One of the greatest privileges of working at the Smithsonian is that you get to be on hand when exciting discoveries happen, like finding a new bat species!
My friend and fellow bat specialist Ricardo Moratelli has been working on finding new bat species for over 10 years! His focus is on the Myotis genus, one of the most difficult Neotropical genera of bats to understand. So far he as found 6 new species to science, including the recent golden bat species, Myotis midastactus.
In an article for Smithsonian Science, I ask Ricardo what it is like to be a bat detective finding new species!!
One of the biggest honors you can ever receive, as a biologist, is to have a species named after you. Just that happened last week to a dear friend and mentor of mine Dr. Lindy Lumsden, who had a species of free-tailed bat named after her.
The Northern Free-tailed Bat, now known as Mormopterus lumsdenae, is found in the northern regions of Australia across the states of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is one of three new species for this genus having been recently described in a paper published in the Australian Journal of Zoology. This new research published by Reardon et al. is important not only because it honors my dear friend, but also because it finally sheds light on a taxonomic group whose uncertainty has been a longstanding impediment to research and conservation efforts.
Members of this genus have been notoriously hard to identify for a long time mainly because they all look incredibly similar in the field. Indeed for a long time several species of this genus could be distinguished only by the structure of the glans penis, which requires some very intimate examinations and large magnifying glasses. It was Lindy who showed me how to do this when she took me on my first ever field trip catching bats, something I am not likely to ever forget!
Species of the genus Mormopterus are some of my personal favorites, as these bats are not only some of the first I ever had the privilege to catch but they also have interesting little behaviors as well. For example, instead of desperately trying to get away like most microbats do when you trap them, often Mormopterus species like to play dead. It comes in very handy when you are trying to take measurements, as they are not always struggling to get away!
I think it is very fitting that Lindy have a Mormopterus species named after her as Lindy is well known for having two little bats of this genus help her with the hundreds if not thousands of public talks she has done over the years. If you were to ask any of the participants what their favorite memory was from one of Lindy’s talks, no doubt they would mention George or Grump. These two little Mormopterus bats came to Lindy a long time ago and could not be released back into the wild. So instead, Lindy looked after them, believing that they may only live six months to a year as no one had ever kept these bats in captivity. Twenty plus years later Lindy was still taking them to public talks, showing children to pensioners how beautiful these little creatures truly are. George sadly passed away in 2012 but Grump, although retired from public life, is still going strong.
Lindy has always had a passion for bats, something that she has not only passed on to me but also the thousands of people she has come across in her many years of teaching students, giving public talks and advocating for the conservation of bats. I commend Terry Reardon and his colleagues for not only a truly important piece of taxonomic work that will help the conservation of these species, but also the wisdom for celebrating a dedicated scientist with the highest honor her colleagues could bestow.