A new genus of bat has been discovered in South Sudan, the world's newest country. The strikingly striped bat has been placed into the genus Niumbaha, which means "rare" or "unusual" in the Zande language of the region. A paper describing the bat was published this week in the journal ZooKeys.
This actually isn't the first time the bat has been seen, but it is the first time that scientists have observed it since 1939. Back then it was identified as Glauconycteris superba. That designation was incorrect, according to DeeAnn Reeder, associate professor of biology at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and Adrian Garside, a program officer with Fauna and Flora International (FFI), who rediscovered the bat in South Sudan's Bangangai Game Reserve. The researchers carefully studied the specimen they caught and compared it with other known bats. "Literally everything you look at doesn't fit" the previous species designation, Reeder said in a prepared statement. "It's so unique that we need to create a new genus."
The bat's black body and white stripes—which resemble the patterns on badgers—provided one of the first clues that the bat needed to be reclassified. The wings were also distinctive. The Glauconycteris genus is made up of small and delicate species, commonly known as butterfly bats, with translucent white or bronze wings. The rediscovered bat, it turns out, has black wings. In addition, the skull and ears didn't match those of other Glauconycteris species. (Reeder co-edited the 2005 edition of Mammal Species of the World, which provides extensive details on all of these species.)
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species previously listed Glauconycteris superba as a species of "least concern," but that was based on 1939 information. The species has only been observed by scientists five times—including this latest specimen—so the animal is obviously rare and its status will need to be reassessed. Reeder, who recently received a $100,000 grant from the Woodtiger Fund to continue her research in South Sudan, says she is convinced the entire region needs further study. "Our discovery of this new genus of bat is an indicator of how diverse the area is and how much work remains," she said. "Understanding and conserving biodiversity is critical in many ways. Knowing what species are present in an area allows for better management. "
Photo courtesy of Bucknell University/DeeAnn Reeder