New Bat Species Discovered by Museum Researchers

by AMNH on

Research posts

There are more than 5,400 mammal species—and more than one-fifth of those are bats. In early 2012, Museum Curator Robert S. Voss discovered a new bat species in Peru. 

Thyroptera head
While conducting field work in Peru, Museum Curator Rob Voss discovered a new bat species, pictured here. 
Dr. Burton Lim/Royal Ontario Museum 

Disk-winged bats, Thyropteridae, are rarely found by the usual method—mist nets—because their sonar is so sensitive they can detect even the fine threads of the net and fly above it. Researchers have to search carefully for males and their harems in their roosting sites of choice, large furled leaves.

This is what Museum Curator Rob Voss was doing early last year in Peru when he accidentally discovered an entirely new species.

The genus name Thyroptera means “disk-shaped wing” and refers to suction-cup-like attachments or disks on the bat’s wrists and ankles used to cling to smooth surfaces like the insides of leaves.

Close-up of a suction cup-like disk on a bat's wrists and ankles.
The name Thyroptera refers to suction-cup-like attachments or disks on the bats' wrists and ankles used to cling to smooth surfaces. 
Dr. Burton Lim/Royal Ontario Museum 

The most common species is Thyroptera tricolor, described in 1823 by Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix, a German biologist. Until now, there were only three others: Thyroptera discifera, Thyroptera devivoi, andThyroptera lavali.

Dr. Voss suspected something was unusual about the bat he had just flushed out of a curled-up, dried Cecropia leaf. 

Cecropia leave Thyroptera (Rob Voss)
Voss found the bat in a curled-up, dried Cecropia tree leaf like this one.
Dr. Burton Lim/Royal Ontario Museum 

For one thing, the bat, a male, seemed too small. Other aspects didn’t add up: color, the number of bumps of cartilage on its heel bone, and the shape of its discs.

Back in the lab, more evidence came when Postdoctoral Fellow Paul Velazco studied the skull and teeth. The teeth of insect-eating mammals, like bats, mesh precisely and the structure is unique to each species. Dr. Velazco’s study of Thyroptera specimens at several museums confirmed that this was indeed a new, previously undiscovered species, Thyroptera wynneae—so named for Patricia Wynne, an artist who has worked on many projects at the Museum, and who teaches the popular Animal Drawing classes offered here.  

Woman seated at office desk, smiling at camera, holding pen. Several drawings, writing tools, a decorative paperweight, and a microscope are on desk.
Artist Patricia Wynne
© AMNH/D. Finnin

The type specimen—against which all Thyroptera wynneae will be measured—will eventually be returned to Peru.

A version of this story appears in the Fall 2013 Rotunda, the Member magazine.