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Say Aloha to Hawaii's New Bat Species Discovery

Mar 23, 2016 09:56 AM EDT
Synemporion keana
Skeletal remains of the Synemporion keana were found in a Maui cave.
(Photo : EurekAlert/American Museum Novitates)

The Hawaiian Islands can say aloha to a new addition to endemic species in the archipelago, after fossil evidence showed that another bat species existed in the islands before humans settled in.

It was long thought that Hawaii is home to only two native species: the Hawaiian hoary bat and the monk seal. However, a recent research published in the journal American Museum Novitates described a new bat species, named Synemporion keana.

A press release from the American Museum of Natural History described its history. The bat's fossils were first found in 1981 in a lava tube in Maui, the second-largest island in the Pacific archipelago, by entomologist Francis Howarth.

Along with other colleagues, Howarth discovered other similar skeletal remains in Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai and Molokai.

Alan Ziegler, a mammologist, recognized that the remains looked different from bat species found in the area. The project was temporarily stopped when Ziegler passed away in 2003 and was resumed when Nancy Simmons of the American Museum of Natural History continued the study.

Simmons said it was a surprise to find another native species in the island, particularly another land mammal. Due to its remote location in the Pacific, early animals could have only accessed the area either by flying and swimming.

Other animals, like rats and dogs, would have been introduced after humans came to the islands.

According to the study, the Synemporion keana is smaller than the hoary bat. It also reported that the two bats lived together for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, only the hoary bat continues to live today, but its existence is also threatened. It was classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969.

A report said that the Synemporion keana may have gone extinct directly or indirectly because of human colonization.

In the future, Howarth and Simmons hope to work with ancient DNA from the fossils to help them identify its closest relatives.

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