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5 New Species of Bats Discovered in Africa

Sep 04, 2013 09:04 AM EDT

Researchers have now discovered five new species of bats in West Africa.

The bats were identified by an international team of researchers, including scientists from University of York. The team found that although certain species of bats looked similar to other known bats in the region, they were genetically different. The study was based on observations made at the Niokolo-Koba National Park in south-eastern Senegal.

Vesper bats (family Vespertilionidae) are the largest family of bats with over 400 species. There are found in many parts of the world, from tropical forests to deserts.

In the study, researchers studied more than 200 vespertilionid bats from Senegal and identified ten species of which about five of them were genetically different from the others.

"The fact that these Senegalese bats are unrelated and are different to their cousins in other parts of Africa, suggests that West Africa may have been isolated in the past and formed a refugium, where populations gradually diverged and even acquired new chromosomal configurations," Nancy Irwin, of the Department of Biology at York, one of the study authors, said in a news release.

"This exciting finding confirms that West Africa may represent an underestimated bio-geographic hotspot with many more species to discover," Irwin said.

The vespertilionid bats usually have plain faces. However some species have noses shaped like a tube. Another defining feature is the webbed tail or the patagium (pah-TAY-jee-um), which is actually a thin membrane that stretches between the hind legs and helps the bat fly.  

The study," Hidden Diversity in Senegalese Bats and Associated Findings in the Systematics of the Family Vespertilionidae," was published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

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