New Study Reveals Three Distinct Species of Frog-eating Bats

by AMNH on

Research posts

A frog-eating bat in flight with a round body, large ears, and outstretched wings. Trachops coffini, one of the three newly confirmed species of the frog-eating bat, in flight exiting a roost.
© Sherri and Brock Fenton

The iconic frog-eating, or fringe-lipped bat, best known for hunting amphibians in the Neotropics, is one of the most easily recognizable bat species. But new research suggests that these bats actually comprise three separate species across their range, knowledge that is vital for future conservation efforts.

“These bats are versatile carnivores, classically known as a single widely distributed species ranging from Mexico, Central America, and all the way to southeastern Brazil,” said Angelo Soto-Centeno, who is joining the Museum as an assistant curator in the Department of Mammalogy next month. “Because of their wide geographic range, and their preference to live in densely covered forests, we wanted to see if habitat variation across its distribution contributed to its diversity.” 

Soto-Centeno, along with Museum Curator Nancy Simmons and colleagues at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo in Brazil, combined genetic, morphological, and ecological data to study the diversity of this bat (Trachops cirrhosus) across its entire range. This work involved acquiring DNA from 160 tissue samples and measuring more than 800 individual specimens of Trachops from 10 museum collections. 

Close-up on the face of a species of frog-eating bat, the trachops coffini, with its snout covered in wart-like protrusions.
A close-up of Trachops coffini, one of the three newly confirmed species of the frog-eating bat, showing the characteristic wart-like protrusions on the snout.
© Sherri and Brock Fenton

The researchers found that these bats are not one single species, but a complex of at least three species across their range. The bats originated about 7 million years ago and diversified into multiple groups defined by different barriers, such as mountain ranges and rivers associated with the Amazon. Their results are published today in the journal American Museum Novitates.

Understanding how species use their habitats and the potential barriers that they experience is important to assessing their diversity and divergence. Without proper knowledge of the number of species that exist in a group, measures for protection are difficult to implement.

“Frog-eating bats are very iconic and easy to identify, with long woolly fur, large ears, and wartlike protrusions on its chin and snout that make it very recognizable,” Soto-Centeno said. “But that has led to underestimation of its diversity. Detailed taxonomic accounts like this are the first step for making effective conservation decisions concerning these animals.”