"Spectacular" new species of orange bat discovered in West Africa
Scientists working in the West African country of Guinea have discovered a new orange-furred species of bat. The rare discovery came while conducting field surveys in the isolated Nimba Mountain range.
The find came in early 2018 as scientists were conducting conservation surveys of bat populations in the exceptionally biodiverse Nimba Mountains, a region of West Africa spanning the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. The researchers were focusing on a series of old mining caves that have since been colonized by bats.
As part of the survey the researchers came across a striking orange-colored bat. The team initially assumed it must be a uniquely colored iteration of the common species they were investigating but further investigation began to suggest this bat was notably different.
While in the field, the researchers called up Nancy Simmons, an expert in bat taxonomy and curator at the American Museum of Natural History. Looking at the photos, Simmons immediately knew the researchers had stumbled across a new species of bat.
"As soon as I looked at it, I agreed that it was something new," says Simmons. "Then began the long path of documentation and gathering all the data needed to show that it's indeed unlike any other known species."
After comprehensive work the researchers have now described the species in a new study published in the journal American Museum Novitiates. The bat belongs to a genus called Myotis, and its location of discovery led to its species name, Myotis nimbaensis.
"In an age of extinction, a discovery like this offers a glimmer of hope," explains Winifred Frick, from University of California, Santa Cruz. "It's a spectacular animal. It has this bright-orange fur, and because it was so distinct, that led us to realize it was not described before. Discovering a new mammal is rare. It has been a dream of mine since I was a child."
Although the discovery of a new mammal species in itself is not an uncommon occurrence, most new species discoveries occur through complex lab-based genetic investigations. Simmons says finding a new species such as this one while doing field surveys is an unusual event.
“This sort of situation where experienced researchers went out in the field and caught an animal and held it in their hand and went, ‘This is something we can’t identify,’ that’s much more unusual,” says Simmons in an interview with The New York Times.
The researchers suggest this particular bat species may be found only in this very specific part of the Nimba Mountains. Work is ongoing to understand how rare this bat is and what role it plays in the broader local ecosystem.
The new study was published in the journal American Museum Novitiates.