Bat has a nose only a mother could love

March 21, 2012

Thong et al. / Journal of Mammalogy / ASM / Allen Press

Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat, a newly identified species from Vietnam, has a bizarre set of leaflike protuberances arrayed around its nose.

A brand-new species of leaf-nosed bat has been identified in Vietnam, on the basis of its genetic differences as well as its sonar frequency. The findings, reported in the Journal of Mammalogy, suggest that different bat species living in the same habitat keep to their own in part due to the echolocating sounds they emit.

The new species — Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat, also known by the scientific name Hipposideros griffini — is slightly smaller than its close cousin, Hipposideros armiger, the great leaf-nosed bat. During a three-year bat survey, researchers found 11 specimens of the new species on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam, and in Chu Mom Ray National Park on the mainland, more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) to the south.

Like its bigger cousin, Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat a bizarre-looking array of leaflike facial protuberances that are thought to enhance the echolocation signals it sends out to avoid obstacles and scan for potential prey. But a computerized analysis of bat calls determined that the smaller bat emits its signals in a slightly higher frequency: 76.6 to 79.2 kHz, as opposed to the range of 64.7 to 71.4 kHz for several subspecies of the great leaf-nosed bat. The researchers said H. griffini’s call is distinguishable from all other known leaf-nosed species in its habitat, which means the frequency could be used to identify the bat in future field studies.

Lead researcher Vu Dinh Thong of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology said there were other differences as well.

“While captured, some similar body-sized bats, i.e. great leaf-nosed bat, reacts very angrily,” he told National Geographic in an email. “But Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat seems quite gentle.”

The research team confirmed their suspicions that the gentler, smaller, higher-pitched bat represented a different species by analyzing the bats’ mitochondrial DNA, according to the journal report. The species was named after the late Rockefeller University researcher Donald Redfield Griffin, who played a leading role in the echolocation research that helped in the identification. H. griffini joins more than 70 other species in the genus Hipposideros.

More discoveries from Vietnam:


In addition to Vu Dinh Thong, authors of “A New Species of Hipposideros (Chiroptera: Hipposideridae) From Vietnam” in the February issue of the Journal of Mammalogy include Sebastien J. Puechmaille, Annette Denzinger, Christian Dietz, Gabor Csorba, Paul J.J. Bates, Emma C. Teeling and Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler.

Alan Boyle is msnbc.com’s science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by “liking” the log’s Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log’s Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out “The Case for Pluto,” my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.

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