Unidentified bat species finally given its own name

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American Museum of Natural History Press Release

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

A species of bat not previously known to be its own species has recently been identified as separate from other species in its genus, according to a press release from the American Museum of Natural History.

The Histiotus mochica bat was already known to be of the genus Histiotus, but the scientific community debated if the bat should be distinguished from other Histiotus species.

This vagueness stemmed from the elusiveness of H. mochica in the wild, hindering the study of the bats’ genetic makeup.

This changed when one researcher stumbled across an ancient ceramic pot decorated to look like a bat — and a very realistic representation at that.

“The title of our paper is ‘A new species of bat…’ but this species is not new,” Paúl Velazco, the lead author of the study and a Natural History Museum research associate said. “It’s always been there, and there were people in the past that already knew a lot about it”

The pot was created by the Moche people, who lived in Peru before the Incas. They are also referred to as the Mochica people — hence the name H. mochica. They lived from 100 through 850 A.D. along the Pacific coastline of the country and the Andes mountains.

The Moche people knew of H. mochica, even though modern-day researchers were uncertain about their classification.

“Scientists need to work with Indigenous communities because they know everything firsthand,” Velazco said. “Of all of the species I have described, this one has the most meaning, because it shows that connection.”

The Moche people are known to have created detailed ceramics depicting many of the plants and animals native to their region. H. mochica was just one of them.

The specific pot researchers used to help identify H. mochica was at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Velazco saw an image of the art online and recognized it as a bat he had studied previously that had yet to be officially recognized by the scientific community.

Histiotus bats “are medium-sized insectivores adapted to dry climates and can be found from the Pacific coast of Peru to the Atlantic coast of Brazil,” according to the press release.

H. mochica was distinguished from other Histiotus bat species by its different ears, nose and fur pattern. H. mochica has a thick band of tissue that connects its ear, while other species of bat in the genus don’t.

It also lacks a nose-leaf, which is a triangular shape made of skin and cartilage that sits on top of some bat species’ noses. A nose-leaf can help the bat echolocate.

Lastly, H. mochica is the only species of the genus that is a solid brown. Other Histiotus species have multi-colored fur.

“There are other bat species known from the Moche area of influence, but none have those characteristics,” Velazco said.

This new species identification brings Peru’s total bat species count up to 192, which is the third highest in the world.