led by the American Museum of Natural History and Bat Conservation International, has discovered a new bat species in a mountain range in West Africa. The striking orange-black animal was recently described in the journal American Museum Novitates.
In an era when animal species disappear rather than appear, discoveries like these are all the more important. A bonus is that this is a new mammal, which is even rarer, especially when they have such a spectacular appearance as this bat with its bright orange fur and black wings.
There are more than 1,400 bat species, and about 20 more are added to the list each year. But most of the time, these are discoveries in laboratories where species that are very similar and that were previously thought to be the same turn out to be genetically different.
For researchers to go out into the field, catch an animal, hold it in their hand and say, “This is something unknown,” is much more unusual.
The bat was discovered in 2018 during field surveys in the Nimba Mountains in Guinea. It is a succession of African ‘heavenly islands’ with peaks that are 1,600 to 1,750 meters above sea level.
They are home to exceptional biodiversity, including bats. The scientists were busy recording which bats lived in which natural caves and mine tunnels. Of particular interest was Lamotte’s round-leaved bat (Hipposideros lamottei), which is critically endangered and only occurs in this mountain range.
But during the investigation, the scientists came across a peculiar bat whose appearance did not match any of the bats that lived in this area. The researchers soon realized they had discovered a new species and began the long journey of collecting data to demonstrate it effectively.
For example, they conducted a genetic analysis that showed that this bat is at least five percent different from its closest relatives.
The scientists named the bat Myotis Nimbaensis. It is possible that this new species is the second only to be found in this particular mountain range, like Lamotte’s round-leaved bat.
Bats play a critical ecological role in West Africa by spreading seeds, pollinating plants, and controlling insect species.
Still, they are often persecuted for superstition and, like many other species, are also threatened by habitat loss. The scientists hope this discovery will help protect the bats in the region.