Conservation news

‘Spectacular’ orange-furred bat described from West African mountain

  • An orange-furred bat has been described from the caves and mining tunnels of the Nimba Mountains in Guinea.
  • Researchers say the bat had such a distinctive look that they quickly recognized it was a species new to science.
  • The newly described species, which they named Myotis nimbaensis, meaning “from Nimba,” may also be critically endangered and found only in this particular mountain range.
  • This discovery, the authors say, speaks to the importance of the Nimba peaks, known as “sky islands,” to bat diversity.

An orange-furred bat, new to science, has been described from the caves and mining tunnels of the Nimba Mountains in Guinea, West Africa. Led by the American Museum of Natural History and Bat Conservation International, a group of researchers encountered the fuzzy mammal in 2018 while conducting field surveys and knew right away it was a “spectacular” find. The newly described species has been named Myotis nimbaensis, in honor of its home mountains.

“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,” Winifred Frick, chief scientist at Bat Conservation International and an associate research professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “Discovering a new mammal is rare. It has been a dream of mine since I was a child.”

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 © Kendra Snyder / Bat Conservation International.

Most descriptions of new bat species are a result of genetic analyses that separate new species from very similar-looking, known species. This case stood out because the bat had such a distinctive look.

“As soon as I looked at it, I agreed that it was something new,” Nancy Simmons, American Museum of Natural History curator and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “Then began the long path of documentation and gathering all the data needed to show that it’s indeed unlike any other known species.”

An illustration of Myotis nimbaensis with wings spread. Image by Fiona Reid.

The scientists were in the Nimba Mountains exploring the caves and tunnels, known as adits, which are in varying states of collapse. The adits are also home to the Lamotte’s roundleaf bat (Hipposideros lamottei), which is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered.

The researchers say they expect the newly described species may also be critically endangered and, along with the Lamotte’s roundleaf bat, found only in this particular mountain range.

“This discovery highlights the importance of the Nimba Mountains for biodiversity … which is one of the reasons we named the bat after the mountain range,” Jon Flanders, director of endangered species interventions at Bat Conservation International, told Mongabay. “It also signals the need for further research — until you know what’s there it’s very difficult to develop the conservation strategies to protect it.”

A chain of “African sky islands,” in the Nimba Mountains in Guinea. They are home to exceptional biodiversity, including bats. Photo © Bat Conservation International.

The Nimba Mountains are described as “African sky islands,” with peaks rising 1,600-1,750 meters, about a mile, above sea level, and surrounded by diverse and different lowland habitats. The description of the new bat, the authors say, speaks to the importance of the “sky islands” to bat diversity.

Bat Conservation International and local mining company Société des Mines de Fer de Guinée (SMFG) are working to reinforce tunnels within the mountain to last for centuries, providing critical bat habitat.

Worldwide, descriptions of new bat species are likely to continue, Flanders said, particularly in tropical areas, which support higher biodiversity and are undersurveyed.

“Over time I am confident that we will have more species discoveries in areas such as Central America, Africa, and Asia,” “Flanders said. “Just looking at species range maps of bats across Africa there are big distribution gaps where bats haven’t been surveyed for.”

“In an age of extinction,” Frick said, “a discovery like this offers a glimmer of hope,”

 Myotis nimbaensis. Photo © Kendra Snyder / Bat Conservation International.

Citation:

Simmons, N. B., Flanders, J., Bakwo Fils, E. M., Parker, G., Suter, J. D., Bamba, S., … Frick, W. F. (2021). A new dichromatic species of Myotis (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae) from the Nimba Mountains, Guinea. American Museum Novitates, 2020(3963), 1-40. doi:10.1206/3963.1

Banner image of Myotis nimbaensis in the field. Photo © Bat Conservation International.

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough

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