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Yoda bat finally gets a new official name – happy tube-nosed fruit bat

There is a little breed of fruit bat, commonly known as Yoda. It does kind of look like a Star Wars character, but it was not the reason why scientists were interested in it. Its peculiar appearance made them wonder – could this be a completely separate species of bat? Now consensus was finally reached – Yoda has now officially been registered as a separate species of bat.

Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov. lives in forests of Papua New Guinea and helps pollinating and dispersing trees and other plants. Image credit: Colin Freeman via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

For whatever reason, the nickname did not become its official name. This fruit bat will go to the books as the happy (Hamamas) tube-nosed fruit bat. Its path to recognition wasn’t easy. It was discovered in Papua New Guinea and immediately looked different. It took 3000 specimens in 18 museums around the world for the Hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat to be distinguished as a separate species. Why was it so difficult? As usual, this type of bat is very similar to other in its appearance. It really does look like other tube-nosed fruit bats. The subtle differences can be found in behaviour, feeding and history, but it is not enough to say it is a separate species.

Scientists did manage to find some physical evidences that Hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat is a completely different species, most notably a broader, rounder jaw, which led to calling this bat “happy”. It official name is Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov., after the conservationist Dr Deb Wright, who devoted 20 years to building conservation programmes and long-term scientific capacity in Papua New Guinea.

Nyctimeninae bats are commonly mentioned in the records in 1769-1860. Tube noses, bright colours, thick stripe on the back and spots have been well-described, but lack of images and visual material did not allow distinguishing more species from the group. In fact, more than a hundred years have passed since Alfred Russel Wallace – British naturalist and one of the fathers of evolution – collected samples, but scientists are still finding new species in Nyctimeninae family. Dr Nancy Irwin, an Honorary Research Fellow in York’s Department of Biology, said: “Now, with photographs, illustrations and a key of the other species in the group, it makes it possible to distinguish between three species of the group.”

Fruit bats are very important for their ecosystem. They pollinate and disperse many tree species. Scientists recognize their role and want to protect them, but for conservation efforts to be of any success, they have to understand what constitutes bat population in Papua New Guinea. Naming species is one of the steps that has to be taken.

 

Source: University of York

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