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New bat species found in West Africa but it might be endangered already

Researchers say the striking orange and black bat found in a mountain range in Guinea underscores the importance of sub-Saharan ‘sky islands’ to bat diversity

Myotis nimbaensis, shown here, is a new species of bat named for the mountain range in which it is found, the Nimba Mountains in West Africa. (Photo credit: Bat Conservation International)

A group of researchers led by the American Museum of Natural History and Bat Conservation International, a global NGO working on conserving the flying mammals, has discovered a new species of an eye-catching orange and black bat in a mountain range in West Africa. The species, which the researchers think is likely critically endangered, highlights the importance of sub-Saharan “sky islands” to bat diversity.

"In an age of extinction, a discovery like this offers a glimmer of hope," Winifred Frick, chief scientist at Bat Conservation International and an associate research professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz said in an official press release. Frick described the mammal, which has bright-orange fur, as a ‘spectacular’ animal. The discovery of the species was described in the journal American Museum Novitates on 13 January.

Three years ago, while conducting field surveys in natural caves and mining tunnels in the Nimba Mountains in Guinea, Frick and her colleagues at Bat Conservation International and the University of Maroua in Cameroon encountered a peculiar bat, while they looked for other species. The researchers were surveying the caves and tunnels, also known as adits, to understand which bat species used which adits and at what time of the year. Lamotte's roundleaf bat, Hipposideros lamottei, which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, as critically endangered and has only ever been recorded in the Nimba Mountains was one such example.

Instead, they found a bat that looked nothing like Lamotte's roundleaf and did not match the descriptions of any other species that they knew occurred in that area. The researchers then reached out to the American Museum of Natural History for help to figure if they had indeed found a new species, the release explains.

Using morphological, echolocation and genetic data, including comparative data from collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the British Museum, the scientists described this new species: which they named Myotis nimbaensis (meaning “from Nimba”), after the mountain range in which it was discovered. A chain of “African sky islands,” the Nimba Mountains have peaks rising between 1,600-1,750 meters above sea level. Surrounded by drastically different lowland habitats, they are home to exceptional biodiversity, including bats.

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