Scientists examining museum specimens of bats from South America have found that a distinctive, gold colored species which was previously confused with another bat is actually a species new to science.
This striking new species, which is is thought to be endemic to Bolivia, was originally classified as the similar looking species Myotis simus which can be found in numerous South American countries. However, after comparing fur color and other external features, scientists noted several important differences between specimens that suggested this species was distinct from other Myotis species, including M. simus. In particular, the new species is covered in thick, fluffy golden fur unlike M. simus which is more orange-brown in color. This has earned these bats the name M. midastactus after King Midas from Greek mythology who could turn anything he touched into gold.
M. midastactus is an insect eater that can be found throughout the Bolivian savanna. They spend their days chilling out under thatched roofs or in holes in the ground made by other animals. There are six other species in the Myotis genus living alongside M. midastactus in Bolivia, but interestingly they couldn’t find any evidence for M. simus in this country. The Myotis genus is particularly rich with over 100 species of these so-called mouse-eared bats discovered across the world so far, 15 of which can be found in South America.
As described in the Journal of Mammalogy, the researchers conducted detailed studies of the external features of 27 different specimens kept in museums in both the US and Brazil. Unfortunately, they were unable to catch any live specimens of this animal despite spending months trying. But lead author Dr Ricardo Moratelli points out to the BBC that museum specimens are critical to our understanding of biodiversity on our planet.
“I can confidently say that many new species from different zoological groups are in museum cabinets around the world, awaiting recognition and formal description,” said Moratelli.
Currently, the researchers have insufficient data to be able to determine the conservation status of this species; however, previous work indicated that M. simus in Bolivia, which is now thought to be M. midastactus, was near threatened. While they couldn’t find any evidence for M. simus in Bolivia, this species can be found in several other South American countries including Brazil, Argentina and Peru.
Moratelli made these discoveries as part of a large study on mouse-eared bats living in the Neotropical ecozone, which is an area incorporating South and Central America, southern Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and Florida. So far, Moratelli has described four other Myotis species that were previously unknown to science.
[Via BBC Nature]